November 30, 2004

Pierre Jourdan Resurrects Haÿdée at Compiègne

OPéRA "Hayedée" à Compiègne
Auber sort de l'oubli

Jacques Doucelin [Le Figaro]
[30 novembre 2004]

Et de cinq ! Après Manon Lescaut, Gustave III, Le Domino noir et Les Diamants de la couronne entre 1990 et 1999, Pierre Jourdan vient de ressusciter un autre opéra oublié d'Auber, Hayedée ou le secret. Ce n'est point manie, mais respect d'une promesse faite voici quinze ans : défendre et illustrer le répertoire lyrique français par le Théâtre français pour la musique installé dans le Théâtre impérial de Compiègne lui-meme achevé et rendu à sa destination première grâce à l'acharnement du meme Pierre Jourdan. Un homme orchestre qui sait aussi bien gérer une salle, équilibrer une programmation qu'inculquer le beau style aux jeunes chanteurs dont il complète la formation.

Ajoutons que cet ancien réalisateur de télévision s'entend à assurer la rentabilité artistique de ses spectacles diffusés en DVD. Sans compter sa vocation d'ambassadeur du chant français à l'étranger par l'invitation de plusieurs productions au Covent Garden de Londres. On s'étonne qu'aucune synergie ne soit encore née avec l'Opéra-Comique dont Compiègne défend le répertoire de façon exemplaire. Favart ayant été promu Epic (Etablissement public à vocation industrielle et commerciale) et doté d'un budget artistique, les choses devraient changer.

Ce qui frappe dans Hayedée comme dans Noé de Bizet et d'Halévy (Le Figaro des 8 et 19 octobre) c'est l'homogénéité. Si Jourdan ne peut s'offrir Alagna ou Dessay, il compense par un travail de fond sur le style. A la tete du jeune et excellent orchestre Albéric Magnard. il a placé Michel Swierczewski qui ressuscita déjà Christophe Colomb pour le centenaire de Milhaud en 1992 avec pour héros un certain Laurent Naouri qui a fait son chemin depuis !

Ce chef d'expérience aime cette musique et sait la faire aimer. Ce qu'on voit est au diapason, des superbes toiles d'André Brasilier aux riches costumes de Pierre Capeyron. Isabelle Philippe campe une Hayedée à l'aigu facile au coté d'Anne-Sophie Schmidt plus à l'aise en Rafaela que dans Noé. Dans le role effroyable de Lorédan, le jeune ténor Bruno Comparetti témoigne d'un courage souvent récompensé et d'un vrai style. Il est bien entouré par le gentil ténor Mathias Vidal et la méchante basse Paul Medioni.

Comment sauver le livret aussi "tarte" de Scribe ? Du pire vaudeville qui ne prend pas la tete, mais exaspère : on se dit qu'il faudrait couper les dialogues parlés Pas d'originalité, mais des airs bien troussés comme celui dont on sait qu'il fera le tour des faubourgs et que sa partition se vendra dans les salons bourgeois : ainsi allait la publicité dans un siècle sans télévision et sans cinéma. Voilà qui explique l'énorme succès en Europe : 500 représentations rien qu'à Paris ! Pourquoi ? Le public a toujours préféré Salieri à Mozart.

[Click here for a related article.]

Posted by Gary at 2:24 PM

La Diva Renée

The 'Voice' of the Darling Diva

November 30, 2004

New York

For sheer beauty of sound, no soprano today can match Renee Fleming. Her rich, golden-hued voice shines and seduces; she can sustain a long-lined legato passage, change the color of a phrase from sunlight to shadow. And her initially weak interpretive skills have deepened during the past decade.

Such considerable gifts, coupled with a pretty face, have brought Ms. Fleming a level of celebrity few American opera singers have enjoyed. She's inspired an extravagant chocolate dessert by chef Daniel Boulud (La Diva Renee) and a character in a novel ("Bel Canto") by Ann Patchett. Along with tenor Placido Domingo and mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli, she's one of a select handful of singers who can guarantee box-office success.

But in recent years she's at times sounded tentative or indulgent, overusing certain expressive devices like sliding into high notes. She has also faced some challenges. Most of the latter occurred in 1998, around the time when her 10-year marriage to actor Rick Ross broke up. There were episodes of anxiety and stage fright that required the ministrations of a psychiatrist. There was controversy over her approach to the virtuosic bel canto ("beautiful singing") repertory, most notably the much-publicized booing episode at the conclusion of her "Lucrezia Borgia" at Italy's La Scala, where opera performance is viewed as more of a blood sport. And there was her withdrawal from an originally scheduled Metropolitan Opera debut as Violetta in "Traviata" that year.

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

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson at NY Philharmonic

Turning Tragedy into Art

By Jeannie Williams
29 Nov 2004

An interview with mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who makes her New York Philharmonic debut this month.

"I am drawn to these characters, the juicier the better, and sometimes that means the more tragic the better." That's mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, surveying her gallery of roles, which includes some of the most tormented -- and tormenting -- women in mythic history. Medea, Jocasta, Dido, Carmen, the mysterious Melisande, Myrtle of The Great Gatsby -- murderers, victims, adulterers, suicides -- all are grist for the art of this San Francisco native.

For her New York Philharmonic debut, Ms. Hunt Lieberson will embody Phaedra in Benjamin Britten's eponymous cantata, set to a Robert Lowell translation of the Racine poem. She will also sing "Deh, per questo," from Mozart's La clemenza di Tito. For these concerts she is reunited with Sir Colin Davis, with whom she last worked in her previous incarnation as a viola fellow at Tanglewood in 1980.

[Click here for remainder of interview.]

Posted by Gary at 3:38 AM

Tristan und Isolde at LA Philharmonic

L.A. Phil: A 'fresh context' for 'Tristan und Isolde'

By Valerie Scher

November 28, 2004

Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" is an epic melodrama, a mythic love story about the doomed romance between a knight and a princess.

The opera has been performed by U.S. companies ranging from New York's Metropolitan Opera to Seattle Opera, from Lyric Opera of Chicago to Los Angeles Opera (though not at San Diego Opera).

Soon, it will be the Los Angeles Philharmonic's turn. And leave it to the orchestra's adventurous music director, Esa-Pekka Salonen, to help give a new spin to the Teutonic classic that premiered in 1865 in Munich, Germany.

"I wanted to find a fresh context that was slightly unusual," says Salonen, 46.

Make that very unusual.

"The Tristan Project" - the multimedia, semi-staged version that opens Friday at Los Angeles' Walt Disney Concert Hall - is unlike any other "Tristan."

Because productions of the three-act opera are so long - lasting nearly five hours including intermissions - the philharmonic will present one act at a time and pair each act with works that were influenced by the opera. ("Tristan" will be sung in German, with English subtitles.)

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 3:18 AM

Opera North Presents Kurt Weill's One Touch of Venus

On the Weill side of Venus

Robert Thicknesse
Opera North is reviving a "lost" work by the composer

THINK of Kurt Weill and what do you get? Cigarettes, dim lights, fishnets; Lotte Lenya or Ute Lemper; Berlin, Brecht, Communism, cabaret . . . Curiously, these clichés reflect the smallest part of his career, the three years he collaborated with Bertolt Brecht from 1927 to 1930, The Threepenny Opera, Mahagonny and the afterthought of The Seven Deadly Sins, a world (and musical style) pastiched and perpetuated by John Kander's musical, Cabaret.

It's hard to connect him with the composer, in 1946, of Street Scene, one of the great American operas, and of some tunes -- September Song, It Never Was You, Speak Low -- that are the essence of Americana. And in his musical One Touch of Venus he produced a riotous and exhilarating piece of Broadway to rank with any of the classic musicals of the 1940s. It was a smash in 1943 (starring Mary Martin) before vanishing completely and inexplicably after a bowdlerised 1948 film version with Ava Gardner.

[Click here for remainder of review.]

Posted by Gary at 3:07 AM

La Scala Resurrected

Milan's La Scala stands ready to reopen on Dec. 7 after a two-year makeover, which includes the latest in acoustics and stage mechanics, a revamped floor, and new rehearsal rooms and offices. (Luca Bruno -- AP)

The Very Model of a Modern Major Opera House
Milan's Refurbished La Scala Steps Up to the 21st Century

By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, November 29, 2004; Page C01

MILAN -- Near the stage of Teatro alla Scala, inside a second-level box, stands a fireplace. The box belonged to Giuseppe Piermarini, architect of the 18th-century theater, and the fireplace was useful in many ways. Central heating was unknown, and since operas were all-day affairs, it was convenient to have someplace for servants to cook up a cutlet or polenta to ease hunger between acts. If the performance was a bust, a nice, soft-boiled tomato could be made readily available to be tossed onstage.

The original form and light blue color of Piermarini's loge was a surprise discovery recently, as La Scala has been completely renovated for the first time since it was built in 1776.

Not just a plaster fix here and there or a repair after World War II bombing or construction of a lobby where one never existed or a wiring of the place for electricity. Instead, a new theater has grown up within La Scala's neoclassical walls, which for opera lovers is Yankee Stadium, Madrid's Las Ventas bullring and London's Globe Theatre rolled into one.

On the surface, it is still the familiar La Scala, with its dowdy neoclassical shape, yellow walls, gilt decoration and oversize chandeliers. But a two-year makeover has made it altogether something new. It contains the latest in acoustics, up-to-date stage mechanics, an expanded stage, more seating, a revamped floor and new rehearsal rooms and offices hidden among towers at the rear of the building.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 2:54 AM

November 29, 2004

Izvestia Reviews

Posted by Gary at 7:48 PM

Neue Zürcher Zeitung Reviews Angels in America

Eine neue Oper von Peter Eötvös in Paris uraufgeführt

Peter Eötvös, der ungarische Komponist und Dirigent, heuer sechzig geworden, fühlt sich schon seit je zum Theater hingezogen. Seine Musik hat dieses narrative, körperlich-gestische Element, das Bildhafte und Kommunikative, das guter Theatermusik eigen ist. Welche Theaterbegabung er ist, hat seine neue, vierte Oper gezeigt, die als Auftragsarbeit für das Pariser Théâtre du Châtelet entstanden ist und nun ihre Uraufführung erlebt hat. Das Libretto von "Angels in America" basiert auf dem gleichnamigen Theaterstück von Tony Kushner. Und schon daran ist grandios, wie die grosse amerikanische Zeitthematik der achtziger Jahre des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts - Aids und damit Homo- und Heterosexualität - mit zeitlosen amerikanischen Themen wie Clanwirtschaft, Religiosität, Politik verbunden wird, wie das Private und die Geschichte des Landes zusammengeführt werden und dann die Grenze zwischen Realität und Halluzination durchbrochen wird und Engel auftreten. Das hat geradezu Shakespearesche Dimensionen. Mari Mezei hat aus dem siebenstündigen Theaterstück das Libretto für eine fast dreistündige Oper geschaffen, und auch dieses Libretto ist ein Wurf.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 6:55 PM

Satellite Radio: The Future is Now

At XM, Boldly Going
Under Hugh Panero, Satellite Radio Is a Hit. Just Ask Howard Stern And Mel Karmazin.

By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 29, 2004; Page E01

Hugh Panero has never had much patience for naysayers.

As a young man, after being turned down for a job reporting on the cable industry for a trade journal, Panero created his own version of the publication, complete with original stories and a mock cover. He sent it in and was hired, said Doug Panero, one of three younger brothers.

As one of the early pioneers in pay-per-view TV, Panero overcame doubts that consumers would ever pick pay-per-view over the video store.

Six and a half years ago, he believed in subscription radio service when few others did. Secure in that belief, Panero turned a staff of fewer than a dozen working out of a windowless basement office in downtown Washington into the leading satellite radio service, with more than 500 employees and 2.5 million subscribers. Its only direct competitor, Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. of New York, has 800,000 subscribers.

Satellite radio has now come into its own, and competition is sizzling.

[Click here for remainder of article]

[Click here for a description of XM Radio's Vox channel.]

[Click here for a description of Sirius Satellite Radio's Classical Voices channel.]

Posted by Gary at 4:35 PM

Another View of The Inner Voice

Fleming gives what young singers need

By Sarah Bryan Miller
Post-Dispatch Classical Music Critic
Sunday, Nov. 28 2004

"The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer"

By Renee Fleming
Published by Viking; 222 pages; $24.95

This is the book I needed when I was a young singer, but never found. Here, at last, is a book about the life of an opera singer that goes into the things one really needs to know: How do you get started? How do you find a teacher? What should you sing for auditions? How do you handle the important-but-usually-ignored-until-it's-too-late business side? How do you manage a family life?

Renee Fleming, the reigning soprano of our day, looked in vain for something like "The Inner Life" when she was coming up. "I searched for such a long time for the book I wanted to read that finally I decided my only recourse was to try to write it myself," she says in the introduction. "What I came up with in the end was not the story of my life, but the autobiography of my voice."

It's an important distinction. You will search this book in vain for catty comments about colleagues; Fleming's even generous to uberdiva Elisabeth Schwartzkopf, who was famously cruel to her in a series of master classes. There are clearly things she dislikes about the business, but one must do a certain amount of reading between the lines to figure out some of them. Brava, diva.

[Click here for remainder of review.]

The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer
The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer

[Click here for a related article.]

Posted by Gary at 3:58 AM

Visual Aids in Live Performances

Classical buffs wary of letting eyes have it

By David Patrick Stearns
Inquirer Music Critic

In the anti-MTV world of classical music, there's rarely been a video screen that didn't make great music seem worse.

Years ago, the Philadelphia Orchestra offered close-ups of Yo-Yo Ma on video screens at the Academy of Music; core audience members left, threatening to cancel subscriptions. The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia used all manner of visuals in its concerts up through last season, but stopped in response to mixed audience reaction and a financial climate that lends itself more to consolidation than experimentation.

Even opera, which was written to be seen as well as heard, is controversial in direct proportion to the amount of onstage visual activity, whether it's Franco Zeffirelli's hyper-realistic extravaganzas at the Metropolitan Opera or slide projects used at the Opera Company of Philadelphia. Some of it has been done well; a lot of it has not.

And yet: Screens were back last week at Philadelphia Orchestra concerts, as demanded by Tan Dun's The Map, which was written to enshrine videos of provincial Chinese musicians. Though there were a few audience walk-outs, the piece was basically embraced by the Friday-afternoon senior-citizen crowd and Saturday family audiences.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 3:41 AM

Don Pasquale at Covent Garden

Opera: Don Pasquale

Robert Thicknesse at Covent Garden

JONATHAN MILLER certainly has it in for Covent Garden. A few weeks ago he hilariously described the crowd here as "Harrods Food Hall gives up its dead", and to continue the metaphor he has served up the most culinary (as in pap) production of Donizetti's last opera buffa. This should be one of the most delightful evenings available in the opera house but somehow this tale of a curmudgeonly old man getting his comeuppance does not seem to have rung the doctor's bell -- odd, eh?

Well, good news first. Unlike most recent imported Covent Garden productions (this one comes from Florence) most of it is actually visible from everywhere in the house. Isabella Bywater provides a jolly, three-storey doll's house set, two rooms on each level and a stairwell going up the middle: nine spaces to fill with Miller's relentless business.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Recommended recording:

Recommended opera score:

Don Pasquale (Opera Vocal Score Series): A Comedy in 3 Acts

Don Pasquale
(Opera Vocal Score Series):
A Comedy in 3 Acts

Posted by Gary at 3:34 AM

Sleepless in Seattle

Money woes prompt panic at Seattle opera, ballet


SEATTLE -- With the local economy flying high with dot-com dollars and public and private money gushing, Seattle built a grand, airy new space in its civic hub to house the Seattle Opera and Pacific Northwest Ballet.

But things changed before the $172 million hall even opened its doors a year and a half ago, and ballet and opera officials now worry the fancy digs could ruin them.

The glassy facade of McCaw Hall is the newest addition to Seattle Center, the 76-acre complex at the city's heart that includes the Space Needle and serves as venue for events ranging from the annual blowout Bumbershoot Arts Festival to the impromptu public grieving that followed Kurt Cobain's suicide.

City voters approved $38 million for the hall in 1999. Private donors - led by cellular telephone magnate Craig McCaw and his brothers - kicked in $72 million. Optimistic planners expected King County and the state - flush with tax dollars during the boom - would help cover the difference.

But then the dot-coms went bust. The Sept. 11 attacks blew a big hole in the region's aerospace industry. The ranks of unemployed swelled.

Public budget-writers were scrambling to cover basics: There was no big money available for high culture.

So a $13 million chunk of the bill remains unpaid. The state and county kicked in only $5.5 million, less than a third of what planners had hoped for.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 3:20 AM

November 28, 2004

Grand Théâtre de Genève to Present Isabelle Aboulker's Les Enfants du Levant

During its 2004-2005 season, the Grand Théâtre de Genève will present Les Enfants du Levant by Isabelle Aboulker. Performances will be at 1930 on 11, 14, 15 and 16 December 2004 and at 1430 on 12 December 2004.

Synopsis of Les Enfants du Levant

Durant l'hiver 1861, un convoi d'enfants quitte la prison de la Roquette de Paris pour rejoindre à pied le sud de la France. Aucun d'entre eux ne connaît l'île sur laquelle ils sont transférés... Aucun d'entre eux ne se doute de ce qui les attend. Car l'Ile du Levant, aussi belle et sauvage soit-elle, n'a rien d'un petit paradis. La colonie de Sainte-Anne, l'une de ces nombreuses "colonies agricoles" instituées par Napoléon III, ne tarde pas à dévoiler son secret. Avec cet opéra d'Isabelle Aboulker, le Grand Théâtre resserre ses liens avec les jeunes en les invitant à etre à la fois acteurs, chanteurs, héros et, bien entendu, spectateurs d'un opéra.

In the winter of 1861, a convoy of children depart Roquette Prison in Paris toward the south of France. None among them knows the island on which they are transferred. No one suspects what awaits them. Although beautiful and wild, Ile du Levant is anything but a paradise. The colony of Saint-Anne, one of several "agricultural colonies" established by Napoleon III, soon reveals its secrets. With this opera by Isabelle Aboulker, Grand Théâtre de Genève strengthens its ties with the young by inviting them as actors, singers, heros and, of course, spectators of opera.

Click here for general information regarding Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Click here for information regarding the composer, Isabelle Aboulker, and here for her publisher, éditions Alphonse Leduc.

Posted by Gary at 9:20 PM

An Overview of Salzburg Festival – Summer 2005

Artistic Director Peter Ruzicka and Director of Drama Martin Kusej presented the program for the 2005 Salzburg Festival at the annual press conference, which consists of 183 events. The following is an overview of opera productions and vocal recitals:



Alceste, tragédie-opéra in three acts (1776)

Ivor Bolton conducting the Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg and Salzburger Bachchor

Cast includes:

Alceste -- Anna Caterina Antonacci
Admète -- Charles Workman
évandre -- Topi Lehtipuu
A Herold / Hercule -- Luca Pisaroni
Le Grand-Pretre / Apollo -- Johan Reuter


Così fan tutte, dramma giocoso in two acts (K. 588)

Philippe Jordan conducting the Wiener Philharmoniker and Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor

Cast includes:

Fiordiligi -- Tamar Iveri
Dorabella -- Maite Beaumont
Despina -- Helen Donath
Ferrando -- Christoph Strehl
Guglielmo -- Russell Braun
Don Alfonso -- Thomas Allen

Mitridate, Re di Ponto, opera seria in three acts (KV 87 (74a))

Marc Minkowski conducting Les Musiciens du Louvre - Grenoble

Cast includes:

Mitridate -- Richard Croft
Aspasia -- Eva Mei
Sifare -- N.N.
Farnace -- Bejun Mehta
Ismene -- Ingela Bohlin

Die Zauberflöte, German opera in two acts (K. 620)

Riccardo Muti conducting the Wiener Philharmoniker and Concert Association Vienna Staatsoper Chorus

Cast includes:

Sarastro -- René Pape; Günther Groissböck (Aug 19, 21)
Tamino -- Michael Schade
Speaker -- Franz Grundheber; Michael Volle (Aug 26, 28)
The Queen of the Night -- Anna Kristina Kaapola
Pamina -- Genia Kühmeier
Three Ladies of the Queen -- Edith Haller, Karine Deshayes, Ekaterina Gubanova
Three Boys -- Members of the Vienna Boys' Choir
Papageno -- Simon Keenlyside
An Old Woman (Papagena) -- Martina Janková
Monostatos -- Burkhard Ulrich
Two Men in Arms -- Simon O'Neill, Günther Groissböck /Peter Loehle (Aug 19, 21)
Two Priests -- Franz Grundheber /Michael Volle (Aug 26, 28), Xavier Mas


Die Gezeichneten, opera in three acts (1918)

Kent Nagano conducting Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and Concert Association Vienna Staatsoper Chorus

Cast includes:

Duke Antoniotto Adorno / The Capitaneo di giustizia -- Robert Hale
Count Andrea Vitelozzo Tamare -- Michael Volle
Lodovico Nardi -- Wolfgang Schöne
Carlotta Nardi -- Anne Schwanewilms
Alviano Salvago -- Robert Brubaker
Guidobaldo Usodimare -- Bernard Richter
Menaldo Negroni -- John Nuzzo
Michelotto Cibo -- Mel Ulrich
Gonsalvo Fieschi -- Thomas Oliemans
Julian Pinelli -- Guillaume Antoine
Paolo Calvi -- Stephen Gadd


Mazeppa, opera in three acts

Valery Gergiev conducting the Chorus and Orchestra of the Mariinsky Kirov Theater

Cast includes:

Mazeppa -- Valery Alexeev
Kotchubey -- Vladimir Vaneev
Lyubov -- Larissa Diadkova /Olga Savova
Maria -- Olga Guriakova
Andrei -- Oleg Balashov


La Traviata, opera in three acts

Marcello Viotti conducting the Wiener Philharmoniker and Concert Association Vienna Staatsoper Chorus

Cast includes:

Violetta Valery -- Anna Netrebko
Flora Bervoix -- Helene Schneiderman
Alfredo Germont -- Rolando Villazón; James Valenti (Aug 16)
Giorgio Germont -- Thomas Hampson
Gastone -- Salvatore Cordella
Marquis d'Obigny -- Hermann Wallèn
Doctor Grenvil -- Luigi Roni
Giuseppe -- Tritan Luca
A Servant -- Fritz Springer



Cecilia Bartoli, mezzosoprano, András Schiff, piano

Program includes works by Franz Schubert (1797-1828), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), Georges Bizet (1838-1875) and Pauline Viardot-Garcia (1821-1910)


Diana Damrau, soprano, Stephan Matthias Lademann, piano

Program includes works by Alban Berg (1885-1935), Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942), Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), Hugo Wolf (1860-1903), and Richard Strauss (1864-1949)


Matthias Goerne, baritone, Alexander Schmalcz, piano

Program includes:

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) -- Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
Alban Berg (1885-1935) -- Four Songs Op. 2
Richard Wagner (1813-1883) -- Wesendonck-Lieder


Thomas Hampson, baritone, Wolfram Rieger, piano

Forbidden and Banished
Persecuted Composers - Persecuted Music I

Program includes works by Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942), Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951) and Alban Berg (1885-1935)


Soprano -- Melanie Diener
Mezzosoprano -- Michelle Breedt
Tenor -- Piotr Beczala
Baritone -- Thomas Hampson
Piano -- Wolfram Rieger

Forbidden and Banished
Persecuted Composers - Persecuted Music II

Program includes works by Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864), Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-1847), Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942), Franz Schreker (1878-1934), Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1898-1957), Hanns Eisler (1898-1962), Ernst Krenek (1900-1991), Kurt Weill (1900-1950) and Pavel Haas (1899-1944)


Sophie Koch, mezzosoprano, Nelson Goerner, piano

Program includes works by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), Claude Debussy (1862-1918), Henri Duparc (1848-1949) and Richard Strauss (1864-1949)


Michael Schade, tenor, Malcolm Martineau, piano

Program: Franz Schubert (1797-1828) -- Die schöne Müllerin (D 795)

[Click here for complete information regarding schedules, tickets and other general information.]

Posted by Gary at 5:59 PM

Natalie Dessay Rehabilitating After Another Surgical Procedure

La chanteuse Natalie Dessay s'explique sur ses nombreuses défections

LE MONDE | 27.11.04 | 19h06

La soprano colorature a du subir une nouvelle intervention chirurgicale le 17 novembre.

Depuis le début de la saison, les nombreuses défections de la soprano colorature Natalie Dessay ont fait craindre à nouveau pour sa voix. Il y a d'abord eu, en octobre, l'annulation de sa Zerbinette dans Ariane à Naxos, de Richard Strauss, à l'Opéra-Bastille. Puis celle des deux concerts des 3 et 17 décembre au Théâtre des Champs-Elysées : le premier, Il Delirio amoroso de Haendel, avec le Concert d'Astrée d'Emmanuelle Haïaut;m, verra Natalie Dessay remplacée par Veronica Cangemi, le second avec le Philharmonique de Radio-France, sera assuré par Miah Persson dans la Symphonie n* 4 de Mahler.

Deux ans et quatre mois après une première opération - l'ablation d'un pseudo-kyste sur la corde vocale gauche -, Natalie Dessay a du subir une nouvelle intervention chirurgicale le 17 novembre. Aujourd'hui, rentrée d'une semaine de repos absolu (avec interdiction totale de parler), la cantatrice a accepté de faire le point : "J'ai reparlé pour la première fois ce matin à Etretat. Cette fois, on m'a enlevé un polype sur la corde vocale droite. Il y avait dès le départ une double pathologie très difficile à déceler, dont on pensait qu'elle se résorberait après la première opération la rééducation aidant. Mais cela n'a pas été le cas : malgré ma reprise d'activité au printemps 2003, je n'ai jamais retrouvé un sentiment de confort avec ma voix."

En mars 2003, Natalie Dessay avait triomphé au Metropolitan Opera de New York en Zerbinette. Puis il y avait eu le récital du 1er juillet au Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Et puis Lucia di Lammermoor à Chicago, et une première Manon à Genève, en juin 2004. "Quand j'ai vu en septembre qu'une nouvelle inflammation se déclarait, poursuit Natalie Dessay, j'ai su qu'il fallait arreter. Il y a deux choses qui ont toujours guidé ma vie, l'instinct et le destin. J'ai senti cette fois que les deux étaient liés. Et puis l'opération s'est très bien passée."

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 3:07 PM

Le Figaro Interviews Peter Eötvös on Angels in America

Eötvös : "Je ne cherche plus, je trouve"

Après le lyrisme russe revisité dans Trois Soeurs, chef-d'oeuvre unanimement salué, et Le Balcon de Genet ramené du coté de la chanson française, reçu plus froidement, le troisième opéra de Peter Eötvös est très attendu. Il nous emmène encore vers d'autres contrées : l'Amérique moderne, avec pour livret une adaptation de la pièce Angels in America de Tony Kushner. Une situation bien réelle (deux personnages malades du sida) qui est le prétexte, non à une peinture réaliste de la société américaine contemporaine, mais à un univers bigarré ou le quotidien bascule dans le fantastique et le mysticisme. Pour cette partition, le compositeur s'est laissé cette fois inspirer par le jazz et la comédie musicale.

Propos recueillis par Christian Merlin
[23 novembre 2004]

LE FIGARO. - Après les très dissemblables "Trois Soeurs" et "Le Balcon", "Angels in America" sera encore tout à fait différent. Ne craignez-vous pas que l'on dise qu'il n'y a pas de "style Eötvös" ?

Peter EöTVöS. - Au contraire, je m'en réjouirais : ce n'est pas un reproche mais un compliment. Ce sont mes oeuvres qui ont un style, pas moi. Je repars de zéro à chaque fois : sur la feuille blanche, je prends les éléments un par un, j'assemble, je construis. C'était déjà l'attitude de Beethoven, il y a deux siècles : c'est pourquoi je le considère comme l'inventeur de notre musique contemporaine. Je tire cette leçon de ma pratique de la musique électronique dans les années 70 : le son n'existe pas, il faut le créer. Nous n'avions pas de synthétiseurs : il fallait entrer dans la machine les paramètres un par un, à partir d'un son unique. Klee pratiquait de la meme façon en peinture, lorsqu'il partait d'un point, puis d'une ligne, etc. C'est pareil avec l'orchestration : jamais je ne considérerai l'orchestre comme une donnée figée, il faut le repenser à chaque fois.

C'est une véritable philosophie !

Il est vrai que cette attitude artistique vient de ma propre conception de la vie. Si mes enfants me ressemblaient trop, ce serait une catastrophe. Je suis plus heureux s'ils sont indépendants et développent leur propre personnalité, comme mes oeuvres. Ma fille est mi-chinoise mi-hongroise, et mariée à un Kurde : mes petits-enfants sont donc issus d'un mélange très riche, qui les rend uniques.

[Click here for remainder of interview.]

Posted by Gary at 2:36 PM

November 27, 2004

Angels in America at Theatre du Chatelet, Paris

Clipping the wings of an apocalyptic epic

(Filed: 27/11/2004)

Rupert Christiansen reviews Angels in America at Theatre du Chatelet, Paris

There are plenty of wonderful operas taken from good plays, and a few (Otello and Wozzeck, for example) taken from great ones. What these all have in common is a sense that music - more specifically, the singing of the text - expands the drama and enriches the characters. It isn't enough simply to reflect what is already there, or to enhance the mood like a film score. Music must be the driving force, the medium of revelation.

This is the hurdle at which the composer Peter Eötvös and his librettist wife Mari Mezei fall flat on their faces. Their adaptation of Angels in America, Tony Kushner's apocalyptic epic of Aids and the spiritual turmoil of the Reagan era, condenses rather than expands the theatrical original, squeezing a gallon of drama into a pint-pot of opera.

It isn't just a matter of cutting too many of Kushner's words or scenes. The problem is that anyone with memories of the play on stage (or in Mike Nichols's excellent screen version, shown on Channel 4 earlier this year) will find its operatic incarnation thinner in every respect: the characters diminished, the plot less rich, the language less resonant.

Out goes the sexiness - Prior's anguish at the loss of Louis, and the latter's affair with the buttoned-up Mormon Joe scarcely register. Out goes the Satanic grandeur of the lawyer Roy Cohn, reduced here to a deluded buffoon. Out goes the Dickensian cumulation of the narrative and its intertwining of disparate human fates.

What is left moves with cartoon-like swiftness, drained of emotional urgency and oddly dated - a bad dream of a crisis now replaced by other terrors.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 4:14 AM

LA Opera Presents Vanessa

A fully American grand opera
Los Angeles Opera stages the seldom-produced "Vanessa"

By John Farrell
Special to U-Entertainment

Thursday, November 25, 2004 - Los Angeles Opera has been steering its productions the last few months right down the middle of the operatic road.

With productions of Bizet's "Carmen' last month and Puccini's "La Boheme," which opened last weekend, the company has been reaching for an audience which knows what it wants, and what it wants isn't anything new and different.

On Saturday, however, when the company opens its first-ever production of Samuel Barber's 1958 Pulitzer Prize-winning opera "Vanessa," with superstar Dame Kiri Te Kanawa in the title role, it veers far from the norm.

"Vanessa' was a big hit when it premiered at the Metropolitan Opera, earned the Pulitzer and was revived for several seasons at the Met. It was also the first American opera to be performed at the Salzburg Festival. Gian Carlo Menotti, one of the 20th century's most successful opera composers (his opera "The Saint of Bleecker Street' won the Pulitzer in 1954), wrote the libretto for "Vanessa."

But after that original notice, it hasn't been heard from often. One reason lies in what Dimitri Mitropoulos, who conducted the premiere of the opera, said: "At last, a fully American grand opera!'

And that it is. The scale of "Vanessa," with an on-stage orchestra as well as that in the pit, and an unseen chorus, makes the work difficult and expensive to perform.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Cast information:

Kiri Te Kanawa — VANESSA
Lucy Schaufer — ERIKA
Rosalind Elias — BARONESS
John Matz — ANATOL
David Evitts — DOCTOR
Peter Nathan Foltz — A FOOTMAN

Synopsis of Vanessa

Recommended recording:

Posted by Gary at 3:47 AM

Eugene Onegin at SFO

Soaring Opera hits new heights in Tchaikovsky's 'Eugene Onegin'

Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic
Friday, November 26, 2004

Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" is a story of strong emotion accommodating itself, painfully but with resigned acceptance, to external reality. Dreams of romantic love prove untenable, or merely mistimed; passionate friendship is fatally betrayed in a thoughtless instant.

The ache of that clash courses through the San Francisco Opera's superlative new production of the piece, which opened Wednesday at the War Memorial Opera House.

Boasting a first-rate cast and the most affectingly restrained work the company has yet offered from director Johannes Schaaf, this sumptuous and precisely etched production crowns a fall season that has truly been something close to miraculous -- the most consistently excellent lineup the company has assembled in many years.

One only has to think back to the drab and proudly unimaginative production that the company last offered in 1997 to grasp how far things have come. In this "Onegin," vocal splendor and theatrical resourcefulness work together at last to create a vividly compelling musical drama.

And Tchaikovsky's adaptation of Pushkin's novel in verse requires just such sensitivity to nuance on everyone's part. The plot, taken in isolation, traces a fitful and inconclusive path; what matters is the realistic musical exploration of the characters' inner lives, the tug of naive idealism against the forces of the external world.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Cast information:

A Captain — Ricardo Herrera
Filipyevna — Annett Andriesen
Madame Larina — Susan Gorton
Monsieur Triquet — John Duykers
Prince Gremin — Gustav Andreassen
Eugene Onegin — Russell Braun
Tatyana — Elena Prokina
Olga — Allyson McHardy
Lensky — Piotr Beczala

Recommended recordings:

Posted by Gary at 3:33 AM

November 26, 2004

On Callas Forever

One for the opera buffs: 'Callas Forever' profiles a diva on the downslope

Friday, November 26, 2004


At first thought, Fanny Ardant would seem all wrong to play opera diva Maria Callas. The French star ("Ridicule," "Eight Women") conveys thoughtful intelligence and quiet elegance, while the ethnic-Greek Callas is remembered as the epitome of fiery temperament.

But in Franco Zeffirelli's "Callas Forever," Ardant definitely pulls it off. The film, which was released in Europe more than two years ago, is fairly forgettable but Ardant blends into the sad character so completely that we lose all sense of an actress playing a role.

And she's so commanding in her scenes lip-syncing Callas' sublime voice that the movie sparkles here and there with real magic. It's aimed at opera buffs, but a lot of non-fans will be rushing out to buy the soundtrack album.

The story is a what-if concoction set in 1977, when Callas is 53, long retired from the stage and living a hermitic existence in her Paris apartment, as a character describes her, "mourning the loss of her voice, her career and her youth."

[Click here for remainder of article.]


Posted by Gary at 5:30 AM

November 25, 2004

On Opera in Berlin

The Real Drama of Berlin Opera

Berlin's three opera houses are no strangers to eluding closure and nursing the wounds of financial incision. Although they are currently on safe ground, they're having to learn to sing for their supper in unison.

As the only city in the world with three opera houses in its cultural repertoire, Berlin is sitting on a genuine gem. But making it dazzle to full potential is not entirely straightforward. The reality is that bright lights and fanfare cost money, Berlin is broke, and culture is desirable prey for the swooping hand of municipal cost-cutting.

Yet somehow, and maybe against the odds, the operatic trio has managed to secure its continued existence. Thus far at least. Unlike the city's ballet, which was compressed from three into one at the end of last year, opera in the German capital enjoys the backing of a strong lobby, and nobody really wants to see any one ensemble forced into a final bow.

But change is of the essence if the music is to keep flowing.

"Right now the attitude is, 'Oh goodness, we've got three opera houses, what shall we do with them,'" Torsten Wöhlert, the spokesman for the city state's minister of culture, told DW-WORLD. "That has to change, and tourists coming to Berlin have to start coming for the opera as well as the museums."

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 9:42 PM

Viktoriya Dodoka Wins Lockwood Aria

Opera: A Russian opera star is born

John Daly-Peoples [National Business Review]
Lockwood Aria
Rotorua Convention Centre

The Lockwood Aria has become the major proving ground for emerging opera talent in New Zealand.

Some of the previous winners have gone on to have successful careers including Jud Arthur, who has just finished a season with Opera Australia singing the role of Le Comte Des Grieux in Massenet's Manon.

This year's winner, Viktoriya Dodoka, was a foregone conclusion from the moment she opened her mouth for a performance that had the audience entranced.

Singing E Strasno from Verdi's La Traviata she gave interpretation the like of which the competition had rarely seen, with a display that was powerful, emotionally rich and chillingly real.

Concert performances always impose constraints on singers; they are not in costume, they do not have the context of the full drama of the opera and they do not have other characters or a chorus to respond to.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 8:59 PM

Baroque Opera in Sydney

Baroque opera gets a new lease of life

Matthew Westwood [The Australian]

LAST month, at the final performance of Madeline Lee - John Haddock and Michael Campbell's emotionally involving new opera - market researchers for Opera Australia were handing out surveys as the audience entered the theatre. One of the questions was about repertoire: which operas do people most want to see on stage.

The usual suspects were there, plus a small handful of more interesting works: operas from the baroque period, the 20th century, and by contemporary composers. Casting an eye over the list, it becomes clear just how much of the opera repertoire audiences are missing.

Others are attempting to fill the gaps. Pinchgut Opera, founded in 2002, is a small Sydney-based company that gathers its resources once a year to present opera from the baroque and pre-baroque periods: Handel's Semele, Purcell's The Fairy Queen and, starting next week, Monteverdi's L'Orfeo.

The Pinchgut name is apt - a reference to the gut strings of early musical instruments, and to the company's lean existence. It's also the nickname for Fort Denison, the island relic of Australia's convict past that, symbolically, lies in the shadow of the Sydney Opera House.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 8:54 PM

Review of Renée Fleming's Memoir

THE INNER VOICE: The Making of a Singer

Renée Fleming
ISBN: 0670033510

Renee Fleming evidently started out determined to write a different sort of opera singer's memoir. She calls her book "the autobiography of my voice" and tries gamely to keep matters of breath control, vocal placement, posture and resonance at center stage. She succeeds about half the time, and that makes her slim volume well worth reading. Inevitably, there is a certain amount of backstage chitchat and career-mongering in the mix, but Fleming deserves credit for at least trying to write a book that rises above all that.

Fleming is the daughter of two school music teachers from upstate New York (her mother sang with the Rochester Opera) who discovered her voice as an adolescent and seems to be still surprised by the success it has brought her as opera star, recitalist and soloist with orchestras. Even today, having reached the very top of the operatic tree, she writes of feeling insecure and having anxiety attacks that can come close to making her cancel engagements.

[Click here for remainder of review.]

Posted by Gary at 6:33 PM

Changes at NYCO

New Director for City Opera

The New York City Opera has appointed a new executive director, Jane M. Gullong, right, promoting her from the job of director of development. Ms. Gullong replaces Sherwin M. Goldman, who the opera said has been assigned full time to the task of finding the company a new home.Paul Kellogg, City Opera's artistic director, said that mission had become so unwieldy that Mr. Goldman needed to devote all his time to it.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 6:01 PM

Universal, Sony BMG and Warner Reach Pact

3 Music Companies Will Use Online File-Sharing Service


LOS ANGELES, Nov. 24 (AP) - Three major recording companies have agreed to make their music available to be shared and sold over a new online file-swapping service that aims to lure music fans away from services where most of the trading is illegal.

The Universal Music Group, Sony BMG Music Entertainment and the Warner Music Group, three of the four major music companies, have licensed their music catalogs to Wurld Media, the company said Wednesday.

Wurld Media, based in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., plans to release its file-sharing software, which is called Peer Impact, early next year.

Details of the software and pricing were not released, but the company said its service would allow consumers to buy and share music, video clips and other material, while ensuring "that artists and rights holders receive their due compensation for each file shared on the network."

The company added that the service would distribute only material that is licensed or in the public domain.

"The online media market is presently split between authorized legal paid-download services and unauthorized free services," Greg Kerber, Wurld Media's chairman and chief executive, said in a statement. "The consumer is stuck somewhere in the middle, and that's where Peer Impact comes in."

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 5:56 PM

November 24, 2004

OONY Presents La Fanciulla del West

Superb, if mixed, Fanciulla at OONY

Last night's La Fanciulla del West at Carnegie Hall was the classic case of the whole being much better than the sum of its parts. It was a thrilling performance of Puccini's score and a huge, fully deserved, personal triumph for Aprile Millo.

Of the three roles Ms. Millo has done for OONY recently, this was surely the most successful, better even than her storied Adriana Lecouvreur and easily obliterating memories of her pale La Gioconda. For one thing, the role sits perfectly for her voice,allowing its beauty and sensuousness to emerge almost effortlessly. The high notes are still possible for her, even if the tone now spreads just noticeably,and they are both substantial and secure. Her major current technical limitation -- not being able to do anything in the top register piano let alone pianissimo, was no handicap in this score. She dominated the proceedings vocally and created a believable character, with no trace of the pretentious grande dame mannerisms that had trivialized her Gioconda. Her Minnie was down to earth, courageous, and emotionally vulnerable -- and Ms. Millo seemed to enjoy portraying her immensely. Audience reaction was tumultuous and it was all richly deserved, not inflated or fake enthusiasm for a cult figure. Last night Aprile Millo was a major Italian Soprano in great shape and in full communication with her audience.

I don't mean to suggest that it was a case of Aprile and the seven dwarfs, but nothing else except the spirited, tonally gleaming work of the New York City Gay Men's Chorus and William Ferguson's strongly sung and acted Nick the Bartender came anywhere near her level. The orchestra played very well, with all sorts of inner detail cleanly articulated, but conductor Eve Queler let it roar out at volume levels that covered singers mercilessly. Ms. Queler has a penchant for finding promising, interesting young singers and giving them wonderful exposure in these concert performances. Last night, however, the entire first scene until Minnie's entrance (except for the brief Jake Wallace scene) that features a dozen such singers, was experienced as pantomime. Time after time during the evening, the orchestra was allowed -- encouraged? -- to obliterate anything in its path. As a performance of the Fanciulla symphony it wasn't bad, but Puccini did write this as an OPERA and far too many moments, even for the three principal singers, were inaudible.

There was another disappointment. Tenor Carl Tanner, who has been impressive elsewhere, was miscast here. Like Minnie, Dick Johnson has some spectacular ascents into the upper register and Mr. Tanner didn't fail. But Johnson -- also like Minnie -- really lives in his middle voice and needs strength at the bottom as well. Mr. Tanner's voice doesn't blossom down there and its focus is warm and soft rather than clear and brilliant. Given the orchestral volume, he was mostly either inaudible or not really present vocally from his first entrance until half way through the final duet of act one. Act two was much the same. In act three, he seemed to find enough volume for basic audibility but the heart of the role does not lie well for him, particularly under the orchestral circumstances he faced last night.

Marco Chingari, a handsome man with a fine-grained baritone of nice, warm timbre, made a sympathetic if moderately-scaled Sheriff Rance. Stephen Gaertner's Sonora emerged an attractive presence, Daniel Mobbs sang Jake Wallace beautifully, Mary Ann Stewart actually made something of Wowkle, and Mr. Ferguson's Nick showed promise of a fine lyric tenor leading man in the making. Evaluation of the rest of the large cast must await a performance in which they can actually be heard with some consistency.

Ira Siff faced some serious challenges in directing a semi-staged Fanciulla. There's a massive amount of realistic action and he was also facing a leading lady who has gained a considerable amount of weight in the past year and who elected to sit during most of act two. This last created serious difficulties for Mr. Tanner when attempting to play any scenes opposite her and Mr. Siff may simply have given up. Act two featured a lot of wandering around the stage until the climactic poker game for Johnson's life. Here, where Ms. Millo could justifiably have sat across a table from Rance, Mr. Siff had the singers standing on either side of the podium singing straight out at the audience with not a card in sight. Fortunately, Ms. Millo made the moment electric visually and vocally all by herself.

But I cannot stress enough that SHE was enough. The performance last night will be remembered as a huge success, a success that rests firmly on her fully capable shoulders.

William Fregosi
Technical Coordinator for Theater Arts
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Recommended recordings:

Posted by Gary at 3:54 AM

November 23, 2004

Opera Orchestra of New York Opens 2004-2005 Season

On Monday, 22 November, Opera Orchestra of New York opened its 2004-2005 season with La Fanciulla del West. According to its website:

The OONY season kicks off with Puccini's "horse opera," arguably the greatest opera ever created in New York City. Beloved soprano Aprile Millo, whose last two OONY appearances (Adriana Lecouvreur and La Gioconda) caused sell-outs at the box office and screaming ovations, gives her first-ever interpretation of the pistol-packing Minnie. Tenor Carl Tanner, known for his City Opera successes and enjoying a burgeoning career in Europe's great houses, sings the last role premiered by Enrico Caruso. Completing the love triangle, Roman baritone Marco Chingari makes his United States debut as Sheriff Jack Rance.

Click here for further information.

G L Hoffman

Posted by Gary at 4:24 AM

L'Opéra-Comique Named as National Theater

Le Figaro is reporting that L'Opéra-Comique has been decreed an "établissement public à caractère industriel et commercial" under French law. Its charter is to provide a broad diversity of "expressions" from Baroque to contemporary creations. This decree goes into effect on January 1, 2005. Ostensibly, this designation will result in substantial financial support from the French government. Its current director, Jérome Savary, as well as the present chairwoman, Marie-Yvonne of Saint-Pulgent, will remain in place until their successors are named.

Click here for the complete article (in French).

G L Hoffman

Posted by Gary at 3:59 AM

Performance Note: Helikon Opera of Moscow Performs Nabucco at Dijon

The Helikon Opera of Moscow is in residence for three weeks at Dijon. Its first production was Verdi's Nabucco. In, Edouard Bailly reviews this production with lavish praise for its costumes and sets, as well as, for the most part, a display of fine singing. Click here for the complete review (in French), together with production photos. Next up is Rimsky-Korsakov's The Tsar's Bride.

Click here for general information on Helikon Opera.

G L Hoffman

Posted by Gary at 3:11 AM

November 22, 2004

La Scala Readies for Opening Night on December 7

'Beautiful lady' regains her looks and rediscovers her voice

John Hooper in Milan
Saturday November 20, 2004
The Guardian

Mauro Meli, the artistic director of the world's most famous opera house, raised the lapel of his jacket, buried his head inside and sang a loud "la" to show what he meant. "Before, everything was absorbing [sound]", he said. "Now, it's reflecting it."

From beyond the door of the rehearsal room came sounds of a less operatic kind - the whine of drills and the clatter of hammers - as the most ambitious and controversial revamp in La Scala's 226-year history entered its final phase.

Milan council, which has funded and managed the O60.5m (#42.5m) project, yesterday eased open the doors of the theatre to foreign journalists for the first time since work began two years ago.

What lies beyond them is still a building site. It is hoped to have the refurbished and vastly expanded La Scala ready for the traditional, glittering opening night of the Milan opera season on December 7.

[Click here for remainder of article.]


A worker repairs the curtains on the balcony at La Scala opera house in Milan, November 10, 2004. The opera house will officially reopen on December 7 with a performances of Salieri's Europa Riconsciuta, the first opera staged at La Scala when it opened in 1778. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Posted by Gary at 4:50 PM

Verdi's Macbeth at Madrid

Macbeth and the darkness

Teatro Real
11/10/2004 -
Giuseppe Verdi: Macbeth
Carlos álvarez (Macbeth), Paoletta Marrocu (Lady Macbeth), Aquiles Machado (Macduff), Guillermo Orozco (Malcolm), Carlo Colombara (Banquo). Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Real, Jesus Lopez Cobos (Musical Conductor), Antonio Fauró (Chorus Conductor), Gerardo Vera (Stage Director).

The Verdi's first Shakespearean adaptation, released in 1847, arrived at Madrid's Teatro Real Season, performed in the version that the Italian composer made in 1865, in a co-production with the Asociación Bilbaína de Amigos de la ópera. The strength of Carlos Alvarez and Paoletta Marrocu, in the paper of the mythical couple, together with the charm of Aquiles Machado in the role of the loyal Macduff, gathered the approval of the public attending at the Teatro Real in a production where Gerardo Vera, current director of the National Dramatic Center, debuted in the Real as stage director. Vera's version, faithful to the dark and shady colors with which Verdi draws his pentagram, transported the scene from the Scottish castle to a World War I bunker, fact not approved by a part of the Madrid public who did not doubt to openly disapprove it. Also the musical director, Jesus Lopez Cobos, made debut in this opera, the only one from the Italian composer that he had never conducted. Lopez Cobos followed, as he had announced, the detailed annotations that Verdi left in the score, and collected with it the recognition of the audience. He obtained a pleasing and powerful sound from the Symphonic while was gradually increasing the tension after an anodyne first act. Antonio Fauró made a good work with the choir, who sounded rounder than other times.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 2:40 AM

November 21, 2004

On Robert Carsen

He's a smooth operator

John Allison [Times Online]

Robert Carsen may be a showman but his intent is serious

FOR more than a decade Robert Carsen has been one of the operatic world's most visible directors, but right now he is the man of the moment. Last night's revival of his earthy, 1950s take on Handel's Semele at English National Opera follows major openings in Venice and Cologne. A week ago, the jewelbox-like Teatro La Fenice in Venice celebrated its long-awaited restoration with Carsen's new La traviata, and Cologne has just seen his Ring cycle, by most accounts a thoughtful yet striking interpretation of Wagner.

Yet few directors from the English-speaking world divide critical opinion so dramatically. Carsen's productions can be smart, imaginative and human, but some find them cold and calculating. They are seldom truly radical but usually add a new gloss -- the Venice Traviata is, very blatantly, all about money -- so it is almost inevitable that his detractors find them superficially controversial. But, unlike those directors with regular trademarks, Carsen responds differently to every piece, and no one can be quite sure of what they will see when the curtain rises for the first time on one of his stagings.

[Click here for access to complete article (free registration required).]

Posted by Gary at 1:56 PM

November 19, 2004

Handel's Semele at the ENO


Robert Thicknesse at the Coliseum [Times Online, 20 November 2004]

IT HAS to be the Prince of Wales's favourite opera. "Nature to each allots his proper sphere," avers Congreve's coolly brilliant libretto, and proceeds to itemise the results of getting above your station. (True, it also warns royals to be careful whom they sleep with.) This tale of Jupiter's incendiary affair with mortal Semele is a satire on celebrity, ambition and vanity that might have been written for the Big Brother generation.

And English National Opera's revival of Robert Carsen's production does it justice of a modern kind: gorgeous to look at and listen to, it is also rather shallow, a romp rather than a morality tale. It reserves its disapproval more for the drunken toffs who celebrate the birth of Bacchus from his mother's ashes (an entertainingly profane moment, welcoming this jovial son of god in a "Lenten oratorio") than for the "vain wretched fool" Semele, whose destruction is so easily fixed by Juno.

We are in a 1950s milieu of upper-crust debauchees in frocks to make the ladies gag with envy. The updating is more for visual effect than dramatic relevance, and it works wonderfully with its stark side-lighting, blessed use of the huge open stage and a welldirected chorus keeping things ticking over. And as well as beautiful images (Semele lying in bed in Heaven with Earth shining through the window, seen through a gauzy curtain) it is full of sight gags, character comedy and a theatrical intelligence to match the authors'.

Carolyn Sampson sings poor, silly Semele with beguiling facility, style and beauty, adding her own roulades to Handel's already extreme demands, pinpointing every note of the coloratura and doing it all with liquefying sexiness: slinking on to sing "Endless pleasure, endless love" as breathily as Marilyn cooing happy birthday to JFK, coyly baring all before slipping back into Jupiter's boudoir, tossing off an outburst of joyous vanity, hyperventing the hysteria of the mistress who's got above herself. This is a great performance.

It is well matched: Ian Bostridge's Jupiter gradually unbends to deliver the sweetest soft legato, Patricia Bardon's Juno is hilariously fiery as the (literally) queenly betrayed wife, and Janis Kelly camps Iris up something terrible.

After a languid start, Laurence Cummings, conducting, brings real Handelian sensibility and drama to the orchestra, and the chorus has a fine time undressing, drinking and indulging in some of Handel's loveliest music. A top evening, ENO right back on form, and the audience too.

Cast information:

Semele — Carolyn Sampson
Jupiter — Ian Bostridge
Ino — Anne-Marie Gibbons
Juno — Patricia Bardon
Athamas — Robin Blaze
Somnus — Graeme Danby
Cadmus — Iain Paterson
Iris — Janis Kelly

Click here for a synopsis of the opera.

Posted by Gary at 9:43 PM

Tosca at Graz

Boris Trajanov, Evan Bowers and Marquita Lister

Opernhaus Graz's new production of Tosca is a hit. According to Larry Lash of the Financial Times,

A stage direction in my score of Tosca has Scarpia making a cup of coffee during the heroine's big number, "Vissi d'arte". In Dietmar Pflegerl's updated staging, Scarpia, a pony-tailed metrosexual, skips the cappuccino: he puts down his crystal rioja goblet, tends to some silver candlesticks, dims the lights in his elegantly minimalist office and spreads a fur in front of the fireplace in anticipation of doing the nasty, as the diva pours out her heart to her punishing God. Things in Rome sure have changed since 1800.

Pflegerl's genius lies in such moments when he pointedly illuminates characters' emotions. Whether it be Cavaradossi hugging a quivering political prisoner, Scarpia enjoying a manicure or Tosca groping her lover and then shimmying out of the church, these simple gestures contrast with the big shockers in perhaps the least subtle opera ever written.

Marquita Lister as Tosca "has a voice like a cup of rich, hot cocoa: luscious, dark, thick and bittersweet. . . . Evan Bowers's velvet trumpet tenor, meltingly gorgeous with tender phrasing, perfectly fitted his heroic, nice-guy Cavaradossi. Complex, seductive and sardonic, Boris Trajanov brought unexpected nuances to Scarpia, unleashing tones as dark as a bottomless pit and blazing top notes."
Cast information:

Floria Tosca — Marquita Lister
Mario Cavaradossi — Evan Bowers
Baron Scarpia — Boris Trajanov; Egils Silins
Cesare Angelotti — Wilfried Zelinka
Spoletta — Manuel von Senden; Andries Cloete
Der Messner — David McShane
Sciarrone — Shavleg Macharashvili; István Szecsi
Ein Kerkermeister — Konstantin Sfiris; Shavleg Macharashvili
Ein Hirte — Grazer Kapellknabe

Click here for scheduling information and production photos.

Posted by Gary at 7:45 PM

Thomas Quasthoff Releases Autobiography

Quasthoff, der Grosse

Der Bariton hat in einer aufwühlenden Biographie aufgeschrieben, wie er trotz seiner Behinderung zum Weltstar wurde

"Rechts, links, rechts, links, rechts, links metronomt mein Kopf auf dem Laken. Ich liege halb nackt da, Hüfte und Beine festgeklemmt in einem Streckverband aus Gips. über die Beinschalen laufen Lederriemen, die links am Bettgestell, rechts am Metallgitter festgeschnallt sind." Das sind die frühsten Kindheits-Erinnerungen von Thomas Quasthoff, 45. "Und in dieses tranceartige Dahinschwingen des Schädels, in diesen rhythmischen Dämmer dringt irgendwann nichts als Musik."

Die Musik und die aufopfernde Pflege seiner Eltern hat Thomas Quasthoff vor einem Dahindämmern als schwerbehindertes Contergan-Opfer bewahrt. über seinen langen und schwierigen Weg zum gefeierten Weltstar hat der Bariton nun ein Buch geschrieben. "Die Stimme" heisst seine Autobiographie (Ullstein, 24 EUR), die er gestern gemeinsam mit Bruder und Co-Autor Michael bei Dussmann vorstellte.

[Click here for remainder of article.]


In an interview given in connection with the release of his autobiography, Die Stimme, Thomas Quasthoff, 45, describes his rise to world fame despite severe birth defects. He spent the first three years of his life in a clinic. Unable to attend school, he is sent to a boarding school for the disabled. There he is abused by a nurse who submits him at times to 24 hours without meals and gargling with saltwater. After two years of this, his parents find a "normal" school for him. His father arranges for voice lessons and he blossoms. Thomas is rejected by the conservatory because of his inability to play piano with only seven fingers. Nonetheless, he is invited to the ARD-Musikwettbewerb in September 1988, where he triumphs over 229 other candidates.


Posted by Gary at 2:53 PM

Lady Macbeth at the Bolshoi

Dangerous Music

When Stalin pulled Shostakovich's opera "Lady Macbeth" from the Soviet stage, the composer had good reason to fear for his life.

By Raymond Stults
Published: November 19, 2004

Widely considered the greatest Russian opera -- and perhaps even the greatest of all operas -- of the 20th century, Dmitry Shostakovich's "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District" has led a troubled life over most of the 70 years since its dual premiere in Leningrad and Moscow. Even before the opening, Soviet censors had hacked away at some of its libretto's more salacious passages. Then, after two triumphant years at home and abroad, it was banned from the Soviet stage, presumably on Josef Stalin's direct orders, returning a quarter of a century later as the revised and softened "Katerina Ismailova." Only over the past decade or so has the opera come to be widely seen and heard with its original words and music intact.

This Friday, the Bolshoi Theater makes its first attempt at presenting Shostakovich's masterpiece as the composer and his co-librettist, Alexander Preis, initially conceived it. The production brings to the Bolshoi a team of newcomers: Georgian-born, St. Petersburg-based director Timur Chkheidze, whose elegant production of Sergei Prokofiev's "The Gambler" won the Mariinsky Theater a Golden Mask in 1997; designer Yury Gegeshidze, a fellow native of Georgia and St. Petersburg resident; and Hungarian-born conductor Zoltan Pesko, currently the musical director of Lisbon's principal opera house, the Teatro San Carlo.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Recommended recording:

Posted by Gary at 1:56 PM

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Chicago Lyric

If 'Vixen' can find its balance, it'll be a charmer

November 19, 2004

BY WYNNE DELACOMA Classical Music Critic

Somewhere amid the nonstop bustle onstage and the flood of highly colored orchestral music from the pit, a charming production of Leos Janacek's "The Cunning Little Vixen'' struggled to get out Wednesday night.

The struggles might end as the large cast, orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis, Lyric Opera's music director, settle into the company's first production of Janacek's touching fairy tale. But on opening night in the Civic Opera House, some rough edges undermined the balance between the opera's comic moments and the profundity of its underlying message. Alongside the antics of dancing mosquitos and hopping frogs, Janacek's tale about a fiery little fox explores such weighty issues as life's compromises, the trials of aging and the ultimately comforting bonds between human beings and nature. On Wednesday night, the peripheral action was so relentless and the sound of Lyric's orchestra so dominant that it was difficult to sit back and absorb the production as a whole.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

[Click here for additional production images.]

Posted by Gary at 1:44 PM

The Cost of Doing Business

Opera House faces price scrutiny

Arts organisations such as the Royal Opera House face the risk of losing their charitable status over ticket prices under a proposed bill.

According to the draft charities bill, organisations granted charitable status will have to demonstrate how they provide benefit to the public.

"Expect the Charity Commission to take increasing interest in what you charge," a Home Office official warned at a seminar.

However, organisations like the Royal Opera remain confident that the performances alone justify their charitable status, as an organisation providing a benefit to the public.

"Our principle continues to be the presentation of opera and ballet performances at an international level at the opera house, on tour and overseas," said a spokesman for the Royal Opera House (ROH).

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 3:17 AM

November 18, 2004

Merkur Interviews Edita Gruberova and Friedrich Haider on the Dissolution of the Rundfunkorchester

Von Gefühl und Geist keine Ahnung

Edita Gruberova und Friedrich Haider zur Auflösung des Rundfunkorchesters

Für den Bayerischen Rundfunk mit Intendant Thomas Gruber an der Spitze mag das Münchner Rundfunkorchester bald Geschichte sein, für viele Künstler ist es das allerdings nicht. In die Diskussion um die Auflösung des Ensembles haben sich nun auch Edita Gruberova und ihr Lebenspartner Friedrich Haider eingeschaltet. Die Primadonna assoluta unserer Tage steht am kommenden Sonntag im Mittelpunkt einer - bereits ausverkauften - konzertanten Aufführung von Bellinis Oper "Beatrice di Tenda", Haider dirigiert das Rundfunkorchester (Philharmonie, 19 Uhr, Live-übertragung auf Bayern 4).

Was sagen Sie zur Auflösung des Orchesters?

Gruberova: Es ist unglaublich und eine Schande. Ich bin empört und tief erschüttert. Ich kenne das Orchester von vielen gemeinsamen Projekten, die Musiker spielen hervorragend, gehen wunderbar auf die Sänger ein, phrasieren selbstständig, das kommt bei vielen anderen Orchestern nicht vor. Ausserdem hat das Rundfunkorchester ein grosses Publikum: So was kann man doch nicht einfach wegschmeissen. Heute also die Orchester streichen, morgen den Chor, am Ende bleiben die Intendanten. Vivat, Intendanten! Sollen sie bleiben. Nur von Gefühl und Geist haben sie keine Ahnung.

Und wie fühlt sich ein Dirigent, wenn er vor einem Orchester steht, dass gestrichen werden soll?

Haider: Ich bin erstaunt, wie motiviert das Orchester ist trotz dieser furchtbaren Entwicklung. Mir wurde erzählt, dass sich noch niemand von den Schuldigen vor dem Ensemble gezeigt hat. Herr Gruber wäre schon eine Persönlichkeit, wenn er vors Rundfunkorchester tritt und sich erklärt. Und wenn das alles auf irgendwelchen Vorgaben der Politik basiert, dann denke ich mir: Die Politiker sollten die Ersten sein, die wissen, dass Kulturlosigkeit auch zur Unmenschlichkeit führt. Das Ganze kommt mir vor wie eine grosse Oper - aber mit einem ziemlich schlechten Libretto. Ich gehöre noch zu einer Generation, in der zu Hause viel musiziert wurde. Man kann in den meisten Menschen so etwas wecken, Künste hat jeder irgendwie in sich.

Wie ordnen Sie das Rundfunkorchester ein?

Haider: Es ist hier zusammen mit dem Staatsorchester eindeutig das beste Opernorchester aufgrund seiner hohen Flexibilität. Ich habe die besten Ensembles erlebt, wie sie bei Belcanto kläglich zugrunde gehen. Belcanto-Opern sind furchtbar schwer, weil sie so leicht erscheinen. Der BR zeigte sich beleidigt, als kürzlich Dirigent John Fiore in einem Konzert gegen den Beschluss Stellung nahm.

Gruberova: Das sind ganz schlimme Methoden, da kriege ich's mit der Angst zu tun. Wo leben wir denn eigentlich? Ich muss doch sagen dürfen, was ich denke. Noch dazu, wenn ich anderen Künstlern helfen will.

Sehen Sie solche Beschlüsse als Teil einer unheilvollen Entwicklung?

Gruberova: Absolut. Es ist eine sehr gefährliche Situation. Es geht um unsere kulturelle Identität. Dann bauen wir halt nur noch Stadien oder setzen die Kinder vor die Glotze. Sollen wir am Ende alle wie verstümmelte Leichen herumlaufen? Wenn das Kultur ist, na danke. Es kann doch nicht sein, dass alles davon abhängt, ob man 30 Cent Rundfunkgebühr pro Monat mehr zahlt oder nicht. Die Leute wären doch bestimmt dazu bereit, weil ein wichtiger Teil ihres Umfeldes erhalten wird.

Haben Sie also noch Hoffnung fürs Rundfunkorchester?

Gruberova: Ich bin bereit, in erster Linie derer zu marschieren, die für einen Erhalt kämpfen. Es geht ja nicht nur um die Kunst, sondern auch um Musikerinnen und Musiker, die hier jahrelang arbeiten. Die Familie haben und sie versorgen müssen. Ich bitte daher Herrn Gruber: Nehmen Sie Ihre Entscheidung zurück, Sie brauchen sich auch nicht dafür zu schämen. Aber einem blühenden Baum die äste abzuschlagen, auf diese Idee kommt doch eigentlich keiner, oder?

Das Gespräch führte Markus Thiel

Click here for Bayern 4 homepage.

Program information:

19:00 Sonntagskonzert mit dem Münchner Rundfunkorchester

Live aus der Philharmonie im Münchner Gasteig:
Leitung: Friedrich Haider
Vincenzo Bellini: "Beatrice di Tenda"
Tragedia lirica zwei Akten
Konzertante Aufführung in italienischer Sprache
Beatrice di Tenda Edita Gruberova
Agnese del Maino Elena Zhidkova
Orombello Raul Hernandez
Filippo Maria
Visconti Vladimir Chernov
Anichino Cesar Gutierrez
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Einstudierung: Udo Mehrpohl

Ca. 20.20 - 20.40 Uhr:
"Ihren Schwestern nicht unwürdig"
Misserfolg und später Siegeszug von Bellinis "Beatrice di Tenda"
Ein Essay von Florian Heurich

Posted by Gary at 2:48 PM

Le Monde Reviews La Traviata at La Fenice: High Praise for Cast — Carsen's Production a Cliché

La Fenice refaite à neuf lance sa saison avec une "Traviata" façon années 1970

LE MONDE | 17.11.04 | 18h19

Le théâtre vénitien, rénové après l'incendie de 1996, présente l'œuvre de Verdi dans sa version originale de 1853, transformée en sujet d'actualité par Robert Carsen.

Venise (Italie) de notre envoyée spéciale

Il y a presque un an, la mythique Fenice de Venise renaissait de ses cendres pour la troisième fois depuis son inauguration le 16 mai 1792. Il y eut d'abord le concert d'ouverture dirigé en grande pompe le 14 décembre par Riccardo Muti, directeur artistique de la Scala de Milan (Le Monde du 16 décembre 2003), puis une semaine de réjouissances orchestrales sous les baguettes prestidigitatrices de Christian Thielemann, Myung-Whun Chung, Marcello Viotti, Mariss Jansons et Yuri Temirkanov.

Huit ans après l'incendie criminel du 29 janvier 1996 qui réduisit la salle en cendres en moins de dix heures, 60 millions d'euros et sept années de travaux plus tard, il s'agissait de rien de moins que de feter dignement les retrouvailles avec "l'âme de Venise" (Pavarotti dixit) et la rénovation à l'identique de l'un des plus beaux théâtres d'Europe. On pouvait au passage remercier Visconti : les quinze premières minutes de Senso tournées en 1954 à La Fenice, analysées, décryptées, recoupées avec les archives et les documents d'époque datant de la seconde reconstruction de 1837, ont contribué à cette minutieuse et folle reconstitution.

Les festivités passées, la saison d'opéras 2003-2004 a sagement réintégré le petit Théâtre Malibran et le grand PalaFenice jusqu'à la fin de l'année lyrique. Cette fois, c'est pour de bon : depuis le 12 novembre, qui a vu la première de La Traviata, mise en scène par Robert Carsen, il teatro ritrovato a prouvé qu'il était désormais un théâtre en ordre de marche, bien décidé à en découdre avec sa rivale de toujours, la Scala de Milan. Riche en surprises et en inédits, la saison 2004-2005 annonce d'ores et déjà du rarissime (un Omaggio a Goffredo Petrassi et Le Roi de Lahore de Massenet), du rare (Maometto secundo de Rossini, Pia de Tolomei de Donizetti et Daphné de Richard Strauss), le jeune Mozart (La Finta Semplice) cotoyant le Wagner accompli de Parsifal, sans parler de la première vénitienne d'une Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein d'Offenbach, mise en scène par Pier Luigi Pizzi.


Mais, pour l'heure, revenons à La Traviata donnée ici dans la version originale de 1853 sur un livret de Francesco Maria Piave, d'après La Dame aux camélias, d'Alexandre Dumas fils. De cette œuvre, Carsen a fait un vrai sujet d'actu situé dans les années 1970. "No future" pour Violetta la putain jet-setteuse, qui vit et meurt en escarpins et déshabillé noir, pour quelques poignées de dollars. De l'argent, il en pleut sur elle tout au long de l'opéra, que ce soit celui de ses amants, de ses amours, de ses emmerdes, et meme de la foret qui abrite un temps son idylle avec Alfredo, dont les feuilles tombent en tapis de billets de banque. Eros contre thanatos, fric contre sentiment, honnetes gens contre dégénérés, la pauvrette vivra la descente aux enfers des gens de son espèce que l'on paye de meme. Peu à peu dépossédée d'elle-meme, condamnée à crever dans un ex- appart design kitsch, en travaux, gravats parmi les gravats. C'est triste, c'est regrettable, et c'est efficace, mais ça manque fichtrement d'originalité, notamment pour ce qui concerne une direction d'acteurs on ne peut plus conventionnelle.

Heureusement, le casting est de haut niveau. Le père Germont (Dmitri Hvorostovsky) a le ton et l'aura d'un vrai commandeur, une voix qui tue au nom de la morale bourgeoise. Son fils, Alfredo, est photographe. De là à dire que l'interprétation de Roberto Saccà fait un peu cliché... Mais la voix est belle, et tant pis si la vaillance prend trop souvent le pas sur le reste, la ferveur, l'expression. Malgré les apparences, Patrizia Ciofi est nettement plus qu'une honnete femme de mauvaise vie. Sa Violetta a une belle carrure dramaturgique, et la voix, en dépit d'une légère fatigue dans l'aigu au troisième acte, sait donner corps et souffle à la belle âme sacrifiée de Violetta. Les chœurs et l'orchestre ont vaillamment relevé le défi de la direction enlevée de Lorin Maazel, lequel donne sans compter à la musique de Verdi chair, sang, vivacité et couleurs.

Marie-Aude Roux

La Traviata, de Verdi. Teatro La Fenice, Campo San Fantin, Venise (Italie). Le 16 novembre. Avec Robert Carsen (mise en scène), Patrizia Ciofi (Violetta), Roberto Saccà (Alfredo), Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Germont), Le Chœur et l'Orchestre du Gran Teatro La Fenice, Lorin Maazel (direction musicale). Prochaines représentations les 17, 18, 19 et 20 novembre. Tél. : (+39)-041-786-575.

Retransmission en direct sur Arte et sur France Musiques, le 18 novembre à 19 heures.

[Click here for related article.]

Posted by Gary at 2:08 PM

On Lulu's Portrait

Ascription of Identity: The Bild Motif and the Character of Lulu

Silvio José Dos Santos

The most controversial aspect of Alban Berg's opera Lulu — and one that has generated considerable criticism — is the composer's conception of the protagonist's character. Judith Lochhead, for example, argues that it is impossible to trace "a single, continuous feature that defines Lulu's personality." However, Berg offsets the "typological" element in Lulu's characterization by assigning her complex levels of interaction with her portrait, which is continuously present and symbolizes her sense of self-identity and her perception by others. Thus he changed several aspects of Wedekind's plays and created musical structures to represent Lulu as an individual and an object of desire. The most important of these devices is the music associated with Lulu's portrait, which marks significant dramatic and structural moments in the opera. Berg's extensive annotations in the opera's sketches, his copies of the plays, and the Particell bring to light the significance of Lulu's portrait with regard to her characterization. The portrait and its leitmotivic set pervade the opera, serving multiple functions according to the different dramatic situations. More than just an objective representation, Lulu's portrait is a constant reminder of who Lulu is in the opera. On the basis of this evidence, this study demonstrates that, by engaging the long-established literary tradition that associates women's identities with their reflected images, Berg makes the opera pivot around the portrait music, effecting a transformation in Lulu's sense of self-identity.

Citation information:

Journal of Musicology
Spring 2004, Vol. 21, No. 2, Pages 267-308
Posted online on November 15, 2004.

Click here for information on acquiring the complete article.

Recommended recording:

Posted by Gary at 2:21 AM

The Biting Kiss

"Pardon me, but your teeth are in my neck": Giambattista Marino, Claudio Monteverdi, and the bacio mordace

Massimo Ossi

Claudio Monteverdi's "Eccomi pronta ai baci" presents an odd pairing of a first-person female voice with a three-voice low male ensemble; in addition, the text, by Giambattista Marino, deals with the subject of the "bacio mordace" [biting kiss], and the female speaker invites her lover to kiss her but warns him against biting her. He of course betrays her, and the poem closes with her outraged complaint and vow never to kiss him again. The combination of text, singing voices, and expressive qualities invoked in the setting suggests that Monteverdi went beyond the conceit of Marino's madrigal in exaggerating the comic and parodistic (in the non-musicological sense of the word) aspects of the situation. In this essay, I explore the background of the kiss imagery, focusing specifically on the "bacio mordace" as an expression of "lover's furor" in Classical and Renaissance sources. I then relate the particular conceit of Marino's poem to Emanuele Tesauro's analysis of the dynamics of literary comedy: the device of decettione [deception or reversal] as part of the ridicolo [comedy] and its attendant burle [pranks]. Finally, I offer a reading of Monteverdi's madrigal in terms of Tesauro's definitions, in which I argue that the setting interjects an extra level of interpretation between the poet and the audience. This musical "filter" introduces new ambiguity into the poem's already equivocal situation, expanding its comic aspects.

Citation information:

Journal of Musicology
Spring 2004, Vol. 21, No. 2, Pages 175-200
Posted online on November 15, 2004.

Click here for information on acquiring the complete article.

Click here for a related article.

Posted by Gary at 1:25 AM

November 17, 2004

Wiener Staatsoper Announces Program Remembering 50th Anniversary of Rebuilding of Opera House

On 5 November 2005, the Wiener Staatsoper will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the rebuilding of the opera house, which had been destroyed near the end of World War II. The program will include:

Leonore Overture No. 3, Seiji Ozawa conducting.

Excerpts from "Don Giovanni" with Ferruccio Furlanetto (Leporello), Thomas Hampson (Giovanni), Edita Gruberova (Anna), Angelika Kirchschlager (Zerlina) et al., Zubin Mehta conducting.

The final trio from the "Der Rosenkavalier" with Soile Isokoski (Marschallin), Kirchschlager (Oktavian) and Genia Kühmeier (Sophie), Christian Thielemann conducting.

The Nile-Act from Verdi's "Aida" with Violeta Urmana (Aida), Johan Botha (Radames) and Franz Grundheber (Amonasro), Daniele Gatti conducting. Then, Agnes Baltsa and Plácido Domingo sing the Amneris-Radames duet from the 4th Act.

The Flieder-Monolog from Wagner's "Die Meistersinger," with Bryn Terfel, Thielemann conducting.

Excerpts from "Die Frau ohne Schatten" by Richard Strauss, Franz Welser-Möst conducting. Singers include Deborah Polaski, Johan Botha, and Falk Struckmann.

The program concludes with Polaski, Botha and Struckmann performing the finale from "Fidelio" under Ozawa.

The program will be broadcast by ORF.


Additional information at Wiener Staatsoper.

Posted by Gary at 5:37 PM

More on the Reopening of La Fenice and La Scala

Opera house rises from the ashes -- again

After fire and years of controversial renovations, Venice's La Fenice and Milan's La Scala raise the curtains

Special to The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, Nov 17, 2004

VENICE -- Two of the greatest stages in Italy are reopening to opera-lovers after years of controversial renovations that sent those in search of this most Italian of art forms to a makeshift tent in Venice and to the dreary suburbs of Milan to get their fix. Now, the diva is ready to head downtown as Venice's La Fenice mounts its first performance in eight years and Milan's La Scala is set to unveil its new look in December.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

A general view of the La Scala opera house in Milan, November 10, 2004. The opera house will officially reopen on December 7 with a performance of Salieri's Europa Riconsciuta, the first opera staged at La Scala when it opened in 1778. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Posted by Gary at 3:57 PM

Pro Ópera on Daniel Catán's Salsipuedes at HGO

Salsipuedes ha llegado a buen puerto

Modelo que muestra a Ulises y Chucho a bordo de "El invencible"

Dentro de la presente temporada de la Gran ópera de Houston, se llevará a cabo el estreno mundial de la ópera Salsipuedes, la segunda obra lírica comisionada por dicho teatro al compositor mexicano Daniel Catán. Después de las exitosas representaciones de La hija de Rappaccini y Florencia en el Amazonas, Salsipuedes será su tercera ópera escenificada en Estados Unidos. La obra, que está basada en un hecho ocurrido en Cuba durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial, con libreto de Eliseo Alberto y Francisco Hinojosa, será la primera incursión de Catán en el género cómico, con musica cargada de ritmos del Caribe.Pro ópera conversó recientemente con el compositor, quien nos habla más a fondo sobre su nueva obra.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Additional information on this production may be found here.

Posted by Gary at 3:40 PM

WSJ Reviews Le Grande Macabre and The Flying Dutchman at the SFO

Waiting for the End of the World

November 17, 2004

San Francisco

Many listeners know Gyorgy Ligeti from the creepily futuristic orchestral music in the soundtrack of the 1968 movie "2001: A Space Odyssey." His opera "Le Grand Macabre" (1978, revised in 1996), given its American premiere this month by the San Francisco Opera, is a thoroughly different creature, yet it is just as much an artifact of its time. Though carefully crafted and full of compositional references, the score is mostly an elbow-in-the-ribs accompaniment to a nihilistic black comedy. Beginning with an opening fanfare for car horns that sounds like Harpo Marx multiplied and continuing with a parody of the "Dies Irae," the prophecy of the Day of Judgment, the opera is a soulless and often scatological joke.

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

Cast information (Le Grande Macabre):

Piet The Pot — Graham Clark
Amando — Sara Fulgoni
Amanda — Anne-Sophie Duprels
Nekrotzar — Willard White
Astradamors — Clive Bayley
Mescalina — Susanne Resmark
Venus/Gepopo — Caroline Stein
Prince Go-Go — Gerald Thompson
White Politician — John Duykers
Black Politician — Joshua Bloom

Additional information on Le Grande Macabre here.

Cast information (The Flying Dutchman):

The Dutchman — Juha Uusitalo
Senta — Nina Stemme
Erik — Christopher Ventris
Daland — Walter Fink

Additional information on The Flying Dutchman here.

Posted by Gary at 3:11 PM

November 16, 2004

Manhattan School of Music to Present Hoiby's A Month in the Country

LEE HOIBY: A Month in the Country

Libretto by William Ball after the play by Ivan Turgenev

The Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater presents Lee Hoiby's A Month in the Country on Wednesday, December 8 and Friday, December 10 at 8pm, and Sunday, December 12 at 2:30pm in the School's John C. Borden Auditorium, with an opera preview scheduled for 6:30pm on December 8 in Greenfield Hall. Steven Osgood conducts the opera, which is directed by Ned Canty. Composed in 1964 on a commission from the New York City Opera, A Month in the Country has a libretto by William Ball based on Ivan Turgenev's play of the same name. Originally titled Natalia Petrovna, the opera was first performed in 1964 by the New York City Opera. The opera was then revised in 1981 for a performance at New England Conservatory, and was retitled accordingly.

Synopsis: (Two acts, 4 scenes; set in the 1840s, on the provincial, serf-holding estate of the Islaev family, many miles from Moscow) Natalia Petrovna Islaevna, bored with Arkady her preoccupied husband, and with her overly ardent cavalier, the well-known poet Rakitin, with the afternoon cardgames and aimless bickering of her mother-in-law Anna and her silly retainers, bored and with the routine, isolation, uselessness and dependency of her existence, exhibits extremes of mood as she and Rakitin come to realize that she has fallen in love with her son's new tutor, an educated young peasant named Belaev.

Her unassimilable passion maddens Rakitin, confuses Belaev, awakens the sexual awareness and jealousy of Vera, her young niece, unleashes the wrath of her mother-in-law, and escapes her husband entirely. Only the subsidiary comic courtship of two servants, the scheming doctor and Lisaveta (Anna's companion, piano teacher to Kolya and Vera) ends satisfactorily.

Steven Osgood, conductor, is artistic director of American Opera Projects, a company dedicated to the development of new operas. He conducted the premiere production of Jonathan Sheffer's opera Blood On the Dining Room Floor in a five-week off-Broadway run in 2000. Mr. Osgood prepared the premiere of Tan Dun's Marco Polo, and conducted the premiere of Tan's second opera Peony Pavilion that toured Vienna, London, Rome, Paris and Berkeley. He has also conducted many of Tan's orchestral works, including a recent appearance with the Gulbenkian Festival Orchestra conducting Orchestral Theater II. Dedicated to contemporary music, Mr. Osgood served as Assistant Conductor for the world premieres of Bright Sheng's Madame Mao and Peter Lieberson's Ashoka's Dream, as well as the American premieres of Hans Werner Henze's Venus und Adonis, and Kaija Saariaho's L'Amour de loin.

Mr. Osgood was guest conductor and music director of the New West Symphony's Music's Alive Festival in 2001, and has been a member of the Music Staff of the Santa Fe Opera since 1997. His work has brought him to many of North America's foremost opera houses, including Canadian Opera Company, the Lake George Festival, and the San Francisco Opera. He also maintains active relationships with The Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music. Mr. Osgood has worked at New York City Opera since 2001, and made his main stage City Opera debut in April 2003 conducting La bohème. He conducted Lortzing's Der Wildschütz at the School in 2002.

Ned Canty, opera and theater director, most recently directed Falstaff at the Israeli Vocal Arts Institute in Tel Aviv. Among his many other productions are Don Giovanni for Florida Grand Opera; The Barber of Seville for Connecticut Opera; Lucky Girl for the McCarter Theater; the American premieres of Voice in the Forest and Tears of the Knife at the Henry Street Chamber Opera; A Midsummer Night's Dream, L'italiana in Algeri, and The Rake's Progress at Wolf Trap Opera; Madama Butterfly for the New York City Opera national company; Il campanello at the Teatro Comunale in Casalmaggiore, Italy; L'elisir d'amore at the Shanghai Grand Theater in China; and L'incoronazione di Poppea and Il trionfo dell'onore for Yale Opera. As a director and fight director he has also worked widely, for such organizations as the Washington Opera and the Princeton Shakespeare Company, among many others. He was a two-time nominee for the Gielgud Directing Fellowship. A future project is The Mikado for Opera Theater of St. Louis.

    Dates: Dec 8 & 10 at 8 pm and Dec 12 at 2:30 pm
    Location: John C. Borden Auditorium
    Price: $20; $15; half price for seniors and students
    Contact: Concert Office 917-493-4428

Notes on A Month in the Country

by Mark Shulgasser

The enigmatic Russian writer Ivan Turgenev was born on his parents' estate in 1818. Although more an aesthete and an observer than a social activist, he supported the emancipation of the serfs, and his writings antagonized the repressive tsarist authorities. Consequently he spent much of his life in Europe, notably as an awkward appendage to the Paris-based household of the great diva, Pauline Viardot, whom he adored.

Turgenev did not seem to take this play very seriously. It was his last theatrical occupation, after a string of one-act vaudevilles, written for the pasteboard Moscow stage. A young literary dilettante who wrote plays mainly in order to hang around actresses, he now seemed to have indulged, while living in Paris, in something completely uninteresting and unplayable. In defense of its talky five hour playing time, he disparaged it as a novel in dialogue, not intended for the stage. He called it The Student, then, Two Women, as if he didn't quite know what it was about. Soon after, he found his sure voice in prose with the immediately popular Hunting Sketches of 1851, followed by the string of novels on which his reputation rests. Yet the situation and characters of this play recur unmistakably, even monotonously, in his writings and his life. Not until 1856 did he allow a version to be printed, deciding on the title A Month in the Country.

It was not produced on stage until 22 years after its writing, and then only because an ambitious young actress coveted the role of Vera and the attention that was accorded the now-famous author. The production was not successful, another one seven years later fared better; the text was again cut and reworked, without Turgenev's participation, of course emphasizing the role of Vera. (The actress herself became an object of one of Turgenev's "amities amoureuses".) Not until Stanislavski rediscovered the play in 1909, producing it in his own version and style in his epochal pre-war London seasons of the Moscow Art Theatre, did it join the world stage.

That Turgenev's principal masterpiece (for how many still read his novels?) should be bi-genred, unfinalized, and authorially almost unacknowledged, is perfectly characteristic of his unique perfume, his brilliant, abject sophistication. As he remarked to Tolstoy, 'I am a writer of a transitional period. I am fit only for people in a transitional state."

Before Turgenev's play was produced at all it had been subjected to whimsical tsarist censorings, edited and re-edited, and mangled and revised for native and émigré periodicals and presses. It now thrives as many people's ideas and images of an unknown and uncertain "original", through reductive adaptations, revisions, versions, free translations, a malleable vehicle for influential directors, furthering various, even contradictory, theatrical and political positions; now the essence of Russia in the 1840s, now a timeless psychological gossamer, now the font of theatrical realism, now a setless, actionless dream, now a proto-socialist critique, now a bourgeois relic, an anglified classic, a lightweight period frolic, an attack on marriage, a comedy, a tragedy. The program of the Hoiby/Ball premiere read "suggested by Turgenev's A Month in the Country."

In short, for all the play's specificity of period and locale, and its so-called realism, it promiscuously makes itself available to forceful collaborators, offering up for redefinition that archetypal dramatic configuration: the eruption of eros in a complex household.

In the New York City of 1964, appearing in the guise of an opera by composer Lee Hoiby and librettist William Ball, A Month in the Country once again gathered up into its mysterious hems ("I am saturated with femininity," Turgenev wrote) the living concerns of a new team.

Ball, having had his first New York success directing Ivanov, a rediscovered Chekhov play, was obtained by Zelda Fichandler to help her new Arena Stage in DC. This is where he became enamored of A Month in the Country, which he directed in the Emlyn Williams 1943 adaptation (originally a vehicle for Michael Redgrave's Rakitin). The next season, 1959, Ball heard Lee Hoiby's first opera, The Scarf, a one acter based on Chekhov, at the New York City Opera where Ball was directing Weisgall's Six Characters and Mozart's Cosi. Ball immediately asked Hoiby to consider collaborating with him on setting the Turgenev. He also invited Hoiby to contribute incidental music to a work he was staging at the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, The Tempest.

The Ford philanthropy supported the opera project and the choice of Russian subject matter would have pleased their humane and internationalist interests; the choice now it can be seen as an anticipation of détente, although ill-timed to appear so soon after the Cuban missile confrontation and the assassination. But for William Ball the significance of the play had less to do with current world politics than with theater history, and the goal of an American regional theater. It was, simply, the core work of the revered Stanislavski Moscow Arts Theatre, and the Moscow Arts Theatre was the paradigm of the repertory theater company as an art-dedicated commune, enriching its environment with ritual enactments, of-the-people and for-the-people, independent of the commercialism of Broadway, a necessity for any significant city. The same Ford Foundation initiative that supported this and the other Julius Rudel /NYCO American Opera commissions at the City Center also helped to launch Ball's American Conservatory Theater, which, after wanderings through Pittsburgh and Chicago, landed securely in San Francisco where it continues to thrive.

Ball was a "father" of the regional theater movement, a brilliant director with the ability to put much serious classical and modern repertory vividly before unsophisticated audiences. His direct, energetic style clicked with the pre-AIDS San Francisco sensibility in things like his shirtless, gymnastic Taming of the Shrew. (Unfortunately he went under in the epidemic, and took his life in 1992.) He was loyal to his obsession with A Month in the Country, producing a new stage adaptation by "Willis Bell" in 1978. Ball's approach to the play is in agreement with remarks of the great Soviet director Anatoly Efros: "Adaptation of the script is necessary. . . We lace it into a tight corset, yet it is full of a fire and gaiety which is often blazing; so let its harsh and startling colors appear and the reaction of the characters be a hundredfold sharper and more dramatic."

The critical reception in the days when New York had so many daily papers is of interest. Harold Schonberg of the New York Times found worthwhile at least the closing octet, "probably modeled after the closing quintet in 'Vanessa,' except that it is better--more natural, ringing truer." On the other hand the libretto diverged from the critic's pre-existing image of the play. Ball had introduced "travesty" and "burlesque" into the "sensitive . . . delicate . . . and equally delicate" play. (A few months later Schoenberg found Britten's new Midsummer Night's Dream "calculated," "obvious," "superficial," and "merely cute.")

On the other hand, Martin Gottfried in Woman's Wear Daily called it "a wonderful new opera, a loveliness steeped in sadness and, at once, lightness." The World-Telegram and Sun's Louis Biancolli found it "wholly unexpected . . . the world premiere of a truly fine American opera based on a truly fine Russian play." Variety thought that only a few "easy fixes" were needed for "an opera that has much promise of being kept in the repertoire, and even spreading to other companies." Even without those easy fixes the opera was well received in Washington the following season. Paul Hume (the critic who clashed with President Truman over Margaret's singing talents) compared the final octet to the Rosenkavalier trio and the Meistersinger quintet. The musicologist/critic Irving Lowens wrote of "the clean simplicity, the beautiful eloquence of the vocal lines. There is no question about this lyric gift; his melodies are more compelling by far than those of his teacher Menotti." Most telling was a later consideration by Frank Merkling, editor of Opera News. "Indulging in neither breast-beating nor serial cerebration" the opera was "curiously novel for its very lack of chic; it simply went about the business of fulfilling all the functions of an opera successfully."

Yet the opera waited fifteen years for another spin. To give it a fresh start the composer withdrew the title Natalia Petrovna, reverting to the original. Much consideration was given to those easy and not-so-easy fixes. Judicious remodeling, from which works of commercial theater typically benefit prior to being reviewed, but which current economics prevent for opera, was incorporated into the 1981 New England Conservatory production. A large change in tone was achieved, for instance, by replacing the lively accordion dance that had introduced the second act with a more serious prelude. Gradually, and almost entirely through the attentions of university and conservatory opera departments, A Month in the Country is attaining its rightful place in the American opera repertory.

Biographical note on Lee Hoiby

Lee Hoiby was born in Wisconsin in 1926 of Scandinavian extraction. His maternal grandfather was a violinist and teacher who emigrated from Denmark. His aunts comprised a touring all-girls saxophone band, and like Brahms, he was forced by his father to entertain in alcoholic dives, leading him to rebel against any form of pop music, while unavoidably imbibing the idiom. Important European musicians in flight from Hitler forgathered at the remarkable war-time music department of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Among them were performers like the Pro Arte Quartet, led by Arnold Schoenberg's son-in-law Rudolph Kolisch, from whom Hoiby inbibed the highest levels of European musicianship. They also introduced him to the music of Schoenberg and Webern, which he viscerally rejected. His prodigious pianistic gift was nurtured by Gunnar Johansen, the Danish virtuoso who privately recorded the complete keyboard works of Bach, Liszt and Busoni. Johansen passed Hoiby on to his own pianistic mentor, the Busoni acolyte Egon Petri, with whom he studied at Cornell and Mills College.

On the verge of a career as a concert pianist Hoiby was offered, on the basis of a few compositions submitted without his knowledge, a full scholarship to study composition with Gian Carlo Menotti at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Menotti subjected Hoiby to two years of strict Palestrina counterpoint, then infected him with operatic ambitions. He worked closely with Menotti as assistant during the period of the historically unique simultaneous successes on the world operatic and Broadway stages, of The Consul, The Saint of Bleecker Street, and The Medium. The effectiveness of Hoiby's 1957 one-act opera The Scarf was noted at the first Italian Spoleto Festival, and it was produced at the New York City Opera the following season. Hoiby's next opera, Natalia Petrovna (NYCO, 1964; revised version, A Month in the Country, 1980) was praised by the distinguished Washington critic Paul Hume as bearing a closing octet "of overwhelming beauty, a supreme moment in opera." Hoiby's 1971 setting of Tennessee Williams's Summer and Smoke (with libretto by Lanford Wilson) was declared "the finest American opera to date" by Harriet Johnson of the New York Post. Still, the mid-twentieth century prejudice against tonality and lyricism, combined with Hoiby's own professional and social independence, worked against widespread recognition. In 1981 Peter Davis wrote of a new production of Summer and Smoke in New York Magazine that "Perhaps ten years ago, music of this sort, unabashedly drenched in ardent melody, was considered something of an embarrassment. Today such an attitude seems childish and irrelevant."

Hoiby continued to pursue lyric opportunities with his 1986 setting of Shakespeare's final play, The Tempest, (for the Des Moines Metro Opera) of which Opera Magazine (London) wrote that it was "redolent of Das Rheingold and Richard Strauss, but even so was melodically, harmonically, and musically, pure Hoiby," while the Christian Science Monitor found it "superbly singable and downright beautiful". He has recently completed a lavish three-act setting of Romeo and Juliet, which has yet to be produced. Other operatic works by Mr. Hoiby include the one-act comedy Something New for the Zoo (1979); the musical monologues The Italian Lesson (1981, text by Ruth Draper) and Bon Appetit! (1985, text by Julia Child) which ran off-Broadway and toured nationally with Jean Stapleton, and a one-act chamber opera, This Is the Rill Speaking (1992, on the play by Lanford Wilson). Recent vocal chamber works include a music-theater piece on texts of Virginia Woolf called What Is the Light? for Claire Bloom and the 92nd Street Y; Rain Forest for voice, wind quintet and piano, on prose poems of Elizabeth Bishop for the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival; and Sonnets and Soliloquies, a group of Shakespeare settings for soprano Jennifer Foster and the Miro String Quartet, to be premiered at the Arizona Chamber Music Festival next March. Also of note among his larger compositions for the voice is his 1991 setting of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s I Have a Dream for baritone and orchestra, which has had memorable performances by baritone William Stone and bass-baritone Simon Estes.

Hoiby's immense contribution to the song repertoire is recognized by American singers everywhere. His style is an elegant and unobvious bridging of the lyrical worlds of Verdi and Gershwin, which can be profoundly moving or smoothly good-humored, but skirts entirely the modernist obsession with "originality". He turns frequently to texts of great literary and civic value. His exemplary performer has been the great American soprano Leontyne Price, who, from 1964 until her retirement in 1996, introduced many of his best known poem settings and arias to the public, including "The Serpent" of Roethke, "Be Not Afeard" (from The Tempest), the Dickinson songs, the "Evening" of Wallace Stevens, "Lady of the Harbor" and "Where the Music Comes From."

Hoiby has also made significant contributions to the piano repertory (in addition to his demanding song accompaniments), including two piano concertos and a volume of solo piano works published by G. Schirmer. His choral music is performed in churches throughout the USA and in Great Britain. Indeed, some of his most substantial works are in that form, including the Christmas cantata A Hymn of the Nativity (text by Richard Crashaw), the oratorio Galileo Galilei (libretto by Barrie Stavis), and an accrual of works for voice, chorus and orchestra on texts of Walt Whitman which have been gathered into a full evening's program called A Whitman Service. He has written chamber music in numerous combinations, including sonatas for violin, 'cello, Pastoral Dances for flute and chamber orchestra, Schubert Variations (nonette) and Dark Rosaleen (Rhapsody on a theme by James Joyce) just recorded by the Ames Piano Quartet and to be released by Albany this winter.

For more information on Mr. Hoiby and his work, visit his website at

Posted by Gary at 11:10 PM

I Puritani at Baltimore Opera

More than meeting Bellini's demands
Baltimore company sings 'I Puritani' with polish, precision and control

By Tim Smith
Sun Music Critic

November 15, 2004

Bel canto - "beautiful singing." It's more common to hear that term spoken of than to hear it in actual practice, which is reason enough to catch the remarkable demonstration of this venerable style being offered at the Lyric Opera House.

In its first attempt at Bellini's I Puritani, among the most bountiful of all bel canto feasts, the Baltimore Opera Company has scored high.

Set during the English Civil War, Puritani's plot is just a case of girl gets boy, girl loses boy, girl loses mind, girl gets boy - and mind - back. What gives the opera its lasting power is the way that Bellini treats this formulaic story with heart and soul, fulfilling his first-and-foremost dictum: "Opera must make people weep, shudder and die through singing."

To produce such reactions requires more than just a fluency in bel canto principles - evenness of tone, agility of technique and, when appropriate, the ability to embellish a melodic line.

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

[Click here for Baltimore Opera Company press release.]

Production photos courtesy of Baltimore Opera Company.

Recommended recording:

Posted by Gary at 2:07 AM

November 15, 2004

Le Figaro Reviews La Traviata at La Fenice: Praises Ciofi, But Not Much Else

Verdi à Las Vegas

Venise : de notre envoyé spécial Jacques Doucelin
[15 novembre 2004]

Un de ces chats comme Venise en a le secret, trone impérial et méprisant au beau milieu d'une place ensoleillée, manteau mité, mais noeud papillon bien dessiné. Soudain, il jaillit à la verticale, moustache en bataille comme si un ressort l'avait projeté : filtrant par un regard, l'eau de la lagune vient d'atteindre son royal séant " Ce qui donne en gaulois : "Venez vite, Anna, l'eau arrive !"

L'aqua alta, la grande affaire des Vénitiens : ils jouent meme à se faire peur. En un tournemain, les planches sont mises en place pour que les touristes - Français à 90% en ce week-end de 11 novembre mâtiné de RTT - puissent circuler à pied sec. Fausse alerte ! L'eau vert amande lèche amoureusement le seuil blanc de l'église San Moïaut;se sans y pénétrer. Puis repart silencieuse comme elle est arrivée. Ainsi va la vie dans le plus beau théâtre du monde qu'est la Sérénissime.

Du théâtre, et du vrai, il y en eut la veille à La Fenice qui renaissait à l'opéra après l'incendie de 1996. Rendue à sa splendeur d'antan, la célèbre salle que l'on voit dans Senso de Visconti, fut inaugurée par un concert de Muti l'an passé (voir nos éditions du 16 décembre 2003), mais attendait toujours sa résurrection lyrique. C'est désormais chose faite avec La Traviata de Verdi, opéra emblématique de son glorieux passé. L'idée de son directeur artistique Sergio Segalini de revenir à la version de la création à Venise en 1853 constitue un attrait non négligeable de ce nouveau spectacle signé par le metteur en scène canadien Robert Carsen.

Si les différences avec l'édition remaniée dès 1854, après l'échec de l'année précédente et après un changement de distribution, ne sautent pas aux oreilles du public, elles sont d'importance pour le role-titre. On a dit souvent qu'il fallait deux voix pour chanter Violetta : dans la version d'origine, celle-ci gagne en homogénéité, l'écriture se révélant plus légère et plus virtuose tout au long de l'ouvrage. Violetta se rapproche ainsi de la Gilda de Rigoletto.

Ce retour à l'original sied à Patrizia Ciofi, magnifique de bout en bout. Décidément, la soprano italienne est vouée aux roles de courtisane après la Poppée de Monteverdi qu'elle vient de chanter au Théâtre des Champs-élysées. Verdi lui va mille fois mieux car il correspond à son tempérament comme aux caractéristiques de sa voix à la fois agile et colorée. Et douée surtout d'une grande sensibilité. Je n'aurai pas le mauvais gout de vanter sa plastique : disons que Robert Carsen a eu beaucoup de chance avec une artiste dont le plumage vaut le ramage.

Elle est malheureusement la seule des trois protagonistes du drame dont on puisse le dire. Les deux Germont de cette première - le ténor italo-germanique Roberto Saccà et le baryton russe Dmitri Hvorostovsky - chantent les notes constamment forte, incapables de la moindre nuance, de la moindre humanité : un comble dans cet écrin sublime ! Lorin Maazel apporte le prestige de son nom et son époustouflante technique d'orchestre sans aller au-delà d'un travail bien fait avec les musiciens comme avec les choristes.

On a connu Carsen mieux inspiré. Moderniser La Traviata n'est plus une nouveauté. Il ne suffit pas de se réclamer de Verdi qui voulait que l'ouvrage soit donné à son époque à lui Il aurait fallu trouver un équivalent. Alors Carsen durcit le trait : sa Violetta est une vraie prostituée qui n'aime que l'argent.

La voilà soeur de Lulu de Berg : expressionnisme et romantisme ne font pas bon ménage. Et cette pluie continue de billets de banque jusque dans le jardin : Carsen doit avoir un problème avec l'argent Non, décidément, La Fenice méritait mieux.

La Fenice : les 16, 18 et 19 novembre à 19 h, les 17 et 20 à 15 h 30. Tél. :, Arte retransmettra en direct la représentation du 18 novembre à 19 h.

Posted by Gary at 4:11 PM

Phoenix Rising

Venetian Phoenix Rises Operatically From the Ashes


VENICE, Nov. 14 - Destroyed by fire on the night of Jan. 29, 1996, and rebuilt during eight years of noisy scandals, lawsuits and delays, Venice's legendary Teatro La Fenice has finally restored drama to its proper place - on the stage, not in newspaper headlines. On Friday, after the curtain rose on a new production of "La Traviata," the city that Italians call La Serenissima could once again boast an opera house in keeping with its majestic surroundings.

Third time lucky?

The first Fenice (pronounced feh-NEE-chay) opened in 1792 and burned down in 1836. On that occasion, at least, it was quickly rebuilt, reopening the following year on the same spot, squeezed among canals, Renaissance palaces and Baroque churches.

The third Fenice was completed 11 months ago and inaugurated with a concert, but the theater hierarchy wisely took time to test its backstage machinery. Now the building is back in the opera business - little wonder that "fenice" means phoenix - and in the view of many European critics in the audience, its updating of an age-old story of prostitution was a success.

With le tout Venice and more on hand, the operatic reopening was as much a political and social occasion as a musical moment. Special guests included King Albert and Queen Paola of Belgium; Romano Prodi, the outgoing president of the European Commission who is busily planning his return to Italian politics; and a host of ministers and officials. Venetians who simply wanted to be there paid the equivalent of $1,290 each for the privilege.

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

[Click here for related article.]

STRAUSS: Der Liebe der Danae

STRAUSS Der Liebe der Danae, op. 83 * Ulrich Windfuhr, cond; Franz Grundheber (Jupiter); Manuela Uhl (Danae); Hans-Jürgen Schöpflin (Mercury); Robert Chafin (Midas); Paul McNamara (Pollux); Cornelia Zach (Xanthe, Europa); Daniel Behle, Martin Fleitmann, Simon Pauly, Hans Georg Ahrens (Vier Konigen); Susanne Bernhard (Semele); Kiel Op Ch; Kiel PO * cpo 999-967-2 (3 CDs: 163:37

Posted by Gary at 2:00 AM

A Review of Martin


Posted by Gary at 1:37 AM

Myto Releases Spontini's Agnese di Hohenstaufen

SPONTINI: Agnese di Hohenstaufen

Lucille Udovick (Agnese), Dorothy Dow (Irmengarda), Franco Corelli (Enrico il Palatino), Francesco Albanese (Filippo), Enzo Mascherini (Re di Francia), Anselmo Colzani (Enrico il Leone), Gian Giacomo Guelfi (L'Imperatore); Florence Teatro Communale/ Vittorio Gui

Myto 42084 [2CD] 142.36 minutes

Many years of labor went into Spontini's final stage work. It was first performed in 1829 and given in a much-revised edition in 1837. With its huge orchestra, vast cast, and the subordination of set arias to massive and extended ensembles, it broke with all conventions. It was ahead of its time and clearly influenced many later composers, including Meyerbeer and Wagner.

Unfortunately, it did not please its early audiences. Following those initial outings, it languished unheard until its 1954 Florence revival, drastically abridged. Although strongly criticized at the time, mainly on dramatic grounds, the production finally revealed the unique quality of the work and its vital importance in the development of 19th Century neoclassical romantic opera. Ignoring the overblown nature of the libretto, there is much of musical worth, and a fine collection of star soloists does justice to the melodic, intense and sometimes frenetic vocal writing.

There is one other recording on CD taken from a Muti-conducted RAI broadcast of 1970, with Montserrat Caballé. Guelfi reprised his role but in slightly less refulgent voice. The sound may be stereophonic and richer, and conducting laurels remain even; but Gui has, Caballé excepted, somewhat finer soloists. Not least of these is the young Franco Corelli, heard here already experimenting with the variety of nuance and dynamic that was to become one of his most admired characteristics.

Like the Muti, the 1954 performance has been issued in several formats and on various labels over the years. Comparing the Myto sound with an earlier CD on Melodram and an Opera Live LP, a very slight deterioration in fullness is detected. The difference is small, and all offer acceptable monaural sound from a presumably single source. No libretto or synopsis is supplied — only a potted history of the work and information on the singers. Nevertheless, a version of this seminal score should be in the collection of anyone interested in 19th Century romantic opera and fine singing.

Vivian A Liff


Posted by Gary at 1:00 AM

November 14, 2004

Myto Releases Ernani

with Giovanna d'Arco excerpts

Georgio Merighi (Ernani), Piero Cappuccilli (Don Carlo), Augusto Ferrin (De Silva), Mara Zampieri (Elvira) Trieste Teatro Communale/ MolinariPradelli; Mara Zampieri (Giovanna), Renato Francesconi (Carlo), Ettore Nova (Giacomo) San Remo Symphony/ Buenza-Delil

Myto 41288 [2CD] 148 minutes

Presumably intended simply as a tribute to the soprano, this "complete" Ernani emerges as an exciting, worthwhile performance in its own right. The bonus-most of Giovanna's role-if not quite up to the same standard, is still enjoyable.

Zampieri's few commercial recordings were generally not well received, and one could only concur with the unfavorable critical opinions they evoked. Her work here reveals a vastly superior singer; the voice is in fine shape from a gleaming top to a telling lower register. Moreover, it has an immediately recognizable timbre and is used intelligently. Her opening recitative, taken softly with an air of inward retrospection, immediately establishes Elvira's character. The following aria, 'Ernani, Involami', goes exceptionally well; and if her trill in the cabaletta is not quite the equal of Ponselle's, it remains an exciting and accurate traversal of this "sewing machine" music.

Her Ernani is a worthy partner. Merighi may not be the subtlest of tenors, but his ringing, virile tones are appropriate and he sounds involved in a role that usually emerges as a mere cipher. Cappuccilli commences in slightly hectoring fashion but improves steadily as the opera proceeds. His 'O de' verd'anni miei' is a high point and the audience responds appropriately. Unfortunately, he is rather off-mike for the concerted 'O Sommo Carlo', which thereby loses some of its effect. As the true villain of the piece, Ferrin sounds uncannily like the great Tancredi Pasero and commences with an even more prominent vibrato, which, fortunately, speedily lessens. Perhaps wisely, the cabaletta to his aria, `Infelice, e tuo Credevi', is omitted.

Molinari-Pradelli conducts a cohesive, fastmoving performance but always appears keenly sympathetic to his soloist's idiosyncrasies. In the Giovanna d'Arco excerpts, Buenza-Delil also keeps things moving, but somewhat frenetically and often at the expense of his singers. Certainly Zampieri's Giovanna does not sound quite as relaxed as her Elvira. But this is one of Verdi's least inspired works, with a title role seemingly more suited to a soprano leggiera. Both tenor and baritone are perfectly adequate.

These excerpts and the opera were recorded in performance, with all the virtues and blemishes this implies. Voices are sometimes distant as singers move away from the recording source, there are many odd thumps, and the audience is sometimes over-enthusiastic with applause. Fortunately, there is no distortion even in concerted passages; and, given the blazing intensity of the performance, it is easy to ignore all these extraneous intrusions. Alas, no libretto and almost no notes; but four rather good photos of the soprano offer some compensation.

Vivian A Liff


Posted by Gary at 11:16 PM

Myto Releases Otello

VERDI: Otello

Mario del Monaco (Otello), Renata Tebaldi (Desdemona), Leonard Warren (Iago); La Scala/ Antonio Votto

Myto 41083 [2CD] 140 minutes

Tebaldi and Del Monaco twice recorded Otello together in the studio, and we've reviewed a number of bootlegs starring one or the other; but this 1954 La Scala performance has, according to Myto, never before been released. (Wrong — it was once on Melodram.) It brings the two great Italians together with Leonard Warren, who can match them decibel for decibel, and the enthusiastic audience — they go berserk after Act 3 — knows it's hearing something extraordinary. The sound is not state of the art, but it's clear enough to capture the beauty of the voices and the nuances of the singing; the ear quickly adjusts to any sonic shortcomings.

Del Monaco's brazen voice was, of course, perfect for Otello, but he sings with more variety and subtlety than he's usually given credit for. He does hold the final top B-flat of 'Dio Mi Potevi' forever, and the audience loves it. Perhaps he wanted the spotlight squarely on him after Act 2, which Warren easily dominates. In the `Si Pel Ciel' duet, he matches the stentorian tenor note for note. Warren didn't much like singing at La Scala, but I'm sure his Milanese fans wished he had come more often. Tebaldi is at her best, the voice plush and seamless from top to bottom, the legato perfect, the dynamics superbly controlled. There are some starry names among the comprimarios (Giuseppe Zampieri as Cassio and Giorgio Tozzi as Lodovico), and Votto leads strongly but gives his singers plenty of room. Recommended to admirers of the stars — especially Warren, who never recorded Iago commercially.

Ralph V Lucano


Posted by Gary at 10:57 PM

Bodies Beautiful?

Should the Fat Lady Diet Before She Sings?


THE dramatic soprano Deborah Voigt returns to the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday as Elisabeth in Wagner's "Tannhäuser," and opera buffs are abuzz with anticipation over this popular American artist's first foray into the role at the house.

Yet besides wondering how she will sound, many in the audience will no doubt be curious to see how she looks. Ms. Voigt, a large woman, has been dieting, exercising and losing weight. The physical appearance of opera singers became a hot topic last summer, when word came that Ms. Voigt had been forced out of a production of Strauss's "Ariadne auf Naxos" at the Royal Opera House in London. Ariadne is her signature role. But the director of the company's trendy production thought she was too heavy to look right in a black cocktail dress that he deemed crucial to his concept.

Though countless Voigt fans were distressed by this insult to her artistry, the story did stir debate about nagging questions in the field: vocal endowment is obviously the most important factor in casting a role, but is it everything? Shouldn't the element of drama in opera demand that singers look reasonably like the characters they portray? And what about the new generation? Do younger singers who have grown up in a visually oriented age believe that looking good and staying in shape are prerequisites for a career?

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Recommended recording:

Posted by Gary at 3:29 AM

SFO Presents The Flying Dutchman

With a ghoulishly murky 'Dutchman,' Opera puts on a truly grim production

Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Music Critic
Friday, November 12, 2004

It was, yes, a dark and stormy night as the San Francisco Opera unveiled its new production of "The Flying Dutchman" at the War Memorial Opera House on Wednesday. As a program note reminded us, Edward Bulwer-Lytton's undying clunker of an opening line applies nicely to Wagner's ghostly sea tale, and it applied less happily to this grim little undertaking.

Dark, because murk and obscurity constitute the reigning aesthetic of director Nikolaus Lehnhoff's bizarre production, a black-on-black nightmare of ghoulish abstractions. And stormy, because the evening's musical values -- with a couple of welcome exceptions -- fell so alarmingly short of the company's usual standards.

Not every horror story is an entertaining one. Sometimes they're merely horrifying.

The dismay of Wednesday's opening was all the more acute because Wagner's fleet-footed tale of spectral wandering and redemption needs so little help, relatively speaking, to make its mark.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Cast information:

The Dutchman — Juha Uusitalo
Senta — Nina Stemme
Erik — Christopher Ventris
Daland — Walter Fink

Click here for program notes.

Recommended recording:

Related article: Soprano buoys `Dutchman'

Posted by Gary at 3:29 AM

November 13, 2004

ARG Reviews Mercadante's Emma d'Antiochia

MERCADANTE: Emma d'Antiochia

Nelly Miricioiu (Emma), Maria Costanza Nocentini (Adelia), Bruce Ford (Ruggiero), Roberto Servile (Corrado); Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, London Philharmonic/ David Parry

Opera Rara 26 [3CD] 183 minutes

I have long been on a campaign to revive the works of Saverio Mercadante. Eight of his operas and some of' his choral and orchestral works have been issued on CD from a variety of performance venues, good, bad, and indifferent. Bongiovanni has been the leader here. But only Opera Rara has published studio recordings of his music: Italian songs (Nov/Dec 1999), the complete opera Orazi e Curiazi (Jan/Feb 1996), and a quasi-introduction to Mercadante's music, Mercadante Rediscovered (Jan/Feb 2004), a compilation with selections drawn from several Opera Rara recital recordings. To begin its new series, "The Essential Opera Rara", selections from an opera that will give the "essence" of the work, they chose Mercadante's Zaira (July/Aug 2003). All have been favorably reviewed in these pages.

It is said that you cannot judge a book by its cover, but certainly the sheer luxurious elegance of Opera Rara's presentations goes far in establishing the credibility of the music. Most of all it establishes the feeling that Opera Rara has a strong belief in and support for the music. As usual there is an extensive performance history of the work, an examination of text and music, and a complete libretto with English translation. There is even information on Mercadante's use of the glicibarifono (a bass clarinet kind of instrument).

Although the opera was written at the height of Mercadante's career, had a libretto by the prolific Felice Romani, and was written specifically for super-diva Giuditta Pasta (along with almost-as-popular star Domenico Donzelli and the soon to be super-diva Eugenia Tadolini) Emma was a disaster at its premiere (La Fenice, March 8, 1834). Pasta was ill, but "graciously consented to appear" in a highly truncated version of the opera. But at the third performance Pasta was back in form and the opera was awarded a sensational reception. It was performed almost annually though the mid-1840s, disappeared briefly, had a few revivals and was last performed in Malta in 1861.

Thanks to Opera Rara for bringing Emma back to life. The music is packed with good, solid, sing-along tunes as effective as many of early Verdi, with many unusual touches of orchestration. Rhythmic devices are always ear-catching and pull the listener (and the singer) excitedly along. The melodramatic excesses of the plot can easily be ignored in favor of the music.

Conductor Parry seems to have an almost uncanny insight into music of the bel canto school, particularly in the selection of tempos. He is rhythmically propulsive, always supportive of the singers, but not subject to their whims. Indeed, this is (as is so often true of Parry-led operas) a true ensemble effort. Miricioiu is her own spectacular, gutsy self imperious, confident, supremely musical, emotionally restrained, no Italianate super-diva stunts, trusting in the music to deliver its own emotional impression. One has come to expect a similar performance from Ford, and he delivers it handsomely. Servile has a curious mushy pronunciation that is not intrusive and a voice darkly rich and handsome in tone. Nocentini's brighter, smaller soprano sound is an effective contrast to Miricioiu. The Geoffrev Mitchell Choir again are a strong lot.

Charles H Parsons


Posted by Gary at 9:51 PM

November 12, 2004

Northern Virginia to Have New Performing Arts Center

Concert Hall to Rise Near Manassas

GMU, Pr. William To Share Funding

By Eric M. Weiss and Michele Clock
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 12, 2004; Page A01

Prince William County and George Mason University have agreed to help finance a $56 million performing arts center near Manassas styled after a famous European opera house, another sign that the county is positioning itself as a cultural and business center for Northern Virginia.

A four-story, 1,100-seat performance hall will be the centerpiece of a larger cultural complex to be built at GMU's Prince William campus and financed by the university, the county, the city of Manassas and private funds. Promoters compared the hall to the La Scala opera house in Milan.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 7:25 PM

Separating the Men from the Boys

Who wears the pants in this opera?

By Mark Kanny
Thursday, November 11, 2004

Perhaps the most novel aspect of Pittsburgh Opera's upcoming production of "The Marriage of Figaro" will be Michael Maniaci's portrayal of Cherubino -- the ebullient teenager who has fallen in love with love. It is a classic "trouser role" -- a male character intended to be sung by a woman.

While it might be argued that Mozart's choice of soprano for the teen was meant to suggest his voice hadn't changed, trouser roles are created for musical reasons. Richard Strauss assigns the young man Octavian to be sung by a woman because he adored women's voices and wanted to write a trio for women's voices. There's not really a gender identity question for either Octavian or Cherubino -- both are young men who love women but sing awfully high for a guy.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 4:35 PM

La Fenice Reopens on 12 November

Traviata at Theatre La Fenice

by Gillian Price [LEO — LA RIVISTA DI VENEZIA]

The excitement in the damp autumn air is palpable. Venice's beloved Fenice theatre is soon to be open for business and the city's faithful opera-going public rewarded for its patient eight-year-long wait. Gloriously resurrected by craftsmen specialised in baroque decorative techniques working alongside high tech engineers, the glittering premises will stage operas and ballet in the imminent season. True to its name - La Fenice means the Phoenix - it has risen from the ashes in triumph after a disastrous fire that broke out during renovation work, leaving it gutted on 29 January 1996, a night remembered by all Venetians with despondency.

Originally designed by Giannantonio Selva and inaugurated in 1792, the theatre was also extensively damaged by fire in 1836 due to a faulty heater but re-opened a record 10 months later. This time round, thanks to an enlightened project by late Italian architect Aldo Rossi and the motto "how it was, where it was", it has been fitted out with extra rehearsal areas and state-of-the-art stage equipment, while the seating capacity has been increased from 840 to 1000.

Over the years the Fenice has hosted famed opera divas Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland not to mention memorable world premieres by composers the ilk of Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi, Benjamin Britten and contemporary Luigi Nono. The upcoming season is to be launched on November 12 with a brand new production of Verdi's popular La Traviata. In actual fact the opera was first performed at the Fenice on 6 March 1853, though it was not well received. (A repeat staging a year later at the Teatro San Benedetto was triumphant, ostensibly due to a more suitable cast.) The tragic account of an "impossible" love story between different social classes, it was based on a true story of the time involving a celebrated prostitute who became the protagonist of Alexander Dumas' La dame aux camélias, whence the opera.

An especially exciting winter-spring season is on the cards: operatic works by Massenet, Mozart, Rossini and Wagner interspersed for dance enthusiasts with Delibes, Béjart and Pina Bausch. Separate programmes of symphonic works, contemporary music and jazz also feature this winter.

Addendum: Radio Tre will be broadcasting La Traviata on Sunday, 14 November. Click here for further information.

Further reading: Music strikes up at Venice opera.

Posted by Gary at 4:16 PM

Lebrecht on Gelb

How the Met was fixed

By Norman Lebrecht / November 11, 2004

The Metropolitan Opera House in New York regards itself, with some justice, as the world's greatest. In America, it has no close competitor: the Met's annual deficit can exceed the entire operating budget of its nearest rival.

As the sole gateway to US fame, the Met has a monopoly on singing talent. Renee Fleming, Magdalena Kozena, Anne-Sofie von Otter -- divas beyond the reach of Covent Garden -- appear several times each season at the Met. Everything the Met does is massive. With 3,800 seats to sell, programmes are familiar and stagings spectacular. The archtepyal Met show involves a gold curtain, several zoo animals and Franco Zeffirelli. When the Met sneezes, the rest of the opera world catches pneumonia.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Posted by Gary at 1:17 PM

November 11, 2004

Albany Records Announces New Recording by Angela Brown

On October 29, 2004, Angela Brown made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Aida in the great Verdi opera. Hailed in Opera News as "one of America's most promising Verdi sopranos," she was a National Metropolitan Opera Council Audition winner in 1997. The 2003 - 2004 season marked a new high for Miss Brown's career as it encompassed four highly successful role debuts, a Carnegie Hall debut, two glowing reviews each from The New York Times and Opera Now and word to the wise to keep a watch on her career from Opera News. It all began in Spring 2003, as she stepped in for one performance of Ariadne in Philadelphia and received this review from Opera Now: "In one of those dramatic twists that are the stuff of opera, the soprano covering the title role in Ariadne auf Naxos at the Metropolitan Opera got her chance to sing it - at the Opera Company of Philadelphia. The young American soprano Angela Brown took over one performance...She (Ms. Brown) has a powerhouse of an instrument, shimmering with color and imaginatively used, and she knows how to take center-stage." Then, in the fall of 2004, Angela sang an unexpected performance and her debut as Leonora in Opera Company of Philadelphia's Il Travatore. In January, 2004, she made her debut as Elisabetta in Don Carlo with Opera Company of Philadelphia receiving this praise from The New York Times: "Angela Brown, a soprano, brought dignity and shimmering pianos, and hit a bull's-eye with her final aria." Opera News wrote: "Angela Brown revealed herself as a soprano to watch. Brown displayed good command of Verdi's style, imaginative phrasing and a warm, expressive voice." Opera Now said: "Angela Brown's beautiful lyric soprano voice was ideal for Elisabetta. She floated pianissimos that seemed to hang in space, shimmering, and she had plenty of power for her last big scene." It is an especial privilege for Albany Records to present a magnificent soprano on the brink of a major career.

[Source: Albany Records]

[Click here for a related article.]

Posted by Gary at 5:14 PM

November 10, 2004

Haroun and the Sea of Stories at NYC Opera

An American master premieres at City Opera

An interview with Charles Wuorinen

The world premiere of Haroun and the Sea of Stories features an inspired cross-section of artists among the most respected in their disciplines: Salman Rushdie, one of the most original and controversial authors writing today; poet James Fenton, who adapted Rushdie's book for the opera's libretto; and stage director Mark Lamos, the director of City Opera's celebrated Madama Butterfly production, among others.

Charles Wuorinen

At the head of the team is Charles Wuorinen, the innovative and accomplished American composer Vogue Magazine calls "a master of lushly orchestrated modernism." His enormous range of fascinations and musical ideas is reflected in his 235 compositions: from Natural Fantasy, his work for organ inspired by fractal geometry, to his setting of a W.H. Auden poem for tenor and piano entitled September 11, 2001. With his 1970 electronic composition Time's Encomium, Wuorinen became the youngest composer to receive the Pulitzer Prize in music.

In this interview, Wuorinen discusses the genesis of the opera from Rushdie's original to its long-awaited premiere performance--this Sunday at City Opera.

[Remainder of article here (no registration required)]

[Click here for a synopsis of the opera.]

A long time coming

By Stacey Kors [Financial Times]
Published: October 29 2004 17:17 | Last updated: October 29 2004 17:17

Haroun and the Sea of Stories, an opera by American modernist composer Charles Wuorinen and based on the children's book by Salman Rushdie, was due to premiere at New York City Opera in the autumn of 2001. But following the terrorist attacks on September 11, US arts organisations went into freefall as ticket sales plummeted. The opera, like many new projects, was shelved. A decade after Rushdie created his fanciful fable about freedom of speech and imagination in defiance of one form of Islamic fundamentalism, the opera it inspired had been silenced by another.

Few had imagined that western freedoms could be so brutally attacked on western soil. Rushdie was the exception. In 1988, when Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini forced Rushdie underground by placing a fatwa on him following the publication of The Satanic Verses, Rushdie says he tried to make the point. "Nobody wanted to look at that," he says. "Now everybody wants to look at that. Clearly what happened on 9/11 was on a scale so much larger than what happened to me that it almost seems improper to compare them. But I do think that I was the prologue. I was the overture; this is the symphony."

Tomorrow night, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, an opera for children and adults, will finally be heard - NYCO's music director George Manahan will conduct. "In a weird way," says Wuorinen, "this piece has a very strong relevance coming up a little bit after the third anniversary of September 11. Salman was the only one who knew it back then," he adds solemnly. "Now we all know it."

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

The Fatwa That Begat an Opera

October 31, 2004


EVER since 9/11, I feel as if we are all in the same boat that used to be occupied only by Salman Rushdie," said the composer Charles Wuorinen. Mr. Wuorinen's opera "Haroun and the Sea of Stories," based on Mr. Rushdie's 1990 novel of that name, will receive its premiere today at the New York City Opera.

"He used to just be someone living under a threat," Mr. Wuorinen said of Mr. Rushdie. "But now we all are, because of this Islamic fascism that doesn't want to negotiate but instead wants to kill us all. People who don't see that are just whistling in the dark."

The novel's intricate plot and memorable characters attracted Mr. Wuorinen, but he was as much moved, he says, by the circumstances of the novel's composition. Mr. Rushdie wrote it while under the shadow of a 1989 fatwa that called for his assassination as punishment for writing the novel "The Satanic Verses." (The fatwa was officially rescinded in 1998.)

"Given Rushdie's circumstances during that terrible time," Mr. Wuorinen said recently at his home on the Upper West Side, "there is an admirable absence of self-pity and bitterness in 'Haroun.' The book goes under the guise of a lighthearted tale written for children, but there is a social and political message against people who want to shut everyone up and strangle the imagination."

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

Giving a Complex Voice to a Fable About Free Expression


Published: November 1, 2004

The composer Charles Wuorinen has long spoken with dismay about the populist push he sees shaping the world of serious music, a trend he wants no part of. He made similar comments recently in anticipation of the premiere of his opera "Haroun and the Sea of Stories."

"Haroun" had its much-awaited premiere yesterday afternoon in a vibrant, colorful and well-received production at the New York City Opera, and Mr. Wuorinen, it can be reported, has stayed true to his sober aesthetic convictions.

There are impressive and entertaining aspects to the new opera, starting with its elegant and economical libretto by the poet James Fenton, based on Salman Rushdie's fantastical 1990 novel for children. Still, Mr. Wuorinen has long been a formidably complex composer and an uncompromising advocate of 12-tone techniques, and his score for "Haroun" never lets you forget this. There are brilliant, even ingenious, qualities in the music. But where the words and story would seem to call for simplicity, lyricism, warmth, whimsy, some space to breathe and ruminate, Mr. Wuorinen holds back. An undercurrent of rigorous complexity never lets up.

It's not easy for me to write this because I, too, have looked warily at what Mr. Wuorinen calls the populist push in opera. Composers, audiences and company directors have been too quick to play it safe and embrace musically tepid, Neo-Romantic styles. Overall there has been frustrating resistance to composers who use challenging musical languages.

But the music in an opera must serve the text, the singers and the dramatic impetus of the story. Complexity must be warranted and effective, as it is in great operas of the past by composers like Berg and Messiaen, or in more recent works by Poul Ruders, Kaija Saariaho, Thomas Adès and others. The complexity of Mr. Wuorinen's score too often intrudes on, distracts from and deadens the drama.

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

Legends, Lessons, and Lies

By Julie Squire [Playbill Arts]
November 1, 2004

Haroun and the Sea of Stories, City Opera's 28th world premiere, argues eloquently for the importance of "stories that aren't even true."

"What's the use of stories that aren't even true?" For young Haroun Khalifa, eponymous hero of Charles Wuorinen and James Fenton's new opera based on Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories, that is the question, and a terrible one at that. It is the Khalifas' neighbor, Mr. Sengupta, who, with delectable disdain, first doubts the value of stories. This is incomprehensible to the 11-year-old Haroun. After all, he is the son of Soraya, singer of enticing dream worlds, and the renowned storyteller Rashid. There are no ifs, ands, or buts here--stories are Haroun's life.

But then one day, as is wont to happen, something goes wrong: Haroun's mother stops singing and runs away with the weaselly Mr. Sengupta, a man utterly devoid of imagination. To make matters worse, his father goes on a rampage and destroys all the clocks in the house, including Haroun's. That is the final straw, prompting the child to shout the fateful question at his father. The result is devastating — Rashid loses his ability to tell stories — and Haroun will spend the rest of the opera trying to take back those agonizing words.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Good-Time Charlie

Charles Wuorinen's Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a modernist twelve-tone opera that

Posted by Gary at 10:05 PM

Die Zauberflöte at Bayerische Staatsoper

Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Emanuel Schikaneder

Première on 30th October 1978 at the Nationaltheater

Première of the Neu Einstudierung on 31st October 2004 at the Nationaltheater

The Joy of Drawing Has Remained

A Conversation with Jürgen Rose about the Revised Production of Die Zauberflöte

They look like works of art all by themselves: the sketches, stage settings and costume designs Jürgen Rose created in elaborately loving detail for August Everding's production of Die Zauberflöte back in 1978. In their abundance and elaborateness, they document the development of a production concept and bring back many a memory.

For this revised production of Die Zauberflöte you worked together with the theatre craftspeople to overhaul and freshen up the sets and costumes. What do you feel about an artistic work that meanwhile lies 26 years in the past? Is this also an encounter with yourself?

That's exactly the point: we recognize ourselves in these works, and yet they are somewhat unfamiliar at the same time, because, of course, we've developed further. I was amazed at the nonchalance with which I approached this piece, and the ideas that emerged. I would do many things totally differently today. But we have to be very careful to keep from destroying our original ideas. Ultimately our task today is to give the production a new sheen, and restore some things that have perforce worn out over the years: whether these are damaged stage backdrops or hangers which have fallen away for pragmatic reasons, costumes that are missing or are no longer in their original condition because they had to be altered every time a role was re-cast, and so on. I've gotten used to this in the course of all the work I've done, especially for the ballet. John Cranko or John Neumeier ballets I designed 20, 30, 40 years ago are still being performed all over the world, and all the ballet companies place great value on keeping them as original as possible.

[Click here for remainder of interview.]

[Click here for additional information on this production, including casts and dates.]

Posted by Gary at 3:21 PM

November 9, 2004

Biographical Note: Angela M. Brown

For a Fill-In Aida, a Triumph Long in Coming


Angela M. Brown grew up singing gospel music in her grandfather's Baptist church in Indianapolis, but her father, an autoworker, didn't see that as the makings of a career.

"He said, 'You need something to fall back on,' " Ms. Brown said.

So after high school she went to vocational school and got a degree in secretarial science; on the side, she worked as a hospital aide, dishing patients' meals onto plates.

Twenty years later, the onetime aide took the stage at the Metropolitan Opera as Aida, the Ethiopian princess of Verdi's classic opera. The Met audience roared its approval at Ms. Brown's debut a little over a week ago, and again as she returned to the role for Saturday's matinee, replacing a sick colleague, as she had for the last act of "Aida" on Tuesday night.

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

Recommended recording:

Posted by Gary at 8:26 PM

Rigoletto at DNO Amsterdam


Giuseppe Verdi 1813-1901

Rigoletto, together with Il trovatore and La traviata, laid the foundations for Verdi's worldwide renown; the latter two operas were composed shortly after Rigoletto. The opera is based upon Victor Hugo's play Le roi s'amuse, a work that had fascinated Verdi for a long time. Once again Verdi came into conflict with the censor: to depict a king as a libertine on stage was absolutely forbidden. Once, however, the time and place of the action were changed, the king was demoted to a duke and another character, the court jester Rigoletto was allotted the title role, nothing could stand in the way of the opera's triumphal progress. Rigoletto is depicted as a split personality, a man who at one moment can organise his master's amorous amusements without any scruples at all, and who at another is a loving father to his own daughter. Verdi's orchestral score is full of contrasts and imagination; it has been liberated from simply providing an accompaniment to the singers.

The sobbing laugh of Rigoletto the jester, the suffering of the gypsy Azucena and Violetta's rejection by society -- piece by piece these are the tragedies of people driven into direst straits by fate, people who are destroyed by their battle with all that surrounds them. A deep compassion with the oppressed is inherent in all of Verdi's works.

Dimitri Shostakovich

Cast information

Il duca di Mantova — Joseph Calleja

Rigoletto — Anthony Michaels-Moore

Gilda — Cinzia Forte

Sparafucile — Mario Luperi

Maddalena — Graciela Araya

Giovanna — Menai Davies

Il conte di Monterone — Alan Ewing

Marullo — Roberto Accurso

Borsa — Roberto Covatta

Il conte di Ceprano — Roger Smeets

La contessa — Mariette Oelderik

Paggio della duchessa — Anneleen Bijnen

Musical Direction — Daniele Callegari

Direction — Monique Wagemakers

Click here for a synopsis of the opera.

Click here for an interview of Joseph Calleja.

Click here for production photographs.

Recommended recording:

Posted by Gary at 8:12 PM

November 8, 2004

Appearing at the Met: Verdi's I Vespri Siciliani

Dubious History - Miraculous Music

By John Yohalem [Playbill Arts]
November 1, 2004

I Vespri Siciliani, a collaboration between Verdi and librettist Eugène Scribe, produced some astounding music--but historical fact was sacrificed to fit the drama. John Yohalem delves into how and why a Dutch Revolt became a Sicilian Revolution.

By the time he presented Rigoletto to the world, in 1851, Verdi was cock of the walk. Aside from Rossini, no living opera composer was in such demand. Verdi could choose the projects that intrigued him and, as with many an Italian composer before him, Paris was one of his goals. Thus, when the Opéra requested a work for the gala season of the Exhibition of 1855, Verdi was delighted. But although he welcomed the chance to write for the very different style of the Opéra, to compete with the likes of Meyerbeer and Halévy on their home ground, he wanted a level playing field. His Parisian grand opera must not be set to the verses of some house hack, but to a poem by no less a genius than Eugène Scribe. "I must have a grandiose project, impassioned and original, with an imposing mise-en-scène," he wrote the great librettist in the summer of 1852. "In my mind's eye, I see the many magnificent scenes in your poems, among others the coronation scene in Le Prophète. No one could have made more of that than Meyerbeer did, but given that spectacle, and that situation, no composer could have failed to achieve a great effect.... But you habitually make such miracles, so I hope you will make one for me."

[Click here for remainder of article.]

[For a synopsis of this work, please click here.]

Cast information (8 November 2004)

Elena: Sondra Radvanovsky
Arrigo: Francisco Casanova
Guido di Monforte: Leo Nucci
Giovanni da Procida: Samuel Ramey

Conducted by: Frédéric Chaslin

Recommended recording:

Posted by Gary at 11:21 PM

November 5, 2004

Fanfare Reviews Jenufa

JANáCEK Jenufa * Charles Mackerras, cond; Janice Watson (Jenufa), Josephine Barstow (The Kostelnicka), Nigel Robson (Laca), Peter Wedd (Steva), Neale Davies (Foreman); Welsh Natl Op O & Ch * CHANDOS 3106 (2 CDs: 121: 11)

There is so much to say about this recording that one hardly knows where to start. It is a new entry in Chandos's "Opera in English" series. Opera in the language of the audience vs. its original language used to be a hot topic everywhere; e.g., many historical performances of Verdi, Tchaikovsky, or Gounod in German. The public's acceptance of subtitles at the opera put an end to the debate everywhere but in England--Die Macht des Schicksals long since became La forza del destino in Munich. Most of the time, this English libretto works just fine, but there are places where important notes fall on unaccented syllables, a note is extended to cover an extra word, or the natural pulse of a phrase is distorted to fit the rhythm of the music. This is by no means a poor translation. A major part of writing an opera is joining the music and libretto seamlessly, difficult enough when each may be modified as needed, virtually impossible without being able to alter the music. In addition, the correct, upright English used by this all-British-Isles cast sounds too formal, too high-class for the tale's country-farm setting, be it be in Moravia, Yorkshire, or Kansas. There is nothing of the vernacular here; even the nicknames they use among themselves--Jenfka, Stevuihka, Mamiko--are left in Czech. The same may be true of original-language Jenufa recordings, but few non-Czech speakers would be sensitive to that.

My last exposure to this series (in Fanfare 27:4) was Simon Rattle's Vixen, which I found too English in style as well as language. There is no danger of that with Charles Mackerras: American born, educated in Sydney and Prague, but an honorary Moravian if ever there was one, he is the great Janápiek conductor everywhere. His recordings of seven Janápiek operas set standards that have not been surpassed, including a 1982 Jenufa for Decca/London. His soprano then was Elisabeth Söderström, his orchestra the Vienna Philharmonic; both seemed perfect at the time, but Karita Matilla outshone Söderström in a 2001 Erato production of a Covent Garden live performance (26:5), a most memorable portrayal. Although this new Chandos recording is a studio production, it has all the dramatic vitality of a live performance--more so than the live Matilla/Haitink. It was based on a spring 2003 production at the Welsh National Opera, but its Jenfa, the brilliant young Susan Chilcott, was ill with cancer and unable to participate in the July 2003 sessions; she died in September of that year. Conductor Mackerras then chose Janice Watson to replace Chilcott; what a daunting challenge that must have been!

The two leading ladies are very good, but is that enough in these great intertwining roles? Janice Watson sings convincingly, soaring nicely to her few high notes. She doesn't realize much of Jenfa's character in the first act, perhaps because she was not a part of the staged production, but she is also hindered by running into awkward word/music mixes as she shapes a musical phrase. Watson does better with her big solo in the second act and her final aria to Laca, but again her singing is stronger than her characterization. As the Kostelnika, Josephine Barstow is a bit distanced; she pronounces Jenufa with an English J as in Jennie, rather than the Czech "Yenoofa," which everyone else uses. This suggests that she too may not have been with the ensemble before the recording. She sings at least as well as most Kostelnikas, occasionally resorting to speech but seldom to shouting; she underplays the role until rising to a fine dramatic climax with "The icy hand of death" at the close of the second act, as she does again in her plea for forgiveness in the finale. In spite of the considerable achievements of both sopranos, a lack of chemistry between them prevents the finale from jelling. Tenor Nigel Robson is a vocally strong, dramatic Laca in the early going but is weaker after he becomes the good guy. Peter Wedd is a suitably self-absorbed Steva. Welsh baritone Neale Davies is magnificent, stealing the first act with the foreman's aria. Several other roles are played by members or frequent guests of the Welsh National Opera, contributing to a sense of ensemble left over from the stage. The chorus is too large, both because it becomes a bit untidy and because what sounds like 50 recruits in act I is an enormous group for a rural farming village (the text says "only nine"); as a result, their revelry does not come across clearly. The peasant girls in act III are a suitably smaller group, and their song is just right.

It is the orchestra that holds this performance together, propelled by Mackerras at ferocious tempos throughout act I, with an intensity that never lets up. The Vienna Philharmonic in his earlier recording is silkier, as are the forces of the Royal Opera House under Haitink, but neither attains the dramatic force experienced here. Mackerras never lets pure beauty soften the pulse; probably he didn't mean to do so in Vienna either, but that lustrous orchestra just couldn't help itself. The singers here are often pressed and occasionally drowned out by the orchestra, and the rich recording focuses more tightly on the instruments than the voices. When two characters are present, as is so often the case in this opera, each is put exclusively into one stereo channel, so balances can be weird when listening on headphones, which I do not recommend.

The booklet is a model of presentation, with all the expected amenities. The libretto is English only, but notes come in German, French, and Italian as well. Included is a family tree, especially useful in this opera in which everyone is related, but seldom by blood. The opera's title, Její pastorkyna, is usually translated "Her Foster-Daughter." Here it is more sensibly "Her Step-Daughter." One page is devoted to a detailed explanation of Czech pronunciation, including the effects of many accent marks. Why here, where there is no Czech to be heard? Why not a guide to English pronunciation for Slavic listeners who don't want to miss a Mackerras-led Janácek recording? The "Opera in English" series is sponsored by the Peter Moores Foundation, the creation of Sir Peter Moores, CBE, DL, who rates a photo and a nearly full-page biography, where we learn that he was "born in Lancashire and educated at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford." All of which suggests that the intended audience for these recordings is primarily the English gentry.

Despite everything, those who prefer opera in English now have a powerhouse Jenufa of their own.

James H. North

*This review is reprinted with the kind permission of Fanfare, The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors. For more information regarding Fanfare, please visit its website at Subscription information is available at*

Posted by Gary at 2:34 AM

November 4, 2004

RICE: Empress Marie Therese and Music at the Viennese Court, 1792-1807

There were certainly more egregious losses for the Austrians, but Napoleon's ability to poach Marie Therese's favourite musicians for his own pleasures in Paris was particularly humiliating. It was typical of the rivalries that pitted powerful patrons against one another in the eighteenth century. Those musicians and performers whose livelihood could collapse with a single false step were caught in the middle. When the composer Ferdinando Paer thoughtlessly asked his librettist Giacomo Cinta to return a work in progress commissioned by the Empress to him at the estate of Prince Joseph Lobkowitz, Paer's residence at the time, the Prince confiscated it and claimed ownership. "I beg my sole and adored Patroness", Paer wrote gingerly to Marie Therese, "to deign to inquire after the libretto through some third party, without Your Majesty's making an appearance, but making it understood that the libretto belongs to Your Majesty."

Empress Marie Therese and Music at the Viennese Court, 1792-1807 is a comprehensive survey of the music commissioned, collected and performed by this formidable supporter of the arts. Marie Therese was a singer and pianist who performed frequently in court concerts. Her music library, the contents of which Rice has reconstructed after its wide dispersion in the nineteenth century, was immense, with more than eighty operas in full score, some 500 excerpts from Italian operas, and more than 200 pieces of sacred music. She also owned fifteen symphonies and eight masses by Haydn and a manuscript copy of Bach's St Matthew Passion. Raised in Italy as a member of the Bourbon royal family, Marie Therese preferred Paisiello, Cimarosa and Cherubini to the Austrian school, although Rice underscores the political importance she attached, once in Vienna, to sponsoring German-language works.

Rice makes a good case for considering the works she collected and commissioned as reflections of her own personality. This was nowhere more striking than in her taste for pranks, embodied in the folly she had built in a vast park in Laxenburg that bore a bizarre mixture of architectural styles and was adorned with a monstrous birdcage, grotesque faces, and a balustrade consisting of cats perched on their hind legs. The musical caprices she commissioned included toy symphonies, variations for violino piccolo, zither, xylophone and bassoon, and vocal works filled with nonce words or sung in four different languages simultaneously. In Medea, ein travestiertes Melodrama, composed for her by Paul Wranitsky, Medea approaches an inn of fond memory. "Oh beloved Golden Ninepin! How often did I eat fried chicken here with my Jason. Oh unfortunate Medea!". At the same time, the subject of death fascinated the Empress, and Rice remarks on the many Requiems and Judgement settings she sponsored.

Rice's approach is more documentary than analytical, but he offers musical discussion where appropriate. Among the more creative musical analyses is his assessment of Marie Therese's skills as an amateur singer based on the simplifying revisions composers made to works that they knew she intended to perform. Rice writes that Michael Haydn in particular, the composer with whom Marie Therese had the warmest relationship, perfected the art of taking her "to the limits of her abilities, but not beyond them". (There was also the fact that she hired male professional singers whenever she performed, but never female professionals.) Rice discusses at length the Missa S. Theresiae and the Missa S.

Francisci, both written on commission by Michael Haydn, arguing that they represent an important departure for the Mass in their scope and grandeur; he finds the works unjustly neglected by scholars and performers.

The observation draws attention to the fact that the composers Marie Therese supported most devotedly have not generally endured to enter the canon. In the copious musical diaries the Empress kept, recording court performances, Joseph Eybler, Giovanni Mayr, Thaddaus Weigl and Paul Wranitsky all appear far more often than either Mozart or Beethoven. One explanation lies in the narrowing of modern repertories prompted by the exceptional quality of such masters - and there is surely much to be regretted in this. Another is in the shifting nature of patronage that the paths of Mozart, Beethoven and their successors described, a story that emerges in these pages. With Joseph Haydn advanced in years and secure at Esterhaza and the boldest talents willing to address a growing musical public directly, patrons' choices were limited in the late eighteenth century. Rice suggests that the ambiguous status of Beethoven's dedication to the Empress on the title page of his Septet (Op 20) reveals a composer reluctant to cede full control of performances to his patrons, however distinguished. Yet Rice makes a convincing case that Beethoven was attuned to the tastes of the Empress, and he shows that her well- publicized fondness for Paer's opera Leonora may well have been decisive in persuading Austrian censors to reverse their decision forbidding the performance of another opera derived from the same libretto - Beethoven's Fidelio.

Some of the book's most poignant passages concern those many musicians who could not depend on an eager public for support and lived at the mercy of their patrons.

Their worshipful appeals did not always succeed in masking an undertone of anguish. "With pleasure I received the command of Y(our) C(aesarean) M(ajesty), but, finding myself ill for the last four months and sapped of my strength, it is not possible for me to carry it out for the time being, nor indeed to write anything, unless Y. C. M. grants me some aid so that I may be able to provide myself with adequate food and a decent living", wrote the librettist Giovanni De Gamerra. Those whom Marie Therese favoured, by contrast, received gifts and cash, which the Empress was careful to record: a blue enamelled snuffbox and fifty ducats for a cantata by Antonio Salieri; a gold watch and 300 gulden for a libretto by Luigi Prividali; a diamond- studded watch, pearls on a gold chain, and 600 gulden for a Requiem by Eybler; two silver candlesticks for verses by Joseph von Seyfried. The prestige of a request, which often came with detailed musical-or production-related instructions, also counted for much. The Mass to celebrate Franz II's name day, she wrote to Michael Haydn, should contain short solos, the four voices of its "Et incarnatus est" should be accompanied by cello and double bass, its Offertory should be a four-part canon, and the work should have two fugues. "Oh what princely grace!", Haydn responded to a friend. "I would like to shout with pleasure."

Rice's method is to stay close to the documents that chronicle Marie Therese's musical universe. These include copyists' bills, signed receipts, concert programmes and posters, inventories, catalogues of collections, letters and diaries. He writes with a bibliographer's precision and tenacity, choosing to begin the book with a rather forbidding discussion of the present locations and call numbers of works from Marie Therese's vast collections. The book's 100 pages of appendices include Marie Therese's musical diary listing the works performed at court, 1801-03, her correspondence with Paer and Paisiello, and a catalogue of the church music she owned. All items have extensive annotation. This kind of exhaustive research makes the book a definitive guide not only to the music Marie Therese owned but to the performances and performers she sponsored.

But the documentary approach occasionally raises significant questions without providing the wider cultural context in which to consider them. Rice wonders, for example, if the strained relations between Viennese nobles and the imperial couple might have influenced Marie Therese's musical tastes by causing her to keep a distance from the styles popular in aristocratic circles, but after planting the possibility he moves briskly on. What biographical details we learn about the Empress and other members of her family come largely through dedications and commissions; this casts the many musical celebrations of her husband the Emperor in something of a void. Rice's general reluctance to provide historical context is understandable given his aims, but the effect is at times limiting and even startling, as when we learn in the book's final sentences that Marie Therese died after having delivered her twelfth child at the age of thirty-four. Her energy and single-mindedness in mounting concerts and collecting scores seem all the more remarkable given that knowledge. Empress Marie Therese and Music at the Viennese Court is an admiring and in places quietly moving account of the efforts of Marie Therese to surround herself and her court with music even as the system she helped to sustain was collapsing around her.

"Both masses at Schonbrunn were strange and silent", reads a letter to the exiled Empress sent shortly before her death. "A silent mass was read, and during it only graduals and offertories were done pianissimo with sordini all the way through, without responses; the French emperor cannot stand strong, loud music."

James H. Johnson
[The Times Literary Supplement, 03 September 2004]

This review is reprinted with the kind permission of The Times Literary Supplement (TLS). TLS is a weekly publication that provides book reviews and literary analysis. More information on TLS may be obtained at its website at

image_description=John A. Rice: Empress Marie Therese and Music at the Viennese Court, 1792-1807

product_title=John A. Rice: Empress Marie Therese and Music at the Viennese Court, 1792-1807
product_by=Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, 406 pp
product_id=ISBN-10: 0521825121 | ISBN-13: 9780521825122

Posted by Gary at 10:57 PM

FT Reviews Kát'a Kabanová

Kát'a Kabanová, Paris Opéra (Garnier)

By Francis Carlin
Published: November 4 2004 02:00 | Last updated: November 4 2004 02:00

After Salzburg, Brussels, Barcelona, Toulouse and several showings on TV, Christophe Marthaler's Kát'a Kabanova has at last turned up in Paris. Perhaps unsurprisingly, after all this exposure, it got a lukewarm reception on the first night. Even the booing for the production team was tepid.

In the six years since it was unveiled in Salzburg, the staging has become a modern classic. Parisians like their grunge with a chic veneer - Graham Vick's Peter Grimes was a good example - but Marthaler and his designer Anna Viebrock transpose the action to the 1960s and serve it up warts and all.

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

Posted by Gary at 2:00 AM

November 3, 2004

A New Series on the History of Opera

Signifying Nothing: On the Aesthetics of Pure Voice in Early Venetian Opera

Mauro Calcagno1

Operas written in Venice in the 1640s feature surprisingly long melismas often setting seemingly insignificant words, in opposition to (although concurrently with) traditional madrigalisms. This magnification of pure voice over word meaning is consistent with the aesthetics presented by members of the Venetian Accademia degli Incogniti, known for its pro-opera stance. In previously unexplored works the academicians advocate the controversial concept of Nothing as an all-embracing phenomenon. This includes language, in which the Incogniti emphasize sound as independent from meaning-a claim with significant consequences for music aesthetics. The academy's emblem articulates a parallel discourse on voice through visual means. By musical means, passages from works by Barbara Strozzi, Claudio Monteverdi (an oft-discussed melisma in Poppea, I, 6), and Francesco Cavalli also articulate Incogniti aesthetics. In elaborating their ideas the academicians relied upon a work that indeed presented a manifesto for sheer vocality, L'Adone (1623) by Giovanbattista Marino, an academy member. The Incogniti's Marinist aesthetics was to dominate the rest of the century until its object, pure voice, came under sharp criticism by members of yet another academy, the Arcadia.

1 Associate Professor, Harvard University

[Click here for links to complete article and here for information on entire issue.]

Citation Information:

Journal of Musicology
Fall 2003, Vol. 20, No. 4, Pages 461-497
Posted online on June 14, 2004.

Posted by Gary at 10:17 PM

Dario Volonté: A Biographical Note

by Miguel A. DeVirgilio

Dario Volonté was born on September 1, 1963, in Buenos Aires, although his family came from a humble household some 250 miles north of the capital, Entre Rios. His musical vocation began late after having discovered his facility for imitating the tenor voice at the age of 17, when he watched Plácido Domingo in Otello on television from Teatro Colón.

At the age of 18 he was sent to the Malvinas War to serve duty on the ill-fated warship General Belgrano, which was sunk by the British and of which Volonté was among the few survivors. Upon his return he joined a local church choir and met the baritone José Crea who tutored him for free. During the following twelve years he earnt his living as a moving van driver while studying music at nights.

A big break came in 1994 when he auditioned for the Teatro Avenida of Buenos Aires and was cast as a tenor in a zarzuela. Subsequent performances helped to launch a break in Europe; in Italy he joined a touring opera group from Bulgaria and sang in Ballo in Maschera and Il Trovatore in Belgium and Holland. Meanwhile, he was audtioned by several European theatres, and the Wexford Festival of Ireland contracted him for Riccardo Zandonai's "I Cavalieri di Ekebu" in 1998, which he performed to considerable public and critical acclaim. In May of 1999 he was Mariano in Hector Panizza's and Luigi Illica's "Aurora." November 1999 he stepped in as Edgardo in Lucia de Lammermoor opposite June Anderson, after the passing away of Alfredo Kraus.

Recent activities:

San Diego: Calaf

Cincinnati: Pollione

Berlin, Pittsburgh:Calaf

Buenos Aires Colon, Alla Scala Milano: Cavaradossi, Edgardo, Don Carlo

Regio di Parma: Manrico, Geneva Opera

Teatro Communale di Firenze: Des Grieux (Manon Lescaut)

Teatro Real Madrid: Don Carlo

San Carlo di Napoli: La Battaglia di Legnano

Posted by Gary at 8:57 PM

An Interview with Ewa Podles

Contralto taking on fresh challenge in 'Il Trovatore'

Journal Sentinel music critic
Posted: Nov. 1, 2004

Ewa Podles, a leading international concert and opera contralto, will make her Milwaukee debut Saturday, courtesy of the Florentine Opera. She will sing the weighty role of Azucena, the old gypsy whose desire for revenge piles tragedy upon tragedy in Verdi's "Il Trovatore."

Ewa Podles will perform the role of the gypsy Azucena in the Florentine Opera's production of Verdi's "Il Trovatore." The production opens Saturday at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall.

Podles and her husband, pianist / music professor Jerzy Marchwinski, are ensconced in a sunny east side apartment for their four-week stay in Milwaukee. It is their first visit.

"I like it here, it almost doesn't feel like I'm in the U.S.," she said, through her Polish accent. "Milwaukee's more like a European-sized city."

They live in Poland, when they can; mostly, Podles is on the road. She could probably make a living contracting only with the major houses of Europe, but she likes the faster, more concentrated American rehearsal schedules. And those avant-garde European stage directors often strain her patience, and more.

[Click here for remainder of article.]

Recommended recordings:

Posted by Gary at 4:23 AM

November 2, 2004

Le Figaro Reviews Don Carlos at Wiener Staatsoper

Hommage à l'opéra français

Christian Merlin
[02 novembre 2004]

Merci à l'Opéra de Vienne d'avoir osé ce à quoi Paris ne s'est pas encore risqué : ressusciter Don Carlos dans sa version originale archicomplète, en cinq actes et en français. On ne le répétera jamais assez : le "vrai" Don Carlos, c'est celui qui fut composé pour Paris en 1867. Voici enfin l'acte de Fontainebleau, sans lequel l'intrigue et les personnages restent obscurs. Et en prime le rarissime choeur des bucherons ! Voici le ballet, toujours coupé jusqu'alors. Voici la scène ou Elisabeth confie ses atours à Eboli, indispensable pour comprendre pourquoi cette dernière est déguisée en reine.

Pour la production, le Staatsoper a fait appel à Peter Konwitschny, l'un des metteurs en scène allemands dont les spectacles fascinent ou horripilent mais ne laissent jamais indifférent. D'abord déconcertant, son Don Carlos ne tarde pas à révéler sa pertinence et sa force. Dans une sorte de chambre froide à la blancheur clinique, digne d'une morgue, les personnages sont enfermés, au propre comme au figuré, dans un réseau inextricable de contradictions. Les costumes évoquent bien la Renaissance espagnole, mais ces etres sont de toutes les époques : d'ailleurs, ne sont-ils pas en smoking et robe du soir pour assister à l'autodafé ?

Plus que la fresque politique, Konwitschny nous montre des individus de chair et de sang, trouvant toujours le détail qui fait mouche et rend les situations crédibles. Quelle idée lumineuse, par exemple, de montrer Philippe II, dans Elle ne m'a jamais aimé, au lit avec Eboli, avec qui il vient de tromper la reine : cette confidence à sa maîtresse ne fait paradoxalement qu'accentuer sa solitude. L'art le plus frappant du metteur en scène, qui met toujours mal à l'aise une partie du public, c'est l'ironie.

Ainsi du ballet : pour cette musique assez banale, imposée à Verdi par l'étiquette de l'Opéra de Paris, nous assistons d'un seul coup à une scène de cinéma burlesque dans un intérieur petit-bourgeois moderne, ou Eboli s'imagine mariée à un Carlos rentrant du travail avec son attaché-case. On reçoit Philippe et Elisabeth à dîner, mais le poulet roti ayant brulé, on finit par commander une pizza.

Pour l'autodafé aussi, Konwitschny avait trouvé une solution originale : la mise en scène commence dans le foyer et les couloirs du Staatsoper, le public pouvant circuler pour assister à l'arrivée du roi commentée par une speakerine de la télévision, tandis que des miliciens bien d'aujourd'hui molestent leurs prisonniers politiques dans la salle. Un peu "gadget" tout de meme, d'autant que cette fois-ci le happening nuit à la musique : on entend à peine la sublime plainte des députés flamands.

Et la musique, justement ? Las ! Dire que l'interprétation fut décevante est en dessous de la réalité. Ovationné par le public, notre compatriote Bertrand de Billy se contenta d'une direction prosaïaut;que et compacte, loin de l'idéal de musique de chambre pour lequel il milite dans le programme. Les membres du Philharmonique de Vienne, avec pas mal de supplémentaires, n'ont pas brillé par leur subtilité, le Choeur ne se montrant pas sous son meilleur jour. Quant à la langue, elle pose une fois de plus le problème : rend-on service à l'opéra français quand les chanteurs en ignorent les règles ?

La voix sourde d'Alastair Miles n'a pas les moyens de Philippe, celle, trop claire de Bo Skovhus, n'a pas ceux de Posa. Ramon Vargas reste un délicat belcantiste pour qui Carlos est trop lourd, et si l'Elisabeth de Iano Tamar est d'un assez beau grain vocal, elle chante en moldo-valaque. La seule étincelle aura jailli de l'Eboli de Nadia Michael, à la voix certes un peu légère, mais d'une noblesse et d'un engagement encore rehaussés par sa forte présence.

Opéra de Vienne : 4 et 7 novembre, puis : 2, 5, 8, 12 et 15 juin 2005, 17 heures. Tél. : 00.43.1 513.1 513.

Cast Information (4 November)

Philippe II — Alastair Miles

Don Carlos — Ramón Vargas

Rodrigue — Bo Skovhus

Elisabeth de Valois — Iano Tamar

Eboli — Nadja Michael

Directed by Bertrand de Billy

Posted by Gary at 8:21 PM

Peter Gelb and the Met

In today's Wall Street Journal, Heidi Waleson opines on the future of the Met under Peter Gelb's leadership. She maintains that, given his background with Sony, this is a radical choice. Comparing his work at Sony with the Met, she contends that "[l]ike a classical-record company, a big opera house like the Met relies heavily on its 'back catalog,' but its new headliner productions are what create the buzz."

Mr. Gelb has spoken about the need for originality and creativity in music, and in a for-profit environment he sought creativity that had popular appeal. Some of his projects, like Richard Einhorn's haunting score "Voices of Light," created for the silent film "The Passion of Joan of Arc," were artistically successful. And director Julie Taymor, creator of the Met's new "Magic Flute," which sold out all its performances this fall and is one of the company's biggest hits in years, has a history with Mr. Gelb, who produced her "Oedipus Rex" in Japan in 1992.

At Sony, Mr. Gelb was smart enough to reorient the company for survival by taking the resources available and using his considerable marketing and packaging skills to sell them. The Met's resources and challenges are different. But thanks to Mr. Volpe and James Levine, it is a solid organization, well-positioned for some out-of-the-box thinking. For example, Ms. Taymor aside, attention to theatrical values has been sorely lacking in recent Met seasons. Before he turned to the record business, Mr. Gelb was a film and television producer. While his reputation may be colored by the purely commercial quality of some of his Sony creations, in the bastion of high art he may be just the person to revitalize the company's neglected stage, and give the Battleship Met a lively new face for the coming years.

For the complete article, click here (subscription to Wall Street Journal Online required).

Ms. Waleson's analysis may all be true. But, the real test for Mr. Gelb will be the future of the Met broadcasts, the Met's public face to the world. The Met is looking to raise $150 million in a 6-year campaign. In the first eight months of the campaign, it raised a paltry $11 million, $7 million of which is attributable to two foundations. This is hardly a groundswell of public support and strongly suggests that the campaign is doomed to failure. Without the broadcasts, the Met becomes just another local institution that has a great reputation but has little direct impact on operalovers living outside the Big Apple. Here is where Mr. Gelb can best use his experience in the business world to supply a product in high demand at a low cost.

Posted by Gary at 1:59 PM

November 1, 2004

FT Reviews Handel's Guilio Cesare in Egitto

Guilio Cesare in Egitto, Boston Baroque

By George Loomis
Published: November 1 2004 02:00 | Last updated: November 1 2004 02:00

One of the many virtues of Handel's Guilio Cesare in Egitto is that the roles of Caesar and Cleopatra are so magnificently conceived yet so evenly matched. In their early, flirtatious scenes together, when Cleopatra is disguised as one of her attendant ladies, it's a little like watching Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Matters take a serious turn when Caesar is threatened by a conspiracy, but that brings a whole new emotional dimension into play.

In entrusting these characters to the rising countertenor David Walker and the captivating soprano Lisa Saffer, Boston Baroque, America's oldest professional period-instrument orchestra, looked as though it might score a success.

But fate can cause the best-laid operatic plans to run amok, and so it did when Walker developed laryngitis. He acted the part and sang the recitatives, but another countertenor sang Caesar's arias, or what was left of them after wholesale pruning.

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

Posted by Gary at 3:57 PM