Yesterday I attended a vocal recital with baritone Randall Scarlata and pianist Gilbert Kalish at California State University Sacramento as part of this year's New Millennium concert series. I last saw Kalish in this same series accompanying Dawn Upshaw two years ago.
What made this particular recital unusual was the emphasis on standard vocal repertoire. How often to you see that these days? They performed sets by Ives (English), Fauré (French), Beethoven and Schumann (German) with an encore "Ständchen" by Schubert. These are the mountains of classical song. To give you an idea of the selections, in this entire program nightingales were mentioned at least four different times, including rossignol in French and Nachtigal in German.
Mr. Scarlata has a particular style of presenting which he employed in all four sets. He uses gestures, facial expressions and walking rather more than is usually the case, but I found it moving and never too much.
When Upshaw came, she also did some Charles Ives. Perhaps Kalish is fond of him, as am I I was not familiar with any of these but enjoyed their presence. I like the idea that Ives would become standard repertoire.
Gabriel Fauré setting four texts by Paul Verlaine formed another group.
In my mind Fauré is the greatest of all French chanson composers. There was a bit of name dropping when Scarlata mentioned discussing repertoire with the great French baritone Gérard Souzay.
For the Ludwig van Beethoven year (250 years since the birth of LvB) we were presented with the very first song cycle, Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte on poems by Alois Isidor Jeitteles. It establishes the genre by focusing on an unhappy love affair.
We finished with the greatest of all song cycles, Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe on poems by Heine. Scarlata got so excited singing "Ich grolle nicht" that his face turned quite red. This is a very beautiful set of songs that start sentimental and end tragic.
There were appropriate changes in style as we moved from one composer to another. The problem with performing standard repertoire is that one has ones own idea of what one should hear. I loved the emotion but would have liked a more highly developed idea of legato. Don't get the wrong idea. I was very happy to hear this.
This is sort of a bad news entry. I have been driving to Davis to see the American Bach Soloists since I moved to Sacramento. My first entry, I believe, was in 2013. I was happy about the fact that they played mostly Bach and in excellent style. I attended performances of the St John Passion, the St. Matthew Passion, the Magnificat, the B Minor mass, Brandenberg Concertos, Orchestral Suites, etc. That's a lot of Bach. Occasionally other things appeared.
Well, Monday they performed only one piece by Bach: Concerto in A Minor for Harpsichord, flute, violin, Strings and Basso Continuo. Well, that sounds like a concerto grosso to me. That's a small group of soloists who play both with and without the larger group of strings. It was just ok.
In addition they played some pieces with Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, a countertenor. I have recently warmed up to countertenors, but would always prefer to hear a female mezzo. Oh well. I wish I liked him better. He sang:
Vivaldi's Stabat Mater
Buxtehude's Jubilate Domino omnis terra
Johann Christoph Bach's Lamento
Hoffmann's Schlage doch, gewuenswchte Stunde [previously attributted to Bach.]
This is the first time I have not enjoyed one of their concerts. Part of this is old age which makes it exhausting to drive to Davis. The conductor Jeffrey Thomas said that they would be doing less Bach this season. They would teach us to enjoy other things. I have only gotten really enthusiastic about their Bach. That's why I'm here.
Composer: Ryan Suleiman
Librettist: Cristina Fries
Pianist, music director: Jennifer Reason
Director: Omari Tau
Idiot Girl: Carrie Hennessey (puppeteers: Gwenyth Alberto, Mara Patton)
Moon/Father: Kevin Doherty
Dogs: Omari Tau (puppeteers: Ruhan Whittington, Jesse Raga)
Bones of Girls by Ryan Suleiman was given its world premier this weekend by Rogue Music Project in Sacramento. I enjoyed this quite a lot, but it's going to be hard to explain.
They are in tune with their time. The music, though scored only for piano, was densely modern. Interesting remark in the lectures after the opera, "The words take a lot longer set to music." This was a complaint from the composer. If they want a lot more words with the same music, they shift to talking. But no talking here. That's a current fad. There did not appear to be any vocal ensembles. The three singers, Carrie Hennessey, Kevin Doherty and Omari Tau, a kind of priest-like character, sang well this somewhat difficult music. They created their characters while being upstaged by children.
The story is something that is written about more recently than it was earlier in my lifetime. A woman remembers sexual advances from her father when she was a child. In this story he wishes to marry her. She escapes. We see this part of her life in a flashback.
The staging was complex. The chosen performance space isn't really suitable for a daytime performance, which is what I chose to attend. The moon shines down, only here just in your imagination.
The four children who are the puppeteers play together before the opera begins. The girls handle the child Idiot Girl who is quite attractive. The boys are a pack of dogs as hand puppets. It was complex and surprisingly moving. The lively children at the beginning lie inert on the floor at the end.
76. Best Opera Recording Award to the Conductor, Album Producer(s) and Principal Soloists.
BENJAMIN: LESSONS IN LOVE & VIOLENCE
George Benjamin, conductor; Stéphane Degout, Barbara Hannigan, Peter
Hoare & Gyula Orendt; Raphaël Mouterde & James Whitbourn,
producers (Orchestra Of The Royal Opera House) #ad
Marc Albrecht, conductor; Christopher Maltman & Eva-Maria
Westbroek; François Roussillon, producer (Netherlands Philharmonic
Orchestra; Chorus Of Dutch National Opera) #ad
CHARPENTIER: LES ARTS FLORISSANTS; LES PLAISIRS DE VERSAILLES
Paul O'Dette & Stephen Stubbs, conductors; Jesse Blumberg, Teresa
Wakim & Virginia Warnken; Renate Wolter-Seevers, producer (Boston
Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble; Boston Early Music Festival Vocal
WINNER! PICKER: FANTASTIC MR. FOX
Gil Rose, conductor; John Brancy, Andrew Craig Brown, Gabriel Preisser,
Krista River & Edwin Vega; Gil Rose, producer (Boston Modern
Orchestra Project; Boston Children's Chorus) #ad
Christian Thielemann, conductor; Piotr Beczała, Anja Harteros, Tomasz
Konieczny, Waltraud Meier & Georg Zeppenfeld; Eckhard Glauche,
producer (Festspielorchester Bayreuth; Festspielchor Bayreuth) [The blue Lohengrin]
77. Best Choral Performance Award to the
Conductor, and to the Choral Director and/or Chorus Master where
applicable and to the Choral Organization/Ensemble.
Donald Nally, conductor (The Crossing)
WINNER! DURUFLÉ: COMPLETE CHORAL WORKS
Robert Simpson, conductor (Ken Cowan; Houston Chamber Choir)
THE HOPE OF LOVING
Craig Hella Johnson, conductor (Conspirare)
SANDER: THE DIVINE LITURGY OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM
Peter Jermihov, conductor (Evan Bravos, Vadim Gan, Kevin Keys, Glenn Miller & Daniel Shirley; PaTRAM Institute Singers)
SMITH, K.: THE ARC IN THE SKY
Donald Nally, conductor (The Crossing)
78. Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance For
new recordings of works with chamber or small ensemble (twenty-four or
fewer members, not including the conductor). One Award to the ensemble
and one Award to the conductor, if applicable.
CERRONE: THE PIECES THAT FALL TO EARTH
Christopher Rountree & Wild Up
FREEDOM & FAITH
Third Coast Percussion
RACHMANINOFF - HERMITAGE PIANO TRIO
Hermitage Piano Trio
WINNER! SHAW: ORANGE
79. Best Classical Instrumental Solo Award to the Instrumental Soloist(s) and to the Conductor when applicable.
THE BERLIN RECITAL
HIGDON: HARP CONCERTO
Yolanda Kondonassis; Ward Stare, conductor (The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra)
TORKE: SKY, CONCERTO FOR VIOLIN
Tessa Lark; David Alan Miller, conductor (Albany Symphony)
80. Best Classical Solo Vocal Album Award
to: Vocalist(s), Collaborative Artist(s) (Ex: pianists, conductors,
chamber groups) Producer(s), Recording Engineers/Mixers with 51% or more
playing time of new material.
THE EDGE OF SILENCE - WORKS FOR VOICE BY GYÖRGY KURTÁG
Susan Narucki (Donald Berman, Curtis Macomber, Kathryn Schulmeister & Nicholas Tolle) #ad
Philippe Jaroussky & Céline Scheen; Christina Pluhar, conductor; L’Arpeggiata, ensemble (Jesús Rodil & Dingle Yandell)
MELTZER: SONGS AND STRUCTURES
Paul Appleby & Natalia Katyukova; Silas Brown & Harold Meltzer, producers
WINNER! THE POETRY OF PLACES
Nadia Shpachenko; Marina A. Ledin & Victor Ledin, producers
SAARIAHO: TRUE FIRE; TRANS; CIEL D'HIVER
Hannu Lintu, conductor; Laura Heikinheimo, producer
82. Best Contemporary Classical Composition A
Composer's Award. (For a contemporary classical composition composed
within the last 25 years, and released for the first time during the
Eligibility Year.) Award to the librettist, if applicable.
BERMEL: MIGRATION SERIES FOR JAZZ ENSEMBLE & ORCHESTRA
Derek Bermel, composer (Derek Bermel, Ted Nash, David Alan Miller, Juilliard Jazz Orchestra & Albany Symphony Orchestra)
WINNER!! HIGDON: HARP CONCERTO
Jennifer Higdon, composer (Yolanda Kondonassis, Ward Stare & The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra)
MARSALIS: VIOLIN CONCERTO IN D MAJOR
Wynton Marsalis, composer (Nicola Benedetti, Cristian Măcelaru & Philadelphia Orchestra)
Andrew Norman, composer (Gustavo Dudamel & Los Angeles Philharmonic)
WOLFE: FIRE IN MY MOUTH
Julia Wolfe, composer (Jaap Van Zweden, Francisco J. Núñez, Donald
Nally, The Crossing, Young People's Chorus Of NY City & New York
74. Producer Of The Year, Classical A Producer's Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)
WINNER! BLANTON ALSPAUGH
• Artifacts - The Music Of Michael McGlynn (Charles Bruffy & Kansas City Chorale)
• Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique; Fantaisie Sur La Tempête De Shakespeare (Andrew Davis & Toronto Symphony Orchestra)
• Copland: Billy The Kid; Grohg (Leonard Slatkin & Detroit Symphony Orchestra)
• Duruflé: Complete Choral Works (Robert Simpson & Houston Chamber Choir)
• Glass: Symphony No. 5 (Julian Wachner, The Choir Of Trinity Wall Street, Trinity Youth Chorus, Downtown Voices & Novus NY)
• Sander: The Divine Liturgy Of St. John Chrysostom (Peter Jermihov & PaTRAM Institute Singers)
• Smith, K.: Canticle (Craig Hella Johnson & Cincinnati Vocal Arts Ensemble)
• Visions Take Flight (Mei-Ann Chen & ROCO)
• Project W - Works By Diverse Women Composers (Mei-Ann Chen & Chicago Sinfonietta)
• Silenced Voices (Black Oak Ensemble)
• 20th Century Harpsichord Concertos (Jory Vinikour, Scott Speck & Chicago Philharmonic)
• Twentieth Century Oboe Sonatas (Alex Klein & Phillip Bush)
• Winged Creatures & Other Works For Flute, Clarinet, And Orchestra
(Anthony McGill, Demarre McGill, Allen Tinkham & Chicago Youth
MARINA A. LEDIN, VICTOR LEDIN
• Bates: Children Of Adam; Vaughan Williams: Dona Nobis Pacem (Steven Smith, Erin R. Freeman, Richmond Symphony & Chorus)
• The Orchestral Organ (Jan Kraybill)
• The Poetry Of Places (Nadia Shpachenko)
• Rachmaninoff - Hermitage Piano Trio (Hermitage Piano Trio)
• Himmelborgen (Elisabeth Holte, Kåre Nordstoga & Uranienborg Vokalensemble)
• Kleiberg: Do You Believe In Heather? (Various Artists)
• Ljos (Fauna Vokalkvintett)
• LUX (Anita Brevik, Trondheimsolistene & Nidarosdomens Jentekor)
• Trachea (Tone Bianca Sparre Dahl & Schola Cantorum)
• Veneliti (Håkon Daniel Nystedt & Oslo Kammerkor)
The film about portraits by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) in my local movie theater came in two parts. The portraits in the exhibition were used to illustrate a biography which also included a few photographs. The above picture, a self portrait, was compared to Christ on the Mount of Olives.
Gauguin was born in Paris but lived for several years in Peru with his Peruvian mother. Who knew? He also married a Danish woman, had four children, and abandoned her. He lived in Arles for a short time with Vincent van Gogh. It may have been his fault that Vincent cut off his ear. As a young person, Gauguin's paintings look pretty conventional. He argued with Vincent but was very much influenced by him.
I tried to compare this historical context with my idea that you should just look at the paintings and let them form an idea in your mind. Gauguin may provide a possibility because the pictures only vaguely represent reality. It is what they look like, not what they represent that matters. He is not painting reality, and it is important to realize that. Photographs show that Tahiti was forever changed by Christian missionaries by the time Gauguin arrived there. He had to die before he became famous.
The second half showed the exhibit at the National Gallery in London with commentary by artists and art critics.
Here are some favorites from the past decade which did not make the previous list because no big name appeared in the performance.
I saw Rossini's Maometto II at the Santa Fe Opera in the new critical edition in 2012. It starred Luca Pisaroni and Leah Crocetto. Leah sang the role originally written for Isabella Colbran. I found this a magnificent opera and have been disappointed that I haven't seen it revived elsewhere.
That same year I saw Heggie's Moby-Dick at the San Francisco Opera. I declared it to be a masterpiece, but haven't seen much of it lately. Dead Man Walking seems to be everyone's favorite Heggie opera. Stephen Costello and Jay Hunter Morris were the stars.
For a triple threat year I also saw a touring company present in its original production Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass. It was an historic event, even if I don't remember much about it.
Opera Parallèle brought me Golijov's Ainadamar in 2013. This was already a favorite from recording. There is time travel in the story which was easily solved by posting the current year in the titles. The confusing story was well presented here. It's about a play by Federico Garcia Lorca, done as a trouser role. There was Flamenco dancing. What more could you ask for?
Bay Area wonders continued with West Edge Opera's presentation of Berg's Lulu in 2015. It starred Emma McNairy, so far my favorite Lulu ever. She played her for sex, an entirely not irrelevant part of the story. I see her name pop up in Europe now.
2017 was a notable year primarily for two different and very interesting productions of Mozart's La
Clemenza di Tito by two of the more notorious regisseurs in opera: Claus Guth at Glyndebourne and Peter Sellars at Salzburg. Sellars focused on creating a racial context for the drama with racial casting while Guth moved the story from Rome to a river bank. Sellars featured Golda Schultz and Russell Thomas while Guth had Alice Coote. I dearly loved both of these performances and have come to regard this as Mozart's greatest opera.
2019 topped everything with the Metropolitan Opera's presentation of Glass's Akhnatenin an astounding production by Phelim McDermott. We didn't know an opera could be about juggling. Much of this success is due to the brilliant performance of Anthony Roth Costanzo.
I have added this list because it is simply not complete with only the great stars. Obscure companies can bring us wonderful opera. This isn't every wonderful thing. You should create your own list.
Marie...................Elza van den Heever
Drum Major..............Christopher Ventris
Doctor..................Christian Van Horn
This is my fifth time with Berg's Wozzeck--once in the 60's at San Francisco with Marilyn Horne,
once in the 80's at San Francisco with Janis Martin, once in 2011 at Santa Fe with Nicola Beller Carbone, a
German soprano, once streamed from Salzburg with Asmik Grigorian and now in HD from the Met with Elza van den Heever. Marilyn Horne could have been singing Bellini.
Janis Martin could have been doing Wagner. Since then it has become increasingly noticeable that there is a lot of Sprechstimme in this opera. This means it often sounds like talking in rhythm against the large orchestra.
I saw this production streamed from Salzburg. It looked even more jumbled and distracting this time. It overwhelms the action and makes everything confusing. I liked it even less this time.
Peter Mattei was just right as Wozzeck, mean and dark and nasty. Elza may be too nice as Marie. The puppet child never projects as a real child, never arouses any sympathy. It must be under 3 years old, since that is how long Wozzeck and Marie have known each other. When this opera works best for me it's when the child is seen wandering off after both his parents are dead. A puppet doesn't arouse this reaction.
Jennifer Hudson ... Grizabella
Judi Dench ... Old Deuteronomy
Taylor Swift ... Bombalurina
In spite the terrible reviews I went to the movie Cats. It starts very slow, but ends nicely. Judi Dench is her usual glorious self. I got the plot for the first time. The only thing that I absolutely hated was they have the excellent Jennifer Hudson to sing Memories, and they make her croon it except for one brief loud section. Just remind yourself that it's Cats.
The people who are complaining seem to be people who have never been to the opera.
Turandot: Act II
I listened to the audio and thought the whole evening was beautiful, worth going to New York for. Her "In questa regia" was spectacular. The internet is worrying away that Turandot is too heavy for her and that she will ruin her voice. My own opinion--why does one blog if not to give ones opinion?--is that she keeps enough lightness in her voice to avoid stress. I don't hear pushing. I predict we will love this when we get the whole opera.
We have turned over a new decade, so I have decided to follow the trend and do a list of favorites of my own. I will group them by favorite artists.
Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros
I am feeling a bit sad that the Bayerische Staatsoper doesn't seem to cast them opposite one another any more. I hope I'm wrong because together they have brought me some of my favorite Verdi performances.
My first experience of this pairing was in Wagner's Lohengrin on DVD (2010). I saw this production live in Munich but with a different soprano. This is the much maligned blue t-shirt production. For me it worked and continues to be very watchable. They are two great artists with magnificent charisma who are musically and theatrically on the same page. The look may be odd, but it doesn't damage the story. This is available on DVD.
Next they appeared together in Verdi's Don Carlo from the ROH (2013). Thomas Hampson was Rodrigo. In this wonderful opera they reign supreme. It is a traditional production. This is available on DVD.
That same year brought me my favorite ever of Verdi's La Forza del Destino (2013) from Munich. The villain brother is played by Ludovic Tézier. Forza is very hard to stage, and I felt this version was successful by keeping the villain evil. This is available on DVD.
And finally Verdi's Otello (2018) from Munich. This is a lot of two Germans performing the essential Italian, but I loved all of it. Unfortunately the DVD of Kaufmann's Otello is for a different performance from London, but I very much prefer this one for its tilt toward Desdemona and his relationship to her. It goes very deep.
This is the decade when Anna Netrebko moved from a lyric soprano to a Verdi spinto. This change was not to everyone's taste, but I was surprised to find that I liked her Verdi almost as much as I had liked her Donizetti. The red dress Traviata I loved so much is from the previous decade.
Cilèa's Adriana Lecouvreur in HD from the Met (2019) with Anita Rachvelishvili. Piotr Beczala is a wonderful added bonus. This performance brings us a whole new generation of wailing. It is appropriate that Anna end the decade with a new female voice at her side. They were together in Aida at the Met, but the tenor spoiled the performance.
Elīna's performances are beautifully sung and magnificently acted
Cecilia began the decade with a Grammy for Sacrificium. Shortly after that she became the manager of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival. Of her triumphs I enjoyed these most. Her contract in Salzburg continues to 2026 while she has added Opera de Monte Carlo to her future management duties.
Handel's Giulio Cesare at Salzburg (2012) in a regie production. This production made it to DVD, and the DVD was nominated for a Grammy. For some reason not known to me this opera is often regarded as a comedy with silly action. In spite of that the musical elements are spectacularly beautiful. Cecilia singing with a bag over her head may be going too far.
Handel's Ariodante (2017) from Salzburg. This is Cecilia having fun with gender issues. She begins with a beard and wearing a suit of armor. She takes off her armor, dances, changes into a dress, and eventually removes her beard. She blows smoke rings, or at least mimes blowing smoke rings since we see no smoke. The singing is lovely. The beard idea has found its way onto her latest album.
Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri (2018) from Salzburg. Of the bunch, this is my favorite. Cecilia rides a camel, takes a bath, rejects the baritone and talks the tenor into returning to Italy, all in great comic style. Cecilia sings wonderfully, acts as only she can and looks gorgeous.
Nina Stemme is an almost incidental singer, but nevertheless there are a few performances by her that have completely charmed me. [That sounds worse than I meant it.]
This isn't all I liked, obviously, but it's the only list I've generated that's close to all standard repertoire and based entirely on singers who were well established at the start of the decade. You won't go wrong with any of these great performances. I could make a different list entirely of people and trends that were new in this decade. Perhaps I will.
Oh. I award the decade to Jonas Kaufmann. I liked him in more things than the performances with Anja Harteros.