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 in 2011: 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 Monaco 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, 2014, 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.

Monday, May 04, 2020


I collect renditions of Over the Rainbow (see here), but this one cannot be overlooked. The singer is Christine Brewer.

Contrast with her Liebestod here.

Saturday, May 02, 2020

The Only Aida 👍🏻

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

Aida....................Leontyne Price [Last performance]
Radamès.................James McCracken
Amneris.................Fiorenza Cossotto
Amonasro................Simon Estes
Ramfis..................John Macurdy

I'm going to cut everyone some slack in the replay of Aida, 1985, from Leontyne Price's last performance anywhere in a staged opera.  The previous season she presented at the Met the last performance of her other signature role from La Forza del Destino.  It starts slow and warms to an intensity seldom seen today.

"Celeste Aida" is tough.  I always remember that when Pavarotti did his first Aida in San Francisco that the papers panned him.  It's tough.  But McCracken carries his weight after that.  Cossotto comes out of the box roaring and carries this to the end.  Perhaps she knows that she will be remembered for this performance.

But this performance is about Leontyne Price.  I cannot top what I said years ago about the Blue Album which I used to play in my dorm room at college:

"To begin here tends to set ones standards absurdly, artificially high. Forever after I thought anyone should be able to do that gorgeous open, almost raw sound, that unbelievably fat middle tone, those awesome high notes. Anyone should be able to hit a high C and spin it back to a pianissimo. Right? How hard can it be?

"And that perfect, fluid phrasing, that perfection of ornamentation, that flawless instinct for scooping and sliding in Verdi, that must be a dime a dozen. Must be.

"And that reckless intensity, that daring passion, there must be hundreds of those.

"But no one who could approach this ever came again. For Bellini it's Callas, but for Verdi there is no one who ever could touch the one and only, never to be seen again Leontyne Price. Herbert von Karajan said that her singing gave him goose bumps. Yes."

And our Aida rerun from the Met captured my attention as seldom happens these days.  Our hearts are with them to the end.