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