October 31, 2004

Mefistofele in Amsterdam

by Jan Neckers

Let's start with the main assets of the new Mefistofele in Amsterdam: the singers. Gidon Saks has one of the biggest booming bass voices that ever sounded in an opera house (yes, I heard Ghiaurov but Saks had a few decibels to spare). It's not an especially beautiful or personal sound and it is somewhat weak in the lower regions, more a bass baritone than a real bass; but it is smooth and impressive and very well apt for this title role. Saks gave us such an overwhelming amount of sound that by "Ecco il mondo" the voice slowly started to give way. As his role is somewhat limited afterwards he nevertheless could ride out this matinee (17th of October 2004). With his imposing height, his easy flowing movements on the stage he proved himself to be a superb actor.

Arrigo Boito 1842 1918

Tenor Dario Volonté actually has four voices but let me first state that his is not a small voice as one can read sometimes on other opera fora. First there is the deep dark burnished sound of the lower voice, partially produced with the lowered larynx method of Corelli. This sound sails into a very beautiful lyric middle voice somewhat reminiscent of a good Italian tenore di grazia though some people might think the vibrato perhaps too excessive (though not this reviewer). But, in the passaggio we hear an odd strangulated and somewhat throaty sound that we know so well from his countryman, José Cura. And from that ungainly or sometimes even downright ugly sound suddenly emerges a clear and strong high A or B. Capped by all this is one of the most beautiful pianissimo sounds I ever heard in the theatre. His amazingly beautiful "Lontano, lontano" was clearly modelled upon Ferruccio Tagliavini's classic recording and it could be proof that Mr. Volonté is more of a lyric tenor than his choice of heavy repertoire would lead us to believe. He is not a bad actor but his "physique" is such that he looks far better as an old man than as the young Faust.

The years have taken their toll on Miriam Gauci's voice. Ten years ago she was one of the best liricos around with a beautiful and homogeneous voice somewhat reminding one of Mirella Freni. The voice has grown somewhat bigger but has developed a wobble. Above the staff there is only shrillness and no beauty left. Her Elena was better than her Margerita, though in both roles she made no visible impression due to some cheap rags she had to wear.

I know it is politically correct in circles of Met attendees to deride conductor Carlo Rizzi and I wonder why. Two years ago he gave us an excellent Macbeth in this same theatre (Carol Vaness was the superb Lady) and this time too he chose perfect tempi, driving the opera along without unduly hurrying his singers so that they could breath. The orchestra (a radio orchestra which is doomed to disappear) played along for him as if they wanted to prove that they have the right to life and they easily matched the far more famous Concertgebouworchestra under Chailly in Don Carlos a few months ago (though Volonté is not Villazon).

There remains the fly in the ointment and, as so often in this theatre, it was the director: Graham Vick, one of those theatre people who think that Boito wrote this opera as a vehicle to one of the greatest gifts of God to humanity: the genius of Vick himself. Vick tried to kill the opera by overloading it in the well-known disastrous Zeffirelli-New Met-Opening-Manner. Almost every scene had a new and often laborious set change and, as there were five such changes, this added half an hour to the proceedings, which often broke all musical suspense. At the première, the Dutch press noted that Rizzi showed his opinion by ostentatiously drumming with his fingers during those changes. During rehearsals, there had been several terrible rows with Vick who refused to budge one inch on his original concept, though he was himself often unclear on his intentions due to a lack of preparation. Vick vented his anger for his own fault on the theatre and its personnel, which they didn't take lightly. At the final rehearsal, and contrary to usual theatre policy, nobody was allowed to attend. As a result, the performances had to be moved up half an hour at the very last moment; and, for the première, several employees had to phone, e-mail or sms every known guest of honor and ticket buyer to ask them to spread the good news. Vick added insult to injury by demanding that the magnificent chorus sing one of the greatest choral parts in operatic history behind the scenes.

And still, this production was not a complete failure as there were some devilishly beautiful scenes. The first scene, played during a village feast somewhere in modern Germany, was full of colour and opulence. The revolving scene didn't break down as with Zeffirelli's Anthony and Cleopatra. The Greek scene was a faithful reproduction of the famous reading room at the British Museum, though I don't think some beautiful young ladies and young men would be allowed into the building without the smallest piece of textile at all. But, you know, Greece and Greek statues etc., though these statues usually didn't move or strike sexy poses. On the other hand the Walpurgis night was simply ridiculous as it all took place within a circle of 25 large refrigerators. All in all, every scene was often more impressive than the whole of it. At the première, Vick was almost booed off the scene; probably the ultimate proof in many a director's mind that he/she is a genius. One more proud and well deserved medal in a catalogue of unbroken triumphs.


Mefistofele: Gidon Saks

Faust: Dario Volonté

Margherita/Elena: Miriam Gauci

Marta/Pantalis: Sally Burgess

Wagner/Nerèo: Carlo Bosi


In Heaven Mephistopheles offers God a wager: he says that he can succeed in seducing the learned Faust onto the paths of evil and that he will gain possession of his soul. God accepts.

Mephistopheles travels to Frankfurt disguised as a Franciscan monk. He enters Faust's study and convinces him to sign a contract.

Mephistopheles and Faust are in a garden with Margherita and Martha, her neighbour. Faust converses with Margherita and seduces her. To prevent their being disturbed, he gives Margherita a powerful sleeping-draught for her mother.

Mephistopheles and Faust travel to a witches' sabbath on a mountain top. Faust beholds a vision of Margherita, pale as death with a blood-red rope around her neck. He hears Mephistopheles' curse upon the world.

Margherita is in prison awaiting her execution. She has been accused of having killed her child and poisoned her mother. Faust attempts to convince her to flee with him, but she refuses. She recognises Mephistopheles as the devil and prays for forgiveness. Choirs of angels announce the salvation of her soul.

On the banks of the Peneios in ancient Greece, young girls perform a dance in honour of the full moon. Helen of Troy and her companion Pantalis lament the fate of Troy. Mephistopheles and Faust appear. Faust professes his love for Helen and they withdraw to a cave.

Faust sits in his study in Frankfurt. He has grown old and thinks back upon all he has experienced. He realises that his life has been mere vanity. He dies with the Bible in his hand, without giving in to the last temptations sent by Mephistopheles. Faust is welcomed by the angelic host into Heaven.

Posted by Gary at 9:08 PM

Obstacles to Celebrity

Brownlee lends voice to the subject of race

By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff | October 31, 2004

African-American divas have swept triumphantly across the international operatic stage for decades, and in this country Leontyne Price became a household name and a national icon.
Lawrence Brownlee

On the other hand, male African-American singers, especially tenors, have had a rougher time of it. That's one of the reasons the popular touring concert ''Three Mo' Tenors" was created in 2001. The show is devoted to celebrating the versatility that African-American tenors had to develop because so many operatic doors are closed to them; they sang art songs, spirituals, jazz, gospel, and blues instead. Baritones and basses can play fathers and priests; tenors usually take the romantic lead, which means they have to embrace the soprano sooner or later, and that is still a taboo if the soprano happens to be white.

In the 40 years since Price became a star, the world has applauded Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle, and Martina Arroyo. No black tenor has achieved a comparable level of celebrity. Boston's great tenor Roland Hayes broke the color barrier for concert singers early in the last century. Charles Holland was the first African-American tenor to make a career in opera in the 1950s, but he had to go to Europe to do it.

Since Holland, only three African-American tenors have achieved real operatic prominence. George Shirley arrived in leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera in 1961. He also regularly sang with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood. Vinson Cole came onto the scene in the 1980s and he's still going strong; last Monday night he stepped into Ben Heppner's big shoes in the Boston Symphony Orchestra's performance of Mahler's Eighth Symphony under James Levine in Carnegie Hall. And right now, there's Lawrence Brownlee.

[Please click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 7:52 PM

October 30, 2004

MET Names New General Manager


October 29, 2004

William C. Morris, president and chief executive officer of The Metropolitan Opera, announced today that Peter Gelb, president of Sony Classical, has been chosen to succeed Joseph Volpe as The Metropolitan's general manager.

Mr. Gelb will join The Metropolitan Opera on August 1, 2005, providing for a one-year transition during which he will be working with Mr. Volpe. Initially Mr. Gelb will be responsible for any remaining planning for the 2006-07 season and for the planning of future seasons. He will assume the full functions of general manager on August 1, 2006, upon Mr. Volpe's retirement.

Peter Gelb has been president of Sony Classical since March 1995 and is responsible for all aspects of the label's global operations. A division of Sony Music, Sony Classical is the largest classical record label in the United States and is one of the largest classical record labels internationally, as well.

Mr. Gelb was formerly president of CAMI Video, which Sony Music Entertainment acquired from Columbia Artists Management Inc. in 1993. He has won six Emmy Awards as a producer and director as well as a Peabody Award for Marsalis on Music, an educational television series. From 1987 to 1993, while at CAMI, Mr. Gelb served as executive producer of The Metropolitan Opera television programs, and was responsible for The Met radio broadcasts during that period. His 25 Met television productions during that time included the award-winning 1990 telecast of Wagner's complete Ring cycle, which was shown on four consecutive nights on PBS.

Mr. Gelb was manager of the legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz and was responsible for reviving his career in the 1980s, culminating in his historic return to Moscow in 1986, which Mr. Gelb produced for a global television audience.

Mr. Gelb's association with The Metropolitan Opera goes back to his teenage years when he worked as an usher. In the early 1970s he also did publicity work for The Metropolitan Opera's ballet presentations. At the age of seventeen he was an office boy for Sol Hurok, the late impresario. Before joining CAMI in 1982, he was an assistant manager of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and was responsible for managing the orchestra's historic tour of China in 1979.

Mr. Gelb was born in 1953 and is the son of Arthur Gelb, former managing editor of The New York Times, and writer Barbara Gelb. He is married to Keri-Lynn Wilson, a conductor. He has two children.

Mr. Morris said, "Mr. Gelb brings to The Metropolitan Opera a deep knowledge of classical music wedded to strong managerial talents. His past association with The Met and experience in the classical music business at the highest level make him a logical choice for this challenging position."

"We are glad that he will be on board for a year before taking over his full duties, thus assuring an active and smooth transition which is so essential for The Metropolitan's future."

Beverly Sills, chairman of The Metropolitan Opera, said, "With this appointment two circles are being closed. Peter Gelb, who at one time worked with Joseph Volpe at The Met, is now stepping into the distinguished footsteps of the latter, while a separate circle is closing for me, having known the Gelb family for more than 30 years. Peter is a brilliant man and I'm certain that he will lead this great institution to further heights, using his talents, experience, and especially his love for music as means for bringing new audiences to opera. Without a doubt his youthful enthusiasm will be a big plus in reshaping the fortunes of the world's largest opera company."

Mr. Volpe said, "I am delighted the Board has chosen Peter Gelb as my successor. Peter and I have known each other and worked together on projects for over 20 years. Our relationship, along with his knowledge, intelligence, and sensitivity, will allow for a seamless transition and no doubt a successful future."

The Met's music director, James Levine, said, "I'm thrilled that Peter Gelb has agreed to become the next general manager of The Met. He and I have known each other forever and have an excellent rapport based on our collaboration on many successful artistic projects. I'm sure his vast experience coupled with his positive energy and love of the art form will give The Met a wonderfully creative and exciting future."

Mr. Gelb said, "There is no cultural institution that I respect or love more than The Metropolitan Opera. I have known or worked with all the general managers of The Met since Rudolf Bing, including Joseph Volpe, whom I greatly admire. These are big shoes to fill and I am thrilled by this challenge."

Mr. Morris also paid tribute to the present general manager, Joseph Volpe, who will be retiring on July 31, 2006. He said, "Joseph Volpe's career at The Metropolitan Opera has been extraordinary. His service to our company in a variety of positions spans more than forty years. His tenure as general manager has been marked by remarkable artistic success as well as sound financial stewardship and exemplary labor relations. We are deeply grateful to him for his strong leadership and unstinting devotion to our company."

[Source: Metropolitan Opera]

Music Executive Is Picked to Head Metropolitan Opera


The Metropolitan Opera said today that it had appointed Peter Gelb, a record company executive and former impresario, as its next general manager, ending months of speculation over who would take command of one of the world's most important opera houses.

Mr. Gelb will head to the Met on Aug. 1 and overlap for a year with the outgoing general manager, Joseph Volpe, who said in February that he planned to retire at the end of the 2005-2006 season.

"The Metropolitan Opera was something I always dreamed about," said Mr. Gelb, who worked there as an usher at age 15 and produced televised opera broadcasts there in the late 1980's and early 1990's. "I've grown up always loving the Metropolitan Opera and thinking about it. For me it was always the epitome of everything exciting and glamorous in the performing arts."

He said his earliest memory of the Met was sitting at the age of 10 in the box of Sir Rudolph Bing, the opera house's legendary general manager, and watching Sir Rudolph race out to quiet an obstreperous audience member who had shouted "Phooey!"

[Click here for remainder of article (free registration required).]

Posted by Gary at 2:46 PM

October 29, 2004

NYCO Moving On?

New York City Opera in Talks to Build Its Own Home


The New York City Opera is in negotiations to build a new opera house on the site of the former American Red Cross New York headquarters near Lincoln Center, the opera confirmed yesterday.
Map of Planned Site City Opera officials met recently with Amanda M. Burden, the commissioner of the Department of City Planning, who described the project yesterday as if it were all but certain. Also at the meeting were the developer, A. & R. Kalimian Realty, which bought the Red Cross site about 10 days ago for about $72 million, and the architect for the new building, Christian de Portzamparc, who designed the tower on East 57th Street that is home to Louis Vuitton's North American headquarters.

Paul Kellogg, the opera's general and artistic director, emphasized that talks were preliminary. "We have been in discussions about this project, as we have about others," he said. "Nothing has been determined one way or another about this project."

[Click here for remainder of article (free registration required).]

Posted by Gary at 5:14 PM

October 28, 2004

Octavio Roca on Carmen

Carmen Forever

By Octavio Roca
October 19, 2004

Bizet's legendary heroine still inspires artists and opera lovers.

The woman is fascinating, no question about it.

Little by little, we are still getting to know Carmen. The fascination is strong, and Carmen's allure has proved irresistible to artists across the ages ever since Prosper Mérimée first imagined her in his 1845 novella, Carmen. Seville's most celebrated denizen this side of Figaro and Don Juan has seduced poets and musicians, choreographers and filmmakers, and above all she has seduced audiences. She is seducing them still. Carmen has been the object of cultural obsession, extending well beyond the opera house, although it is there on the operatic stage that this fiery heroine is at her most compelling. And, perhaps, in her most tragic incarnation as well.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Recommended recording:

Bizet: Carmen

Posted by Gary at 7:12 PM

NBR New Zealand Opera to Produce The Death of Klinghoffer

*New Zealand Opera's 2005 Season Will Include Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer*

By Emily Quinn
October 28, 2004

The NBR New Zealand Opera's 2005 season will include a production of John Adams' The Death of Klinghoffer, the opera announced today.The opera's one performance on February 25, 2005, will be included in the schedule of AK05, Auckland's arts festival.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 6:52 PM

L'Incoronazione di Poppea at the Barbican

L'Incoronazione di Poppea Barbican Hall, London

By David Murray
Published: October 28 2004 03:00 | Last updated: October 28 2004 03:00

This was the third glorious concert-performance of a Monteverdi opera at the Barbican - his 1643 Coronation of Poppea was his last one - to be enterprisingly borrowed from a French production, like Orfeo and Il ritorno di Ulisse in previous years. All were rightly packed out, for they have been hugely satisfying. Ulisse, "semi-staged" here, was memorable. It was a pity Poppea was reduced to a single concert-performance from its full-dress version at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées.

Why? It is thriftier, of course, to put on a mere walk-through performance; even that - as the Barbican well knows - will fill a Monteverdi-loving house. But wouldn't two or three fully staged, or even semi-staged, performances sell even better? For operatic purposes, the complex, utterly cynical plot of Poppea needs its visible throne-rooms and private nooks where anything nasty prospers, including most of the characters.

[Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times Online required).]

[For a related article, click here.]

Posted by Gary at 6:11 PM

FT on Countertenor Lawrence Zazzo

US countertenor who is a wow in Europe

By Francis Carlin
Published: October 28 2004 03:00 | Last updated: October 28 2004 03:00

It is always a good sign when you find a singer attending a performance of something else on his night off. I met the countertenor Lawrence Zazzo and his wife Giselle Allen, a soprano with Opera North in Leeds, at Gualtiero Dazzi's opera Le Luthier de Venise at the Châtelet in Paris.

It is a surprising, poetical work that happens to have a big role for a countertenor. Aha, I thought, that's why he's here. Wrong: they were providing moral support for the soprano Christine Buffle, a friend of Giselle's.

This solidarity is typical of Zazzo. Last Sunday he finished a run of Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in a new production by David McVicar that travels to Strasbourg next year, then to Berlin and Brussels. I did not care for McVicar's camp extravaganza but was impressed by how easily Zazzo's Ottone carried in a theatre known for its difficult acoustics.

It is a rich, beefy sound, which his wife once called "ballsy". Zazzo himself says he tries to find a middle sound between "churchy and brassy". "I have the low notes for the alto castrato roles Handel wrote for Senesino. I've got enough of the beef now to carry in modern houses. My voice is getting louder, perhaps because I've been able to rest it and keep it in shape."

[Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times Online required).]

Posted by Gary at 5:46 PM

A Tribute to Robert Merrill (1919-2004)


by James Engdahl, Engdahl Artists International

Robert Merrill, born Moishe Miller in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, passed away last Saturday, October 22, 2004, as he watched the first game of the World Series on television. If there was anything that would have given him as much pleasure as his singing career did, it would have been playing baseball!

Robert Merrill

I have been asked to share my memories of Mr. Merrill. They were few but were each great lessons to me as a young singer as to what to expect from an artist's life.

The first time I saw Robert Merrill was after a Met performance of Un ballo in Maschera with Nicolei Gedda and Roberta Peters during my first year in New York. I had never seen either these artists before and I was very excited as I had tickets to three shows including the broadcast! Ms. Peters made the first appearance and sang well that day. Mr. Gedda entered and sang with his exemplary style but in the balcony, I found him hard to hear with the exception of his wonderful top voice. Then Robert Merrill entered to sporadic applause, something that truly surprised me, as here was one of America's greatest singers. His voice sounded a bit thin but with that wonderful color I had grown up admiring. He sang the rest of the opera well but I was a bit disappointed.

Next came the broadcast and Mr. Merrill made his entrance to huge applause and I joined in and smiled. Then he sang his first phrase and the size of the voice not only had doubled but that velvet gleamed for the rest of the afternoon. I mentioned this to a long time member of the Met family and he said, "Oh, that's because it was a broadcast and he wanted America to know he was still there!"

The next time I saw him was in concert where he sang arias like "Non piu andrai" from Nozze di Figaro and of all things, "O du mein holder" from Wagner's Tannhauser, both roles he had never sung on stage to my knowledge. The Mozart went well but I had a glimpse of the Catskills side of him I had heard of often but never seen. Then came the Wagner! Mr. Merrill stood silently of the stage and poured out his voice with an artistry I had never heard from him before. As I listened, all I could think about was what we missed in not hearing his Wolfram!

The third time I saw him was at a Richard Tucker Foundation Gala and I was wondering what he would sing. The Master of Ceremonies announced his name, the audience cheered and as the orchestra began the Toreador Song from Carmen, he burst onto the stage with an energy and virility that belied his age (around 70) and he sang superbly throughout the aria, although I noticed he has lowered it a step or so. He finished to a standing ovation and he was an icon across America again.

The last time I saw him was at a premiere at the Jewish Museum of a film highlighting Jan Peerce, Richard Tucker and Mr. Merrill's early appearances on television. As I saw him leave his limo, he had become fairly heavy and moved very slowly. He seemed disoriented as to where he was and where to go. His loving wife Marion guided him into the theater and we watched the film, an excellent documentary. The discussion panel announced his being in the theater and as I watched him rise from his chair, the performer's gleam and smile appeared and he knew just how to address the moment.

A singer, no matter how artistic, is like an athlete and remembered mainly by his last out appearance, I was glad I was there to see Robert Merrill, American operatic icon, hit one last ball out of the park!

[To hear Robert Merrill sing the Toreador Song, click here.]

Click here to join a discussion on the passing of Robert Merrill.

Posted by Gary at 3:20 AM

October 27, 2004

Walt Mossberg on Challengers to the iPod

Three Challengers Take on the Mini

Latest 'iPod Killers' Score
On Style and Storage Space,
But They Aren't Easy to Use
October 27, 2004; Page D1

One of the key reasons for the continuing popularity of Apple Computer's line of iPod music players has been the little iPod Mini, an ultra small and slim version of the player that comes in five stylish colors. The $249 Mini holds just 1,000 songs, versus up to 10,000 for the regular iPod, and is relatively pricey -- just $50 less than a larger iPod that holds five times as much. But it has proved so popular, especially with women and teenagers, that Apple has had trouble keeping it on store shelves.

Now, multiple competitors, having failed to dent sales of the main iPod, are taking aim at the Mini. In fact, some manufacturers believe the majority of the market for portable hard-disk based music players will shift during the next few years to lower-capacity, mini-size players.

The theory is that most people don't need to carry more than 1,000 songs or so, and will flock to lower-price, smaller devices. Some speculate that the higher-capacity iPods, and similar full-size players, will be left to hard-core music lovers. So the new battle over the Mini is a big deal.

[Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Wall Street Journal online required).]

Posted by Gary at 4:30 PM

FT on the Future of Wexford Opera Festival

Wexford's dilemma for future operas

By Andrew Clark
Published: October 27 2004 03:00 | Last updated: October 27 2004 03:00

When Wexford's opera festival was young and innocent, audiences used to talk of "one for the head, one for the heart and one for fun". It was a neat way of summarising Wexford's diet of obscure operas, which for the past 50 years have provided aficionados with the perfect excuse for an autumn break in southern Ireland.

Even though the festival has matured, it remains sui generis, drawing its atmosphere from Wexford's narrow streets, the smell of sea air and the welcome of its couthy populace, many of whom serve as festival volunteers.

But the opera world has undergone huge changes in the past quarter-century. Unlike the situation in Wexford's early days, talented young singers now have plenty of other opportunities to get noticed. Mainstream opera companies are bolder in programming, and recordings have opened our ears to a wealth of neglected music.

[Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times Online required)]

*For information on Wexford Opera Festival, click here.*

Posted by Gary at 3:00 AM

Looking for Wolfgang in All the Wrong Places

Scientists dig up family skeletons

Luke Harding in Berlin
Wednesday October 27, 2004

The Guardian

It has been a mystery for more than a century - is a skull in an Austrian basement really that of arguably the greatest composer of all time, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?

Wolfgang Mozart

Over the weekend a group of archaeologists began to answer the question by digging up the remains of Mozart's close relatives.

In a controversial operation, the scientists exhumed several skeletons from Mozart's family vault in Salzburg, where the composer spent most of his life.

On Monday they appear to have discovered the remains of the composer's 16-year-old niece Jeanette, whose bones could unlock the mystery of whether the skull, currently kept by Salzburg's Mozarteum Foundation, really is Mozart's.

Mozart died at 35 and was buried in Vienna in 1791 in a plot that was subsequently re-used. It is not known what happened to his skeleton.

But it is said that a gravedigger who buried Mozart later recovered the skull - minus the lower jaw. It was eventually given to the foundation in 1901.

[Click here for remainder of article (no registration required)]

Posted by Gary at 2:19 AM

October 26, 2004

Théâtre Impérial de Compiègne to Produce Auber's Haÿdée ou Le secret

*Théâtre Impérial de Compiègne will produce on 28 November Hayedée ou Le secret, a comic opera in three acts by Daniel François Auber.*

Daniel Auber

Production Details

Libretto by Eugène SCRIBE
Music by Daniel François Esprit AUBER
Musical direction by Michel SWIERCZEWSKI
Stage design, stage and artistic
direction by Pierre JOURDAN
Costumes by Jean-Pierre CAPEYRON

Orchestre Français Albéric Magnard
Chorus Fiat Cantus conducted by Samuel Jean

Isabelle PHILIPPE Hayedée, Greek slave
Bruno COMPARETTI Loredan, admiral of Venice
Stéphane MALBEC GARCIA Domenico, sailor
Anne-Sophie SCHMIDT Rafaela, Loredan's ward
Paul MéDIONI Malipieri, captain of the Bombardiers
Mathias VIDAL Andrea Donato, vessel lieutenant

Background and Synopsis of the Opera

by Herbert SCHNEIDER

Hayedée ou Le secret (literally "Hayedée or the secret") was created on 28th December 1847 at the Théâtre de l'Opéra Comique (literally "The Comic Opera Theatre") in the second Salle Favart (Favart Hall).

The libretto is inspired from the new Russian Six and four translated by Prosper Mérimée. The final choice for the name Hayedée may be linked to the dazzling success of Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas (1845) with Hayedée as the heroine. This name also sounds like Aïaut;da which was chosen later by Ghislanzoni and Verdi. Hayedée can be counted among Auber's best scores.

After the naval victory against the Turks, Loredan is tormented by a memory of a past event: winning by cheating, he ruined his best friend to save his own fortune. As he is dreaming in the famous scene called "sleepwalker", he confesses his guilt. Malipieri, his rival and fierce enemy, who knows nothing but hate (like Lago in Othello), witnesses this scene and wants to take advantage of this indiscreet discovery to conquer Hayedée and her wealth. Following terrible confrontations Loredan remains steadfast and prefers to renounce his dignity of Venice doge. As for Hayedée, revealed to be a Cyprus prince's daughter, she loves Loredan but she is ready to marry Malipieri ("to be his slave") to save Loredan.

Hayedée is an exceptional work in the history of the comic opera. It was performed 499 times in Paris, and for the first time in Germany in Kassel on 20th August 1848, then in Munich and Vienne. The considerable success achieved in Germany is proved in a laudatory report written by Walter Von Goethe and published in the Neue Berliner Musikzeitung of 1849.

Ticket Information

For tickets, contact Théâtre Impérial de Compiègne at http://www.theatre-imperial.com/index.html.

[Source: Théâtre Impérial de Compiègne]

Recommended recording:

Auber: Fra Diavolo

Posted by Gary at 3:27 PM

October 25, 2004

FT Reviews Mercadante's La vestale

La vestale, Wexford Festival

By Andrew Clark
Published: October 25 2004 03:00 | Last updated: October 25 2004 03:00

The compacting of operatic history into a performable repertoire leads us to make all kinds of false assumptions. One is that Italian opera somehow made an effortless jump from Rossini's last opera in 1829 to Verdi's first success in 1842.

Saverio Mercadante

Saverio Mercadante's La vestale (1840), this year's runaway winner at Wexford, shows it wasn't that easy. Sensing that the florid early 19th-century style had outlived its usefulness, Mercadante tried to redefine the rules: simpler singing lines, no cabalettas, a narrower tessitura.

Much of this anticipates what Verdi did three decades later in Aida. But where Mercadante tried gently to untie the thong of bel canto convention, Verdi ripped it off. Mercadante also made the mistake of not giving his vestal virgin enough solos.

That's why his version of La vestale never enjoyed the success of Spontini's version, written 30 years earlier. But without Mercadante's reforming ideas, Verdi would not have been Verdi.

[Remainder of article here (subscription to Financial Times Online required)]

Recommended recordings:

Mercadante: Emma d'Antiochia

Mercadante: Zaira (Highlights)

Posted by Gary at 3:00 AM

October 22, 2004

Opera Omaha to Present Copland's The Tender Land

Aaron Copland's The Tender Land: Opera About Midwestern Farm Family Opens Opera Omaha's Orpheum Season November 17, 19, 21

Omaha, NE--Opera Omaha will open its Orpheum season of performances with a new production of Aaron Copland's The Tender Land. Performances are November 17th and 19th at 7:30 pm, and November 21st at 2:00 pm. Tickets for The Tender Land are $13-$84 and are available by calling 402-34-opera or online at www.operaomaha.org.

The Tender LandAaron Copland, who lived from 1900 to 1990, is among America's most renowned symphonic composers, best known for Appalachian Spring, Fanfare for the Common Man and Rodeo, which includes the famous "Hoe-Down" used in beef industry commercials. The Tender Land, commissioned by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the League of Composers, was Copland's only opera. It premiered at New York City Opera in 1954.

The Tender Land is the story of a Midwestern farm couple, their teenage daughter, Laurie, and an itinerant harvester, Martin, with whom she falls in love. Inspired by photographer Walker Evans' touching portrait of the American farm crisis of the 1930s, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, The Tender Land focuses on Laurie's coming of age as she is torn between family, the land and independence. The Tender Land includes one of the American musical theater's most beautiful ensembles, The Promise of Living, as well as the hope-filled "Laurie's Song," which has been recorded by many of the world's leading sopranos.

"'The Promise of Living', which our chorus performed for Omaha's 150th Birthday Celebration events, is about a community coming together to bring in the harvest," says Joan Desens, General Director. "Musical elements such as this, along with a powerful and emotional story line about life on a Midwestern farm, should have great resonance for Nebraskans, especially in the week leading up to Thanksgiving."

Opera Omaha's new production is designed by New York-based scenic artist Peter Harrison, who just completed The Threepenny Opera for the company. New York director, Rhoda Levine, who was last in Omaha for a famous production of The Bartered Bride in 1978, directs.

The cast features acclaimed mezzo-soprano, Jennifer Dudley, making her Opera Omaha debut as Ma Moss. Dudley is well-known to audiences at Chicago Lyric Opera, New York City Opera and the Metropolitan Opera. She makes her Houston Grand Opera debut this year in the world premiere of Mark Adamo's Lysistrata.

Joining her are Megan Tillmann as Laurie and Matthew DiBattista as Martin. In the opera, Laurie experiences her first love with Martin, and in real life, Ms. Tillmann and Mr. DiBattista met performing these roles. They are now happily married. According to Ms. Tillmann, "Not only is Laurie's passion and curiosity for the world beyond her own an inspiration to me, my love for the role is also very personal. [Matthew and I] are grateful to have the opportunity to perform it together again."

In association with this production, Opera Omaha will present a series of free public musical events and talks at various locations in Bellevue, Lincoln and Omaha. Included will be an examination of the work of Nebraska farm photographer, Wright Morris, a contemporary of Walker Evans, and presentations by Copland biographer Vivian Perlis of the Yale University Oral History American Music archives. For a calendar of events contact Opera Omaha Community Programs at 402-346-4398 ×203, or visit www.operaomaha.org.

Opera Omaha's Fall Season of opera productions and Opera Insights programs are generously underwritten by HDM Corp. Additional support for the production of The Tender Land is made possible by the Aaron Copland Fund for Music and Pinnacle Bank. Principal artists are sponsored by Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin, Jefferson Pilot Financial and Graham and Sally Lusk.

Opera Omaha's Opera Insights programs are made possible, in part, by grants from the Nebraska Council on the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Hearst Foundation and the Peter Kiewit Foundation.

Posted by Gary at 10:27 PM

FT Reviews Don Carlos at the Vienna State Opera

Don Carlos, Vienna State Opera

By Larry L Lash
Published: October 22 2004 03:00 | Last updated: October 22 2004 03:00

Despite character motivation and plot development of revelatory clarity and depth, top-notch singing, gorgeous orchestral playing and insightful conducting, the Vienna State Opera's new Don Carlos may be best remembered for the pizza.

Giuseppe Verdi by BoldoniThe pies are delivered by Rodrigue, wearing a Posa's Pizza uniform, after Eboli burns the chicken she is roasting.

What does a dream sequence in which Eboli sees herself as a suburban 1960s housewife, married to Carlos and pregnant, hosting a dinner party for good buddies Elisabeth and Philippe, have to do with the plot? Probably a great deal more than the ballet performed to the same bubbly music at the 1867 Paris premiere.

Remarkably, this is the world premiere of Verdi's uncut original version. The director, Peter Konwitschny, takes the divertissement for what it is - literally, a diversion - and uses it not only as a comic break from this deadly serious story but also to illustrate Eboli's unrequited, all-consuming love for Carlos.

[Remainder of article here (subscription to Financial Times Online required)]

Posted by Gary at 10:26 PM

Four Reviews of Die Zauberflöte at the Met

Julie Taymor -- and Mozart Too

By HEIDI WALESON [Wall Street Journal]
October 14, 2004; Page D7

New York

The Metropolitan Opera usually showcases singers, not star directors, but the Met's newest production is most definitely the "Julie Taymor 'Zauberflote'" ("Magic Flute"). Ms. Taymor is best known for "The Lion King," which has been running for almost seven years on Broadway, but her startlingly original visual imagination also worked brilliantly with Mozart, illuminating this complex work without overpowering it.

With set designer George Tsypin and lighting designer Donald Holder, Ms. Taymor created a compelling universe for "Flute." Mozart's last opera, with sung and spoken text by Emanuel Schikaneder, mixes grandeur, pathos and whimsy. Unlike many directors, who often slight one for the others, Ms. Taymor succeeded in making all those elements work together. She understood that the grand Enlightenment scheme of the opera is about the journey from darkness into wisdom. In the ideal union of Tamino and Pamina, sense and sensibility temper and strengthen each other. Ms. Taymor's nonrepresentational world, explored through creative combinations of materials (glass, steel and billowing silks) and light made those themes clear while maintaining the humanity of the characters.

The production exploited the Met's sophisticated stage machinery to create the fears and confusions of that journey, for the path to enlightenment is not easy. Four large transparent squares, each with a different geometric opening (a triangle, a square, a large circle and a small one) at the center, first appeared independently, circling on the stage turntable. But as Tamino, Papageno and Pamina stumbled along, they moved to create jagged angles and dizzying kaleidoscopic vistas. "Where am I?" the characters often asked, and in this world of hard edges, strange reflections, darkness and no recognizable landmarks, it was no wonder. No wonder, also, that when they found each other they clung together, only to be torn apart again. Ms. Taymor even captured the terror of the final trials of fire and water with two proscenium-high figures, their helmets filled with flame, that guarded the portal.

[Remainder of article here (subscription to WSJ Online required)]

Die Zauberflöte, Metropolitan Opera, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times]
Published: October 13 2004 03:00 | Last updated: October 13 2004 03:00

Graceful geese swoop through the black sky. The baddest of bears prance about the proscenium with surreal bonhomie. Exerting stylised menace, a collapsible serpent stalks the puny hero. Blissful storks traipse the boards sur les pointes. A flying lobster snaps its claws at a would-be devourer.

The basic set, constantly evolving and revolving, evokes a pyramid locked in a gigantic ice-cube. It's a fantastic show. It's Julie Taymor's Die Zauberflöte. It may not be Mozart's.

With her inspired accomplices (set designer George Tsypin, lighting director Donald Holder, puppet-master Michael Curry, choreographer Mark Dendy), Taymor has left no turn unstoned in her effort to make the old operatic fable look nifty. She invokes all manner of scenic mumbo-jumbo to tell the tale on her own cleverly picturesque terms.

[Remainder of article here (subscription to Financial Times Online required)]

Taymor's 'Flute' is utterly enchanting

By HOWARD KISSEL [New York Daily News]
Monday, October 11th, 2004

Although Mozart's "Magic Flute" is one of the most sublime operas ever composed, in its own time it was most definitely part of Show Business.

That's why it was a brilliant idea to have Julie Taymor (Broadway's "The Lion King") direct and design a sorely needed new production for the Met. It opened Friday night and has a performance tonight.

In contrast with other opera directors, Taymor's soaring imagination is always at the service of the composer. Her production captures the grandeur of the work and is also, hands down, the best show in town.

Unlike other Mozart masterpieces, which were written to be performed at court, "The Magic Flute" was intended for a theater with a box office.

Despite its allusions to the ideals of the Enlightenment and to Masonry (Mozart, his friend Haydn, and Emanuel Schikaneder, who wrote the libretto, were all Masons), "Flute" is at heart a fairy tale. As such, it was a boffo hit in 1790 and has remained so ever since.

In her costume designs (and in the imposing sets of George Tsypin), Taymor conveys both the somberness of the ideas that underpin the plot, as well as its delicious fancifulness.

[Remainder of this article here (no subscription or registration required)]

Amadeus Ex Machina

Chagall and Hockney have already had their way with Mozart's Magic Flute. Now--cue the kite puppets --it's Julie Taymor's turn.

By Peter G. Davis [New York Magazine, October 25, 2004]

Mozart's music may not always take second place when the Metropolitan Opera stages The Magic Flute, but--at least as long as I've been around--the productions have been mostly defined by their sets and costumes. And, true to form, the big buzz over the latest Flute centers on Julie Taymor, Tony-winning director of The Lion King, and her take on this immortal operatic fantasy. No wonder, since her Asian-influenced sense of theater, with its kite puppets, animal imagery, and masks, together with set designer George Tsypin's translucent geometric shapes and sculptures, give the eyes plenty to take in. To judge from the roars of approval on opening night, audiences will be finding new visual marvels to savor in this production for many years to come.

Yes, Taymor's stage is a very busy one, but not so frantic as to obscure what is at heart a fairly traditional approach to the dramatic action. Sarastro and the Queen of the Night, their mythical realms located somewhere between the sun and the moon, are clearly depicted in a pitched battle between good and evil; the young lovers Tamino and Pamina are tested, grow, and become wise through their adventures; everyday folk like Papageno and Papagena remain endearingly unaware of life's mysteries as they eat, drink, and make babies; and illusion is omnipresent as the characters wander through a world where humans of all ethnicities mix in surroundings that remain in a constant state of magical mutability. The stage pictures are dazzling, but the real wonder of Taymor's production is how precisely movement is counterpointed with music to reflect the enormous emotional range of Mozart's score, from slapstick comedy to solemn spirituality.

[Remainder of article here (no subscription required)]

Staging note:

The Stilts Beneath Their Wings
By DANIEL J. WAKIN [New York Times]

Mark Mindek walks into the Metropolitan Opera as a 5-foot-11-inch dancer and walks out onto the stage as a 12-foot dancing bird. He and a fellow dancer, James Graber, play two of the Julie Taymor-created creatures that flirt with Papageno, the girl-crazy bird catcher of Mozart's "Magic Flute," in the second act of Ms. Taymor's new production at the Met, which has performances on Monday and Thursday. How do the dancers manage to reach and lunge while tottering on stilts?

[Remainder of article here (subscription required for archived articles)]

Recommended recordings:

Mozart: Die Zauberflöte

Mozart: Die Zauberflöte

Posted by Gary at 5:05 PM

Thomas Quasthoff Sings Sacred Cantatas by Bach


Thomas Quasthoff Sings Sacred Cantatas by Bach
by Jürgen Otten

Thomas QuasthoffIt would be easy to describe or appraise the art of bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff by evoking the title of an exquisite lied by the Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn: "On Wings of Song". For a number of decades now, Quasthoff has soared on those wings through the musical world in continual search of new discoveries, of new shores. And just as he did most recently with his highly acclaimed CD A Romantic Songbook (together with the outstanding pianist Justus Zeyen), Quasthoff has once again entered seemingly familiar territory and - through the incomparable quality of his interpretation - made it entirely his own. That territory, in short, is J. S. Bach and the three cantatas for baritone or bass.

Three classics of the Baroque repertoire. And in at least two cases, Thomas Quasthoff had already enjoyed an early involvement with them. Something that many music lovers could hardly know is that, as a schoolboy in his native city of Hildesheim, Quasthoff sang in the choir of St. Michael's, one of Germany's most beautiful churches - not only art historians have sung the praises of its ceiling frescoes painted on wood. He was 13 when the choir's director invited him to join. Today when he looks back on that time, Quasthoff's thoughts are invariably drawn to the works of Bach. He grew up with them - he internalized them, so to speak, as part of a singers' collective well before beginning his international career.

The collective idea forms an essential component of the 2003 Grammy winner's newest recording. Accompanying Quasthoff, along with members of the RIAS Kammerchor (Berlin Radio Chamber Choir, under the direction of Daniel Reuss), are the Berlin Barock Solisten (Berlin Baroque Soloists), led by Rainer Kussmaul. The singer has already given a number of concerts with this ensemble - and discovered that the musical ideas of these Berlin Philharmonic players are very closely related to his own. The results of this collaboration based on friendship are superb readings of the Thomaskantor's three popular sacred cantatas, performances which in their blend of transparency and transcendence represent a milestone in the history of these works.

The secret of this successful collaboration - aside from purely human aspects - can most plainly be found in the manner in which Quasthoff and the Berlin Baroque Soloists recreate Bach's musical language for a new audience. The strings play on modern instruments but use Baroque bows, which serves to make the sound homogeneous and plastic but not too thin. And Quasthoff's bass-baritone voice, with its natural vibrato, blends perfectly into this ensemble. A further and enormous attraction of Quasthoff's Bach interpretation stems from the fact that he approaches the works using his full expressive powers. In other words, here is an artist who does more than illustrate the emotional states in Bach's music - he breathes into them something entirely his own. When, to give just one example, the moment he begins the aria "Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen" from Cantata BWV 82, Ich habe genug (which he numbers among "the most beautiful things in all of Baroque music"), one can positively feel the religious charge contained in this music - its profound drama, its profound meaning, and, not least, its humanity and universality, which can scarcely be described in words.

Thomas Quasthoff has no intention of revolutionizing the Bach performance tradition with this recording. For that the charismatic singer is far too modest. "I would never go so far as to say: What we've done here is to make the Bach interpretation." And yet Quasthoff readily admits that the heightened emotional factor here in comparison with previous recordings is what distinguishes his view of Bach. "My approach to Bach," he says, "is marked by a highly personal experience of this music. And this personal experience is what I'm trying to convey to the listener."

Without risk of overstatement one can say that with the present recording Thomas Quasthoff has again succeeded in realizing that subtle difference between conventional and individualized interpretation. In this connection, moreover, and referring specifically to the Passion-like character of these cantatas, he has no hesitation in articulating an unusually personal point of view: "When someone has enjoyed a life of fulfilment and is plagued in old age by pain and suffering, then he or she may well look forward hopefully to death. I can identify with that. There have been situations in my life in which I had the feeling: Death would be the better alternative to what you're going through now." Who knows, perhaps it is precisely in the unvarnished, even mercilessly blunt honesty of this attitude to life and music that the secret of Quasthoff's singing lies. His recording of these three sacred cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach certainly provides eloquent support for that notion.

[Source: Deutsche Grammophon]

Other Recordings by Quasthoff:

Romantic Songbook

Evening Star: German Opera Arias

Posted by Gary at 2:07 AM

The Guardian Profiles René Jacobs

Not so hippy now

Since the 1960s, René Jacobs has been a pioneer of the early music movement. Stephen Everson hears how his vision has evolved

Friday October 22, 2004
The Guardian

René JacobsAnyone who still thinks "authentic" performances of baroque and classical music must be inexpressive affairs, with four-square rhythms, grating strings and thin vibrato-less voices will have a shock if they listen to any of the many recordings that René Jacobs has directed over the past two decades, or go to the Barbican to hear him conduct Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea on Monday. Jacobs has tried consistently to combine historical sensitivity with a sense of theatre and expression. His recent recording of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro has just won classical music's most prestigious award, the Gramophone magazine's Record of the Year, and rightly so, as it succeeded in making something both fresh and profound from this most-recorded of operas.

[Remainder of article here (no registration required)]

Recommended recordings:

Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro

Handel: Rinaldo

See also:

NewOlde.com Reviews Antonio Vivaldi's Operas

Poppée sans télécommande

FT Reviews L'Incoronazione di Poppeia

Posted by Gary at 1:44 AM

October 21, 2004

An Interview with Michael Kaye on Puccini Rediscovered

*New Repertoire Discoveries for Singers:
An Interview with Michael Kaye*

by Maria Nockin

Did you ever wonder why that last Tales of Hoffmann you sang had all those photocopied sheets added in? Or why the version of "Butterfly" you learned a few years ago isn't the version you're doing this year? Blame Michael Kaye and other musicologists, who are diligently uncovering authentic music faster than publishers can print it! Here's some news teachers and recitalists can use.

Placido Domingo

MN: So you are one of the guilty parties responsible for making it impossible for singers to learn "the definitive Hoffmann!" Do you apply for grants so that you can work on finding lost music?

MK: Normally that work is done under an umbrella of academia, but I had to find other ways. I was a member of the musical staff at the Met when I began working on the Hoffmann publication project. For the many years during which I established my edition of the Tales of Hoffmann, I had to seek my own funding, but it's very difficult to ask for a grant for yourself.

Fortunately, Gordon Getty, Frederick R. Koch, Paula Heil Fisher and the late Francis Goelett (a great lover of contemporary music and French opera, who donated the funding for many new productions of French works at the Metropolitan Opera) were among the generous private sponsors of my work. First recordings of previously unpublished music by important composers, and financial advances from publishers, sometimes can help subsidize the preparation of the music for performance.

There are also grants, endowments and fellowships that provide funding for this type of research. If you want to do this sort of thing, you can investigate lists of foundations and what they will fund.

MN: Singers and teachers are always looking for new and interesting repertoire for recitals.

MK: Thanks to Larry and Leon Galison, and Clark McAlister, at Masters Music Publications, Puccini Rediscovered is a continuation of the results of my Puccini studies. Commentaries, translations and annotations supplement these new editions of printed music. The songs in the first volume are: "Beata viscera," "La primavera," "Ad una morta!" "Ave Maria Leopolda," "Casa mia, casa mia" and "Sogno d'or."

MN: Can you tell me a little about each song?

MK: Puccini probably composed "Beata viscera" in 1875, when his sister, Iginia, took her first vows as a nun. The text, found in the Gospel of St. Luke, is from the Roman Catholic Christmas liturgy.

This is the first publication of "La primavera, Canzonetta," a song about which very little is known, except that it is a very beautiful piece in the style of the Bellini and Verdi songs. It reminds me of portions of Falstaff.

"Ad una morta!" is a very important song that is one of my favorites. In this first publication of the final version, we find a piece that was crucial to Puccini's early development. It is a very emotional song originally composed, according to the manuscripts, for mezzo-soprano or baritone, so here we have an authentic piece Puccini wrote for those voices! In fact, Puccini's non-operatic songs are well suited to several voice categories, depending on the key [in which] one chooses to perform them.

"Ave Maria Leopolda" is by no means a religious song. It's a musical salutation to the wife of Leopoldo Mugnone, a conductor who had performed many of Puccini's operas. Only the vocal line was available, in a letter Puccini wrote to Mugnone. I provided it with a piano accompaniment so one can sing it in recital.

"Casa mia, casa mia" is a rather brief but charming song Puccini wrote in 1908, when he was trying to sell his villa at Boscolungo Abetone. Since a friend of his was publishing a magazine called La Casa, he gave him the song in exchange for advertising.

The lullaby "Sogno d'or," written in 1912 for the Christmas issue of a popular Italian magazine, eventually proved to be the basis for the wonderful quartet in La rondine. In The Unknown Puccini, I also published the second version of the "Rondine" quartet, in which Prunier is a baritone and there are no interjections from the chorus. In terms of choosing excerpts from opera to perform on special occasions, I think it's as fine as the "Rigoletto Quartet" or even the quartet at the end of Cosi fan tutte.

Speaking about musical toasts, Angela Gheorghiu and Anton Coppola have just made a recording for EMI of my edition of Tigrana's "Brindisi" ("La coppa e' simbol della vita"), from the first version of Edgar. This is also the first time this music has ever been recorded. While Tigrana is known as a mezzo-soprano role, Puccini originally wrote it for a soprano. These are just a few examples of the music comprised in the Rediscovered Puccini volumes of arias and ensembles from Puccini's operas, in alternate, revised, and abandoned versions, being issued by Masters Music Publications.

MN: For which book did you win the Luigi Illica Prize?

MK: I won it for The Unknown Puccini. It's awarded annually in Italy to performers or other people who have made significant contributions to Puccini studies. I received it in recognition of the first publication of many of these songs, and for correcting a large quantity of erroneous information in the literature pertaining to Puccini's life and works.

MN: What are your thoughts on the songs in the first book, The Unknown Puccini?

MK: All of these pieces are welcome additions to the Italian repertoire, even if they are not equal to the finest works by Schubert, Schumann, Fauré or Debussy. Many young singers who are not yet ready to do Puccini's operatic roles can sing his songs and learn a great deal about the style. He composed the lullaby "E l'uccellino" for the infant son of a friend who died shortly before the baby was born. The music for "Morire?" was later used as an entrance aria for Ruggero in the second version of La rondine. The mattinata "Sole e amore" anticipates the great Act III quartet in La bohème. Renata Scotto often sang it in her recitals and on recordings. Once, in a review of a Scotto solo recital in Washington, a critic reported that she sang "the quartet from La bohème" very beautifully. I guess he didn't read his program notes very well that night.

"Mentìa l'avviso" was a student composition to a text by Felice Romani that later became Des Grieux's aria: "Donna non vidi mai" in Manon Lescaut.

"A te" is a love song in the classic tradition of Gluck. At first it reminds me of that composer's "O, del mio dolce ardor," but it ends with music that evokes Tosca. In "Storiella d'amore," we find elements of Mimì from La bohème, and parts of Edgar, but it's actually Puccini's setting of the story of Paolo and Francesca reading together, with a comic twist. The text is by Antonio Ghislanzoni, best known for having versified the prose draft of the libretto of Verdi's Aida.

"Salve Regina," also to a text by Ghislanzoni, became the prayer in Puccini's first opera Le Villi. "Avanti Urania!" was written for the christening of a very large steamship belonging to the Marchese Carlo Ginori-Lisci, to whom Puccini dedicated La bohème. Ginori-Lisci gave the composer the land at Torre del Lago where Puccini built a home. That was where he loved to hunt and fish, and his song "Inno a Diana" is a tribute to hunters and their patron saint.

The composer's granddaughter, Simonetta Puccini, does a lot to encourage Puccini studies. We have lectured together and shared some wonderful experiences. I will never forget the day that she left me alone in Puccini's studio at the villa in Torre del Lago when she went out to do some errands, or the times we visited the house in Viareggio, in which he composed Turandot. [The villa is now a museum well worth visiting, as well as Puccini's tomb.] I just wish that Puccini had not spent so much time writing letters when he could have been filling more pages with his music.

"Inno a Roma" is a festival hymn for a large chorus and baritone, performed for the first time under very unusual circumstances. "Terra e mare" is Puccini's most sophisticated song. It evokes Italianate images of long rows of poplar trees bent by the wind, and the sound they make, as the poet dreams of the roaring of the sea.

"Canto d'anime" was written in 1904, on a commission from the Gramophone Typewriter Company, expressly to be issued as a recording by Ida Giacomelli. With its text by Luigi Illica, it boasts a soaring melody that in some ways resembles what would become Rinuccio's "Firenze è come un albero fiorito" in Gianni Schicchi. Other passages in "Canto d'anime" evoke music Puccini composed for Madama Butterfly.

MN: How did you come to reconstruct the various versions of Madama Butterfly?

MK: I did that for the Vox recording made in Budapest, which includes the major versions of the opera. With that set of CDs you can listen to each of the versions Puccini wrote. Since this is the opera's centenary, I am publishing a centennial edition of all the versions. They are performing my reconstruction of the Brescia version of "Butterfly" this fall for the first time in Tokyo, in a co-production with the Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago.

MN: Were you working on your definitive edition of the Tales of Hoffmann all this time?

MK: Yes! All told, I worked on that for more than 15 years! I identified more than 350 previously unknown autograph pages of Offenbach manuscripts and restored them to the score. My edition takes into consideration all of the sources in public and private collections in the USA and abroad. It is in the repertory of more than 20 theaters in Europe, and there are two recordings of it. One is on Phillips, with Jessye Norman, Sophie von Otter, Samuel Ramey and Jeffrey Tate. The other is on Erato, with Roberto Alagna, Natalie Dessay and Kent Nagano.

I hope more American opera companies will choose to offer their artists and audiences the opportunity to experience Offenbach's achievements in his posthumous masterpiece with productions based on the new edition.

MN: What CDs are available of the Puccini songs?

MK: Placido Domingo has recorded all the songs from the Oxford book, The Unknown Puccini. Kiri Te-Kanawa, Jose Carerras and Vinson Cole have also done some of them. Roberta Alexander is another singer who has recorded some of these works. Denyce Graves uses some of them in her recitals, too.

Decca has issued a new disc entitled "Puccini Discoveries", conducted by Riccardo Chailly. It contains an interesting performance of my edition of the "Salve Regina," sung by Chiara Taigi, and the first recording of the "Vexilla Regis Prodeunt" sung by a two-part male chorus, as Puccini intended, that is, a Passiontide processional hymn which Puccini wrote for the small church at Bagni di Lucca. It was recorded earlier as a duet, by Placido Domingo and Justino Diaz, with Julius Rudel playing an organ.

MN: If a singer would like to do research on Puccini's works for opera or recital, what would a good resource be?

MK: The Puccini catalogue is the culmination of years of research by Dieter Schickling: a 466-page catalogue of all presently identified manuscripts and editions of Puccini's works, reflecting the present high standards of Puccini scholarship, without precluding the possibility of further discoveries. Dieter wrote it in German, but it was decided that Bärenreiter would publish it in English. I contributed to the research, collaborated with Dieter, and am listed with him as the co-author of the English translation.

For more information, contact Michael Kaye via the Internet: operatic@erols.com.

Maria Nockin writes on vocal music for several publications including Pro Opera of Mexico and www.operajaponica.org.

This article originally appeared in the October 2004 issue of CLASSICAL SINGER and is reproduced here by permission of CLASSICAL SINGER. CLASSICAL SINGER is available on the web at http://www.classicalsinger.com.

A reprint of this article in its entirety, including photographs and a sample lecture-recital program, may be found here.

image_description=Puccini: Songs For Voice And Piano

October 17, 2004

The Independent: John Tavener Rejects Orthodox Faith; To Compose Theatric Work Based on Krishna

Top composer Tavener turns to Islam for inspiration

The Orthodox faith inspired him for more than 25 years, but after a rift with his spiritual adviser, the composer has rejected its 'tyranny' in a major work based on the Koran.

Anthony Barnes reports
17 October 2004

Sir John Tavener, the classical composer whose life and works have been guided by the principles of the Orthodox Church for more than two decades, has now turned to Islam for inspiration.

In 1997 his work found fame around the world when it was played at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. The piece, Song for Athene, was written to the rules of the Orthodox Church, as almost all his work had been since he converted to the faith in 1977.

But Sir John says that working to these principles - using set melodic formulas - became a "tyranny" and that he no longer wishes to stick to a particular system. He attends church less regularly than in the past and finds it "trying" to deal with people who are overly Orthodox.

Last year Sir John had a falling-out with his spiritual muse, Mother Thekla, a Russian abbess who lives in a North Yorkshire monastery and whom he used to phone daily. She also provided the words to some of his works.

[Remainder of article here (no subscription required)]

Posted by Gary at 12:00 AM

October 15, 2004

FT Reviews L'Incoronazione di Poppeia

L'Incoronazione di Poppeia, Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris
By Francis Carlin [Financial Times]
Published: October 15 2004 03:00 | Last updated: October 15 2004 03:00

If you liked David McVicar's staging of Agrippina, you may like his new Poppeia. Or you may share my view that he has lost the sense of proportion that characterised Agrippina and has gone overboard.

After the lukewarm reaction to his laudable efforts to be serious in Semele, McVicar has scuttled back into the world of high camp and trivialised Monteverdi's last opera in a glitzy cabaret.

Nero is a showbiz star who sniffs coke and swigs champagne from the bottle, Poppeia is a spoilt brat and her nurse, in drag of course, graduates from an old tart in pink dressing gown, fluffy slippers and rollers to a glam Edna Everage.

[Remainder of article here (subscription to Financial Times Online required)]

Posted by Gary at 1:22 PM

Two Reviews of "The Dialogues of the Carmelites"

Unbearably Good

Classical Music

October 14, 2004

Is there any opera more shattering than "The Dialogues of the Carmelites," when it's done well? On Tuesday night, City Opera did it well. It was almost unbearable - that's how good it was.

"Dialogues," of course, is Francis Poulenc's masterpiece from 1953. It tells the story of nuns who suffer and die - are killed - in the French Revolution. Your high-school teachers and college professors may have been rahrah about this revolution; Poulenc, bless him, was not.

It so happens that, two seasons ago, the Metropolitan Opera performed "Dialogues" unforgettably. In that cast were Patricia Racette, Heidi Grant Murphy, Felicity Palmer, and Stephanie Blythe. (I should throw in Matthew Polenzani, too, to name one man.) Ms. Palmer, in particular, was consummate as the Old Prioress. James Conlon led understandingly from the pit.

City Opera's singers are not as famous as the Met's, but they are far from shamed. In the central role of Blanche is Rinat Shaham, an Israeli mezzo-soprano. She gave just about all one could ask, musically and dramatically. She captured a woman's searching and turbulence - and fear. Always fear, except perhaps in the opera's final moment. Her voice is a little smoky, but not impure. (We can hear Carmen in that voice, even when she is Blanche.) The upper register is vibrant, and the lower one bottled. Ms. Shaham showed a sure technique, featuring intonation and evenness. This was especially gratifying in Poulenc's exposed lines. And she never slopped over his intervals.

[Remainder of article here (no subscription required)]

A synopsis of this work may be found here.

Dialogues of the Carmelites, New York City Opera
By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times]
Published: October 15 2004 03:00 | Last updated: October 15 2004 03:00

Modern opera is not the most popular attraction in cultural Manhattan but Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites has proved to be an encouraging exception. Completed in 1957, this examination of the crisis of faith during the French revolution was first performed here - rather ineptly - by the New York City Opera in 1966.

The mighty Metropolitan followed suit in 1977 with a powerful staging by John Dexter that remains a staple in the big house at Lincoln Center. Now the brave City Opera, next door, has come up with an alternative that sheds its own light.

The best news involves communication. Although Poulenc wanted his philosophies to be articulated in the language of the audience, the Met respected this wish only in the early years. The City Opera, however, reverts to the vernacular.

[Remainder of article here (subscription to Financial Times Online required)]

Recommended recording:

The Dialogues of the Carmelites

Posted by Gary at 1:22 PM

October 14, 2004

WP TechNews.com on the iPod

iMac, iPod, iConquered

By Cynthia L. Webb
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, October 14, 2004; 9:50 AM

For Apple Computer, will 2004 be remembered as a transformative year?

Yes, according to The Wall Street Journal, which said the Cupertino, Calif.-based company's fourth-quarter earnings "show how the company continues to change from a traditional computer maker to a digital-entertainment company, with a particular focus in digital music." USA Today concluded that "Apple has clearly become more than a computer company," while industry analysts told The New York Times that "Apple was transforming itself from a computer company into a digital music and entertainment company."

Fueling those declarations is that fact that Apple's iPod portable music player helped the company log $2.35 billion in revenue for the quarter -- the highest amount in nine years. Apple said yesterday that it sold 500 percent more iPods compared with last year's fourth quarter.

Apple is selling more iPods than its venerable line of Macintosh computers. The company shipped 836,000 Mac units during the quarter, compared with 2 million iPods. Only 860,000 iPods were shipped in the company's third quarter.

[Remainder of article here (free registration required)]

Posted by Gary at 2:48 PM

A Review of Pelléas et Mélisande at Berlin

Pelléas et Mélisande, Deutsche Oper, Berlin
By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times]
Published: October 14 2004 03:00 | Last updated: October 14 2004 03:00

Yniold wants to know why these sheep huddle together and why they are so silent. We know why. They are dead, piled in a stiff-legged heap.

By the end of the opera, Yniold knows all about death. When he bends to tickle Mélisande's motionless baby, his face falls. Arkel sings of the infant's future only because he is blind.

These are two gloriously Gothic touches in Marco Arturo Marelli's new Pelléas et Mélisandefor Berlin's Deutsche Oper. It is a triumphant season-opener for the new Intendantin Kirsten Harms. Though her plans for the house will not come into effect for another two years, her firm guidance can already be felt. At last, the company members are working like a team.

Alone the cast is more consistently good than anything the Deutsche Oper has seen for years. Véronique Gens is an other-worldly Mélisande,graceful and inscrutable, with each phrase shaped and pure.

[Remainder of article here (subscription to Financial Times Online required)]

Posted by Gary at 12:33 PM

Two Reviews of Rolando Villazón's New York Recital Debut

An Introduction in 5 Languages
By ANNE MIDGETTE [New York Times]

The powers that be in the opera world are desperate to discover the next hot male phenomenon. On Monday, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Temple of Dendur, Rolando Villazón, a recent contender for the tenor crown, gave his New York recital debut, in fact his first recital anywhere. Nothing like starting at the top.

Well, guess what? He's the real thing.

Rolando Villazón

Mr. Villazón started with a light, clear sound, with a hint of strain as he approached the top notes in "Per la Gloria" and "Ombra Mai Fu." Having thus oriented himself in the ungrateful acoustic of the vast, echoing room - which now and then dragged his intonation a little flat - he proceeded to sing his guts out in the first of Liszt's "Three Sonnets of Petrarch," establishing what were to remain the highlights of the evening: ringing sound in the service of meaningful musical expression.

Mr. Villazón seemed eager to show that he was not just another pretty voice in the Italian and Spanish-language repertory (although he included a set of Mexican songs and the obligatory Tosti). He did three Strauss songs (very well, resisting the temptation to oversing in "Zueignung"). He did a set of Fauré and Massenet (his French diction a bit weaker, but his French style just fine). He recited T. S. Eliot. He may want to drop that bit from future recitals, but it certainly set him apart from the dumb-tenor stereotype. Bryndon Hassman, his accompanist, offered gentle, supportive playing.

[Remainder of article here (free registration required)]

Rolando Villazón, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times]
Published: October 14 2004 03:00 | Last updated: October 14 2004 03:00

The Temple of Dendur, created in about 15BC and reconstructed in the Sackler Wing of the Met Museum, is a wondrous souvenir of antiquity. Problems arise, however, when the hall is used for concerts. Wide-open spaces and a sloping side-wall of glass threaten acoustical equilibrium. Tones projected from a makeshift platform soar straight up before splintering in distant echoes. The sight is great. The sound is not.

The ambience certainly cannot be comforting for an artist's first song recital. Luckily, no one seems to have told Rolando Villazón.

On Monday night the 32-year-old tenor from Mexico came, sang, and somehow conquered the hostile environment as well as a partisan audience of 450. At first one found the diminution of decibels and resonance disconcerting. Soon inspired art triumphed over mundane adversity.

[Remainder of article here (subscription to Financial Times Online required)]

Posted by Gary at 12:28 PM

October 12, 2004

FT Reviews Elektra At Frankfurt Opera

Elektra, Frankfurt Opera

By Shirley Apthorp
Published: October 12 2004 03:00 | Last updated: October 12 2004 03:00

"Everywhere, in all the courts, there are dead bodies, all who are alive are smeared with blood, yet all are smiling," sings Chrysothemis. Former prisoners pile oozing body-bags along the floor. Two charred and bloodied corpses, minus a limb or two, are hoisted on meat-hooks.

Klytämnestra and Aegisth don't look well. Atrocities are nothing new. For an explanation of the human penchant for slaughter and tyranny, you could do worse than to look to Sophocles.

Hofmannsthal and Strauss did, creating an Elektra both rooted in antiquity and very much of its time. For his new Frankfurt production, director Falk Richter has politicised the piece to within an inch of its life. The action plays between the stark steel walls of a giant prison, run by sadistic guards.

The orange-clad inmates have sacks over their heads. Red neon text tracks across the top of the stage, more CNN news ticker than surtitles. The house of Atreus has relocated to Guantanamo Bay. Or Abu Graib. "We got him!" say the titles, just as Klytämnestra's confidante comes with the whispered news of Orest's purported death. The mother chortles in obscene delight.

[Remainder of article here (subscription to Financial Times Online required)]

Recommended recordings:

Posted by Gary at 4:13 PM

October 11, 2004

FT Reviews La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein

La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein, Châtelet, Paris
By Francis Carlin
Published: October 11 2004 03:00 | Last updated: October 11 2004 03:00

Were the Brits in the audience the only ones to get the allusion? Felicity Lott's Grand Duchess is a carbon copy of Maggie Smith in Travels with my Aunt, a saucy, slightly dotty spinster with a thing about men in uniform.

It's not an easy vocal ride for her - the tessitura is awkwardly low and you feel she's pining to jump an octave - but her acting carries the entire show. Command of gesture, timing, she has it all. And then there's her deliciously enunciated French which sounds here like a rich dowager from snobby Bordeaux. Utterly priceless.

Inevitably, Laurent Pelly's production revolves around Lott. He ignores contemporary references in this satire on war and arbitrary power, nor does he pinpoint the contrast between the effete incompetence of the court and the simple romance of Wanda and the intellectually challenged Fritz. Wanda, especially with the vocally discreet Sandrine Piau, is a laughable country bumpkin in green wellies who doesn't get our sympathy.

[Remainder of article here (subscription to Financial Times Online required)]

*See related story here.*

Posted by Gary at 7:22 PM

Archiv Releases Andromeda Liberata


By Ulrike Brenning

With the recording of Andromeda liberata - their debut on Archiv Produktion - Andrea Marcon and the Venice Baroque Orchestra have scored a real coup. This is a newly rediscovered, full-concert-length work that languished in obscurity for some 275 years. Usually it's in attics, boxrooms or junkrooms that sensational finds like this one are made. But in the case of Andromeda liberata it was the venerable archive of the Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello in Venice where, in April 2002, the French musicologist Olivier Fourés happened upon the manuscript of an anonymous, early 18th-century serenata.

Andromeda Liberata

When a discovery of the magnitude of Andromeda liberata takes place, the reaction is rather like a volcanic eruption. Regarding the work's authorship, the scholarly world is, at least for the time being, divided in its opinion. Fourés has been able to prove beyond doubt that the aria "Sovvente il sole" was written by Antonio Vivaldi and, on the basis of various indications, he has suggested the possibility that the entire work may have been composed by Vivaldi. Nevertheless there is mounting evidence that points to a composite score, a "pasticcio", bringing together pieces by different composers. The renowned Vivaldi specialist Michael Talbot has found unmistakable signs that some of Vivaldi's leading Italian contemporaries - for example, Giovanni Porta and Tomaso Albinoni - were involved in the composition. The pasticcio was a popular form in Baroque music, and an extraordinarily practical one, because it allowed already existing musical pieces to be recycled by assembling them in new combinations.

As for the question, "Was it Vivaldi or not?", the Venice Baroque Orchestra has followed that debate only insofar as it serves the interests of their thrilling recording, about to be issued on Archiv Produktion. Andrea Marcon, the orchestra's founder and director, considers Vivaldi's authorship to be entirely plausible, but his and his musicians' overriding concern has been that of making this exciting, sparkling score accessible to a wider audience. The Baroque sound world here finds ideally sympathetic exponents: the Venice Baroque Orchestra is made up of outstanding instrumentalists who have specialized in the interpretation of early music. After hearing them in concert one London critic declared that it was like hearing Vivaldi's Four Seasons for the very first time. Now, in this recording, posterity actually will be hearing Andromeda liberata for the very first time in over 275 years.

For that we owe a debt of gratitude to musicologist Olivier Fourés. With the meticulousness of a detective, he tracked down the historical facts behind its genesis. The trail led to Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, who returned to his native Venice on 21 July 1726 after 14 years of political banishment. Ottoboni was a great music lover, and numerous concerts were organized in his honour during the summer and autumn of 1726. It was at one of these concerts that the serenata entitled Andromeda liberata received its first performance.

The questions raised by this spectacular discovery are as fascinating as the serenata itself, the plot of which derives from the Greek myth of Andromeda's marriage to Perseus. The fair Andromeda is the daughter of Cepheus and Cassiopeia, rulers of Ethiopia. Queen Cassiopeia arouses the indignation of the sea-nymphs by boasting that she is more beautiful than they. Revenge comes swiftly: the sea-god Poseidon sends a sea-monster to ravage Ethiopia. In his despair the king asks the oracle how he can save his country, and is told that the only way is to sacrifice his daughter. The young woman is left naked and chained to a rock to be devoured by the sea-monster. Looking down, the young Perseus beholds the princess and promptly falls in love with her. Having obtained from the royal couple a promise of their daughter's hand in marriage, the young hero slays the monster and releases Andromeda. The serenata opens at this moment. When Perseus declares his passion for her, Andromeda admits that she loves a certain Daliso (an invented character in the composition). After various vicissitudes, the story ends happily with the wedding of Andromeda and Perseus.

Why should this of all subjects have been chosen for musical setting to celebrate Ottoboni's return? A number of symbolic parallels with political overtones can be drawn. The young Perseus serving as redeemer represents Cardinal Ottoboni, while Andromeda embodies the suffering city of Venice. The antagonist Daliso could stand for the diplomatic hurdles that Ottoboni needed to overcome in order to return to his beloved native city.

Andromeda liberata is both a magnificent musical piece of Venice and yet another enigma of this city, which to this day has lost none of its mysterious allure. In the hands of Andrea Marcon and the Venice Baroque Orchestra the work opens a window into the Baroque era - the orchestra's artistic director is a fierce advocate of emotionally charged music making, even, and especially, when the music is Baroque: "Without your own emotion and understanding, you are far from the real Baroque. Of course, there's not only one valid interpretation: anyone who believes that idea is absolutely wrong. Even after our years of experience in the field, there is still so much to learn!" And although there is no end to learning, nor any definitive solution yet to the puzzle of Andromeda liberata's authorship, there is one thing that can safely be said: this recording with the Venice Baroque Orchestra is the invitation to an exhilarating musical journey to "La Serenissima".

[Source: Deutsche Grammophon Press Release, dated 8/2004]

Posted by Gary at 6:39 PM

WP on the File-Sharing Wars

Downloading Justice

By Cynthia L. Webb
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Monday, October 11, 2004; 9:36 AM

The file-sharing wars could get even hotter if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to weighs in on whether "peer-to-peer" networks should be held responsible for their users' illegal trading of copyrighted songs and movies.

On Friday, the principal industry groups representing Hollywood and the recording studios asked the high court to "overturn a lower-court ruling that lets creators of Internet file-sharing software stay in operation. The request aims to thwart a decision that threatens to make it much harder for the industry to fight illicit online trading of music and movies," the Wall Street Journal explained. Reuters said the studios asked the court "to overturn a ruling that Internet 'peer to peer' networks cannot be held liable when their users copy music and movies without permission. Dozens of entertainment-industry companies asked the court to reverse an appeals court decision that has prevented them from shutting down networks like Grokster and Morpheus that they say encourage millions of consumers to copy music and movies for free rather than buying them."

[Remainder of article here (free registration required)]

Posted by Gary at 3:06 PM

October 10, 2004

Cecilia Bartoli at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris

La réhabilitation pour Salieri

Cecilia Bartoli

Au TCE, Cecilia Bartoli se fait l'éblouissante avocate d'un musicien dont la postérité retiendra avant tout les soupçons d'empoisonnement sur la personne de Mozart : Antonio Salieri. Elle consacre l'intégralité d'un récital à celui que Gluck désignait comme son seul digne successeur, et qui s'honorait d'avoir été le professeur de Beethoven et de Schubert.

Théâtre des Champs-élysées, Paris
Le 22/09/2004
Françoise MALETTRA

Elle entre en scène sans la moindre affectation, d'un pas ferme et rapide, dans une étonnante robe à traîne vert pomme, la somptueuse chevelure brune librement déployée sur les épaules, entourée des musiciens de l'excellent Freiburger Barockorchester, visiblement heureuse de retrouver un public qui depuis longtemps lui manifeste les plus grandes tendresses. Elle entend bien, le temps d'une soirée, assurer la défense, œuvres à l'appui, d'un musicien, et lui accorder enfin la sortie d'un long purgatoire qui en avait fait l'instigateur de la mort de Mozart par empoisonnement.

[Remainder of article here (no subscription required)]

Recommended recording:

A Sound Sampling:

Se lo dovessi vendere by Antonio Salieri (1750-1825)

Posted by Gary at 2:52 PM

Ópera Actual Interviews Anne Sofie von Otter

El sexo en la ópera no es sólo vulgar: ya nos aburre

Fuera de la escena, la mezzo sueca es áspera y poco acogedora. Sus escasas sonrisas son un premio y sus respuestas son rápidas y precisas. Una evidente robustez moral y profesional y una fina sensibilidad revelan una mujer tímida, segura y perfeccionista. La cantante comenta su momento profesional, sin privarse de evaluar el mercado desde su consolidada reputación.

Anne Sofie von Otter

ópera Actual: ?Cómo se gestó su carrera?
Anne Sofie von Otter: Empecé a estudiar musica desde los 6 anos, pero con el tiempo nos dimos cuenta de mi don vocal. A los 16 comencé con el canto en Estocolmo y luego en Londres. Al principio canté muchos recitales y mi primer contacto con la ópera tuvo lugar en Basilea, en una producción del Orfeo de Gluck. Pero el papel que me dio una cierta notoriedad fue el de Cherubino de Le nozze en Basilea, Marsella y Londres. Después empecé a realizar grabaciones de conciertos y Lieder.

[Remainder of article here (no subscription required)]

Recommended recordings:

A Sound Sampling:

Villanelle by Cécile Chaminade (1857-1944)

Posted by Gary at 2:30 PM

Daily Telegraph Interviews Pierre Boulez

Mistakes? I've made a few...
(Filed: 04/10/2004)

Pierre Boulez, the greatest and most uncompromising composer-conductor of our time, is mellowing as he approaches 80. He talks to Ivan Hewett

However hard one normally prepares for interviews, there's always the feeling that with Pierre Boulez one has to try that bit harder.

This is, after all, the fiercely polemical grand maître of the musical avant-garde, the man who once wrote that any composer who did not follow the serial method of Schoenberg was USELESS (his capitals, not mine), the man who once declared that he'd like to blow up all opera houses.

His book On Music Today, which sets out to formalise the language of music, is famously difficult (or at least famously obscure). And for 20 years or so he was leader of IRCAM, the world's most lavishly funded musico-technological research institute, built in Paris at the behest of President Pompidou himself, with whom Boulez was on tu-toi terms. And, as if that weren't enough, he's sought after as a conductor of extraordinary fastidious ear and structural command by the world's most prestigious orchestras, from Cleveland to Vienna.

[Remainder of article here (free registration required)]

Posted by Gary at 2:07 PM

Le Monde Reviews Messiaen's "Saint François d'Assise"

La mise en apesanteur divine de "Saint François d'Assise", SDF de la foi

LE MONDE | 08.10.04 | 15h02
A l'Opéra Bastille, les tableaux franciscains d'Olivier Messiaen par Stanislas Nordey.

Avec cette nouvelle production du Saint-François d'Assise de Messiaen - la troisième depuis la création de l'œuvre en 1983 à Garnier puis celle de Peter Sellars à Bastille en 1993 -, l'Opéra de Paris recevait les premiers stigmates de l'ère Mortier (nouveau directeur, Le Monde du 17 juillet).

Rien à voir avec l'imagerie tatillonne et pseudo-réaliste de Messiaen imposant sa vision scénique lors de la création, puis avec le festival ludique et colorée de la volière vidéo de Sellars : le dépouillé de la mise en scène de Stanislas Nordey confine au dénuement. Dans un monde sans repères de temps ni d'espace, une plate-forme surélevée dans un haut hémicycle d'acier (une décharge ?) au milieu de nulle part, François va vivre le lent exil de son accession à la divinité, peu à peu roidi dans une froide incandescence. SDF de la foi, en T-shirt, pull zippé, veste trois-quarts marron et bonnet façon Emmaüs, il va franchir un à un les paliers de la mise en apesanteur divine.

D'une rigueur extreme au premier acte, au point que l'orchestre en paraît presque indécent de couleur et de sensualité, cette austérité devient enchantement dès le tableau de "l'Ange voyageur". Petit prince funambule en imperméable blanc, les ailes soigneusement rangées dans une valise en Plexiglas, l'Ange pose par deux fois avec une grâce dansante et frondeuse la question de la prédestination, avant que d'apparaître à François.

[Remainder of review here (no subscription required)]

October 9, 2004

"La Voix Humaine" at Vremena Goda Festival

Voznesenskaya - only too human
by Neil McGowan

La Voix Humaine (concert performance)
Vremena Goda Festival
Vremena Goda Orchestra/Bulakhov
29 September 2004

Bringing down the curtain on the Vremena Goda Festival this year was the Festival's first-ever operatic offering - Poulenc's "La Voix Humaine". 2004 has been something of a treat for Poulenc fans in Moscow, who have had little to celebrate hereto - but this year we've had both The Carmelites (in a searing Helikon Opera production) and now La Voix Humaine. The chances of getting Les Mamelles de Tiresias as a Christmas cracker are a little remote, however - by Christmas, two of Moscow's four main houses (Stanislavsky-Muzykal'ny and Helikon) will be in mothballs for long-overdue reconstruction work. The Bol'shoi struggles to stay open despite having the builders in the lobby, and only Novaya Opera enjoy the luxury of adequate new facilities. In a staggering waste of resources, the Vishnevskaya Opera Theatre is kept dark for all but 2-3 nights per month, when students of the Opera School perform at its prestige-address new premises.

[Remainder of article here]

Also, take a look at Neil's review of Rigoletto at Ex-Prompt Theatre for Children, Moscow.

Recommended Recording:

Posted by Gary at 3:07 PM

October 8, 2004

Moscow Times: Entering the Ring

George Loomis reports on Wagner opera, Russian-style.

By George Loomis
Published: October 8, 2004

Last spring the Metropolitan Opera gave three complete cycles of Richard Wagner's four-opera saga, "Der Ring des Nibelungen" (The Ring of the Nibelung). It was business as usual for the New York company. Otto Schenk's ultra-traditional production from the late 1980s was once again on display, James Levine conducted, and the cast included such stalwarts as Jane Eaglen (Bruennhilde) and James Morris (Wotan). With some extra performances of "Die Walkuere" worked into the schedule, one would have thought that the yearnings of Wagner devotees had been amply gratified.

In what might seem a curious redundancy, "Die Walkuere" returned to the Met in the very first week of the new season. But the current performances are anything but redundant, and the main reason is a shakeup in participants. Gone are Eaglen and Morris and even James Levine, who had been the sole conductor of "Ring" operas at the Met (apart from a couple of scattered performances) since the Schenk production was new.

Instead, in the words of The Associated Press, "a Russian revolution" took place. Valery Gergiev, the Met's principal guest conductor and the artistic director of St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater, took over the baton from Levine. Two years ago Levine entrusted him with another Wagner opera, "Parsifal." This time Gergiev has brought singers from the Mariinsky with him -- the soprano Olga Sergeyeva, who sings Bruennhilde, and two basses, Vladimir Vaneyev and Mikhail Kit, who share the role of Wotan.

[Remainder of article here (subscription required)]

Posted by Gary at 9:51 PM

Roger Pines on historic recorded performances of Bizet

YOUR RECORDED HERITAGE: Singers in music of Bizet

by Roger Pines, Editorial Dramaturg, Lyric Opera Chicago

bq. Georges Bizet's Carmen has a distinguished recording history in both complete performances and excerpts. From this ever-popular work, as well as the composer's Les pecheurs de perles, there are considerable lessons to be learned from the early decades of recording in terms of balancing dramatic urgency with the needs of the drama. Many singers have gotten by in Bizet with beauty at the expense of text, but a Solange Michel or a Charles Dalmorès demonstrates indisputably that Bizet does not come alive unless the text is commanded in depth.


At the turn of the century, Carmen's title role was sung nearly as frequently by sopranos as by mezzos. The most famous Carmen of the 1890s was a soprano, Emma Calvé (1858-1942), whose stage repertoire ranged from Cavalleria's Santuzza to Hamlet's Ophélie! Listening to her Carmen today, we're aware of extraordinary liberties of phrasing. At the same time, Calvé projects a personality of overwhelming charm and appeal - not for nothing was her name synonymous with Carmen for an entire generation of operagoers.

Carmen was first recorded complete in 1908, in German. The first complete French-language recording was made four years later with a dramatic soprano, Marguerite Merentié, (1880 - ? ). She was a Tosca, a Brünnhilde, but completely at ease with Carmen's music. One finds a significantly more restrained presentation than with Calvé, yet the characterization comes to life. The dialogue is included in her recording, and she makes the most of it.

Of the many available versions of Leïaut;la's aria from Pecheurs recorded pre-1950, few now available are by French sopranos. An exception is the performance of the uniquely versatile Ninon Vallin (1886-1961), who also recorded the arias of both Carmen and Micaela (her stage repertoire included both roles). One learns something from every Vallin recording, for she is elegant musicality personified and her performances have an astute sense of proportion. Vocally she is immensely enjoyable, possessing a richer, more colorful lower-middle register than any other French lyric soprano of her generation.


Conchita Supervia (1895-1936) was made for Carmen. This Spaniard had a great flair for French texts, and a unique way of "tasting" Carmen's words so that each inflection remains forever in one's memory. Like Calvé, the voice exudes vivacity (not surprisingly, she was one of her era's few outstanding Rossini singers), but the darkness necessary for Carmen is there, too. Supervia's distinctive vibrato has always been an acquired taste, but one capitulates immediately to her total, phrase-by-phrase involvement in the gypsy's character.

After Supervia, Germaine Cernay (1900-1943) and Solange Michel (1912 - ?), both of whom recorded Carmen complete, come as a shock. They may strike listeners as cool to a fault, but beneath the coolness there is also danger. Neither is in any way prone to the exaggeration of which listeners could accuse their predecessor, Calvé, and they do not force the voice at extremes of range as one hears so often with today's Carmens. Their subtle way with the text is a joy in itself, and they each have the right Carmen timbre, neither too "fruity" nor too light-toned. Michel, by the way, was the Carmen in France during the 1940s and '50s, singing the role about 700 times.


Few topflight French - or rather, "francophone" -- tenors today can even adequately handle Don José's music, but there were many 75-100 years ago. A major figure internationally, Charles Dalmorès (1871-1939), sang a wide variety of spinto repertoire and was a favorite in both France and America. His timbre did not ravish the ear as did those of his greatest Italian contemporaries, but he had enormous musicality, intelligence, a sense of line to do justice to the Flower Song, and true dramatic intelligence. In later generations came the exciting Corsican José Luccioni (1903-1978); Michel's José on records, the French-Canadian Raoul Jobin (1906-1974), a lighter voice than Luccioni who took on all the major "heavy lyric" French parts; and nearly everyone's French spinto tenor of choice, the manly Georges Thill (1897-1984), whose "La fleur" is not currently available, alas.

When it comes to floating Nadir's aria and any other lightish French tenor aria you can mention, they come no better than Edmond Clément (1867-1928); his mastery of floated half-voice is breathtaking. In the great line of tenors in this repertoire, his heirs are Spain's Miguel Villabella (1892-1954), a tenor of seemingly unlimited top voice, with near-native timbre and diction; and one of Canada's greatest gifts to singing, silver-voiced Léopold Simoneau (1918 - ), who was just as renowned in Mozart as in French roles.

Baritones and Basses

The Toreador Song is not a piece we hear today with the degree of elegance that would have been expected of any French baritone singing this music a century ago. A genuine vocal aristocrat was Henri Albers (1866-1925), a Flemish artist who established himself in France. Albers, who sang Escamillo in the complete recording with Merentié, had an extraordinarily assured technique, and did not emphasize the toreador's machismo at the expense of the vocal line.

Other baritones who could do justice to the music of both Escamillo and Zurga were two contemporaries, Charles Cambon (1892-1965) and Jean Borthayre (1902-1984). The latter had greater intensity of utterance, the former a warmer and even more voluminous instrument. In the next generation, Gerard Souzay (1920-2004) was a much lighter voice than those two, but his is nevertheless a passionately convincing interpretation of Zurga's aria. Thanks to a very large range, the sumptuous-voiced bass Marcel Journet (1867-1933) was able to take on the duet with Nadir in a memorable performance opposite Clément.

By far the best-known number from Bizet's La jolie fille de Perth is Ralph's drinking song, "Quand la flamme de l'amour," which many French singers have recorded brilliantly. One of the first was bass-baritone Jean-Francois Delmas (1861-1933), an imposing figure with vocal amplitude to match. The creator of Athanael in Massenet's Thaïaut;s and the first to sing four major Wagner parts at the Paris Opéra, Delmas possessed a degree of vocal grandeur that one can appreciate even in primitive turn-of-the-century recorded sound.

Essential Recordings

  • Calvé: "The Complete Known Recordings," Pearl #9482
  • Merentié, Albers: Carmen, Marston #52019
  • Vallin: "Opera and Mélodie," Pearl #9948
  • Michel, Jobin: Carmen, Aura Classics #1117
  • Supervia: "In Opera and Song," Nimbus #7836
  • Clément: "The Legendary French Tenor," Minerva #51 (incl. Pecheurs duet with Journet)
  • Dalmorès: Recital, #89506
  • Villabella: "Prince of French Lyric Tenors," VAI #1132
  • Cambon: operatic recital, Malibran #CDRG 122
  • Souzay: "Airs d'Opéras," Philips
  • Delmas, "Treasures of the French Voices: The Bass" Minerva #45

*This article originally appeared in Voices, OPERA America's official bulletin for singers, and is reproduced here by permission of OPERA America.*

*Opera Today Also Recommends:*

*Here are some samplings from Les pecheurs de perles:*

Au Fond Du Temple Saint with Clément and Journet (1912)

Je Crois Entendre Encore with Villabella (1932)

Posted by Gary at 1:24 PM

October 7, 2004

Deborah Voigt withdraws from Vancouver Opera’s production of Der Rosenkavalier

*Deborah Voigt withdraws from Vancouver Opera's production of Der Rosenkavalier*

Vancouver, BC ~ American soprano Deborah Voigt, who was to make her role début as the Marschallin in the company's première production of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, has withdrawn from the production. In informing Vancouver Opera of her decision, Ms.Voigt's personal representative stated that, "Ms. Voigt was stretched too thin and exhausted. Like many people in Florida, her personal life was unsettled by the recent hurricanes and the subsequent interruption to her schedule left her unable to complete her personal preparations [for the role.]"

The production will proceed as scheduled, with four performances at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre October 16, 19, 21 and 23, 2004.

Replacing Ms. Voigt in the cast will be soprano Carol Wilson. Ms. Wilson is a leading artist with the Deutsche Oper am Rhein, in Germany, where she has sung such roles as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro, Alice Ford in Verdi's Falstaff and Gutrune in Wagner's Götterdämmerung. She has also appeared as Marietta in Korngold's Die Tote Stadt, with Royal Swedish Opera. Her repertoire of Richard Strauss roles includes the title role in Ariadne auf Naxos, the Countess in Capriccio (both for Deutsche Oper am Rhein) and the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. Ms. Wilson has also enjoyed a distinguished career as a concert soloist, winning particular acclaim for her performances of Barber's Knoxville Summer of 1915 and Strauss's Four Last Songs.

Carol Wilson

Ms. Wilson is currently performing the role of the Marschallin in a production of Der Rosenkavalier at theatre Aachen, in Germany, alternating performances with another soprano. Her most recent performance was on October 6, 2004. She was scheduled to perform in Aachen on October 19, but has arranged with theatre Aachen and her colleague to be released from that obligation.

In making the announcement of Ms. Voigt's withdrawal, Vancouver Opera's General Director, James W. Wright, said, "We are, of course, extremely disappointed. Ms. Voigt is a wonderful artist, and could have made a great contribution to this production. However, I am pleased to say that the ensemble of artists we have engaged for Der Rosenkavalier is extremely strong, and we are delighted to welcome Carol Wilson to join them in bringing this magnificent work to life. In a happy bit of serendipity, it happens that our Music Director Jonathan Darlington, who is conducting the production, has had the pleasure of working with Ms. Wilson previously, including a successful production of Falstaff." Added Wright, "We are very grateful to our colleagues in Aachen for accommodating us."

[Source: Vancouver Opera News Release, dated October 7, 2004]

Posted by Gary at 9:44 PM

Licia Albanese at the Opening of the San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum's Exhibition "Madame Butterfly: From Puccini to Miss Saigon"

Many a tear was shed when soprano Licia Albanese sang. Now she is celebrating her signature work, 'Madama Butterfly.'

Allan Ulrich, Special to The Chronicle
Monday, October 4, 2004

Was she or wasn't she? Licia Albanese is adamant.

"Diva? Hah! I was never a diva. No, no. What does it mean? Only God makes a diva. No, just call me a plain singer with lots of expression."

For almost seven decades, the opera world has begged to differ. Plain never applied to Albanese. At the mere sound of the Italian soprano's voice, listeners have reached for their handkerchiefs and their lists of superlatives.

Albanese's searing portrayals of the lyric stage's most vulnerable heroines -- Cio-Cio San, Mimì, Violetta, Liu, Manon Lescaut -- have left their mark on generations of opera folk. You can attribute it to the distinctive character of the Albanese voice (the medium-weight instrument Italians call a lirico spinto), marked by its quick vibrato, incisive diction, intensity of attack and the unerring ability to go for the emotional jugular. Or, you can credit that mysterious, indefinable quality of artlessness concealing art.

Now 91, Albanese is apparently blessed with total recall of colleagues as legendary as the honey-throated tenor Beniamino Gigli (whom she always addressed, respectfully, as "Commendatore") and the irascible conductor Arturo Toscanini (whom she calls "cute"), and she is bursting with advice for the younger generation of singers.

[Remainder of article here (no subscription required)]

Recommended Recording:

Posted by Gary at 2:34 PM

FIEDLER: Molto Agitato

When Schuyler Chapin retired in 1975 (was ousted out is the more exact word), an area started that was very muddled for non New-Yorkers. Regularly there were announcements in Opera News that Anthony Bliss, Bruce Crawford etc. had become manager of this and that, chairman of some other things, that James Levine had this responsibility and John Dexter that one. But for us aliens, it was all very unclear while at the same time we had not the slightest idea what would be the influence of this corporate infighting on the scene of the Met. We wanted back those clear lines of command of Rudolf Bing's time. Not till Joe Volpe had his heavy hands on the reins did we once more have an understanding of who was what at the Met.

Enters Johanna Fiedler with a nice and understandable report on all and everything that happened with the corporate institution after Bing's tenure. To be fair she starts with her management-story in 1883 but leads it in 50-odd pages to the moment the waters started to muddle with Chapin's dismissal and her own (not mentioned) arrival at the press-office. In the meantime she has shown the continuity of management-problems since the start of the Met while at the same time feeding us with a few morsels of gossip (e.g. the hatred between Bing and Robinson, the womanising of Bing during the tour).

From then on she clearly and exhaustively tells us the story of the top people at the Met, the why's and the why'nots, the petty feuding, the personal infights, loves and hates (the latter more than the former). I gladly admit two things. First, I found it fascinating reading: a real look behind the sets. I also hugely enjoyed 'In House' and 'Never Mind the Moon' by Covent Garden's general-manager John Tooley and his successor Jeremy Isaacs. But in those two cases the books sometimes are an apology for a tenure in a troubled house. Fiedler did not belong to the upper echelon of the Met and therefore she has not an axe to grind (except with Domingo). She strikes me, granted an outsider 3000 miles from the precinct, as being scrupulously fair towards Bliss, Levine, Volpe and tutti quanti, stressing their strong points as well as their weaknesses. Secondly I was myself active as a television-producer and reporter for about twenty years at Flemish Public TV, an institution with a yearly budget of 200 million dollars and I recognize many of the same patterns that Fiedler so aptly describes: the bureaucratic infighting; the importance given by management to insignificant details forgetting that their reason of existence is the performance on the scene, not the number of paperclips used on a memo; the hard-headedness of management that is convinced that being a member of the Met is enough reward in itself, a decent salary is not necessary; the pettiness of the unions which want more than a fair share and are apt to kill the goose with the well-not exactly golden but anyway eatable eggs; the personal relations which can have tremendous influence on some decisions and admittedly, the lechery of some managers which can explain sometimes unexplainable features. Such stories can be somewhat dull sometimes but not with a distribution cast from strength with superhuman natures as the Met is apt to attract.

There has been quite a discussion on the book since its appearance. The press (mostly in the Times) thought it a valuable addition to the ranks (as Opera Magazine used to say of Carlo Bergonzi's début). The internet was not so enthusiastic. Too much on the top-dogs, too little dirty linen, too little morsels of really destructive gossip which have found its way since the birth of the net. But Fiedler's and the publisher's lawyers will have looked into the matter and therefore she will not have been free to write whatever she knew. Anyway, for some New Yorkers these titbits will not suffice but for the majority of us, the non-New Yorkers, there is more than enough. Fiedler has a nice way with words and succeeds very well in feeding our unhealthy but so voracious curiosity with a small sentence here, an aside over there. Open secrets they may be, but I don't know of another book mentioning the relation between Carreras and Ricciarelli or commenting on Mr.Domingo's many infidelities, maybe a small revenge of the author for Domingo's jealous hysterics towards the press department when Mirella Freni joined the Met after a long absence. The Net told us too about the many inaccuracies but they strike me as not very important: e.g. the story about Arroyo's bath-tub and the discussion on Fiedler's opinion that Susanna is the longest (correct) and most difficult (not correct) soprano-role in the repertoire.

All in all this is a must for people interested in the institutional history of this great house: a worthy successor in my opinion to Martin Mayer's '5000 Nights at the Opera' (written under the 'nom de plume' of Rudolf Bing).

Jan Neckers

image_description=Fiedler: Molto Agitato

product_title=Johanna Fiedler: Molto Agitato
product_by=Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 448pp
product_id=ISBN 1400032318 (paperback)

Posted by Gary at 12:16 AM

October 6, 2004

Le Figaro Interviews Felicity Lott

Felicity Lott : "J'ai besoin qu'on m'aime"

Deux reprises, des tournées, un DVD, le prix de la critique : La Belle Hélène par le tandem Minkowski/Pelly fut l'un des plus grands et des plus durables succès du Châtelet. De quoi donner envie de reconduire l'équipe gagnante dans un autre Offenbach : ce sera La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein. Mais à une condition : que la vedette en soit à nouveau Dame Felicity Lott, la plus française des chanteuses britanniques, dont la classe et le naturel s'imposent de l'opérette viennoise à l'opéra-bouffe français, en passant par la nostalgie du Chevalier à la rose ou le désespoir de La Voix humaine. Nous avons rencontré cette femme délicieuse début septembre, juste avant que le spectacle n'inaugure la nouvelle salle de Grenoble, "rodage" précédant les représentations parisiennes.

Propos recueillis par Christian Merlin
[05 octobre 2004]

Felicity Lott

LE FIGARO. - En pleines répétitions de La Grande Duchesse, comment vous sentez-vous ?

Felicity LOTT. - Je me sens nulle, comme d'habitude. Mais ce n'est pas nouveau, j'avais déjà eu la meme impression au début du travail sur La Belle Hélène. J'ai tellement de texte à dire en français, je dois chanter et jouer en meme temps : on ne peut se permettre une seconde d'inattention. Je regarde François Le Roux, Yann Beuron, Sandrine Piau, je les trouve formidables et je me dis : je n'y arriverai jamais, qu'est-ce que je fais là ? Je dois etre pénible pour les autres, avec mes complexes. Ils ont certainement suffisamment de problèmes pour ne pas avoir en plus à subir les miens !

Vous semblez pourtant si à l'aise en scène ! Qu'est-ce qui vous permet de surmonter votre manque de confiance en vous ?

La confiance des autres. J'aimerais etre plus forte et me porter toute seule, mais c'est ainsi : j'ai besoin d'etre soutenue par les autres. La clé, c'est le travail d'équipe : je suis incapable de considérer mon métier comme une activité individualiste. C'est pourquoi, par exemple, j'aime beaucoup donner des récitals à deux, que ce soit avec ma complice Ann Murray ou avec Angelika Kirchschlager, dont j'aime tant le naturel et la spontanéité. Ici, pour un spectacle comme La Grande Duchesse, on est porté par l'équipe Minkowski/Pelly, qui est comme une famille.

Qu'est-ce qui vous lie à eux ?

D'abord le fait que nous adorons la musique d'Offenbach et voulons la servir le mieux possible. J'aime beaucoup Laurent Pelly parce qu'il me fait confiance et trouve toujours des solutions qui me sont adaptées. Et puis il n'hésite pas à aller contre la musique, ce qui crée une tension plus intéressante que si la mise en scène dit exactement la meme chose que la partition. Quant à Marc, il essaie de nettoyer les partitions, afin qu'on les entende comme si c'était la première fois. Il s'intéresse à la couleur des mots, et meme au non-dit, au "sous-texte". Ses tempi sont certes souvent très rapides, et il n'est pas facile à suivre, mais cela aussi crée une tension positive : on doit toujours etre aux aguets, et les finales d'actes sont si excitants !

Je suppose que c'est le succès immense de La Belle Hélène qui vous a encouragée à aborder un nouveau role offenbachien ?

Si je me souviens bien, c'est à la fin de la première série de Belle Hélène, sachant que je ne pourrais assurer la première reprise, que Jean-Pierre Brossmann a évoqué l'idée d'un autre ouvrage. La Grande Duchesse est vraiment très différente : impossible de faire une copie du spectacle précédent. Elle est à la fois plus drole et moins drole. On y ridiculise la guerre et la corruption du pouvoir, ce qui me plaît bien. La fin est plus cruelle et mon personnage n'est pas très sympathique, ce qui me plaît moins : j'ai besoin qu'on m'aime !

Qu'est-ce qui vous attire dans Offenbach ?

C'est d'abord, au stade actuel de ma carrière, de faire quelque chose de tout à fait différent, après toutes ces Maréchales... Attention, j'adore Richard Strauss, d'ailleurs sans lui j'aurais été au chomage Sans parler de ces chefs qui vous noient sous un flot orchestral contre lequel on ne peut pas lutter.

Tous les chefs ?

Oh non Je lui ai dit que j'aimerais bien chanter Les Quatre Derniers Lieder avec lui, mais il m'a répondu qu'ils étaient de toute façon inchantables. Quel homme merveilleux Il a préféré renoncer à une carrière plus prestigieuse car il préfère etre entouré de ceux qu'il aime et qui l'aiment : je suis pareille. Et puis j'adore Bernard Haitink, avec qui j'ai fait mes débuts à Glyndebourne il y a 27 ans. C'est la seule audition que j'aie jamais passée, et elle a marché. Je pense qu'il s'en est vite débarrassé car il détestait les auditions, tout comme moi. J'ai réussi le contre-ut d'Ann Trulove dans le Rake's Progress de Stravinsky et ça a suffi. Pourtant, ce n'était pas "joli joli". Ce n'est jamais joli joli, d'ailleurs.

Vous chantez certains roles, y compris dans Offenbach, dans lesquels on est habitué à entendre des voix plus lourdes. Est-ce un problème?

C'en est un si j'essaie de gonfler ma voix, de forcer le volume dans le médium. Quand j'ai travaillé la Maréchale, je suis allée consulter Georg Solti, qui était si gentil. Il m'a dit quelque chose de très simple : "N'essaie pas de faire comme les autres, chante-le avec ta voix. Tu envies les autres sopranes pour des qualités que tu n'as pas, mais dis-toi que beaucoup de sopranes aimeraient chanter comme tu le fais toi." Cela donne confiance. Tout comme quand j'ai rencontré Denise Duval, la créatrice de La Voix humaine de Poulenc, et qu'elle m'a dit avoir aimé mon interprétation de cette oeuvre. Vous vous rendez compte : Denise Duval!

Recommended Recordings:

Voici le sabre de mon père from La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein, with Livine Mertens, sop. (1930).

Posted by Gary at 8:51 PM

FT Reviews Tamerlano

Tamerlano, Opéra de Lille
By Francis Carlin
Published: October 6 2004 03:00 | Last updated: October 6 2004 03:00

There should be a golden rule for producers: don't make life difficult for yourself and the audience.

In Lille's magnificently restored opera house, Sandrine Anglade bleaches Tamerlano of any human interest, in a staging of withering monotony.

It Is Handel's longest opera seria, a three-hour litany of da capo arias that would test the most gifted producer. The only viable option is to accentuate characterisation. Anglade rightly focuses on Asteria as the pivotal subject but dresses almost every character in the same two-toned monk's garb - there is no notion of hierarchy, so that the psychological tussle around her comes across as a distant abstraction. We feel unconcerned by these interchangeable characters, even indifferent when Bajazet commits suicide.

[Remainder of article here (subscription to Financial Times Online required)]

Posted by Gary at 3:00 AM

October 1, 2004

The Mariinsky's New Season

Voice activated

By Galina Stolyarova
Photo by Meri Cyr / FOR SPT

Anna Netrebko

The Mariinsky theater, which opens its 2004-2005 season on Thursday, Oct. 7th with Glinka's "A Life For The Tsar," has tailored the forthcoming musical year for its female operatic stars.

One of the brightest, celebrated mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina, will sing Lyubasha in a new production of Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Tsar's Bride," which premieres in December. Borodina has performed the role abroad a number of times to the highest acclaim, and is pleased with the opportunity to sing Lyubasha on home soil.

"Being a Russian singer, it is frustrating to feel that Russian audiences are not aware of what has long been available to the foreign spectators, simply because my repertoire wasn't being staged at the Mariinsky," Borodina told The St. Petersburg Times. "Last season, when I first performed Dalila, it was a special experience for me as it brought me much closer to my Russian audience."

Mezzo-soprano Yekaterina Semenchuk, one of the troupe's youngest talents, stars in the lead role in Bizet's "Carmen". Although Carmen is a role associated with Olga Borodina, the Mariinsky has opted to encourage their young and most promising mezzo so and design the new production for her.

Meanwhile the fascinating soprano Anna Netrebko appears in "The Tsar's Bride" as Marfa but her main engagement with the company this season is as Gilda in Verdi's "Rigoletto," which will be unveiled in April.

Netrebko has already sung the role with the Washington Opera in Martha Domingo's rendition of the opera, and has been invited to perform Gilda at London's Covent Garden and New York's Metropolitan Opera this and next season respectively.

"I never try to portray Gilda as a victim, although directors often prefer to present her in that kind of light," Netrebko said in an interview with The St. Petersburg Times this week. "I don't see Gilda as a 'lightweight heroine' with no guts. Rather, I believe she has a lot of character and struggles hard to retain her love. And naturally, it takes a lot of courage to claim your own life, which she ultimately does."

Although Netrebko is a rare guest in her musical alma mater these days, she considers herself a thoroughly local citizen and has just bought an apartment overlooking the Mariinsky Theater.

"St. Petersburg is my home, I live here and love it here, I just wish I was able to visit here more often," she said, referring to her hectic schedule, fitting arrangements with San Franscisco Opera, Los-Angeles Opera, Covent Garden, Vienna Opera, The Salzburg Festival and the Met. Upcoming engagements include Bellini's "I Puritani", Verdi's "Rigoletto" and Puccini's "La Boheme" at the Met, Massenet's "Manon" and Gounod's "Romeo and Juliet" at the Los Angeles Opera and Verdi's "La Traviata" at the Salzburg Festival, not to mention the Mariinsky.

The star is not immuned to fatigue, however. On her current trip to Russia, the singer admitted to having just canceled a contract for Donizetti's "Don Pasquale" in the United States to allow herself a deserved and long-awaited two-month rest.

"I am very deeply connected with the Mariinsky and this part of town in general," Netrebko said. "My jolly student years and first years with the theater were spent here. I simply love to see it all around me."

There was little glamour in Anna Netrebko's first years on the banks of Neva river. She lived in a notoriously horrible dormitory belonging to the St. Petersburg Conservatory on Ulitsa Doblesti and worked as a floor cleaner at the Mariinsky theater where she was dreaming to perform. Netrebko recalls the past hardships with one of her easy laughs. "God, it was a dreadful place that dormitory, and it took ages and ages to get to work," she remembers. "Cold, poor, near-starving times with 1 1/2 hours each way in doubly overcrowded public transport every time."

Since then Netrebko has avoided public transport, especially in her home country. "Even if I have to spend the last bill in my wallet on a cab ride I would still take a cab - as long as I do have that last bill," she said.

"But it was a good time," the singer said, returning to memories of her first years in town. "I had the dream of my life to keep me warm, and I knew I was getting closer and closer to that dream, which was a huge motivator. Just physically being at the Mariinsky was incredibly stimulating, helping me to turn a blind eye to harsh realities when a parcel from home was just enough to pay my debts only to immediately get into new ones!"

The charming soprano approaches life with ease and a radiant smile. She describes herself as unsophisticated, a person who adores shopping and enjoys spending money. "I stay at home when I have no money, so I don't get upset," she smiles.

Netrebko came to St. Petersburg from her hometown of Krasnodar at the age of 16 to study at the Rimsky-Korsakov Music College and subsequently the Conservatory, with a plan to become an operetta singer.

After a few visits to the Mariinsky she quickly reconsidered her career goals. Netrebko joined the world-famous company at the age of 22, simultaneously dropping out of the Conservatory in her fourth year there.

Not once has she regretted that move, and it was a clear choice between classroom singing and real performances. "I just didn't have any time to study at all," Netrebko explains. "The Conservatory certainly gave me the basics and vocal training, and I am extremely grateful to my mentor Tamara Novichenko. But there came a time when I didn't need school classes but experience singing and being on stage."

The only other place coming almost as close to Netrebko's heart as St. Petersburg is San Fransisco "with its special bright radiant energy that I adore," but the city "is just too far away and too expensive for me to be able to buy an apartment there."

The turning point in Netrebko's career came after she was a tremendous success as Donna Anna in "Don Giovanni" directed by Nikolaus Harnoncour at the opening of the prestigious Salzburg Festival in the summer of 2002.

"Neither myself, nor anybody around me had envisaged a big success, apart from the director who had a great faith in me as Donna Anna," Netrebko recalls. "Basically, I learnt my lines and score and went on stage without particularly high expectations."

But the performance won her much applause, an array of flattering reviews, a list of plum contracts with the world's major operatic companies and a welcome place at every Salzburg Festival ever since and for several years to come. Next year she will sing Violetta in Willy Decker's version of Verdi's "La Traviata", while in two years' time she stars as Suzanna in Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro."

Salzburg Festspiele, a magazine for friends and patrons of the festival, called Netrebko "the miracle of Salzburg."

"Salzburg was not prepared for this: no CD, no poster, no limousine," wrote Festspiele. "And yet she and her voice are the sensation of Salzburg."

The feeling is, indeed, mutual.

"I adore Salzburg, it is galvanizing to be there during the festival," Netrebko said. "I am thrilled to be there. Every day the most distinguished musicians perform in front of the snobbiest, most sophisticated audiences, and you can just see all the snobbery melting down or the opposite, manifesting itself in a revolt - sometimes both during the same show!"

Every day in Salzburg, Netrebko is torn between a dozen shows she is dying to see, desperately struggling to get a ticket, and often failing, because everything's long been sold out.

"I use every tiniest chance to see something there, and I usually watch from the furthest row back," she said, laughing. "I never hold a grudge against the festival administration: I know they love me, and I know if they'd had tickets they would have given them to me."

Netrebko is excited by the Salzburg's atmosphere, with "boos" and "bravos" crossing over in controversial productions.

Festspiele this year placed Netrebko second in the list of divas with prima donna criteria, like charm, style, manners, social habits, appearance and dress, after Angela Georgiu. Renee Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, Karita Mattila and Deborah Voigt were placed lower down in the ranking. For Netrebko, however, terms like diva or prima donna are considered obsolete. "Diva is a word completely out of date and out of fashion," she said.

The times of picky prima donnas have passed, the singer believes. Not using public transport doesn't count. She earned that right the tough way.

"While 20 or 30 years ago extravagance, chic, arrogance and escapades were in vogue and would earn you public admiration, these days such behaviour only provokes irritation," she said. "It would be unwise to play a diva, and I strongly believe the easier you are to deal with, the more respect you get."

Anna Netrebko

Posted by Gary at 6:28 PM

Le Monde on Film Makers and Opera

L'opéra au cinéma, entre chic et surprise
LE MONDE | 30.09.04 | 14em5

La mise en scène d'opéra est, pour des cinéastes comme Benoît Jacquot, Atom Egoyan, Robert Altman... l'occasion d'expériences exceptionnelles.

"Il y a dans l'opéra un truc qui gratte le cinéaste" : Benoît Jacquot, qui vient de faire ses débuts de metteur en scène d'opéra avec Werther, de Jules Massenet, à Londres, souligne une évidence. Dès les débuts du cinéma, les collisions avec l'opéra n'ont pas manqué, depuis Géraldine Farrar, égérie du Metropolitan de New York engagée par Cecil B. De Mille pour Tentation (1915), ou Alla Nazimova jouant Salomé (1923), jusqu'à Sophia Loren, Aïaut;da au visage noirci chantant avec la voix de Renata Tebaldi (1953). La collaboration la plus célèbre du siècle entre une cantatrice et un metteur en scène n'unit-elle pas, quatre ans durant, Maria Callas et Luchino Visconti ? En cinq productions pour la Scala de Milan, dont la plus fameuse des Traviata (1955), le duo magnifique réinventa le chant et le spectacle.

Serait-ce de cet illustre exemple que revent les directeurs d'opéra qui, ces dernières années, convient de plus en plus les cinéastes pour de nouvelles productions ? On a beaucoup parlé de l'engagement du Danois Lars von Trier pour un Ring à Bayreuth en 2005. Las, l'auteur de Dogville (2003) a annulé. Au Los Angeles Opera, les pourparlers avec George Lucas pour une mise en scène du Ring - là encore - ont échoué. Les élucubrations informatiques du maître de La Guerre des étoiles ont été jugées trop couteuses.

"Le Ring par Star Wars, c'est le supermarché à l'opéra " Gérard Mortier regrette cependant les Contes d'Hoffmann qu'il envisagea un temps avec David Lynch, pour Salzbourg, ou le Pelléas avec André Delveau, qu'il a abandonné trop vite.

Si les projets avortés sont légion, c'est aussi parce que "les rythmes de l'opéra et du cinéma sont difficilement compatibles", précise Atom Egoyan. Depuis 1996, le cinéaste canadien d'origine arménienne travaille régulièrement à l'opéra. "A la sortie d'Exotica, en 1994, le directeur de la Canadian Opera Company m'avait contacté. Le film parle de voyeurisme, de désir frustré, de fétichisme, ce qui faisait de moi, à son avis, un choix naturel pour Salomé."


Egoyan livra une Salomé spectaculaire, qui remporta un grand succès public et fut "une expérience extraordinaire". Son travail pour la scène et le cinéma paraît dès lors indissociable : "Dans tous mes films, j'ai travaillé sur la musique, utilisé des motifs pour représenter des personnages ou des idées. L'opéra permet une fusion absolue de tous les arts. J'y trouve, par exemple, l'occasion de me confronter aux questions d'art contemporain qui m'agitent. Sur scène comme dans des installations, on peut explorer le lien entre l'espace scénique et l'image."

Ou entre l'image et l'espace : ainsi le film de Robert Altman Un mariage (1978) renaîtra sur la scène du Chicago Lyric Opera, réinventé par le compositeur William Bolcom. S'il a déjà mis en scène deux opéras, le cinéaste américain s'avoue "agréablement surpris" par cette expérience originale : après avoir écrit le livret avec Arnold Weinstein, il va le mettre lui-meme en scène. "J'ai le film bien en mémoire, mais, franchement, j'ai une préférence pour le livret, confie-t-il à l'approche des répétitions, programmées début novembre. Il y avait quarante-huit personnages dans le film, nous en avons condensé un certain nombre et je trouve le résultat plus intense."

Vittorio Gassman ou Lilian Gish dans le film, Jerry Hadley et Catherine Malfitano sur la scène de Chicago. "Ce sont tous des acteurs, après tout", grommelle Robert Altman. La fameuse question de la direction des chanteurs n'agite pas davantage Atom Egoyan, qui se borne à préciser que "les limites physiques du chanteur doivent etre respectées".

Pour Marthe Keller, ce qui doit etre respecté avant tout, c'est la musique. L'actrice vient de passer haut la main l'examen du Metropolitan de New York avec un Don Giovanni présenté ce printemps et prépare pour septembre 2005 un Sophie's Choice, du compositeur anglais Nicholas Maw, à la Deutsche Oper de Berlin. "L'expérience de la scène et, d'une certaine façon, de la musique m'a appris la simplicité. Ce qui n'est pas le plus facile ! Mais je pense que le péril du cinéaste est paradoxalement son oeil, beaucoup plus développé que son oreille, qui l'incite à privilégier les effets au détriment de l'émotion."

A l'instar du théâtre à partir des années 1960, le cinéma aura-t-il à son tour pour mission de sauver l'opéra de la déshérence scénique et dramaturgique ? Le théâtre, en apportant une théorisation, avait renforcé le role du metteur en scène interprète capable de transcender l'œuvre par sa lecture. Le cinéma, qui utilise les instruments d'une société en prise directe avec l'image et l'information, saura-t-il éviter les miroirs aux alouettes ? Le mythe Callas-Visconti a sans doute encore de beaux jours devant lui.

Florence Colombani et Marie-Aude Roux

Catherine Malfitano

Posted by Gary at 4:06 PM