Thursday, December 31, 2020

Met New Years Gala

Matthew Polenzani, Pretty Yende, Angel Blue, Javier Camarena

This wonderful Metropolitan Opera Gala concert came to us live from the Parktheater im Kurhaus Göggingen, in Augsburg, Germany.  I used to live near there.

The Program

“Ah! Mes amis ... Pour mon âme” from Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment
               Javier Camarena    [I came in at the end where he hits the last high C.  Magnificent.]

“Chacun le sait” from Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment
               Pretty Yende 

“Che gelida manina” from Puccini’s La Bohème
               Matthew Polenzani 

“Sì, mi chiamano Mimì” from Puccini’s La Bohème
               Angel Blue

“O soave fanciulla” from Puccini’s La Bohème 
               Angel Blue, Matthew Polenzani

“Quoi! Vous m’aimez?” from Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment 
               Pretty Yende, Javier Camarena 

“Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso” from Puccini’s La Rondine 
               Angel Blue, Pretty Yende, Javier Camarena, Matthew Polenzani

“Sì, ritrovarla io giuro” from Rossini’s La Cenerentola
               Javier Camarena

“Una voce poco fa” from Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia
               Pretty Yende

“La donna è mobile” from Verdi’s Rigoletto
               Matthew Polenzani 

“D’amor sull’ali rosee” from Verdi’s Il Trovatore
               Angel Blue

“Son geloso del zefiro errante” from Bellini’s La Sonnambula
               Pretty Yende, Javier Camarena

“Lippen schweigen” from Lehár’s Die Lustige Witwe
               Angel Blue, Matthew Polenzani    [Perhaps I would like this if Angel was the widow.]

“Mattinata” by Ruggero Leonvacallo
               Pretty Yende, Javier Camarena

“Torna a Surriento” by Ernesto De Curtis
               Angel Blue, Matthew Polenzani

“’O sole mio” by Eduardo di Capua
               Angel Blue, Pretty Yende, Javier Camarena, Matthew Polenzani

“Libiamo, ne’ lieti calici” from Verdi’s La Traviata
               Angel Blue, Pretty Yende, Javier Camarena, Matthew Polenzani

“Auld Lang Syne” (Traditional)
               Angel Blue, Pretty Yende, Javier Camarena, Matthew Polenzani

Very nice.  All my favorite parts.  Lots of duets.  My emotions are getting the better of me.  I need more of all these people.  I sang along to Auld Lang Syne.  Love to all.


There has been controversy over this concert.  People argue that Met musicians should have been hired to accompany the singers instead of the Europeans, a pianist and a string ensemble.  The concert took place in Germany.  There would probably be two reasons for this:  1.  Live performances under controlled conditions are allowed in Germany, and 2. The singers are all in Europe where at least occasionally they can get gigs.  Javi is in Monaco and Madrid.  Pretty has been in Barcelona.  Angel will be in Berlin.  Matthew has been in Madrid.  

Other factors concern the accompanying musicians.  It might not be possible for American musicians to just fly in to Germany and play there.  I am not happy about Gelb and his treatment of the marvelous Met orchestra, but I wouldn't have wanted to miss this beautiful concert.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Favorite Operas of the Year 2020 👍🏻

For another perspective on 2020 see the KK Awards.

This list is limited only to performances that I viewed in 2020.  This was another year without travel but with a lot of free streams from the Met and the Vienna State Opera due to the global pandemic.  These are my top ten for this year and are in chronological order.  I find this to be a lovely mix of a wide variety of operatic styles.

Favorite Performances

  • Gershwin's Porgy and Bess  This came early in the year when we were still receiving live streams in HD in movie theaters from the Metropolitan Opera.  The stars were Eric Owens and Angel Blue.  I love this opera and found this cast perfect.

  • Bartok's Judith   This came to me as a live stream from Munich before the theaters closed and is entirely an invention of  Katie Mitchell. Bluebeard's Castle becomes a crime story.  This mashup of Concerto for Orchestra in five movements and Duke Bluebeard's Castle, both by Bartok, was new for everyone.  I don't quite know if I should say it's a new opera.  The concerto is staged as a film showing Nina Stemme preparing to go under cover to capture Bluebeard.  You'd have to make your own film.

  • Handel's Agrippina  This, too, is before the closing of the theaters and was live from the Met.  Joyce Didonato is Agrippina and Kate Lindsey as Nero are spectacular.  I didn't know that Handel wrote any comedies, but this is very funny.

  • Korngold's Das Wunder der Heliane [Heliane's miracle] is from Deutsche Oper Berlin and was performed in 2018.  It was new for me, and I am apparently not the only one.  Korngold died young, and only his Die Tote Stadt has remained in the repertoire.  He is a neo-romanticist who writes great singing roles.  People are wondering why they have never seen this.


  • Beethoven's Fidelio   My selections jump to July long after the theater closing.  This performance is from ROH in London and occurred this year.  Lise blends in with the guys more than any other Leonore I've seen.  This is for the singing.  The staging of the last act is a bit odd.

  • Britten's Gloriana   This performance came to me from Madrid and played in 2018.  I had never seen this opera before and liked it very much.  This was composed for the coronation of Elizabeth II and has something of a bad reputation in England.  The story is slanted more politically than romantically.

  • Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos  This performance occurred in Vienna in 2017 and stars Lise Davidsen as Ariadne and Erin Morley as Zerbinetta.  This is for the singing.

  • Puccini's Tosca  There were four Toscas for me this year, but I liked best this one from Vienna in 2019 starring Sondra Radvanovsky and Piotr Beczala.  Two of the other Toscas also came from Vienna.  I am feeling insecure about this choice since the other three were also very good.

  • Catán's Florencia en el Amazonas    It comes from my alma mater Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, and played in 2016.  The set is a boat that rotates on the stage.  I saw a film of this last year, but this one is better.  If you have not seen this opera, try this one.  This was the first time I have viewed the IU website, and I should try it again.

  • Puccini's La Boheme  This was a live performance from Munich played to an empty house.  The waiter wore a mask, and there were no crowds.  I loved it best of all because the singers showed us their real selves and projected a sense of intimacy.  Jonas Kaufmann was his wonderful self.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

2020 Opera Year in Review KK Awards

It seems rather depressing to be suggesting awards for 2020.  Luckily I don't require that the performances reviewed be performed this year.  I only require that I saw them this year and did not see the exact same performance in a previous year.  This eliminates a lot of things, including the nightly Met streams.  

  • March 30 --  Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg  Met stream
  • March 31 --  Il Barbiere di Siviglia Met stream  [I liked it better this time]
  • April 3  --  Don Carlo  Met stream
  • April 8 --  La Fanciulla del West  Met stream
  • April 28 -- Anna Bolena Met stream
  • April 30 --  Roberto Devereux  Met stream
  • May 2  --  Aida  Met stream
  • May 7  --  Le Nozze di Figaro  Met stream [all time favorite]
  • May 12 --  Werther  Met stream
  • May 13  --  Ariadne auf Naxos  Met stream 
  • May 20  --  Lohengrin Met stream
  • May 27 --  Manon Lescaut  Met stream
  • June 19  --  La Forza del Destino Met stream
  • July 5  --  Die Walküre Met stream
  • August 24 -- Hansel and Gretel Met stream 
  • September 10 -- La Damnation de Faust  Met stream 

Though these are some of the greatest performances ever from the Metropolitan Opera, I will not consider them in the KK Awards.  Interestingly, the San Francisco Opera produced an occasional weekly stream.

  • May 31 --  Lucrezia Borgia SFO
  • June 14  --  Trittico from SFO
  • June 23 --  Salome SFO  [far better with closeups.]
  • July 29 -- The Makropulos Case SFO
  • October 11  -- Tosca  SFO (new to me)
  • October 20 -- Attila  SFO
  • October 31 -- Lucia di Lammermoor  SFO
  • November 22 -- Rigoletto SFO
  • November 30 -- The Elixir of Love  SFO (new to me)

Two of these streams were completely new to me and should be included in the competition.  My series does not always include everything.  The logic here is that they could have been included in the KK Awards for previous seasons.  There are more performances from the Wiener Staatsoper than generally come my way due to free streaming.  Usually they charge.

Every year I list the operas that were completely new to me.  I find it interesting that these things can still happen.  In chronological order of viewing this year they are:

  • BEST NEW OPERA AWARD   Ryan Suleiman's Bones of Girls from Sacramento, Korngold's Das Wunder der Heliane from Berlin, Britten's Gloriana.  I liked the Judith idea, but the film that went before Bluebeard featured Nina Stemme and would not be transferable to another performance.  I enjoyed Hamilton but find that I must award to Britten's Gloriana, a truly excellent opera that should be performed more often.


  • BEST BAROQUE OPERA AWARD   The pickings here are rather slim.  Agrippina in HD with Joyce DiDonato, Giulio Cesare from Glyndebourne with Sarah Connolly which used the same production as the Met.  Flip a coin.  Neither one can be topped.  Because both the performance and the production were new to me, I award to Agrippina.  Joyce was exceptional.

  • BEST OF BEETHOVEN, MOZART AND WEBER AWARD  Fidelio from Theater an der Wien in Vienna, Fidelio from ROH with Lise Davidsen, Cosi fan Tutte from Salzburg, Weber's Euryanthe from Theater an der Wien in Vienna, Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail with Lisette Oropesa.  This is tough.  This is a Beethoven year, and I was so looking forward to seeing Fidelio from everywhere.   I am pleased that I found 2 excellent examples.  I am torn between Lise Davidsen and Lisette Oropesa, of course.  I have actually never liked Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail before seeing this performance from Vienna.  The production is very strange, but Lisette is magnificent.  Leonora in Fidelio is a perfect role for the 6'2" Lise Davidsen.  It fits her voice and herself.  I award to this Fidelio.  It would have been Lisette's Mozart except for the production. 

  • BEST BEL CANTO OPERA AWARD  Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi from the Zurich opera with Joyce DiDonato, Donizetti's The Elixir of Love from SFO with Ramon Vargas.  The rest of the bel canto repertoire was reruns.  This is tough.  One is serious, the other comedy.  I think I must choose Joyce once again in the serious opera.

  • BEST WAGNER OPERA AWARD No entries.  All my Wagner was reruns from the Met.

  • BEST VERISMO OPERA AWARD   Curiously, everything in this category this year is either Tosca or La Boheme.   Tosca list:
This is a wonderful selection of Puccini performances.  This is the broadest selection of a small repertoire.  Bryn is the best Scarpia.  I'm torn between Lianna and Sondra for Tosca herself.  However, the depth of my emotional reaction cannot exceed the Munich La Boheme.  They felt like friends.  There was real joy in being together even though there was no audience.  I award to this performance.

  • BEST BROADWAY REVIVAL AWARD   Cats the movieHamilton, Disney movie of an on stage performance.  The Cats movie was ok, but Hamilton was the real deal.  I was very pleased to have finally seen it.
  • BEST OVERALL AWARD  The Munich La Boheme.  How can it be anything else?

If I think of anything else to award to, I'll add it.  We can only hope for a return to live opera in the new year.


Monday, December 21, 2020

Elektra from Salzburg


Chrysothemis and Elektra

Stage director - Krzysztof Warlikowski
Conductor - Franz Welser-Möst

Elektra, Agamemnon's daughter - Aušrinė Stundytė (soprano)
Chrysothemis, her sister - Asmik Grigorian   (soprano)
Klytämnestra, their mother - Tanja Ariane Baumgartner (mezzo)
Aegisth, Klytämnestra's lover - Michael Laurenz  (tenor)
Orest, son of Agamemnon - Derek Welton (baritone)

Since it still is on, I decided to give Elektra from Salzburg last summer a try.  It was performed in the Felsenreitscchule and was one of only two operas presented at that time. The other was Mozart's Cosi fan tutte.

It starts with a speech by Klytämnestra before starting the opera.  She says it was she who killed Agamemnon.  Elektra is one of the daughters of Agamemnon and Klytämnestra.  The women are left at home for ten years while Agamemnon leads the Greeks to Troy to fight for the return of his brother Menelaus's wife Helen who was kidnapped by Paris.  While he is away, his wife takes a lover, Aegisth, and kills her husband when he returns from the war.

The opera begins with Elektra brooding over the murder of her father.  This is a regie production with everyone dressed in modern clothes.  Elektra smokes.  The Felsenreitscchule provides a space for a long shallow swimming pool.  Perhaps it's a feature of the building.  When Elektra cries out to see her father, he appears.  At least I assume that's who it is.  She dances. 

The production is interesting, but these people seem to have been cast for their looks.  They look like the characters they portray, but there is a lot of shouting.  To look like their characters the girls are vocally too immature for their roles. Theatrically it is stunning.  Previously I have seen Christine Goerke and Nina Stemme sing Elektra, but this is more serious, more intense, more in the time of life when all becomes difficult. 

The lushness of the orchestra is beautiful.  The translation is very good.  Many people love this opera.  There seems to be an audience.  Recommended for the intensity.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Tosca from Vienna

Anna Netrebko - Tosca 
Wolfgang Koch - Scarpia 
Yusif Eyvazov - Mario

I watched Tosca from the Wiener Staatsoper where they aired another live performance with no audience. My interest was to see how Anna is singing after her bout with COVID19.  Vocally I found her in top form.  Physically I thought she has not really fully recovered.  No climbing on the furniture in this performance.

It was not my favorite Tosca.  There are wonderful ones everywhere you look.  The absence of an audience still seems weird to me.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Beethoven's Birthday


For the occasion of Beethoven's birthday I have chosen this film of The Ode to Joy from the 60th anniversary celebration of the found of the German Federal Republic.  "All Menschen werden Brueder."

Friday, December 11, 2020

Werther from Vienna


Bertrand de Billy (conductor)
Andrei Serban (stage director), 

Piotr Beczała | Werther 
Clemens Unterreiner | Albert 
Gaëlle Arquez | Charlotte 
Daniela Fally | Sophie 

The Wiener Staatsoper has live streamed Werther with Piotr Beczala.  I have only really liked this opera with Jonas Kaufmann, but Piotr seems like the right type to carry it off.  We have soccer balls and hula hoops, so it must be at least the 1950s.  The stage is filled with a gigantic tree which stays through all the scenes.  Do they live in a tree house?  I am pleased to see a piano in Charlotte's bedroom. 

Charlotte seems to be seriously leading him on while telling him she has to marry Albert.  She blows him kisses.  Hmmm.  We are ambiguous about Charlotte.  Werther loves her for her responsible, motherly qualities.  She has married Albert because she promised her mother, but now she seems not to like him.  This Albert is nasty.  She is serious and sad.  Werther has ruined her life.  When one loves someone who cannot love you in the same way, one is obligated to pretend that all is well.  Piotr is excellent in this role but one does not love his Werther.  It is nevertheless a great role for him. 

I have not pictured Charlotte as the mature woman that she is here.  I prefer her as simply the older sister of her mother's many children.  It's too sad.  The emotional dynamic is very strong here.  In life this is too hard.  In opera it is perfect.  They are messing up everything.  

If you want a serious, intense Werther, this is for you.

Friday, December 04, 2020

Opera News Awards

 Janet Baker  --  Cecilia Bartoli  --  Lawrence Brownlee

These are this year's recipients of the Opera News Awards, all three artists that I love.  I'll find some music.  There will be a streamed virtual gala on April 18, 2021.