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.