Friday, December 24, 2021

2021 Opera Year in Review KK Awards

I'm not sure 2021 was any better than 2020.  I am counting only performances that took place this year or films I had never seen before this year.  This was another year aggravated by both COVID and my advancing age.  I still saw some very nice stuff.

Here is the all too short list of operas new to me this year.

  • BEST NEW OPERA AWARD   It's hard to choose one.  I enjoyed most Heggie's Three Decembers from the San Jose Opera, but this was probably because the lead role was played by the always amazing Susan Graham.  The two modern operas from the Metropolitan Opera did not grab me.  I require musical interest, and not just theater.  Donizetti is famous mostly for his comic operas L’Elisir d’Amore and Don Pasquale, plus Lucia, of courseLinda di Chamounix is very beautiful, but perhaps the plot is too dated.  It is opera seria with a happy ending, a genre we don't follow that much.  The award seems to go to Three Decembers
  • BEST OF MOZART, BEETHOVEN, AND WEBER AWARD     My only Mozart was Cosi fan Tutte, November 28, from San Francisco in a lovely modern production, part 2 of their Da Ponte trilogy.  I saw two new versions of Beethoven's Fidelio this year:   Fidelio, Jan 29, from Birmingham England and some years old, and Fidelio, October 15, from San Francisco.  Weber Der Freischütz, Feb 16, from Munich. All four of these operas might be regarded as regie.  The Birmingham Fidelio features a row of washing machines.  Der Freischütz, which we see all too seldom, is in a sky scraper.  Modernizing it loses some of the mystery.  Cosi is in a Country Club which people join to play golf and tennis.  I dearly love Fidelio, but I think the most successful of this group has to be the San Francisco Cosi fan Tutte, and I award to it.

  • BEST OF WAGNER AWARD  This turned out to be a big year for Wagner for me.  I saw two new Wagner productions:  Tristan und Isolde, August 12, from the Bayerische Staatsoper with Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros and Der fliegende Holländer, Sept 37, from Bayreuth with Asmik Grigorian, who does not touch my heart.  She's quite celebrated, but these are my opinions.   Both were regie productions.  I also finally saw the full Ring cycle from the San Francisco Opera:  Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Die Götterdämmerung.  The last two were new for me.  
The concert version of act I of Die Walküre, July 17, also from the Bayerische Staatsoper with Jonas Kaufmann and Lise Davidsen is the final entry.  This last was quite wonderful, but I find it not quite as wonderful as the amazing and surprising Tristan und Isolde, also from Munich.  It is hard to top the combination of Jonas and Anja.  Musically and theatrically they are completely in tune.  I award to that.  Lise may be turning me into a Wagnerian.
  • BEST OF VERDI, MUSSORGSKY AND R. STRAUSS AWARD  The pickings in the late Romantics are pretty slim.  Lise Davidsen makes her only staged opera appearance in a rather odd Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos, Feb 4, from Aix en Province.  I say odd because in this regie production Ariadne doesn't await a god to rescue her; instead she awaits a baby because she is pregnant.  Lise frowned almost constantly.  The singing was wonderful.  Other performances in the running are Verdi Aida, February 18, from Paris and Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, October 9, from the Met in a shortened version.  The Aida with Jonas Kaufmann and Sondra Radvanovsky has puppets.  None of these are anything I would want to see again, but I award to Aida.

  • BEST VERISMO AWARD  The Verismo operas for this year were Korngold Die Tote Stadt, June 20, from the Bayerische Staatsoper, Janáček's Káťa Kabanová, August 2, from West Edge, and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, August 20, from Chicago.  West Edge was in a poor venue and can't really compete with the other companies.  Verismo operas are modern enough to allow for regie productions with no complaining, at least from me.  The Korngold starred Jonas Kaufmann who is hard to beat in anything.  Pagliacci starred our boy Quinn Kelsen who gave us a marvelous prologue.  The pictured performance was a television show, The Honeymooners, which I am old enough to have seen.  If you hadn't seen it, you would not get the back story.  I award to Pagliacci, for fun.
  • SINGER OF THE YEAR   This has to go to Jonas Kaufmann, who managed to find a way onto the stage and our screens in spite of everything.  I especially loved him in the reopening of the Bayerische Staatsoper in Act I of Die Walküre with Lise Davidsen, who was glorious.  This is the most I have become emotionally involved with this scene. His fully staged operas were Aida with Sondra Radvanovsky, Die Tote Stadt with Marlis Peterson, Tosca with Anna Netrebko in Salzburg and with Sondra Radvanovsky in Spain, and the triumph that puts him above all others:  Tristan und Isolde with Anja Harteros.  I loved every bit in spite of the fact that it was very much regie.  With such great artists it doesn't seem to matter.

 It was a pretty strange year.  Let's hope for better things in the future.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Eurydice in HD


Eurydice................Erin Morley (soprano)
Orpheus.................Joshua Hopkins (baritone)
Orpheus’s Double....Jakub Józef Orlinski, countertenor 
Father.....................Nathan Berg (baritone)
Hades.....................Barry Banks (tenor)
Little Stone............Stacey Tappan (soprano)
Big Stone...............Ronnita Miller (mezzo)
Loud Stone............Chad Shelton (tenor)

Conductor............Yannick Nézet-Séguin 
Director................Mary Zimmerman 

The opera Eurydice by Matthew Aucoin on a libretto by Sarah Ruhl premiered in Los Angeles in 2020. It's based on a play by Sarah Ruhl and is in English. This is the Orpheus myth from the woman's point of view. It's a preferred topic for operas because it's about the power of music even over the gods. Orpheus can lure the gods into releasing Eurydice from hell. 

We are 20 minutes in and they have violated an important rule: there should be an aria, preferably for the soprano, in the first 10 minutes. So far just talky stuff. They tried all recitative operas at the beginning of opera, but it didn't work out. We go to hell and see Eurydice's father who still remembers life before death and how to read and write. He writes to Eurydice and sings about it. This is the closest we've come to an aria so far. 

Eurydice comes out in her bridal dress, and father watches her while he sinks back into the earth. Orpheus and Eurydice sing their vows, kiss and dance. Hades arrives and he has a conversation with Eurydice over the water cooler. He brings her the letter from her father. For me the lyrical bits don't go on nearly long enough. Eurydice goes off with Hades and Orpheus comes looking for her. 

I'm sorry. This just isn't happening for me.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

West Side Story 2021


1961 2021
Tony Richard Beymer (voice:  Jimmy Bryant) Ansel Elgort
Maria (Bernardo's sister) Natalie Wood (voice:  Marni Nixon) Rachel Zegler
Anita (Bernardo's girlfriend) Rita Moreno (voice:  Betty Wand) Ariana DeBose
Bernardo (head Shark)
George Chakiris David Alvarez
Riff (head Jet)
Russ Tamblyn (voice:  Tucker Smith) Mike Faist
Officer Krupke William Bramley Brian d'Arcy James
Lieutenant Schrank Simon Oakland  Corey Stoll
Doc's shop keeper Ned Glass as Doc Rita Moreno as Valentina  

These are comparative cast lists for the two movie versions of Bernstein's West Side Story.  The lyrics are by Sondheim.  All the main roles were dubbed in the 1961 movie while none were in the new one.  Voice:  means the name of the person who is actually singing.  I was fascinated to see Rita Moreno sang here but was dubbed in the earlier version.  Curious.  After all, Rita has a Grammy.

If you were paying attention, at the very beginning they are talking about urban renewal in that part of New York City and show a photo of Lincoln Center which opened in 1962.  The film showed street signs from that neighborhood.  So there was a slum there before it was torn down.  I liked all the old cars seen parked in the street.  This is my era, apparently.

I enjoyed this remake and found it very emotional.  The dancing was top quality and very professional, but the same cannot be said for the singing.  Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if the volume was turned up a bit.  The singing wasn't bad, just insignificant.  Live in the theater it would be louder because the cast would be chosen partly for their singing and then amplified. 

There was a lot of untranslated Spanish with quite a lot of "Speak English" remarks.  I only know tiny bits of Spanish.  The story was darker and more violent.

In my review of West Side Story at the Sacramento Music Circus I said, "The way the production looks is how the story is told.  One group runs quickly off the stage and is replaced by another.  'Who are these people?' is a question that should be instantly answered." It was at the Music Circus, but it was not here.  It was no easy trick to tell the two groups apart.  I found this a particular problem.

Tony loses his cool for a moment and changes everything.  This is the heart of the story.  One should see it again.  Don't miss this.  The young man who plays Tony is particularly beautiful.

Monday, December 06, 2021

Salzburg Whitsun 2022

Cecilia Bartoli has announced her Whitsun Festival for 2022.  It's called Siviglia and features a variety of references to Seville.  There is even a flamenco night.  I am hoping for a stream, because it would be wonderful to see Cecilia in Barber of Seville once more.  It looks like a lot of fun.


Il barbiere di Siviglia

Haus für Mozart

Piano Matinee · Iberia

Haus für Mozart

Concert · La Torre del Oro

Haus für Mozart

Il barbiere di Siviglia

Haus für Mozart

Flamenco Night · Oda a la flor del naranjo


Sacred Concert · El siglo de oro

June 6
Gala Concert · Carmencita & Friends

Grosses Festspielhaus
  • Gianluca Capuano Conductor
  • Maria Agresta Soprano
  • Rebeca Olvera Soprano
  • Cecilia Bartoli Mezzo-soprano
  • Piotr Beczala Tenor
  • Plácido Domingo Tenor
  • John Osborn Tenor
  • Rolando Villazón Tenor
  • Ildar Abdrazakov Bass
  • María Pagés Dance
  • Les Musiciens du Prince-Monaco

Saturday, December 04, 2021

A Baroque Christmas in Sacramento

Last night at SAFE Credit Union Performing Arts Center in Sacramento we attended a lovely small orchestra concert with Margaret Batjer, conductor and violin.  I am calling these types of concerts twofers.  That means you get a soloist and a conductor for the price of one.  It's becoming very popular.  In fact the previous Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera concert was also a twofer.   Margaret's experience is as a concert mistress, and that's where she spent most of her time in the concert.  Only in the Bach violin concerto did she stand in front of the orchestra.  The rest of the time she sat in concert master's place on a raised platform where everyone could easily see her.

BACH Violin Concerto in A minor 

Allegro assai

HAYDN Symphony No. 8 in G major "Le soir"

Allegro molt
La tempesta: Presto

Since it was in fact Haydn who invented the four movement symphony format, I reminded my friends that the other guys were not familiar with this form.  Corelli was even earlier than Bach.

 CORELLI Concerto Grosso in G minor.  "Christmas Concerto"

I. Vivace – Grave 
II. Allegro
III. Adagio - Allegro – Adagio
IV. Vivace
V. Allegro 

A concerto grosso involves a small ensemble, this time a string quartet, that alternates with the full orchestra.

BACH Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major

I. Allegro
II. Andante
III. Presto

The Brandenburg Concertos are also concerti grossi.  The small ensemble in this particular case is a violin and two flutes.  The two flutists were not named, but I am going to assume they were Matthew Krejci and Elizabeth Coronati.

Our complaints about the previous concert seemed not to apply here.  We were quite happy with the acoustics.  Our guest violinist seemed to play significantly louder than the other string players.  We loved both the chosen repertoire and the manner in which it was played.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Mariusz Kwiecien

 This is about a year old, but apparently I have confused him with Ludovic Tézier who is still singing.

2 October 2020

Polish Baritone Mariusz Kwiecień Announces Retirement from Singing

News Kwiecien 1020

POLISH BARITONE MARIUSZ KWIECIEŃ, who made his professional debut in 1993 in a Kraków Opera performance of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and went on to join the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program before making his debut with the company as Kuligin in a 1999 performance of Kát'a Kabanová, has announced his retirement from singing, effective immediately, due to health issues. 

Kwiecień announced to the Polish media that he had sustained a slipped spinal disc in 2017 during a Metropolitan Opera performance of Don Giovanni and subsequently underwent reparative surgery in New York, though the issue was exacerbated following a performance of Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House. The baritone's last performance at the Metropolitan Opera came in November 2018, when he sang Zurga in the first act of a performance of Les Pêcheurs de Perles before being replaced in Act II by Alexander Birch Elliott. Over the course of his career, Kwiecień sang in more than 200 performances at the Met, including new productions of Don Pasquale (2006), Lucia di Lammermoor (opening night of the 2007-08 season), Carmen (2009), L'Elisir d'Amore (opening night, 2012-13 season), Eugene Onegin (opening night of the 2013-14 season) and Les Pêcheurs de Perles (2015). Kwiecien also opened Lyric Opera of Chicago's 2014-15 season in the title role of the Robert Falls's Don Giovanni staging. Other companies at which Kwiecień frequently performed included Covent Garden, Paris Opéra, the Vienna State Opera and the Bayerische Staatsoper. With an essentially lyric instrument, Kwiecień made specialties of roles that included Giovanni, Szymanowski's King Roger, Eugene Onegin, Figaro's Almaviva, Don Pasquale's Malatesta, Riccardo in I Puritani and Posa in Don Carlo.

Kwiecień has reportedly accepted the post as artistic director of Wrocław Opera, and will begin his tenure there with the company's 2020-21 season. 

“There are other problems appearing now, and my movements onstage would be quite limited in such a situation. I don’t want that,” Kwiecień told the Polish press. “I have a lot to say about opera these days. I have sufficient background and experience from the greatest opera houses in the world. I have a huge number of wonderful friends, singers, directors and conductors, whom I will be delighted to invite to Wrocław." spacer

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Cosi fan tutte in San Francisco


Conductor: Henrik Nánási 
Director: Michael Cavanagh 

Ferrando: Ben Bliss*
Guglielmo: John Brancy
Don Alfonso: Ferruccio Furlanetto
Fiordiligi: Nicole Cabell
Dorabella: Irene Roberts
Despina: Nicole Heaston 

The San Francisco Opera is currently showing Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte.  Starting this season if you do not want to go into a crowded opera house, you can for a fee watch the opera at home on live stream.  I would like to suggest that it should be possible to make this available to play later for the same fee.  This would allow friends in Europe to watch it.  It's the middle of the night there.

This production began in 2019 with Figaro as part of a Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy and will continue to its conclusion later this season in Don Giovanni.  All three operas are set in the same basic house structure.  In this opera the house is now a country club with sports, dining, and other facilities.  I felt that the concept worked very well.  In the picture above the guys are in the men's locker room.  I liked the look of it and felt that it served very well to clarify the story.  The singers were expected to be rather more athletic than is generally a good idea. 

My only problem with it was with the music.  The music sounded very much like a performance of a Mozart symphony--intense and dramatic.  It wasn't exactly bad, but didn't make me feel like I was seeing a comedy.  My overall take is positive.  This opera is often hated, and I overcame my tendency in this direction.  It was good to see Ferruccio Furlanetto.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Stephen Sondheim 1930-2021

Stephen Sondheim has died.  I was not a connoisseur.  He was responsible for the lyrics to Bernstein's West Side Story, for me the greatest of all American musicals.  A new movie version of this is coming out on December 10 which I must see.

West Side Story  [lyrics only]

  • I loved the original movie of this with Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno.  It was done at the Sacramento Music Circus in 2015 where I saw it live.  I seem to have complained about the production.

Sweeney Todd   Since I began blogging I have seen three different versions of this show.

  • In 2008 came the incredible movie starring Johnny Depp as the demon barber,  Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett and Sacha Baron Cohen.  I seem to have enjoyed it rather more than expected.
  • In 2014 the New York Philharmonic put on a semi-staged version with an amazing cast:  Bryn Terfel as Todd, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Lovett, Erin Mackey as Johanna and Audra McDonald as The Beggar Woman.  They made this work and made a fantastic group.
  • In 2015 the San Francisco Opera presented it as an opera which I saw live.  It didn't fill the seats.  The cast:  Sweeney Todd: Brian Mulligan, Mrs. Lovett: Stephanie Blythe, Johanna: Heidi Stober and Beggar Woman: Elizabeth Futral.  Stephanie is great in anything she does.  I feel like I've done this, but nothing erases the Mrs Lovett of Angela Lansbury.

Sunday in the Park with George   I tried to see this in London, but couldn't get a ticket.

  • So instead I saw it live on Broadway in 2008.  It set me to thinking about art.

Into the Woods It's a mash up of fairy tale stories.

  • In 2013 I saw this live presented by the Sacramento Light Opera theater.   I enjoyed it.
  • Then in 2015 came the movie with Meryl Streep.  I called it an excellent film adaptation.

It is strange to realize that there are no hit tunes from any of these where the music is by Sondheim.  I haven't seen A Little Night Music.

Monday, November 22, 2021

SAFE Credit Union Performing Arts Center is Back


The Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera gave their first performance of this season in the recently refurbished  SAFE Credit Union Performing Arts Center.  The program consisted of:

Beethoven "The Consecration of the House" Overture, Op. 124

Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, K. 453.

Sibelius Symphony No 2 in D minor, Op 43.

Jeffrey Kahane both conducted and played the piano in the Mozart.  This is something going on now.  Instead of hiring both a conductor and a pianist, one hires someone who can do both at the same time, thus getting two for the price of one.  This is, of course, what would have happened in Mozart's day.  The concert was good but not very exciting.

The picture above is the only one I could find that shows the new configuration of the seats in the reconstructed center.  Previously the seats extended all the way across with aisles only at the ends. Now we have a more conventional configuration.  There is an orchestra pit, but it was covered for our performance.  

They told us the sound was amplified.  It had a kind of flat sound which diminished the expected and desired dynamic range.  Classical music is not normally amplified, and if you are amplifying it, it is considered a sign that you have failed in any kind acoustic design. People came down from the balcony and said they could hear nothing up there.  We'll see.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Barbara Hannigan's Lulu


Barbara Hannigan returned to Brussels to repeat her famous Lulu performance.  She does a lot of en point dancing.  I reviewed it the first time around and found it complete fascinating.  I believe this performance made her career.


 I have added some new labels to the singer section.

Charles Castronovo

Asmik Grigorian

Elza van den Heever

I didn't realize I'd seen Asmik so many times.  I'm afraid she hasn't made much of an impression on me.  I've liked Charles for quite some time.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Santa Fe Opera 2022 Season


The Santa Fe Opera has announced their season for the summer of 2022.  This looks like a full season to me.  With works by Rossini, Verdi and Wagner it looks like a very ambitious season to me.  The casts include some wonderful American singers.

Carmen by Bizet  July 1 - August 27

Isabel Leonard, Mezzo-soprano, Carmen; Bryan Hymel, Tenor, Don José (July); Michael Fabiano, Tenor, Don José (August); Michael Sumuel, Bass-baritone, Escamillo; Sylvia D'Eramo, Soprano, Micaëla; Santa Fe Opera Music Director Harry Bicket conducts.

The Barber of Seville by Rossini July 2 - August 26  

Emily Fons, Mezzo-soprano, Rosina; Jack Swanson, Tenor, Count Almaviva; Joshua Hopkins, Baritone, Figaro; Kevin Burdette, Bass, Dr. Bartolo; Ryan Speedo Green, Bass-baritone, Don Basilio (August); Iván López-Reynoso conducts.

Falstaff by Verdi   July 16 - August 25 

Quinn Kelsey, Baritone, Falstaff; Alexandra LoBianco, Soprano, Alice Ford;  Roland Wood, Baritone, Ford;  Elena Villalón, Soprano, Nannetta; Eric Ferring, Tenor, Fenton; Ann McMahon Quintero, Mezzo-Soprano, Dame Quickly; Paul Daniel conducts. 

Tristan und Isolde by Wagner  July 23 -  August 22

Simon O'Neill, Tenor, Tristan; Tamara Wilson, Soprano, Isolde; Jamie Barton, Mezzo-soprano, Brangäne; Nicholas Brownlee, Bass-baritone, Kurwenal; Eric Owens, Bass-baritone, King Marke; David Leigh, Bass, King Marke (August 11); James Gaffigan conducts.

M. Butterfly by Huang Ruo  July 30 -  August 24  

Kangmin Justin Kim, Countertenor, Song Liling; Mark Stone, Baritone, René Gallimard; Hongni Wu, Mezzo-soprano, Comrade Chin | Shu Fung; Kevin Burdette, Bass, Manuel Toulon | Judge; Joshua Dennis, Tenor, Marc; Carolyn Kuan conducts.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Fire Shut Up in My Bones in HD

Charles, Father's girl friend, Billie, Father
Co-Directors:.. James Robinson and Camille A. Brown
Conductor: ......Yannick Nézet-Séguin 

Destiny/Loneliness/Greta:  Angel Blue
Billie, Charles' mother: .....Latonia Moore 
Charles: ...........................Will Liverman 
Char'es-Baby: .................Walter Russell III

Fire Shut Up in My Bones, 2019 by Terence Blanchard on a libretto by Kasi Lemmons was shown in HD from the Metropolitan Opera today.  I'm sorry.  This didn't happen for me.  The singers were excellent, especially Angel Blue whom I very much admire, but I didn't enjoy the music.  That's the make or break for me.

I have decided to add more comments.  I tend to shy away from cruelty and crime within families.  I don't watch Law and Order SVU because it's all about the personal.  I never go to Madama Butterfly because it is about cruelty in intimacy.  Political and financial crimes don't bother me at all, but people abusing the innocent is just something I would rather not see.  The sexual abuse of children is the worst category.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Friday, October 15, 2021

Fidelio in San Francisco


Conductor Eun Sun Kim 
Director Matthew Ozawa

Leonore: Elza van den Heever 
Florestan: Russell Thomas 
Don Pizarro: Greer Grimsley 
Rocco: James Creswell 
Don Fernando: Soloman Howard 
Marzelline, Rocco's daughter: Anne-Marie MacIntosh * 
Jaquino:  Christopher Oglesby

Last night I attended the premier of a new production of Beethoven's Fidelio at the San Francisco Opera.  I'm going to work my way slowly through the production before going on to the music.

The single set is shown above.  It can be rotated, and the other side shows different spaces.  In Act II it looks different from Act I.  In Act I the back of the side presenting to us is covered with mirrors.  The director always sits in the middle of the orchestra to view his creation, but from my seat in the balcony circle the lights from the pit reflect in the mirrors to create a tremendous distraction.  The screens which drop down in the balcony are back, and they are shot from a lower angle which doesn't show the reflection.  I watched the screens.  [More about the screens later.]  No director ever seems to think of walking around the house to see what it looks like from other places.

Much of the drama of this production is created through costumes.  It's regie of course.  The last person in the upper left above might be Leonora dressed as a prison guard.

This will give you a better idea.  Left is Leonora, then Marzelline, then Rocco and last Jaquino.  It's probably the canon quartet.  Each of these people has a different role to play.  Leonora is in her guard's uniform.  Jaquino is wearing a business suit and Marzelline is wearing upscale office attire.  They seem to work in an office section of the prison.  Rocco who is supposed to be the boss is dressed no better than the prisoners without a uniform.  Jaquino is someone I have always seen as a flunky, so why is he in a business suit?  And why does Rocco look like a janitor?  I'm very confused.  This production does not give any clues about why Marzelline would prefer Fidelio.  The yellow outfits above are prisoners.

The one thing that makes Fidelio hard to stage is that in Act II while appearing to be still in the dungeon where Florestan has been hidden, there suddenly appears a fair sized mixed chorus to celebrate Leonora's rescue of Florestan [which she here accomplishes with a gun].  Until that point Leonora and Marzelline are the only women in the opera.  In this production the women are in the prison with their men and appear at the end when their men are released.  This sort of makes sense.

Enough about the production.  This was my first experience of our new conductor Eun Sun Kim.  She kept good tempos and maintained a suitable balance between the singers and the orchestra, things that make or break a performance.  The chorus was its usual spectacular self.

Russell Thomas sang a magnificent Florestan.  Greer Grimsley makes a good villain.  The make or break character is, of course, Leonora/Fidelio, here sung by Elza van den Heever.  She cried in the applause which was warm.  Everyone is so emotional about being back.  Elza, I hope you enjoyed your performance.

Which brings us back to the screens.  The San Francisco Opera is now offering live streams of its performances.  Streams require cameras, undoubtedly the same cameras that brought us the pictures on the screens that hang down in the balcony.  In addition streams bring money.  This makes me happy.  If you are unfamiliar with the San Francisco Opera, it provides a quality product.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Cecilia Unreleased


This is for Cecilia Bartoli's new album Unreleased.  I've never seen a picture of Cecilia with a dog before.  I received this in my email as a Friend, something I did not know I was.  Smile😍

This CD includes Beethoven's Ah Perfido, also seen on Lise's recent album.  There are also a number of Mozart arias.

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Boris Godunov in HD


Conductor...............Sebastian Weigle
Production..............Stephen Wadsworth 

Boris Godunov...........René Pape 
Prince Shuisky..........Maxim Paster 
Pimen .......................Ain Anger 
Grigory, Dmitry pretender......David Butt Philip 
Varlaam....................Ryan Speedo Green 
Simpleton*..............Miles Mykkanen

We saw in the movie theater the original 1869 version of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov performed in the critical edition by Michael Rot. This is a different version of the opera than the one we saw in 2010, but the production is the same and the lead singer, René Pape, is also the same. In this version the character Marina does not appear. Here is a calendar for reference. 

1547 Ivan the Terrible tsar 
1552 Boris born 
1557 Feodar I born 
1582 Dmitry of Uglich born 
1584 Ivan died 
1585 Feodar tsar, Boris regent 
1591 Dmitry died 
1598 Feodor died, Boris became tsar 
1605 Boris died 

We may assume the time line for the opera begins when Feodar dies and Boris becomes tsar, and it ends when Boris dies. In real life people pretended to be Dmitry, and that is the basis for the plot. Boris is very reluctant to be tsar, but eventually agrees. Grigory pretends to be Dmitry and a story about how Dmitry didn't appear dead is added to support this. 

But that is the problem with this opera. For those of us who are ignorant of Russian history we have no idea what actually happened. Did Dmitry go off to Lithuania as a child only to reappear after Boris is tsar? Sometimes it seems he did and sometimes it seems he didn't. Boris seems not to have made up his mind whether or not he killed him. It's all rather confused. 

In this version, focused entirely on politics, there is a sameness to it all. I can see why people complained. The production and performances were all excellent, especially our star René Pape. I may have seen this enough.

Monday, October 04, 2021


There is finally a Number 4 in my pantheon of idols.  

First was Italian Cecilia Bartoli who I made myself a complete fool over.  I traveled many times to Europe to see her.  I had a friend to visit in the city where she performed, if that's any excuse.  The last time I flew for her was for Norma in Salzburg.  I gave her I lot of advice which she mostly ignored.  She tried to get me into arguments, but she scared me. I was there only for love.  She seems to have finally forgiven me.  We met accidentally in the aisle of the Salle Playel where she smiled and squeezed my hand.  She is a very special person whom I love and respect.  She has achieved true greatness.  The picture is Cecilia in makeup for Ariodante at Salzburg.

Then came Russian Anna Netrebko whom I traveled only to Los Angeles to see in Manon.  I wanted to be sure I didn't miss it, though it later came out on DVD through a performance of the same production in Germany.  That performance is still my favorite.  My second favorite performance is Il Trovatore with Dmitri at the Met.  She performed many times for us at the San Francisco Opera, making travel unnecessary.  Cecilia and Jonas have sung in California but never on the stage of the San Francisco Opera.  Anna is a Merolini.  We also see her often on the Met live in HD.  I don't recall giving Anna advice.  She is on another level.  The picture is a shot of Anna in the described Manon production.

Third was German Jonas Kaufmann whom I first saw by accident in Fidelio in Zurich when I was visiting to see Cecilia.  I called him "a Florestan to die for."  This is part of the reason I would have liked to see him in Fidelio again.  Over the years I have enjoyed many wonderful performances by him, even if I have only traveled when he was performing in the same city as Cecilia.  One such performance was the magnificent Werther in Paris.  The picture is from the recent Aida from Paris where they have removed his beard and curls.  Perhaps military officers are not allowed beards.  He came to the Bay Area for a concert, but never appeared at the opera.  After many years, I have finally thought of some advice.  He is the gold standard for pronunciation in any of the major singing languages, so no advice there.  His hoch Deutsch is impeccable and beautiful to hear.  I just am not enjoying his current interest in crooning.  Anyone can do that.

You should notice that this is an enormous variety of voices and styles.  I love only the complete performer.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Russian, might be considered a number 4, but I was never required to travel for him.  He came to me in San Francisco and London, and from the Met live in HD.   I loved him but did not embarrass myself over him.  Advising Dmitri on any subject would have been foolish, even more foolish than I have ever been.  He was perfection and greatly missed.

I recently turned 80, a traumatic event.  Suddenly I remembered a song I heard once in Germany.  "Ich moechte noch einmal verliebt sein.  Wie damals, wie siebzehn, im Mai."  "I want once more to fall in love, like then, like 17, in May."  And then suddenly I did.  At this age I didn't think it possible.  The door to my heart lies always through singing.  So we arrive at who must be considered our official Number 4:  Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen.  It is an irrational passion which I would prefer not to humiliate myself over. This may prove impossible.  [Too late?]  I am, after all, quite silly at times.  All my friends say do it.  She demands respect, and I wish always to show her the respect I feel.  Lise seems to be intelligent and well advised.  When she speaks about her art, she shows great understanding.  Her big voice is extraordinarily beautiful.  So far I have seen her on film in Ariadne auf Naxos from Vienna, Fidelio from the Royal Opera, and Tannhäuser from Bayreuth.

This picture comes from Pique Dame at the Met which I wish it was possible to see.  

Monday, September 27, 2021

Der fliegende Holländer from Bayreuth


Mary, Erik, Senta

Conductor: Oksana Lyniv
Director: Dmitri Tcherniakov
Daland:  Georg Zeppenfeld
Senta: Asmik Grigorian
Erik: Eric Cutler
Mary: Marina Prudenskaya
Der Steuermann: Attilio Glaser
Der Holländer: John Lundgren

Richard Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer streamed from Bayreuth this summer on July 25.  It's regie, of course.  That means that the staging is modernized.  During the overture a mother hangs herself.  It's rather wildly realistic looking.  This doesn't seem to be the traditional plot about a sailor.  I'm here for Asmik Geigorian.

The sailors sit around drinking in a bar and never go to sea.  The girls don't spin, but instead practice the spinning chorus.  Senta smokes.  Erik comes in and chases the other girls away.  He warns Senta that her father wants to find her a husband.  Erik and Senta are exes and fight like it.  

Asmik is 40 but here passes for younger.  She is good looking, her voice is strong and her acting good.  The sound of her voice does not particularly appeal to me.  For me it is the feeling in the music.

Daland brings the Dutchman home and introduces him to his daughter as her bridegroom.  She swears to be faithful until death.  This takes place around the dining room table.  She gets excited over him for no apparent reason.  The ho hum everydayness of the staging takes all the fizz out of it.  Asmik tries to make up for it, but it's too much to ask.

In Act III everyone is outside eating and drinking except the sailors who sit glumly.  The townspeople ridicule them until the Dutchman takes out his gun and shoots a few.  Ugh.  Everyone but Senta runs off.  Erik complains to Senta who sits staring.  They sing about eternity on the sea, but there is no sea.  The Dutchman throws Senta on the floor.  Mom comes in and shoots him.  Senta laughs and tries to comfort her.  That's it.  I'll probably never watch this again.  The chorus is excellent.

Friday, September 24, 2021

For the Love of Opera


I wrote this in February of 2020, before the pandemic:

"One of the reasons I began blogging was to spend time praising my beloved favorites.  At the time these were Cecilia Bartoli, Anna Netrebko, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky.  I quickly added Jonas Kaufmann after a trip to see Cecilia in Zurich.  Dmitri has died, but the other three are still singing, and I still follow their careers.

"All of these lists will be limited to singers active during the life of this blog.  I can also be said to love from early in the blog René Pape, Karita Mattila, Nina Stemme, Maria Guleghina, Susan Graham, Angela Gheorghiu, Elina Garanča, Piotr Beczala, Renée Fleming, Natalie Dessay, and Juan Diego Florez.  This should not be regarded as a complete list.  Forgive me if I have omitted your favorite.  Dessay has retired from opera.

"Newer enthusiasms include Lisette Oropesa, Sondra Radvanovsky, Isabel Leonard,  Christine Goerke, Pretty Yende, Javier Camarena, Anja Harteros, Erin Morley, Lawrence Brownlee, Anita Rachvelishvili, Ludovic Tezier, Luca Pisaroni,and Matthew Polenzani.  It is interesting to me that none of these newer artists have aroused the level of passion experienced from the earlier discoveries. Lisette might manage it, though.  Part of this lessening of passion can be attributed to my advancing age."

One name will be conspicuously missing from this rather too long list.  Only the singers in the first paragraph count as true loves.  So I thought I was too old to experience the true passion for a singer.  None of them have topped this sudden love for the Norwegian soprano, Lise Davidsen.  I was sincere in thinking this was simply not any longer possible.  

It seems to have a personal aspect which the others do not have.  Before appearing on the international opera stage, Lise sang Bach and Lieder, things I also sang.  I feel sympathy for her musical mind.  With Cecilia it was the strangeness and shock of her very individual interpretations which always surprised me.  With Lise it is the familiarity.   Of course, she also has the most exciting voice I've ever heard.

Lise is "an amazing human being" to quote the Screaming Divas.  Love comes to me not from surprise, but from comfort and familiarity.  She reaches the deep corners of my musical soul.   Thank you, dear.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Keith Bohm in Recital

Faculty Recital: Keith Bohm, saxophone

Sacramento State School of Music
Capistrano Hall - Room 151
Accompanied on the piano by John Cozza.
The earliest piece in this recital was written in 1959:  Printemps by Pierre Gabaye, with piano accompaniment.

Arabesque on a theme by Debussy (2018) by Jenni Watson was accompanied by an electronic sound track.  This was fun.

Suite en duo (1971) Aria, Allegro, by Guy Lacour came in 2 movements and was played on two saxophones with no accompaniment:  Keith on tenor sax and Russell Veirs on alto sax.  There was much talking about the fact that originally the slow movement Aria followed the fast movement Allegro, but Keith likes it better this way.

Soar (2016) by Alastair Penman brings us back to piano accompaniment.

Ray (2017) brings us back to Jenni Watson.

All of these pieces have at least a hint of jazz.  Keith seems not to care for ugly modernity.

Fuzzette, the Tarangula (1962) by Robert Muczynski is in 9 movements and has a narrator and a flute player.

The program ended with Tango Suave (2012) by Jean Matitia.  

A whole program of saxophone is not unpleasant.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony in Sacramento

Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera opened their 2021-2022 season last night in the Memorial Auditorium.  This venue was chosen because it is one of the few places with a built in pipe organ, and they wanted to feature the Organ Symphony by Camille Saint-Saëns.  The rest of the program also included organ. 

The conductor for the performance was Robert Moody,

and the organist was James Jones. 

Originally the program was set to include Barber's Adagio for Strings in an arrangement for organ, but the organ itself is being repaired and would not play the piece.  Short pieces for organ were substituted.

Next was Edward Elgar's (1857-1934) Enigma Variations (1899). One source says there are 14 variations.  This information would have made sense to include in the program.  Some but not all of the variations included organ for a different sound.

To end the program we enjoyed the Organ Symphony by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921).  I liked the sound of this piece much better than the previous one.  Memorial Auditorium is not an ideal space for classical concerts due to the acoustics.  Towards the end of this piece the organ began to boom in.  I was disappointed that we had to wait so long for this loud booming sound.  All in all it was enjoyable.  Welcome back.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges Premier

The project I mentioned here will have its first showing on August 27.

I attended this first showing, and my friend Omari Tau turned out to be the star.  The life of the Chevalier was dramatized with all the other characters portrayed in silhouette.  This film was created for educational purposes and should not be confused with the movie Chevalier de Saint-Georges starring Kelvin Harrison Jr. 

Friday, August 20, 2021

Pagliacci from Chicago

Conductor: Enrique Mazzola 
Director: Peter McClintock 
Canio: Russell Thomas 
Nedda: Ailyn Pérez 
Silvio: Lucas Meachem 
Tonio: Quinn Kelsey 
Beppe: Eric Ferring

You can see this cast of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci from the Lyric Opera of Chicago is impressive.  This copy has no subtitles in any language, so I have to rely on memory.

My memory, such as it is, tells me that this is the opera where they say "a venti-tre ore." Venti-tre is 23, so that means all are invited to a circus performance that begins at 11 pm. In Italy they might actually do this. They have dinner at 8 or 9 pm and go on from there. The American translations usually pretend it's earlier.

However, this is regie and the things going on have little to do with the original plot.  Here our theatrical troop is the cast of the TV show The Honeymooners.  It might very well be playing at 11 pm. They give out Pagliacci t-shirts to the chorus/audience.

Nedda, wife of Canio in both show and life, is tired of her husband and has become interested in Silvio, apparently a stagehand. She sings about this. The beautifull sung prologue is outside the Lyric Opera, and subsequent scenes are inside. Nedda sings in the wings next to the cables to draw the scenery. It's show business. Tonio wants her too. He goes after her and she hits him with her purse.

The second act is the comedy.  This is the Kramdens from the Honeymooners, apparently.  Forties/fifties furniture and clothing.  It's also in black and white like the TV show.  Adorable.  I believe Ralph was also a bus driver.  I have to say this concept completely works.  When the camera shows the stage and the wings, the color comes back.

These are all wonderful singing actors who bring this all to life.  I'm a Quinn fan and enjoy his work here, but his part is not large.  There is an argument on the internet over who gets to say the final line.  Apparently, in the score it is Canio who has just stabbed two people.  But here it is Tonio who plays Ed Norton.  "La comedia e finita.?  

If you can find it, watch it.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Tristan und Isolde from Munich 👍🏻


Conductor -  Kirill Petrenko 
Production - Krzysztof Warlikowski 

Tristan - Jonas Kaufmann 
Isolde - Anja Harteros 
King Mark - Mika Kares 
Kurwenal - Wolfgang Koch 
Brangäne - Okka von der Damerau

This is Wagner's Tristan und Isolde from the Bayerische Staatsoper.  It's a regie production, naturally.  Almost everything from there is.  I'm not sure it provides a context.  They all wear modern clothing, and we don't seem to be on a ship.

Act I.

Tristan has traveled to Ireland to bring back the future bride of King Mark of Cornwall.  He is there in his official capacity as representative of Cornwall.  Actually Tristan and Princess Isolde have an already existing relationship.  In a war between the two kingdoms, Tristan has killed Isolde's fiance and been seriously wounded in the process.  Isolde with the help of Brangäne nursed him back to health.  

On the journey she tries to order him around.  He remains distant and sends his assistant, Kurwenal.  This bit is not precisely clear.  Brangäne prepares a potion that Tristan and Isolde are to share.  Tristan drinks half, and then Isolde drinks the rest.  They seem to think it will kill them, but instead they fall hopelessly in love.  I thought the sudden falling in love was well handled.  We appear to be doing social distancing in this production.  No one touches in this part.

Act II

Isolde keeps turning the lights on and off.  I'm not sure what that's about.  I've never seen this character portrayed as perverse.  A feature of this production is that we see the characters live on the stage and projected on the wall in the form of a film at the same time.  Brangäne blames herself for administering the potion, but Isolde blames the Love Spirit who spreads love all around.  Isolde sees herself without love as destined for death.

I am an hour and a half in and did not ever before realize what a bear of a part Isolde is.  Other characters make brief appearances.  Finally Tristan enters and they talk about their time traveling to Cornwall.  She feels that she loved him then, but he was there in the role of foe.  Now they cannot simply forget that they love one another.  There is much discussion of which is better:  day or night?  Night is chosen.  Tristan wants to die.  The picture above comes from this section.

In the real world they sit in chairs and sing, but in the film behind they meet in the bedroom.  I don't know why I like this, but I do.

They sing for a long time about death, then suddenly they take needles from a bowl on the table and give themselves shots.  Death?  The bed in the background is suddenly surrounded by water.  Then people begin to enter.  They are discovered.  King Mark tells his story, that it was Tristan who thought he should marry.  Isolde is hearing this story for the first time.

This hardly seems like the same opera.  We want these two singers together in this opera because they are together emotionally.

Isolde says that she will follow Tristan to his home.  Melot, the betrayer, complains and the two men draw swords.  The bald person reappears.  Melot stabs Tristan.


Bald people in uniforms drinking coffee?  This part of the production I don't get.  Tristan sits with them and drinks coffee.  Next to him they look like children.  All but one appear to be puppets. A return to childhood?  An English horn plays on the stage.  

Kurvenal sings to the puppet Tristan while Jonas sings.  Then they exchange places. The puppet in the yellow blouse is Isolde herself.  I don't think I realized before how little time Tristan and Isolde spend on stage together.  I feel like I have never seen this opera before.  Opera's greatest singing actors have brought it to life as never before.  Absolutely stunning.

Old age advice.  Do not mourn that your love cannot be fulfilled.  Rejoice that passion can come to you.