Friday, September 18, 2020

Thursday, September 17, 2020




 I regret to show this announcement:

"Hello friends, I want to share with you that I have tested positive for COVID-19 and am currently in the hospital for medical treatment. I am doing well but also have COVID-related pneumonia, so I need medical supervision. I knew of course there was always going to be a risk that I might get infected. But I don’t regret going back to performing because I strongly believe that we need culture, now as ever. I am expected to make a full recovery thanks to the wonderful care I’m receiving. 
We are very, very grateful that Yusif and Tiago have tested negative for the virus. Yusif has tested positive for antibodies so he is clear to perform, which makes me very happy. Thank you all for the well wishes and continued support."

from Anna Netrebko 

We can only hope for the best.

P.S.  There is news that Anna is singing in hospital.

Sunday, September 13, 2020


This is the recital from the Metropolitan Opera starring Joyce DiDonato with Carrie-Ann Matheson on the piano and the ensemble Il Pomo D'Oro.  I'm going to tell who accompanies each piece.

  • “Addio Roma” from Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea, Il Pomo D'Oro
  • Didon’s Final Scene from Berlioz’s Les Troyens, Matheson.  I am very impress with Carrie-Ann Matheson as accompanist.
  • “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” by Gustav Mahler, Matheson.  Wonderful Mahler.  Sing more Mahler for us.

A clip from Maria Stuarda is inserted here while Joyce takes a break.

  • “Oh Shenandoah” Traditional
  • “As with rosy steps the morn” from Handel’s Theodora, Il Pomo D'Oro
  • “Illustratevi, o cieli” from Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria, Il Pomo D'Oro
  • “Dopo notte atra e funesta” from Handel’s Ariodante, Il Pomo D'Oro.  This is the most heavily florid piece on the program so far.  It's nice to hear Joyce sing some coloratura.

The second pause comes here.  They have put in an interview concerning Dead Man Walking.

  • “I Dream a World” (World Premiere) by Kenyatta Hughes, arranged by Craig Terry, with text by Langston Hughes, Matheson and cello.
  • “Intorno all’idol mio” From Cesti’s Orontea, Il Pomo D'Oro.
  • “Voi che sapete” From Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Matheson.  This is the role Joyce made her Met debut in.
  • “La vie en rose” By Louiguy, arranged by Craig Terry, Matheson.  And now for something completely different.  Joyce has given herself much to enjoy. 
  • “Canción al árbol del olvido,” Op. 3, No. 2 by Alberto Evaristo Ginastera, Matheson.
  • “You'll Never Walk Alone” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, arranged by Craig Terry, Matheson.

This is all about lonliness, isolation and leaving.  She has chosen each piece for love, and it is a great success.  Sing what you love.  

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Damnation of Faust Rerun

Conductor...................James Levine
Production..................Robert Lepage

Faust.......................Marcello Giordani
Marguerite..................Susan Graham
Méphistophélès..............John Relyea
Brander.....................Patrick Carfizzi

Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust is tonight's stream from the Metropolitan Opera, 2008.  See my discussion here of how it fits into the stream of Faust operas and plays.  The expense of installing the complex Lepage production has prevented it from being revived.  This is our only opportunity.  I am enjoying the complex but pleasing staging.  It allows for large masses of people moving on and off, dancing, birds flying, etc.  These fill the long stretches of instrumental interludes.  The opera was intended by Berlioz for the concert stage, but I am enjoying this staging.  If I remember correctly, the people who managed the Paris opera did not like Berlioz.

It is important to remember that Robert Lepage is the creator of Cirque de Soleil.  This explains the presence of acrobats who climb around the set.  We even have three of them being crucified.  They disappear suddenly when the scene changes.  Giordani and Relyea climb all over the set like the acrobats.  Lepage tends to forget that singers and acrobats have very different professions.

This is an excellent cast.  I sometimes wonder what has become of John Relyea. This is one of my favorite performances of Marcello Giordani.  The pervasive legato of Berlioz seems to suit him very well.

The set is more a commenting tableau than a staging.  Events are suggested rather than shown, but it stays true to the story. 

"D'amour l'ardente flamme" was performed by Susan Graham and Pedro Diaz Cosme on English horn.  This is a highlight of this opera and was quite gorgeous.

I enjoyed seeing this again.  Thank you.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Ariadne auf Naxos from Vienna

Conductor Peter Schneider
Director Sven-Eric Bechtolf

Ein Musiklehrer Markus Eiche
Der Komponist Rachel Frenkel
Der Tenor (Bacchus) Stephen Gould
Zerbinetta Erin Morley
Die Primadonna (Ariadne) Lise Davidsen

This has popped into my awareness just at the right moment.  It is Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos from the Wienerstaatsoper, 2017.  My copy has no subtitles.  We begin with this wonderful view of the rich man's garden and progress to the artists' dressing room.  Everyone does their own makeup.

I'm here for Lise Davidsen, of course.  In the opening scene Rachel Frenkel earns a mention.  She is an excellent Komponist, who appears only at the beginning.  Originally this opera consisted of only the second act which appeared after a play by Moliere.  In our production she appears around the set in the second half.

Complaining.  The voice/orchestra balance is terrible.  In the second half the purported audience is shown at the rear of the stage.  This would be the rich man and his guests.  The singers all turn towards us, of course, which seems rude.  The set for the second half is grand pianos thrown all around.  One realizes that if everything was changed at the last minute, it would all be exactly as chaotic as this staging.

I have not come in vain.  While Lise sings “Es gibt ein Reich,” Der Komponist walks slowly as though in a trance down from the onstage audience.  He cannot believe what he hears.  Such a glorious legato which moves effortlessly from low to high, from soft to loud we have never heard before. The upper register is gorgeous.  The clowns come out before she finishes, so there is no opportunity to clap.  This is a great lady.  It's always wonderful to have someone new to love.
You might also want Erin Morley for your Zerbinetta.

This is one of Strauss's more significant tenor roles, and it very well suits the Heldentenor we have here. 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Lise Davidsen from Norway

Lise Davidsen with James Baillieu, piano.
I have changed the picture to this one that shows both of the faces of the performers in Lise Davidsen's Metropolitan Opera sponsored recital on Saturday.  For the performance they were dressed in normal recital clothes.

Lise began with what is already her signature piece:  “Dich, teure Halle” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser and followed it with “Allmächt’ge Jungfrau” from the same opera.  I reviewed her performance of this at Bayreuth in 2019 and said: "Lise Davidsen is utterly magnificent.  I adore her 'Dich teure Halle.'"  It's somewhat less impressive with piano but is still excellent.  I have also seen her in a production of Fidelio from the Royal Opera described here.

In a similar vein she performed “Es gibt ein Reich” from R. Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.  This also displays perfectly her suitability for German repertoire.  I enjoyed this very much.

Operatic pieces included one Verdi,  “Morrò, ma prima in grazia” from Un Ballo in Maschera, and one Puccini, “Sola, perduta, abbandonata” from Manon Lescaut.  All of her operatic selections were easy for her.  She is never pushing or struggling with the notes.  She has been taught an excellent legato as well.  Or perhaps she comes by it naturally.
Operatic works were alternated with song repertoire.
  • “Ved Rondane,” Op. 33, No. 9 By Edvard Grieg 
  • “En Svane,” Op. 25, No. 2 By Edvard Grieg 
  • “Våren,” Op. 33, No. 2 By Edvard Grieg
  • “Säf, säf, susa,” Op. 36 By Jean Sibelius 
  • “Var det en dröm?” Op. 37 By Jean Sibelius 
  • “Ruhe, meine Seele!” Op. 27, No. 1 By Richard Strauss 
  • “Cäcilie,” Op. 27, No. 2 By Richard Strauss 
  • “Heimliche Aufforderung,” Op. 27, No. 3 By Richard Strauss 
  • “Morgen!” Op. 27, No. 4 By Richard Strauss  
She finished with pieces approaching pop songs, ending with "I could have danced all night" where we were invited to sing along.
  • “Johnny” By Benjamin Britten 
  • “Heia, heia, in den Bergen ist mein Heimatland” From Kálmán’s Die Csárdásfürstin 
  • “O lovely night!” By Landon Ronald 
  • “When I have sung my song to you” By Ernest Charles 
  • “I Could Have Danced All Night” From Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady
Thats Norwegian, Finnish, German, Italian, and English.

She grows on me very quickly.  The Queen of Norway loves her.  This is an excellent  selection of pieces for her voice.  She sings from a place of joy and peace.  And she's 6'2".  We should await a long career.

She was hosted by Christine Goerke.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Giusto Ciel

Early in my madness for Cecilia Bartoli this tune by Rossini was one of my favorites. It's just shown up on YouTube.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Elina sings Wagner

I have fallen quite by accident into a film of the Wiener Philharmoniker directed by Christian Thielemann with mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča singing Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder at this year's Salzburg Festival.  For many years these were my favorite Wagner.

This is something I sang myself.  Which means my head is full of ideas of how it should go.  Tempo, legato, etc.  It can't be helped.  Maybe it's just not Wagnerian enough.  I think it wouldn't have occurred to me that it should be like Schumann.  There's no evidence that she looks at him.  She's not required to, you know.  Now looking back at these songs I hear that they are not like a Wagner opera at all.  Perhaps she's right.  The orchestra claps and stands.

The concert goes on.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Hansel and Gretel from the Met

Conductor - Thomas Fulton
Director - Nathaniel Merrill
Gretel - Judith Blegen
Hänsel - Frederica von Stade
Gertrud - Jean Kraft
Peter - Michael Devlin
Witch - Rosalind Elias
I watched the Met stream from 1982 of Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel.  It is perfection.  It plays in my head in German, but this is also very nice.  I could do this forever.  Blegen and von Stade are lovely children.  Elias as the witch looks like someone from the Wizard of Oz.  This is the one you want if you speak English.  And luckily you can have one of your own.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Salzburg Whitsun 2021

The program for next year's Whitsun Festival at Salzburg has been announced.  I was sorry to see the homage to Pauline Viardot disappear, but in today's world it's only a small loss.  In 2021 Cecilia Bartoli will celebrate Rome, the city of her birth.
Fri, May 21 7:00 PM OPERA

George Frideric Handel

Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno

Cecilia sings Piacere.

Sat, May 22 11:00 AM CONCERT

Orchesterkonzert · Poema Sinfonico

Conducted by Zubin Mehta 

includes Respighi's  Pini di Roma.


Concert performance Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

La clemenza di Tito

Cecilia sings Sesto

Sun, May 23 11:00 AM CONCERT

Sacred Concert · Dixit Dominus


George Frideric Handel

Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno

8:00 PM GALA

Gala dinner

Mon, May 24 11:00 AM CONCERT

Alessandro Scarlatti

Cain, Overo Il Primo Omicidio


Concert performance Giacomo Puccini


Anja Harteros, Jonas Kaufmann and Bryn Terfel

Friday, August 21, 2020


David McVicar (stage director),
Ivor Bolton (conductor)

Anna Caterina Antonacci | Queen Elizabeth I
Leonardo Capalbo | Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex
Paula Murrihy | Frances, Countess of Essex
Duncan Rock | Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy
Sophie Bevan | Penelope, Lady Rich
Leigh Melrose | Sir Robert Cecil
David Soar | Sir Walter Raleigh
Benedict Nelson | Henry Cuffe

This production on of Benjamin Britten's Gloriana comes from Teatro Real de Madrid.  The opera was composed to honor the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.  The queen herself came to the first performance.  It looks as you wish it to.  The costumes are magnificent.

The relationship between Elizabeth I and the Earl of Essex is well known.  Less well known is his rivalry with Lord Mountjoy.

There is a masque portraying Concord dancing.  I am fascinated to see that this female role is played by a man in drag.  Accurately in short.  All the dancers are guys.  It's fun.  All is to glorify the Queen who adores it.

The star of this production is Anna Catarina Antonacci whom I have seen in Carmen with Kaufmann, in La Ciociara by Marco Tutino in San Francisco, in Sancta Susanna by Paul Hindemith at the Paris Opera, and in La Voix humaine by Poulenc in San Francisco.  This is a wonderful variety of roles all performed by a great singing actress.  There is great range in her portrayals, and that certainly is true here as well.  Her Elizabeth is mature.

Here we see Essex and Mountjoy plotting treason against the Queen.  Other versions slant the story more in favor of Essex. I'm fascinated that with the inclusion of period musical forms Britten is trying to bring the past to us.  The music is still Benjamin Britten and not Elizabeth's time.  There is a gathering of the court for entertainment, and Essex has brought his wife dressed more beautifully than the Queen.  Elizabeth orders the women to change their attire and steals Frances's dress.  When everyone reappears, Elizabeth is wearing the beautiful dress which she declares too long.  It is surprising that at this moment she sends Essex off to Ireland.  The scene ends with yet another dance.
In the next scene Essex returns from Ireland offering a truce.  The Queen wanted victory, not a truce.  There is something stunning about this.  The use of musical forms to frame the scenes is very attractive.  Why have I never seen it before?  I feel they are trying to show the truth, very rare in an opera.

Monday, August 17, 2020

100 Operas from Buzzfeed

Here is a Buzzfeed quiz about what operas out of a list of 100 you have seen.

Out of the list, I was in:

Rigoletto (Verdi)
The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart)
Die Fledermaus (Strauss)
Hansel and Gretel (Humperdinck)
Faust (Gounod)
Salome (Richard Strauss)
The Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky)
The Force of Destiny (Verdi)
Death in Venice (Britten)
The Bartered Bride (Smetana)

Out of what remains, I have not seen at all:

Akhnaten (Philip Glass)
Gloriana (Britten)
Albert Herring (Britten)

Operas that I have seen only in HD from the Met:

Rodelinda (Handel)
Maria Stuarda (Donizetti)

Operas I have seen only on DVD:

The Fairy Queen (Purcell)
Written on Skin (George Benjamin)
Anna Nicole (Mark Anthony Turnage)
The Minotaur (Harrison Birtwistle)
The Coronation of Poppea (Monteverdi)
Benvenuto Cellini (Berlioz)
The Silken Ladder (Rossini) (La Scala di Seta, I have an unwatched dvd.)

That makes 88 live, 3 HD only, 6 DVD only and 4 not at all.  I think that's pretty good.  The list comes from the ENO and emphasizes their repertoire.

Edited end of 2018 I find that Akhnaten and Gloriana are the only ones I have still not seen.
Edited again in August, 2020, I find that Gloriana is the only one I haven't seen.  Perhaps it will never play here.  I am pleased to say that today I watched and very much enjoyed Britten's Gloriana.  That makes 88 live, 3 HD only, 6 DVD only and 0 not at all. 
I see the list is still in place, so compile your own.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

To Feel Better about Life

 Four Songs  Part 1

  Four Songs Part 2

News from Munich

The big BIG news from the Bayerische Staatsoper for next summer is that Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros will appear in Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.  This begins on June 29, 2021.  There is no stream announcement.
Another interesting cast features Anja Kampe and Bryn Terfel in Wagner's The Flying Dutchman

Monday, August 10, 2020

West Edge Postponed

This is all postponed to 2021.

This is the publicity for the 2020 season of West Edge opera:
 Leoš Janáček’s  Katya Kabanova
 Elizabeth Cree, by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell
 Francesco Cavalli’s Eliogabolo

August 6, 2019

West Edge Opera’s Mark Streshinsky | Credit: Mark Mayfield

While West Edge Opera has your attention, as their season rolls out, the company has announced next year’s season. No surprise, it’s just as ambitious as this year’s season. The festival opens a week earlier, July 25, 2020, instead of the first week in August and, just as with the current productions, you will have to wait for Artistic Director Mark Streshinsky to do location scouting to discover where the shows will be held, so stay tuned.

Carrie Hennessey takes the title role in Wes Edge Opera's 2020 production of Leoš Janáček’s Katya KabanovaAs usual, there is no sign of a top 50 opera anywhere, which is why some of us regard WEO so highly. However, there is a lot of great music in the works: the 2020 festival opens with Leoš Janáček’s brilliant, realistic drama Katya Kabanova with soprano Carrie Hennessy in the title role. This is a show that will challenge the company on a number of levels, but WEO has waded into these waters before, producing Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen in 2016. If they succeed, it will be one of the highlights of the Bay Area’s musical year.

The contemporary opera that the company always offers will be Elizabeth Cree, by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell, based on a novel by Peter Ackroyd and premiered by Opera Philadelphia in 2017. The opera is the third collaboration by Puts and Campbell, following Silent Night (2012) and The Manchurian Candidate (2015). Despite the fact that the opera is about a grisly murder, it is, the authors insist, darkly comic, and Puts believed it was his best theater work up to that time. His tonal idiom and command of period style should work well in this tale of a music hall singer of the 1890s who is accused of murdering her surgeon husband.

Francesco Cavalli’s Eliogabolo (1667), from the anything-goes Venetian opera houses of the 17th century is the third show of the season. The tale of a perverse and depraved Roman emperor, it almost feels like a modern show (an operatic Caligula, maybe) and in fact it never got its Venetian premiere, but not because it was too risqué. (It was replaced by an opera on the same subject by a different composer.) Maybe it was that Cavalli was too old-fashioned at the time, but in the 21st century, audiences have come around to Cavalli. The show has major productions at Theatre de la Monnaie (Belgium, 2004), the Aspen Festival (2007), Gotham Chamber Opera (NY, 2013), and Paris Opera (2016/17). Not bad for a modern opera. The West Edge production will star countertenor Randall Scotting in the title role, a part he can only hope leaves him clothed most of the time.

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.

Giulio Cesare from Glyndebourne

Conductor William Christie
Director David McVicar

Giulio Cesare - Sarah Connolly, mezzo
Curio - Alexander Ashworth
Cornelia, Pompei's wife - Patricia Bardon
Sesto, Pompei's son - Angelika Kirchschlager, mezzo
Cleopatra - Danielle de Niese, soprano
Nireno - Rachid Ben Abdeslam, countertenor
Tolomeo, Cleopatra's brother - Christophe Dumaux, countertenor.
Achilla - Christopher Maltman, baritone

This performance of Handel's Giulio Cesare took place at Glyndebourne in 2005.  This is the David McVicar version that ran at the Met with David Daniels and Natalie Dessay in 2013.  I called it Julius Caesar the Musical.  I enjoy remembering that Natalie was ill for one of the performances, and Danielle de Niese was in town.  Naturally she took advantage of the opportunity and stood in for Natalie.  That would have been fun to see.

We are projected in time into the British Empire.  The Egyptian servants wear the Fez, and the Roman Army are dressed in the red uniforms of the British Army.  There is no evidence of Islam, I guess.  Cleopatra looks like a modern woman.  There are WWII ships and dirigibles.
In the real time of Julius Caesar the rulers of Egypt were descendants of one of the generals of Alexander the Great but still called themselves Pharoahs.  This is the original and in my opinion is better than the Met version.

I think I prefer this cast.  They are sincere in their change from Roman to British empire.  Angelika Kirchschlager is maybe the best trouser singer I have ever experienced.  It's worth it to see her alone. 
I'm never really wild about countertenors, so I am happy to see that Giulio Cesare is sung by the great Dame Sarah Connolly.  She even sort of looks like Caesar and carries herself like a great general.  This is Danielle de Niese's first big success, indeed this is her masterpiece.  She sings, she dances, she brings us joy.

I notice that the two dead guys, Tolomeo and Achilla, come back to life.  I also noticed this in Cecilia Bartoli's version.  The characters must have singing in the finale.  Here it is staged, but we're not sure what it should mean.

I loved it.  It runs for a little longer from Glyndebourne, so try to see it.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Cosi from Salzburg

Joana Mallwitz: Conductor
Christof Loy: Director

Elsa Dreisig: Fiordiligi, soprano
Marianne Crebassa: Dorabella, mezzo
Andrè Schuen: Guglielmo, bass
Bogdan Volkov: Ferrando, tenor
Lea Desandre: Despina, soprano
Johannes Martin Kränzle: Don Alfonso, bass
This year isn't just the Beethoven year, it is also 100 years of the Salzburg Festival.  They were determined not to just skip the whole thing like almost all the other festivals, so they reduced it as far as possible.  There are quite a few concerts but only two operas, down from 10.  We are concerning ourselves with Mozart's Cosi fan tutte.
This is a regie production which provides virtually no context.  We are in white rooms with no furniture.  The clothing is the usual modern black outfits, except for the guys.  They start out in the usual black suits, but when it's time for them show up in disguises, they are in the above outfits.  If you have no idea what goes on in this opera, you still won't.  They are supposed to be in disguise, but they would know who they are.  Obviously.  Despina's first act aria is cut.  In fact the whole performance is at least a half hour shorter than usual.
I notice that Dorabella has a tattoo on her ankle.  So these are modern children. 
In their funny outfits after the poison gag the guys woo the same girls they did at the beginning.  This is not how it's supposed to work.  They switch back and forth.  Hmmm.  These guys are not in disguise.  They are just messing with them.  The girls get pissed and the boys split.
This production seems to have its own plot.  The guys are back in their dark suits way before they usually are.  I don't think I like any of these people.
But the music is gorgeous.  The soprano ornaments her arias.  Have I ever heard this kind of ornamentation in Mozart before?  I don't think so.  The tenor is also lovely.
No one is fooled at any point.  They end up in the beginning arrangement, but it could have gone either way.  I still want a trick ending.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Fidelio from the Royal Opera

Tobias Kratzer ....  Director
Antonio Pappano ... Conductor

Lise Davidsen .. Leonore
David Butt Philip ... Florestan
Simon Neal ... Don Pizarro
Georg Zeppenfeld ... Rocco
Amanda Forsythe ...Marzelline
Robin Tritschler ... Jaquino
Egils Silins ... Don Fernando

I found access to Beethoven's Fidelio from the Royal Opera Covent Garden.  This was supposed to include Jonas Kaufmann, but he dropped out, as usual.  I am feeling I need to discuss him, but not here.  Remember, I first saw him in Fidelio in Zurich.

I didn't realize Lise Davidsen was so tall.  The guys are her size, which makes her believable as a man.  She makes this performance.  Her rendition of the big aria gives me shivers.  The staging is a distraction.

For me the saddest thing about the pandemic is the absence of all the planned Fidelios.  It's one of my favorite operas.  Die Liebe wirt's erreichen.  I love it because he loved it.  You can feel it.  Beethoven would never have spent so much time on something if he didn't love it.  It's a new style of opera with heavier voices.  Die Liebe wirt's erreichen.

In modern day stagings operas that come with spoken dialog frequently get their dialog rewritten to suit the director's whim.  That has happened here.  Marzelline learns the truth about Fidelio much sooner than usual.  For me the worst offense was the Fidelio from Salzburg where there were sound effects instead of talk.  At least they say understandable things.

Marzelline has a black eye in this production.  Jaquino seems always angry, so perhaps he has punched her.  There's no hint that they will get back together.

Our Florestan is chained to a rock in a well lit room where he is surrounded by men and women watching him.  He expects to meet Leonore in heaven.  I imagine that Jonas would have been rather different.  The staging of the ending is a bit muddled.  There is no scene change before the celebration. When they sing "O namenlose Freude," you feel it. 

This is a great role for Lise.  She should sing it all over.

Here's a sample. Ignore the staging.

The Makropulos Case -- Rerun

I have copied my previous review of this performance shown again from the San Francisco Opera.  I find that I liked seeing the closeups. 

Conductor:  Jiří Bělohlávek
Production:  Frank Philipp Schlössmann

Vítek:  Thomas Glenn
Albert Gregor:  Miro Dvorsky
Kristina:  Susannah Biller*
Dr. Kolenatý:  Dale Travis*
Emilia Marty:  Karita Mattila*
Baron Jaroslav Prus:  Gerd Grochowski
A Cleaning Woman:  Maya Lahyani*
A Stagehand Austin Kness*
Janek:  Brian Jagde*
Count Hauk-Šendor:  Matthew O'Neill*
A Chambermaid:  Maya Lahyani
*Role Debut

I am embarrassed to confess that this opening of The Makropulos Case at the San Francisco Opera was my first experience of the opera.  Everyone asked me where was I when so and so did it?  I have no excuse.  The series of performances was dedicated to Sir Charles Mackerras, the father of modern Janáček performance.

This was my fifth Janáček opera after Katya Kabanova, Jenůfa and The Cunning Little Vixen in San Francisco and From the House of the Dead on DVD.  The music never makes me think of Wagner.  He eschews Romantic tonality without even seeming to notice it exists.  I'm going to say something outrageous now so please duck:  to me he almost reminds me of Mussorgsky.  Almost.  Am I too far out on a limb yet? Wikipedia says he was influenced by Puccini.  I can see that in the vocal writing.  It's sort of verismo without the Italian soul.

The act I set is shown in the picture above.  The other two scenes are equally simple.  There was a giant clock in two acts that showed the actual time.

We begin with a court case that has been going on for almost 100 years.  Count Prus died intestate, and the members of the Prus family possess the estate.  One Albert Gregor claims that Count Prus named his ancestor Ferdinand Gregor as the intended heir.  The case drags on rather like Bleak House.

Then one day Emilia Marty is in town in her guise as a famous opera singer and drops by the law office to ask about the case.  Though none of them have ever seen her before, except possibly across the footlights, she seems to know all about the case.  She describes an existing will and tells them exactly where to find it.

Characters speculate about Emilia's age.  She must be at least 30, they say.  She is very beautiful and all the men fall in love with her.  It would be better to see it without knowing what's going on, perhaps.  She knows where the will is because she was present when it was placed there almost 100 years before.  Emilia has had many names and is over 300 years old.  She began her life in Crete as Elina Makropulos and has returned because she feels herself to be dying and wants another dose of the life-sustaining drug.

Isn't this fun!  Five of the smaller parts were played by Adler Fellows, and another was played by Thomas Glenn, a former fellow.  If there is a Janáček style, no one knows what it is, so don't worry.  Susannah Biller as Kristina was especially nice.

The star of the show, singing the virtually immortal Elina, is Karita Mattila.  She is towering, intense, gorgeous, outrageous, and utterly fabulous.  There was lots of audience screaming.  They closed the curtain before we were finished screaming, seemed not to know what to do with sustained applause.

Friday, July 24, 2020


For me the joy is in the new; new productions, new operas, new singers, and occasionally new conductors.  Seeing repeats of performances I saw when they were new doesn't excite me.  Perhaps this comes from too good a memory.  I have nothing new to say about these old performances.  I still hope you are enjoying them.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

La Bohème from the Royal Opera

Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Director: Richard Jones

Mimì: Nicole Car
Rodolfo: Michael Fabiano
Marcello: Mariusz Kwiecień
Musetta: Simona Mihai
This performance of Puccini's La Bohème is from July 3, 2020, from the Royal Opera Covent Garden.  You may watch it until 7/17.

I was very much engaged with this performance mostly because of the sweet sincerity of Nicole Car as Mimi.  This isn't an opera that I have a lot to say about, but she is special.

It was nice to see Mariusz Kwiecień looking and singing well.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Hamilton Disney+

Jonathan Groff - King George III
Daveed Diggs - Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson
Leslie Odom Jr. - Aaron Burr
Lin-Manuel Miranda - Alexander Hamilton
Phillipa Soo - Eliza Hamilton, wife of Hamilton
Renée Elise Goldsberry - Angelica Schuyler, sister of Eliza?
Christopher Jackson - George Washington

I am watching the Disney+ version of Hamilton.  This is not a movie of a musical like The King and I, but rather a movie of a live performance of the musical.  You are there.  The guys above are the USA founding fathers.  The guy on the left is Aaron Burr and next is Alexander Hamilton.  They are in their uniforms for the revolutionary war.  No wigs, and certainly no racial makeup.  Each actor looks like they would look on the street.

The plot runs from when Hamilton is studying law and runs through the duel where he dies.

Lin-Manuel Miranda both created this and plays the main character.  The content is astounding, but it goes by so fast that some plot points are lost.  My version doesn't include text.  The quality of the reproduction is excellent.  I have another copy but it's the usual too loud orchestra and fuzzy diction.  The Disney+ version is much better.

I can see the attraction.  It may be the most American thing that ever existed.  It's an opera because there's almost no talking.  Constant singing is opera.  Rap replaces recitative.  I don't know if I will ever feel the urge to see it again, but if you are American, you will need this.  I don't know what other people make of it.

Burr knows he will be remembered only as the man who killed Alexander Hamilton.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Lisette and the Jewel Song

It's been quite a while since I went mad for a singer, but Lisette Oropesa is definitely worth it.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Die Walküre with James Morris

Conductor...............James Levine
Production..............Otto Schenk

Brünnhilde..............Hildegard Behrens
Siegmund, brother.....Gary Lakes
Sieglinde, sister.........Jessye Norman
Wotan......................James Morris
Fricka, Wotan's wife.....Christa Ludwig
Hunding.................Kurt Moll

This performance of Wagner's Die Walküre streamed today from the Metropolitan Opera, played at the Met on April 8, 1989.  One forgets.  James Morris is the most intensely emotional Wotan that ever existed.  Everyone is wonderful.  Hildegard Behrens indeed seems like a goddess.  Gary Lakes has that true Heldentenor sound and pairs well with the ever great Jessye Norman.  Who could top Christa Ludwig, and I actually recognized Kurt Moll under all that makeup.

I liked the set for not distracting from these magnificent singing actors.  All was as it should be.

One forgets.  One forgets that in his prime James Levine was truly a great conductor.  Why he wanted to go on past even merely competent we will never know.

One forgets that this is the greatest Wagner performance ever assembled, that James Morris towers over Wotan like a true god.  Thank you for the reminder.


Saturday, July 04, 2020

Bach's Matthew Passion

There has been some controversy about Johann Sebastian Bach's Matthäus-Passion, claiming that it is anti-Semitic and should never be performed. 

In my time in school my teacher John Lewis was a great lover of Bach, so as I result I sang everything:  St Matthew, St John, Christmas Oratorio, Magnificat, B minor Mass, and misc. cantatas.  The "Erbarme dich" from St Matthew is my favorite Bach aria.  It is important to notice that this aria begs the Lord to forgive ME!  The loss of this work from our repertoire would for me be the most terrible tragedy. 

There are two types of texts in the Passions:  Invented poems found in the arias and choruses, and actual Biblical texts from the translation by Martin Luther.  The Roman Catholic Church used only the Latin Bible.  The Evangelist, Jesus and others speak what to Christians is the sacred word of God.  Except for Pilate and his guys, everyone in the story is a Jew including Jesus, Judas, Peter, etc.  Jesus has just processed into Jerusalem and been hailed as the Messiah.  My theory is that the priests of the temple saw Jesus as competition.  It's politics, not religion.  So the anti-Semitic parts come entirely from the New Testament.

These are the core beliefs of Christianity.  Calling them anti-Semitic just seems absurd.  Which side of the quarrel are we supposed to be on?  You can be a Christian without being a Jew, but you can't be the Messiah without being a Jew.

Calling this, the greatest of all Christian musical religious works, evil is not something I could accept.  Should we translate it into Latin?  I've been feeling flabbergasted.  America is founded on freedom of religion, and this feels to me a bit like book burning.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Salome from San Francisco

Conductor - Nicola Luisotti 
Director and Choreographer - Séan Curran 
Garrett Sorenson - Narraboth
Elizabeth DeShong - A page
Greer Grimsley - Jokanaan
Nadja Michael - Salome
Kim Begley - Herod
Irina Mishura - Herodias

I loved seeing this again.  I mean, of course, Salome from the San Francisco Opera.  I saw it live here, 11/2/2009.  Each of the main characters represented their role to a T.  This opera is based on a play by Oscar Wilde and follows the original closely in German.

The biggest problem with Salome is that Salome is 15 and the voice required to sing her is about 40, I would say.  Nadja overcomes all this.  She convinces as a young woman insanely in love.  I don't know what would improve on this.  In the house I could not see the dance well enough to tell what was going on.  It turned out to be very sexy and merely suggestive of nudity.

I also found Greer Grimsley beautiful and believable.  This Johanahan might lure young women to follow him with his charisma. 

As an overall theatrical experience, this may just possibly be the best.  I'd have to watch Maria Ewing again to be sure.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Lorraine sings Dido

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson has left this to comfort us.  This is the first time I have felt a singer truly understood this aria.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Live from the Royal Opera

Today at 11:30 PDT we were treated to a live performance from the Royal Opera House in London.  The photo is of a rehearsal with David Butt Philip, tenor, and Dame Sarah Connolly, mezzo-soprano, preparing Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde.  This is one of my favorite things in the whole world and could simply not be missed. 

The ensemble orchestra was conducted by Antonio Pappano.  The chamber orchestra seemed to include only one instrument per part, including 2 violins, 1 viola, etc.  This seemed to work fine.  In the live performance there was also no audience.

Before the Mahler, Vadim Muntigarov performed a short piece representing the Royal Ballet.  There was a small fee to support the opera house.  I loved it.

Friday, June 19, 2020

La Forza del Destino

Conductor...............James Levine
Production..............John Dexter

Leonora.................Leontyne Price
Don Alvaro..............Giuseppe Giacomini
Don Carlo...............Leo Nucci
Padre Guardiano.........Bonaldo Giaiotti
Preziosilla.............Isola Jones
Fra Melitone............Enrico Fissore [Last performance]
Marquis de Calatrava....Richard Vernon

The live stream from the Met today is Leontyne Price's last performance at the Metropolitan Opera of Verdi's La Forza del Destino, March 24, 1984.  This was also one of her signature roles.  The first scene makes a lot more sense than the Munich version with Jonas and Anja.  There the whole family sits around a table.  In this version people come in and out depending on whether they are relevant to what is going on.  Talking about eloping with the father there is pretty silly.  The shooting is handled well.

In fact I think perhaps this is the most sensible production of Forza I've seen.  They are in a war and wear military uniforms.  What a concept.  Giuseppe Giacomini and Leo Nucci both look and sound similar.  One must work out a method to tell which is which. It is hopeless to choose who is better.  The cast for this performance is excellent from top to bottom.  Isola Jones is my favorite Preziosilla. 

Unfortunately a somewhat silly production makes this extremely gloomy opera somewhat more tolerable.  A trick ending would be tolerated.  The Munich version cuts a lot.

But we are here for Leontyne Price.  She is a singer to love.  Her Verdi is like no one else's.  She puts her own personal magic into the Italian's line.  Thank you for all the joy you have brought us.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Trittico Stream from San Francisco

ConductorPatrick Summers
DirectorJames Robinson

Il Tabarro

Michele-Paolo Gavanelli
Giorgetta, Michele's wife-Patricia Racette
Luigi-Brandon Jovanovich

It's hard to like this opera.  It's rough and nasty.  Since their child died, Giorgetta has grown tired of her husband and their life on a barge and flirts with his employees, including the incredibly handsome Brandon Jovanovich.  In this opera Patricia Racette is overdressed for her environment.  However, they are in Paris, Giorgetta's native city, so we will cut her some slack.  There is much wonderful singing from our three stars.

Suor Angelica

Catherine Cook-Sister Monitor
Patricia Racette-Sister Angelica
Meredith Arwady-The Abbess
Ewa Podleś-The Princess

I realized watching Suor Angelica that I could not be a nun.  Obedience isn't something I do.  I guess that leaves out the army, too.  My mother knew exactly how to deal with this.

This opera is deep with religious significance.  Angelica has had an illegitimate child, it was immediately taken from her, and she was forced into a convent.  She has been here for 7 years with no news from her family.

Then suddenly out of the blue a high class carriage carrying her aunt appears.  The aunt is here not to see Angelica, but to get her signature on a document that disposes of the family wealth and titles.  Angelica has to ask to find out that her son has died.  These two together are wonderful singing actresses who thrill us and break our hearts.

Angelica knows about herbs and plants.  In short she knows how to poison herself and does.  She realizes perhaps before it is too late that she has committed a mortal sin, and begs the Madonna to forgive her.

Only Patricia Racette and Ewa Podleś came out for bows.  They were both magnificent, towering performances.  This was Ewa's San Francisco Opera debut.

Gianni Schicchi

Michael Harvey-Buoso Donati
Meredith Arwady-Zita
Paolo Gavanelli-Gianni Schicchi
Patricia Racette-Lauretta

Someone smokes in all three operas, but in this one they all do, are in a hospital room.  It is amusing that Buoso Donati gets a casting credit since he's already dead.  It would be strange to play a dead body.

The house that Gianni Schicchi acquires is apparently in a high rise next door to the Duomo in Florence.  There is, of course, no building in Florence anything like that.

Magnificent in the dual roles of Michele in Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi was Paolo Gavanelli. He was both very funny and terrifying (in the appropriate places--not very funny as Michele and terrifying as Schicchi).

This is Patricia Racette's masterpiece where she triumphs in three different roles.  Hers was by far the silliest "O mio babbino caro" I've ever heard.  Her Lauretta is virtually a child.

I loved seeing it again.  Original review here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Metropolitan Opera in HD for 2020-2021 -- Begins 1/21

Jan 16, 2021 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Die Zauberflöte.   This is the old Julie Taymor production and will be done in German. 
  • Conductor Gustavo Dudamel
  • Production Julie Taymor 
  • Pamina Christiane Karg 
  • Queen of the Night Kathryn Lewek 
  • Tamino Stanislas de Barbeyrac 
  • Papageno Thomas Oliemans 
  • Sprecher Christian Van Horn 
  • Sarastro Stephen Milling

Jan 30, 2021 Charles Gounod Roméo et Juliette
  • Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin
  • Production Bartlett Sher
  • Juliette Nadine Sierra, she sang this for us in San Francisco this season.
  • Stéphano Julie Boulianne 
  • Roméo Stephen Costello  
  • Tybalt David Portillo 
  • Mercutio Joshua Hopkins 
  • Capulet Laurent Naouri 
  • Frère Laurent Ildar Abdrazakov 

Mar 27, 2021 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Don Giovanni   This is the old Michael Grandage production with an excellent cast.
  • Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin
  • Production Michael Grandage
  • Donna Anna Ailyn Pérez 
  • Donna Elvira Isabel Leonard 
  • Zerlina Hera Hyesang 
  • Don Ottavio Ben Bliss 
  • Don Giovanni Peter Mattei 
  • Leporello Gerald Finley 
  • Masetto Alfred Walker 
  • The Commendatore Ryan Speedo Green

Apr 17, 2021 Jake Heggie Dead Man Walking  This is a new production of an opera new to the Met.  It's not new to me since I was at the world premier.
  • Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin
  • Production Ivo van Hove 
  • Sister Rose Latonia Moore 
  • Sister Helen Prejean Joyce DiDonato 
  • Mrs Patrick De Rocher Susan Graham 
  • Joseph De Rocher Etienne Dupuis 

Apr 24, 2021 Richard Strauss Die Frau ohne Schatten.  This is a spectacular cast.
  • Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin
  • Production Herbert Wernicke 
  • The Empress Elza van den Heever
  • The Dyer's Wife Nina Stemme
  • The Nurse Evelyn Herlitzius
  • The Emperor Klaus Florian Vogt
  • Barak Michael Volle
  • The Geisterbote Ryan Speedo Green

May 8, 2021 Giuseppe Verdi Nabucco.  This will be Netrebko's first Abigaille.
  • Conductor Marco Armiliato 
  • Production Elijah Moshinsky
  • Abigaille Anna Netrebko
  • Fenena Varduhi Abrahamyan
  • Ismaele Najmiddin Mavlyanov
  • Nabucco George Gagnidze
  • Zaccaria Dmitry Belosselskiy 

May 22, 2021  Vincenzo Bellini Il Pirata.  This is a new opera for me.
  • Conductor Maurizio Benini 
  • Production John Copley
  • Imogene Diana Damrau 
  • Gualtiero Javier Camarena
  • Goffredo Nicolas Testé 

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Record Sales

According to Google November, 2019, Cecilia Bartoli has sold 12 million records.

And June 4 is her birthday.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Lucrezia Borgia

Conductor - Riccardo Frizza
Director and Production Designer - John Pascoe

Michael Fabiano - Gennaro
Renée Fleming - Lucrezia Borgia
Vitalij Kowaljow* - Duke Alfonso
Daniel Montenegro* - Rustighello
Ryan Kuster* - Astolfo
Blanche Hampton* - Princess Negroni
Elizabeth DeShong - Maffio Orsini

The most fun part of Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia from the San Francisco Opera is Michael Fabiano in a wild blond wig.  We are used to him bald, but with hair he is completely gorgeous.  Sigh. 

I was present at the original performance series in 2011.  Hearing it again, I am most impressed with the ensembles.  Musically it is a joy, and with a film acoustic and balance problems are fixed. 

The production and singing are enjoyable, but it is clear that Lucrezia creates her own tragedy.  She has searched for Gennaro and has finally found him in Venice.  He shows her a letter from his mother.  No matter how dire the circumstances, she never tells anyone that she is his mother.  Not even him.  She's willing to risk killing him but not this.  She would not risk her own status.  It's ok for men to have illegitimate children, but not women.  So everyone dies.  One does not identify with this story.


Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Makropulos Affair

Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen
Stage director: Christoph Marthaler

Angela Denoke (Emilia Marty),
Raymond Very (Albert Gregor),
Peter Hoare (Vitek),
Jurgita Adamonyte (Krista),
Johan Reuter (Jaroslav Prus)

From the Salzburg Festival: The Makropulos Affair by Leos Janácek (1854-1928) is streamed through a site called Never In New York.  On the left is what can only be the smoking room.  I recognize it from my travels in Europe where similar rooms appear.  It took me a long time to make out the rest of the stage.  It seems to have everything.  The center of the stage represents a court room.  On the right is a waiting area with a plant room behind.  Most of the action takes place in the center, but people wander in and out of the other areas.

The heroine's real name is Elina Makropulos, and she was the test subject for a potion that would make the king live 300 years.  The king never took it, but here she is at 337, and it appears she is finally dying.  So people won't notice, she changes her name and gives herself a new life.  Each new name has the initials EM.  Over the course of the opera she meets her own great great grandson, an old boyfriend, etc.

It started very low key and almost got boring, but once Emilia starts revealing why she is here, it picks up.  If you haven't seen this opera, try this one.  Or even if you have.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Manon Lescaut Stream

Conductor.............James Levine
Production............Gian Carlo del Menotti

Manon...................Renata Scotto
Des Grieux...........Plácido Domingo
Lescaut.................Pablo Elvira
Geronte.................Renato Capecchi

Three days ago the Met brought us Massenet's Manon.  Today the Metropolitan Opera streamed Puccini's Manon Lescaut from March 29, 1980.  In the streaming series we have already seen Scotto in La Bohème, 03/15/1977.  In the three years between these broadcasts, she lost weight and looks like we are used to seeing her.  We believe Domingo when he exclaims about her looks.

One cannot help comparing the two operas.  Massenet messes around for quite a while before the train arrives carrying Manon.  Puccini puts the carriage arrival with Manon and the falling in love right at the beginning.  He follows this with a gorgeous tenor aria.  He is the master. 

This opera jumps directly from the escape with Des Grieux to her life in luxury with Geronte.  This Manon is more of a narcissist.  Puccini begins act II with a tremendous aria for the soprano.  This is followed by the madrigal. 

When Cecilia Bartoli recorded the Madrigalist for the Decca recording, of course I bought it.  So this opera plays in my head with Mirella Freni and Luciano Pavarotti.  I love the sound of Pavarotti better than Domingo, but Placido is adorable to watch.

The opera takes place before the French revolution.  Gian Carlo del Menotti is the son of Mario del Monaco and received opera from his father's knee.  He tries to evoke the intended setting, and I find this successful. 

Manon very much wants to have her cake and eat it too.  I always think this opera is much sleazier than the other one, but maybe that's mostly because I've seen Netrebko with all her joie de vivre  in two different productions of the other one.  The music here is gorgeous, but you can't help feeling she gets what she deserves.   Scotto dies in style.


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Lohengrin stream

Conductor...............James Levine
Production..............August Everding

Lohengrin..........Peter Hofmann
Elsa....................Eva Marton
Ortrud................Leonie Rysanek
Telramund..........Leif Roar
King Heinrich....John Macurdy
Herald.................Anthony Raffell 

This nightly stream from the Metropolitan Opera is Wagner's Lohengrin from 1985.  This Lohengrin is not pretty, unless you count Peter Hofmann, who is really quite gorgeous.  But prettiness isn't everything.  I don't think I've seen this version before.

If you know only his recent outings, you may have forgotten or never have known how great James Levine was in his prime.  Musically this is a triumph.

What can one say of the production?  The sets are consistently dark with only occasional dark brown to contrast with the black.  The men wear dark military outfits, but are surprised when Lohengrin says he will lead them into battle.  Against whom is not said.  Only Lohengrin and Elsa, sung beautifully if calmly by Eva Marton, wear relatively light colors.  Lohengrin is always dressed in white.  For my requirement that it explain the plot, I find it very successful.

The flashiest character in the opera is Ortrud who is as flashy as can be imagined played by Leonie Rysanek.  She is intense.

Lohengrin himself is kind of a rat.  He marries her knowing full well that the longest he will be allowed to stay with her is one year even if she never asks who he is.  He doesn't mention this until after she asks the forbidden question.  His excuse is that you can have a lot of fun in a year.  Ortrud admits that it was she who transformed Heinrich into a swan.  Lohengrin's last deed is to change him back.  I like the careful detail explaining the plot.

Hofmann retired from opera not long after this, but he sounds ok to me.  Rysanek sort of upstages Marton.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Sure on this shining night

This is Samuel Barber's "Sure on this shining night."  Our Lisette Oropesa, she does it all.  Her legato is perfection.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020


Conductor...............James Levine
Production..............Bodo Igesz

Ariadne.................Jessye Norman
Bacchus.................James King
Zerbinetta..............Kathleen Battle
The Composer.......Tatiana Troyanos
Music Master.........Franz Ferdinand Nentwig
Harlekin................Stephen Dickson
Scaramuccio..........Allan Glassman
Truffaldin..............Artur Korn
Brighella...............Anthony Laciura
Najade..................Barbara Bonney
Dryade..................Gweneth Bean
Echo....................Dawn Upshaw

For today's Metropolitan Opera stream we are treated to Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos, 3/12/1988.  It is unbelievably wonderful.  My all time favorite mezzo is Tatiana Troyanos who sings an outstanding, over the top Composer.  She alone is worth the time.  But look at the complete excess of riches.  Zerbinetta is Kathleen Battle herself, here lively and young.  Ariadne is probably Jessye Norman's greatest role, and here we have her at her peak.  And if that isn't enough, there is James King to sing Bacchus.

In the prologue they all appear as themselves in a peek at backstage life.  Originally the play followed a play by Molière, see here.  They are all wonderfully lively. 

Jessye is beyond wonderful, but they have decided to focus on her face in endless closeups, and she makes faces when she sings.  One might prefer the camera a bit further back.  The singing of "Es gibt ein Reich" is absolutely glorious.  Is this the greatest opera performance every recorded?  I'm tempted to say yes.

Then Kathleen does her wonderful "Großmächtige Prinzessin".  We have one delight after another.  I loved Kathleen Battle and would have fired the conductor. 

Ariadne's three ladies sing what seems to be Schubert's "Schlafe, schlafe."  We transition to the entrance of Bacchus.  "Are you the queen of this island?"  He persuades her.  King isn't quite up to the ladies, but Jessye is fabulous all the way to the end.  They go off to be happy.

Thank you.  This is one of the great things.


Tuesday, May 12, 2020


Conductor: Alain Altinoglu
Production: Richard Eyre
Set and Costume Designer: Rob Howell

Werther:  Jonas Kaufmann (tenor)
Charlotte:  Sophie Koch (mezzo-soprano)
Sophie:  Lisette Oropesa (soprano)
Albert:  David Bizic (baritone)

Goethe was 24 when he wrote his novel Die Leiden des Jungen Werther, 1774.  Thus he was virtually a child himself.  It was a raging success which made him very famous for the rest of his life.  For us Goethe is Faust, written later.  For that era he was Werther.

So what is Jules Massenet's excuse?  He was 50 when he wrote his opera Werther, 1893.  This Werther when seen from the view of 2020 is simply a sexual harasser.  We know that unrequited love is painful, but do we need to spread the pain to everyone else?  So the question arises:  is he a cad?

Part of our problem with this opera is what a wonderful job Jonas is doing arousing our sympathy.  This is indeed a beautiful version of the opera.  Now that I know who she is, I especially enjoy Lisette Oropesa as Sophie.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Mother Plots

  • Handel Giulio Cesare  Cornelia is the step-mother of Sesto who has just lost his father Pompey.
  • Handel Agrippina   Agrippina is the mother of Nero*
  • Mozart Die Zauberflöte  The Queen of the Night is the mother of Pamina.*
  • Verdi Il trovatore  Azucena is the mother of Manrico (or not).  She also has mother issues of her own.  Her mother haunts the story.*
  • Smetana The Bartered Bride Both of the main characters have mothers in the cast.
  • Mascagni Cavalleria rusticana Turiddu's mother is prominent.
  • Strauss Elektra  Elektra's mother Klytemnestra has killed her father.*
  • Humperdinck Hänsel und Gretel The mother sends the children out alone into the woods. *
  • Janáček Jenůfa Jenůfa's step-mother kills Jenůfa's child.*
  • Strauss Salome Salome's mother starts this whole mess.*
  • Puccini Madama Butterfly  The main character becomes a mother during the opera.*
  • Wagner The Ring This features Erda, mother of the Earth.  Her children include the Valkyries and the Norms.*
  • Massenet Werther.  Charlotte's dead mother haunts the story and persuades Charlotte to marry Albert.*

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Le Nozze di Figaro from the Met

Conductor...............James Levine
Production..............Jonathan Miller

Figaro..................Bryn Terfel
Susanna.................Cecilia Bartoli
Count Almaviva..........Dwayne Croft
Countess Almaviva.......Renée Fleming
Cherubino...............Susanne Mentzer
Dr. Bartolo.............Paul Plishka
Marcellina..............Wendy White
Don Basilio.............Heinz Zednik
Antonio.................Thomas Hammons
Barbarina...............Danielle de Niese

The Metropolitan Opera has rerun free of charge the 1998 telecast of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro.  I would have seen the original, of course.  It was in the center of my infatuation with Cecilia Bartoli. Watching it again I find that it is a Figaro for the ages.  There is not even the tiniest hole in this cast.  Even Barbarina features Danielle de Niese making her Met debut at 19.

This opera features the Countess in two glorious arias-- Porgi Amor and Dove sono--sung gloriously by Renée Fleming.

This film still has the most hits for Cecilia Bartoli on YouTube and the second most for Fleming.

The Met cast Bartoli into more or less the same Fach as Kathleen Battle only with a comic slant. In her career she was known for her very successful coloratura singing, and this provides the explanation for the replacement of Deh vieni non tardar, an entirely legato aria, with something with at least some coloratura.

Bryn is perhaps my all time favorite Figaro, and Cecilia and Bryn's flirting is the best ever seen in this opera.

The last time I watched it I wrote this:

It was a surprise when it was announced that Cecilia would sing the role of Susanna, a role I don’t think she has sung since. There was a huge scandal because she insisted on performing different arias. I know “Un moto di gioia” is one of her favorites. Her choices, especially the final aria, are very successful, but she does not sing “Deh vieni non tardar.”

I have felt since I first saw this film that I never really understood this opera before. In a world where everything had to be about status and privilege, where the operas were clearly divided between elevated moral dramas about the upper classes and comedies in dialect from the lower classes, Mozart has brought us real people from all the various classes of his era, people with serious problems, people like us. I don’t think I really understood how deeply serious Figaro really is.

Cecilia is key in the success of this entire performance because she makes you feel how much Susanna loves Figaro and how much she hates the idea of sex with the count, how much she loathes his attentions while successfully masking her emotions from him. This is the content of the Marriage of Figaro, not just the jokes. I have read the book this is based on, but it is Mozart and da Ponte who give true life to these people.

There is a wonderful rapport between Cecilia and Bryn which they exploited in a duet album and dvd. This rapport is at its best here. They are exciting and very charismatic together.

As if this were not wonderful enough, there is also the fabulous countess of Renée Fleming, who needs only to sit around being miserably regal while singing two of the most gorgeous arias ever written. Gorgeously. She is in top form.

It is a succession of perfectly executed scenes by ideally cast singing actors. When was Figaro’s discovery of his parents ever so perfect? The count and countess are effectively upper class while Susanna and Figaro are common, as it should be. The entire production is pure perfection in singing, conducting and ensemble acting, and never becomes stale.

As one who has long adored Cecilia and has seen a lot of her stage work, this is her masterpiece.