April 29, 2005

Suor Angelica and Pagliacci at Liège

Hasmik Papian - Suor Angelica et Fiorenza Cossotto - La Zia Principessa (Photo: Opéra Royal de Wallonie)

Opéra Royal de Wallonie (Liège)

Suor Angelica: Hasmik Papian (Angelica), Fiorenza Cossotto (Zia Principessa), Laura Balidemaj (Badessa), Christine Solhosse (Zelatrice), Cécile Galois (Maestra delle Novizie), Nicole Fournié (Genovieffa), Chantal Glaude (Osmina), Christine Remacle (Dolcina), Magali Mayenne (Infirmiera)

Pagliacci: Vladimir Galouzine (Canio), Alketa Cela (Nedda), Seng Hyoun Ko (Tonio), George Petean (Silvio), Florian Laconi (Beppe)

Orchestre, Choeurs de l'Opéra de Wallonie
Conductor: Giuliano Carella

Not the usual twins but a rather original though no less appealing combination. Both operas were cast from strength and far bigger houses would have been proud of it. Hasmik Papian with her splendid spinto voice was a moving if less than usually placid Angelica. She once more became a princess during the confrontation with her aunt. She poured out wonderful tone during her aria ending it however with the soft ravishing high A the score demands. I know Puccini cut it himself though after some protest but one of these days I'd love to hear Angelica's second big aria after the intermezzo though it was not to be this time. A lot of interest centred upon Fiorenza Cossotto who at the day of the première celebrated her 70th birthday. Well, you cannot erase 50 years of stage experience and she brought to Zia Principessa all the necessary haughtiness and at one small moment even seemed to relent (nice touch) but then regained her composure. And the voice? In the low register there are still some sounds reminding me of the impetuous Amneris I first saw in 1969. But higher on there is nothing that resembles that bright silvery sound of yore. Decibels there are and a wobble as well. Still, she was not a travesty as was Rita Gorr a few years back in Antwerp who grunted the role. All other roles were sung convincingly.

Director Claire Servais had some good ideas. She put everything behind bars (a reality in this kind of cloister) and showed us the nuns' cells stapled upon each other. The big confrontation scene with Angelica behind and Zia Principessa before bars worked extremely well, made even more poignant by the brief appearance outside the cloister of Angelica's living son and the Principessa's hesitation before making up the story of his death At the end of the opera Servais however mixed up Angelica and Cio Cio San. A nun with Angelica's knowledge of poisonous plants wouldn't think of committing suicide with a blunt knife. Servais succeeded in avoiding the sentimentality of the original ending by a simple device: Angelica may think she sees the Madonna and gets her pardon but for the spectator there is only the loneliness of a painful death to watch.

General Manager Jean-Louis Grinda himself directed Pagliacci. I cannot say I liked the idea of turning every villager into a clown until the end of the opera when everybody takes off his or her mask. We've seen those clowns in the Antwerp Hänsel und Gretel and last year's Tannhäuser at De Munt used exactly the same device. On the other hand I liked his concept very much in that Canio enters and propagates the evening's entertainment in his clown's outfit while gradually returning to his normal clothes in which he sings "No, Pagliacco non son". Vladimir Galouzine succeeded into raising the house to a white hot temperature. Some thirteen years ago he made his début here with a clear ringing Renato des Grieux (with the late Yoko Watanabe). The voice has changed into a burnished brown sound with an enormous amount of volume. Sometimes he loses focus and there is no ring any more on the highest notes. He even breathed between "Ridi" and "Pagliacco" in "Vesti la giubba". But he doesn't try sobbing or improving on the score with "infamia, infamia" like Gigli used to do. The torrent of sound, the honesty of acting is simply overwhelming so that one forgets the less pristine sounds. This is probably his best role for the moment, better suited to the voice than Kalaf or Otello.

Another big voiced singer is baritone Seng Hyoun Ko. With Galouzine one forgets his somewhat special histrionics while with Ko one is too much reminded of his chopping up the line, of making noise for noise's effect. He can sing a piano but even then (and much in the tradition of Korean singers) one feels he is just imitating some other singer's records. I would wager quite a lot on Ko studying his role with Gobbi's CD's near him. Still there is no denying the force of nature his voice is. I admit that up to now I didn't know the name of Alketa Cela (though she has sung in Brussels) and so I was in for quite a surprise. The soprano has a big lirico, slightly but sexy husky in the middle voice, very agreeably coloured in the best Mediterranean way. Only at the top she now and then flattens the sound too much. The lady is a beauty too and knows how to impress on a scene. A real find and I hope she will soon be back in the country. Young Romanian baritone George Petean will go far too. He has some decibels less than Ko but the voice is smooth, well rounded and with a brilliant top and he outclasses the Korean in style and musicality. I'd like to hear him in one of his Verdi roles. Our luck still held as Florian Laconi was a Beppe of one's dreams and it was immediately clear that he won't sing long as a comprimario. Indeed he has already sung Faust.

Giuliano Carella is somewhat better known for his many recordings of belcanto operas but he proved himself to be a formidable veristo too, whipping up his orchestra into passion without drowning his singers (difficult of course with Galouzin and Papian). A great evening.

Jan Neckers

Posted by Gary at 3:19 PM

Giovanna d’Arco at Antwerp

Guylaine Girard

Vlaamse Opera Antwerpen: Giovanna d'Arco.
Concert performance on April the 16th 2005.
Guylaine Girard (Giovanna), Stefano Secco (Carlo), Bruno Caproni (Giacomo), Kurt Gysen (Talbot), Eric Raes (Delil)
Symfonisch orkest van de Vlaamse Opera en Koor van de Vlaamse Opera
Conducted by Silvio Varviso

The performance started with another prologue than the usual Verdi one. The Minister of Culture had just announced that the Vlaamse Opera would lose its orchestra so that it could be cut into two to complete the two Flemish Symphonic Orchestras which have some empty chairs. As a token of protest the Opera Orchestra decided to play in their daily outfit, not wanting to deprive their clients (and future supporters) of a performance and not repeating the odious Italian way of striking. Their action resulted in a wave of sympathy. At the end of the performance, frail 81-year old Silvio Varviso spoke briefly but forcefully and asked for the spectators' support. He is completely right as the Opera Orchestra has grown enormously these last 15 years and can easily compete (and sometimes surpass) Pappano's former phalanx: De Munt Orchestra. This was only the last stage in a series of happenings that illustrate the difficulties in performing a less known opera.

Originally, soprano Micaela Carosi had accepted the assignment but she gave it back after studying the score: too much coloratura for her taste. No problem for Michele Crider, a stalwart of Antwerp concert performances. The lady, however, got pregnant and would have her baby at the moment of the performances. Enter Nelly Miriciou who would surely please a lot of her fans. Then disaster struck in Amsterdam when Miriciou lost her voice completely and only came back with less than half a voice for the last performances. She (or her voice) was so shaken she cancelled too. Antwerp was lucky enough to find Marina Mescheriakova to sing all performances except the last one when she was to be Cio Cio San in London. Covent Garden absolutely refused to release her and for a month a frantic research went on to find a replacement, knowing the role and willing to sing one single performance. And at last Guylaine Girard, a soprano from Quebec, was found.

The lady has a clear, nice, though not large sound. Her main asset is her profound musicality and her brilliant technique. She knows how to shape a phrase, uses a lot of well supported pianissimi, knows how to sing messa di voce and people who heard Mescheriakova as well told me the Russian soprano with double the voice made less of an impression. Almost the same can be said of tenor Stefano Secco. He too is not over endowed with a striking big voice though the colour is distinctly Italian and he too succeeds with purely musical means. Irish baritone Bruno Caproni, who has the decibels, was not at his best. He sang rather blandly at first, improved in the second part of the opera and then once again lapsed into routine. Veteran conductor Silvio Varviso who is uncommonly popular at the Antwerp Opera, which he has almost made his artistic house, once more was at his best. Without big gestures, he gave rhythm and drive when necessary while restraining himself and the orchestra in solo moments of a soprano whom he probably had met only a few hours before. It speaks of craftsmanship when one still can give the impression of a thoroughly rehearsed performance. And indeed, it would be a crime to kill this opera orchestra or to merge the chorus with another one. Few if any small provincial opera houses can boast of such quality.

Jan Neckers

Posted by Gary at 2:56 PM

The Bartered Bride at Julliard

Bedrich Smetana

In Mitteleuropa, There's a Bright Golden Haze on the Meadow

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 28 Apr 05]

In the dark before the lights came up, the stage looked like a set for "Oklahoma!," down to the dozing cowpoke. The rising lights revealed the object that had looked like a windmill to be a maypole and the setting to be Czech, yet the "Oklahoma!" resemblance didn't altogether fade. Bedrich Smetana's opera "The Bartered Bride" has a whiff of an American musical to its simple sweet story (boy loves girl, boy figures out how to get together with girl) and pretty tunes, and the Juilliard Opera Center's production, which opened on Wednesday, brought out the similarities.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 1:31 PM

Upshaw in Downtown Philadelphia and Carnegie Hall

Dawn Upshaw

Dawn Upshaw at Verizon

By Peter Dobrin [Philadelphia Inquirer, 28 Apr 05]

A few seconds into Dawn Upshaw's singing, you decide that the most important thing is purity of tone - honest, solid, unadorned tone - and Upshaw has it in spades.

No, it's the ability to put across a lyric - to marry meaning and sound, as she so trenchantly did in Schumann's Liederkreis.

Click here for remainder of article.

Shared Evening of Music Makes a Comeback at Carnegie Hall

By BERNARD HOLLAND [NY Times, 28 Apr 05]

Before Liszt and the advent of solo recitals, concert stages were well-populated jamborees: sometimes without a theme, even aimless, but welcome suppressions of the individual star ego. Shared evenings of music made a comeback at Carnegie Hall on Thursday with Dawn Upshaw and Richard Goode.

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Posted by Gary at 1:20 PM

Bo Skovhus at Wigmore Hall

Bo Skovhus (Photo: Daniel Borris)

Bo Skovhus

Tim Ashley [The Guardian, 28 Apr 05]

We don't hear Bo Skovhus in the UK as much as we should. One of today's great singers, the handsome Danish baritone is both a star and something of a sex symbol on the European mainland, although his work has been inexplicably undervalued by British opera companies and concert managements.

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Posted by Gary at 1:14 PM

April 28, 2005

A Profile of Corrado Rovaris

Academy of Music

OCP's young music director making waves

Corrado Rovaris has jumped in feet-first during his freshman year, and it shows.

By David Patrick Stearns [Philadelphia Inquirer, 28 Apr 05]

Peering out onto Broad Street from a poster in front of the Academy of Music, conductor Corrado Rovaris seems too young to be so intense. At almost 40, his face is boyish, his hairline unreceded. But the eyes behind the glasses are penetrating.

Now, finishing his first season as the Opera Company of Philadelphia's first-ever music director with the forthcoming Die Fledermaus, Rovaris has already changed the local operatic landscape and isn't stopping now.

Click here for remainder of article..

Posted by Gary at 4:32 PM

Tales of Hoffmann at Baltimore

Scene from Tales of Hoffmann (Photo: Baltimore Opera)

'Tales of Hoffman' is a fantastical version of reality
Baltimore Opera's production premieres

By Tim Smith [Baltimore Sun, 28 Apr 05]

Looking for an escape -- from reality? The Baltimore Opera Company has just the ticket.

Jacques Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) is not called an "opera fantastique" for nothing.

Fantastical events run all through the plot of a beer-soaked poet who keeps finding problematic objects of his affection -- a temporarily life-like mechanical doll in Berlin; a sickly singer drawn into a fatal song in Munich; a courtesan who steals the poet's reflection, not just his heart, in Venice.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 4:18 PM

HANDEL: Rodelinda

Georg F. Handel: Rodelinda
Rodelinda: Dorothea Röschmann; Bertarido: Michael Chance; Grimoaldo: Paul Nilon; Eduige: Felicity Palmer; Unulfo: Christopher Robson; Garibaldo: Umberto Chiummo
Das Bayerische Staatsorchester, Ivor Bolton
FARAO Classics D 108 060 [DVD]

There was a time, not so long ago, when Handel was a rare bird on the video shelves of opera shops and record retailers, but it seems that with the advent of the slim 'n sexy DVD disc, and (in Europe at least) a more flexible attitude to rights issues between record companies and opera houses, that those days are now, happily, past. The latest offering from Farao Classics is the 3 year old Munich Staatsoper production of his "Rodelinda" with staging by David Alden, music direction by Ivor Bolton, first given at their Festival in 2003. I'm not entirely sure why certain operas get chosen for DVD release and others don't, and this one is a bit of a puzzle for several reasons.

Firstly, when seen live, this production had a spacious, if gloomy and weighty, feel to it - big spaces, long vistas, endless walls of imprisoning brick, that effectively reduced the human characters to tiny figures, fighting the powers of oppression and tyranny that threatened to overwhelm them at every moment. Think old black and white spy films: it's night, it's Vienna, the fascists are everywhere, huge stone statues of "the Boss" (or is it the ex-Boss?) dominate the square, the population is cowering unseen behind endless dark tenement windows, and it's raining. A cigarette flares briefly in the dark shadows, a knife flashes, a woman cries softly and a huddled figure shuffles through the puddles, looking for who knows what, maybe a kingdom. Somewhere in the distant gloom a single red light flashes sadly over a bar-room entrance.

Rodelinda is the story of a brave queen from ancient Lombardy fighting the usurper Grimoaldo, who covets her missing husband Bertarido's throne, and she uses every wile to evade his attempts at seduction. On the stage this worked well visually against the totalitarian landscape she was incarcerated within. But transferred to the small TV screen, there's an obvious problem of scale - how do you effectively represent both the elements of a huge set and tiny, intense, human emotions? Experienced TV director Brian Large has responded by relying heavily on the use of close ups and mid shots. But these are always fighting the low light levels of the set, and it takes a committed viewer to keep a visual memory of the wider picture, only occasionally glimpsed, and reach the meat of the story, and eventually some much-needed broader canvases.

Secondly, although the setting of the drama has been updated to a mittel-european 1950s urban streetscape, replete with fascist tokens, all the dark Mafioso type suits, and calf-length dreary dresses do somewhat depress the eye; it's with relief that we greet even a few sparkling jewels on Eudige's costume or a blinking red and yellow café sign in the glare of a Mercedes' headlights. Rodelinda may be one of Handel's most intense and serious dramas, but you can have too much of a good thing.

Thirdly, the singers are an uneven, if dramatically strong, bunch. Dorothea Roschmann as Rodelinda isn't perhaps in her most favoured fach and makes rather heavy weather of some of the most beautiful arias Handel wrote for soprano, although her bearing is suitably regal and restrained. She is at her best in the arias of contempt and anger, when she confronts the tyrant Grimoaldo or his traitorous henchman Garibaldo. As Bertarido, Michael Chance is something of a surprise - he has become, rather late in the day, a rather good stage actor and this certainly helped him overcome a slightly lacklustre vocal performance, which unfortunately pointed up the limitations of his voice compared to his more lustrous countertenor colleagues Daniels and Scholl who have both triumphed in this role recently. He still has a beautiful, elegantly-handled instrument, but he seemed to lack some power and stamina - this is certainly noticeable by the time he reached his final big aria "Vivi Tiranno". A really pleasant surprise is the vocal quality of Paul Nilon, tenor, as Grimoaldo the hesitant baddy - here is a real Handelian singer with power, elegance and restraint. He can act too. But not as well as the second countertenor in this production, the evergreen Chris Robson, as Bertarido's faithful servant Unulfo. I would suggest that any young opera singer looking for inspiration in how to work on a stage and get the best out of what must be called a now less-than-perfect voice, should view his performance here - it's a triumph. The perennial put-upon "little man", despised by most, but dogged and even brave in defending what he knows to be right, Robson's Unulfo must be one of the most affecting Handel performances I've seen. I have to admit to a lump in the throat as he staggers bloodied to the floor after a beating and sings of his loyalty to his king and his conviction that these storms in life will pass, in the lovely aria "Fra tempeste". It's at this point too that we get another bonus: one of the best shot and lit scenes of the opera as poor Unulfo completes the aria's de capo section walking into a curtain of sulphurously-lit falling rain, a visual metaphor for, we hope, a cleansing of the evil that surrounds him.

Of the other main roles, Umberto Chiummo as the dastardly real villain Garibaldo is a bit rough vocally, not really reaching his lowest notes, and is also a bit of the "rolling eyes" type baddy - acting by numbers you might call it. Elias Maurides plays the silent boy's role of Rodelinda's son Flavio. As Eudige, the elegant Felicity Palmer is, frankly, a little too mature for the part although she is of course hugely experienced and could manipulate her slightly depleted vocal range to good effect as her character changed emotional course through the opera.

So, this Rodelinda is not a world beater, but certainly worth a look for some memorable scenes - but do try to watch it on as big a screen as possible in order to get the best from it.

Technical details:
2 DVD Set; Subtitles in English, German, Italian and Japanese; Reg Code 0 (all); RT: 3'23"

© Sue Loder 2005

Posted by Gary at 3:27 PM

LARSEN: love lies bleeding — Songs by Libby Larsen.

(Total disclosure: I know both performers and asked them for review copies of the CDs because of my interest in music by women composers.) The earlier release presented songs by three important French women from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries — Pauline Viardot-Garcia, Marie vicomtesse de Grandval, and Lili Boulanger — and was remarkable in at least three respects: the Viardot songs handled their German texts persuasively, the Grandval songs (world premiere recordings) proved to be consistently interesting if a bit conventional, and the Lili Boulanger cycle is one of the major statements by that important composer who died all too young at age 24.

The present CD, by contrast, is devoted almost entirely to a single woman composer and a living one at that, Libby Larsen (1950- ). The works — including one that is new to disc — prove to be just as fascinating and nearly as diverse as the contents of the previous CD, as might well be predicted by those who know some of Larsen's previous pieces, such as her 1990 opera Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus, her song cycle for mezzo-soprano Love after 1950 (Koch International Classics 3-7506-2 H1), or her 1988 orchestral work Collage: Boogie (on the Baltimore Symphony's widely circulated Dance Mix CD: Decca 444 454-2/Argo D 108669), which show her use of what New Grove calls "liberated tonality without harsh dissonance, and pervading lyricism."

The first of the three Cowboy Songs of 1994, "Bucking Bronco," has a seductive, tango-like lilt for a poem (by Belle Star) of a Western gal who was courted and then abandoned by her rider beau. "Lift Me into Heaven Slowly" is a powerful four lines of verse (by Robert Creeley) made truly gripping by Larsen's decisions about which words to repeat and when to have the vocal line pause for rhetorical effect; Larsen also gives the piano a sweet-sad "cowboy" tinge through a loping rhythm. "Billy the Kid," makes a fascinating contrast to other, better-known works about that varmint, namely Aaron Copland's ballet (1938) and Andre Previn's recent Sally Chisum Remembers Billy the Kid (London 455 511). Whereas, in those two works, Billy comes across as something of a doomed charmer, here the bustling, ferocious music bans all melancholy, as befits an anonymous folk text that spares no regret: "One day he met a man / A whole lot badder / And now he's dead. / And we ain't none the sadder."

The Sonnets from the Portuguese are based on poems from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's famous collection of that name (1846) that, written a few years after she married fellow poet Robert Browning, recall their courtship, which had been carried out often in secret because of violent opposition from Elizabeth's father.

Larsen's cycle, originally for soprano and chamber orchestra, was written at the request of, and with the close cooperation of, the wonderful soprano Arleen Augér. (See David Mason Greene's review of her "live" recording of the orchestral version, Koch International Classics, 3-7248-2H1, in American Record Guide, March/April 1994.) The present CD is the recorded premiere of the remarkably effective piano version.

Sonnets is a major work and a deeply earnest one, about the joys and fears inherent in a close but sometimes unequal loving relationship. The poems' meter is unvaried iambic pentameter; the rhyme pattern, though different from that in Shakespeare's sonnets, is tightly repetitive and interlocking (abba abba cdc ded). Larsen lets both (verse-)meter and rhyme work at a subliminal level, focusing instead on the text's shifts in gut emotion and gestural energy.

Particularly striking, and not at all dated, is the poet's worry that she is giving herself to someone who may not be willing or able to sacrifice as much in return, a worry that is made all the more poignant by recurrent expressions of her needfulness: "If I leave all for thee, wilt thou exchange / And be all to me? . . . / I have grieved so I am hard to love. / Yet love — wilt thou? Open thy heart wide, / And fold within [it] the wet wings of thy dove." Larsen reflects the poet's vulnerability at that final phrase with a soft high note. Eloquent also is the composer's decision to highlight musically through near-Tchaikovskyan rising sequences the words of the man whom the poet is beseeching. At these moments, the cycle almost becomes a mini-opera played out in the mind of one of the characters. Augér, from the beginning, had asked Larsen for a cycle that "spoke about the finding of mature love, as opposed to the young girl's feeling for the promise of love in [Schumann's] Frauenliebe und [-]Leben." The task is brilliantly, movingly fulfilled.

The CD concludes with the world premiere recording of Larsen's Try Me, Good King: Last Words of the Wives of Henry VIII (2001). Larsen decided not to set any words of the sixth wife, Katherine Parr, who outlived the monarch. Instead, she focused on letters and gallows speeches of the remaining (or, rather, non-remaining!) five. Stressful documents they are, ranging from Anne Boleyn's "Let me have a lawful trial, and let not my enemies sit as my accusers and judges" to Katherine Howard's frank words at her execution, as transcribed by an unknown Spaniard: "Long before the King took me, I loved Thomas Culpeper. I die a Queen, but I would rather die the wife of Culpeper."

The songs contrast sharply in tone and make occasional and effective use of melismatic singing and virtuosic leaps that never feel superficially "archaic" but rather responsive to the particular woman and her specific anguish, such as the sarcastic leap up an octave and then down again at the end of Anne of Cleves's declaration: "I neither can nor will repute myself for your grace's wife. Yet it will please your highness to take me for your sister." Larsen also subtly worked musical phrases from four sixteenth-century lute songs into the Try Me cycle, again more for expressive purposes than for some kind of self-consciously "neo-" effect. These four songs — Dowland's "In Darkness Let Me Dwell" and "If My Complaints Could Passions Move," Michael Praetorius's "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming," and Thomas Campion's "I Care Not for Those Ladies That Must be Wooed" — are performed on the CD just before the Try Me cycle, giving the listener all s/he needs to catch yet another aspect of Larsen's artistry. Strempel sings them in the gorgeous mid and lower end of her range and is artfully accompanied by Russian-born lutenist Alexander Raykov.

In the Larsen works themselves, Strempel handles the vocal lines with confident professionalism and communicative thrust, including subtle use of portamento, speechlike inflections, and so on. (Larsen coached the duo, attended the recording sessions, and even adjusted the vocal line of one song for greater depth of characterization.) One suspects that Strempel would be able to cope handily with the additional challenge of the orchestral version of the Sonnets: she performs often in oratorios and has scored a hit as Violetta with the Bolshoi Opera. The voice comes across, through speakers or earphones, as rich and brilliant, with a few particularly vivid full-voiced high notes and a few exquisite "floated" ones; this is not the thin, artsy type of "recitalist's" voice whose notes nearly vanish after a consonantal puff of air.

Richness of voice, of course, can carry its own disadvantages, especially when vividly recorded: here the vibrato can become a touch obtrusive, and pitch is sometimes a shade flat on held notes. Nonetheless, the warmth of the voice is a plus overall, and somehow does not prevent Strempel from conveying the words and their sense to the listener's ear. Her readings feel not laboratory-perfect, like so many recordings these days, but alert and alive.

Throughout the piano-accompanied songs, the soprano is brilliantly partnered by Québec-born Sylvie Beaudette, who brings immense oomph and ease to her part, which the engineers have balanced very satisfyingly with the voice. Her playing in the Cowboy Songs is enchanting, drawing one right into Larsen's mind-world from the start. (Beaudette recorded this short cycle once before, with Nanette McGuinness, on Centaur CRC 2461. Yet another Cowboy performance, by soprano Louise Toppin and John B. O'Brien, is on Albany Records TROY 385. Both of these are anthology discs of music by various women composers.) Similarly, in the Sonnets, it is to Beaudette's great credit that one rarely finds oneself trying to guess what the colors might be in the orchestral version. And, in Try Me, one is carried along by her responsiveness to the ebb and flow of feeling and drama in this portrait gallery come to life.

Ralph P. Locke
Eastman School of Music (University of Rochester)


image_description: Libby Larsen: The Cowboy Songs

product_title=Libby Larsen: The Cowboy Songs; Sonnets from the Portuguese; Try Me, Good King (with four lute songs by Dowland, Praetorius, and Campion)
product_by=Eileen Strempel, soprano; Sylvie Beaudette, piano; Alexander Raykov, lute.
product_id=Centaur CRC 2666 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 3:26 PM

Hansel and Gretel at Inverness

Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921)

Hansel and Gretel

Robert Thicknesse at Eden Theatre, Inverness [28 Apr 05]

WHAT was that about working with children? Halfway through Humperdinck's fairytale opera a gang of local kids troops onstage dressed in sheets -- angels, see -- and hangs around for a bit before sloping off again: the naffest piece of staging I've collected in a while, and indicative of some confusion about the purpose of Scottish Opera's mid-scale touring arm.

Yes, it's a good way of getting parents into the theatre -- and of confirming their worst suspicions about opera. For the next year (and the foreseeable future, outside Glasgow and Edinburgh), Scottish Opera on Tour is what remains of publicly funded opera in Scotland; so I thought it would be interesting to see what it was like.

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Posted by Gary at 2:17 AM

Boris Godounov at the Bastille

Modest Mussorgsky

L'esprit Bolchoïaut; pour Boris

Jean-Louis Validire [Le Figaro, 26 Apr 05]

L'Opéra de Paris redonne à partir d'aujourd'hui, à Bastille, le Boris Godounov créé en octobre 2002 sous la baguette de James Conlon et dans la mise en scène de Francesca Zambello. C'est Jiri Kout qui devait assurer la direction musicale de ces nouvelles représentations. Empeché pour des raisons de santé, il sera remplacé par Alexander Vedernikov, directeur musical et chef principal du Théâtre Bolchoïaut; qui assurera les sept premiers concerts, laissant à Alexander Titov, chef invité du Théâtre Marinski depuis 1991, le soin de prendre le pupitre pour les deux derniers. Une façon de recréer à Paris la rivalité artistique qui oppose Moscou à Saint-Pétersbourg.

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Posted by Gary at 1:51 AM

Faust at the Met — Another View

René Pape (Photo: Jeanne Susplugas)

In this 'Faust,' the devil's in the details

BY JUSTIN DAVIDSON [Newsday, 25 Apr 05]

In opera, embarrassment comes with the territory. Sooner or later, if you're a fine and dignified singer, you will find yourself trapped onstage in a situation or a costume so stupid that the voice of God couldn't save the scene. For René Pape, who has the body and bearing of a Hussar and who is probably the world's best basso, the moment came in Act IV of the Metropolitan Opera's new production of "Faust," the scene in which the illegitimately pregnant Marguerite enters a church to repent and finds a taunting Mephistopheles.

That would be Pape, cloaked at first in a monk's hood and cassock, which he sheds to reveal a hilariously muscled nude suit, armored in plastic pectorals and sporting gauzy wings, a prodigious codpiece and a 4-foot-long rat's tail. He looked less like Satan than like a third-tier superhero's nemesis. On the other hand, he was singing with Apollonian poise.

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Faust, Metropolitan Opera, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 27 Apr 05]

The Metropolitan Opera has always been sentimental about Faust. Gounod's essentially Gallic reduction of Goethe's ultra-Germanic drama served as the company's first vehicle, back in 1883 and the candy-coated opus has returned for its 714th performance in a new, heavily cut, bravely muddled production staged by Andrei Serban and designed by Santo Loquasto.

The management reportedly gave these two a mandate: Respect tradition. So they did, after a fashion. Tongues lodged loosely in cheek, they toyed, sometimes cleverly, sometimes clumsily, with the old romantic kitsch.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).

Posted by Gary at 1:38 AM

Zemlinsky's The Dwarf in Budapest

Alexander Zemlinsky

German opera orgy

By Kevin Shopland [Budapest Sun, 28 Apr 05]

IMAGINE you've got a birthday coming up. What would you like this year? How about a dwarf? I didn't think so. Well, how about a dwarf who doesn't know how ugly and misshapen he is, and in fact thinks he's attractive and loveable?

An unusual thought? Well, that's the premise of the Oscar Wilde shortstory-turned-opera-libretto for Alexander Zemlinsky's The Dwarf, which was performed at the Hungarian State Opera on April 14.

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Posted by Gary at 1:20 AM

April 26, 2005

Alexandrina Milcheva Opens the 9th Easter Festival at the Sofia National Opera

Alexandrina Milcheva

On April 23, the 70-year old Bulgarian mezzo, Alexandrina Milcheva, gave a full recital at the Sofia opera, including airs from: "Orpheus" (Gluck), "Dido and Eneas"(Purcell), "Faust" (Gounod), "Il Trovatore", "Werther"(Massenet), "Adrienne Lecouvreur"(Cilea)and "Carmen." These are some of her best known roles in Varna and Sofia, where she performed regularly between 1960 and 1989. As a winner of the 13th opera competition (1966) in Toulouse, France, her appearance in France, Germany and the Met was no surprise. But, it was on the stage of the Vienna Staatsoper, where for 12 years beginning in 1977 her brilliant voice qualities and talent met wide approval and recognition. Throughout the past years her voice seemed unaffected by time. The first airs posed no problems for her rich, warm and easy floating mezzo. The last three airs Milcheva sang with extraordinary control, brilliant tone and much youthful verve that overwhelmed the audience, especially after La Princess de Bouillon, such that it didn't want to stop applauding. Currently, Alexandrina Milcheva is teaching young singers in Sofia and giving master classes, the next one being at the end of May.

Our correspondent in Bulgaria

Posted by Gary at 10:30 PM

GLUCK: Orphee et Euridice

Gluck did this, first with his Italian version premiered in Vienna in 1762, and then his second French version (Orphee et Euridice) premiered in Paris in 1774. The CD recording detailed here is of the 1774 Paris version, in which the character of Orphee was rewritten for a tenor voice. The DVD recording reviewed here is of the 1859 version reorchestrated by Hector Berlioz, an ardent admirer of Gluck, in which the character of Orphee was rewritten for a female alto (the original Italian opera had Orpheus sung by a castrato). The Berlioz reorchestration was most heard during the late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth centuries, but the 1774 Paris version was the most popular before the Berlioz version.

Gluck was the son of a forester, who spent his childhood in Bohemia. He studied at the University of Prague, and spent most of his employment with the Lobkowitz family in Vienna. He spent some time in London, composing operas for the King's Theatre, but returned to Vienna in 1750 where he married and composed typical Metastasian operas for Prague, Naples, and Rome. By 1755 Gluck was in charge of two theatres in Vienna, adapting French opera comique for the Viennese stage. In 1761 he met Ranieri de'Calzabigi, who as a librettist was abandoning the conventions of Metastasian opera seria with its overextended melismatic arias and formal performance, towards a new simplicity and dramatic realism. The result was Orfeo ed Euridice in 1762.

This simplicity in performance and music can best be seen and heard in the DVD performance by the Bayerische Staatsoper. One must remember that Gluck's opera was astounding to eighteenth-century audiences, who were enamored by Italian opera with its castrati lead roles, long drawn-out arias full of melismas and ornamentation, and characters that had very formal portrayals and movements. Orfeo went against all of that: with its simple monodic arias characteristic of Monteverdi's reactions against Renaissance polyphony, costumes and scenery that were less formal, and music that was more dramatic. For this interpretation, tuxes are worn by both the main character and the chorus in the beginning. Amour wears a Cirque de Soleil-type costume with baggy pants that flourish outwards at the knees. When Orpheus enters Hades, the demons are represented by cooks who put members of the chorus into ovens and pots for cooking, even displaying various appendages that have been pulled off for stewing. Some of the chorus are hanged on meat hooks. Further into the drama, the chorus dresses in togas, marking across the stage during certain parts of Orpheus' arias, while puppets of a cat, monkey, and bear briefly appear in the scenery, along with someone in a polar bear costume. At the end of the DVD, the entire Orpheus legend is done as a ballet, with the dancing being done within the framework of a huge television set. The DVD features subtitles in German and English.

In contrast to the female alto role of Orpheus in the DVD (sung by Vesselina Kasarova), the CD of the 1774 Paris version features a male tenor in the role of Orpheus. This performance was recorded in a studio, rather than as a live production. The sound difference between a female alto and a male tenor does, of course, produce a contrast that one has to experience when listening to operas of the eighteenth century. Since Opera Lafayette is a period-instrument ensemble dedicated to performing the music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as close as possible to the way it would have been performed, the CD has a much crisper and exact sound tone than the DVD performance, which was done by a modern-day orchestra and chorus. The use of smaller orchestral numbers makes the CD recording a more precise and authentic performance of the music. Both this DVD performance and the CD recording, however, provide interesting contrast and entertainment, showing how one musical composition can have numerous manifestations, performance situations, and representations in our modern-day society.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

image_description=Orphee et Euridice

product_title=Christoph Willibald Gluck: Orphee et Euridice
Version by Hector Berlioz (1859). Ballet music from the original score (1762/1774).
product_by=Vesselina Kasarova (Orphee), Rosemary Joshua (Euridice), Deborah York (Amour). Bayerische Staatsorchester and Chorus, Ivor Bolton (cond.).
product_id=FARAO Classics D 108 045 [DVD]

Posted by Gary at 9:41 PM

Summer Courses and institutes for singers at New England Conservatory

Jordan Hall (New England Conservatory)

SCE Opera Studio

Daniel Wyneken, chair & music director
Marc Astafan, guest stage director
June 6-23 (twelve meetings)
M-Th: 6:30-9:30 p.m.

The SCE Opera Studio offers an exciting opportunity for serious singers to receive operatic training. Sessions include movement and acting classes, audition techniques, aria stagings, musical coachings and scene preparation. The course concludes with two public performances at NEC.

Auditions: Thursday, May 19, 7:00-9:00 p.m. and Sunday, May 22, 2:00-5:00p.m. or by appointment; two arias are required. Call 617-288-8177 for more information and an audition time.
2 SCE credits: $850
Full participants (Non-credit): $715
(NEC College students: $610)
Auditors (Non-credit): $275
(Note: auditors are invited to observe all class activities, rehearsals, and performances. They are not given scene assignments, however, and do not perform.)

Sight-Singing for Singers

Mark Lee
June 6-August 1 (eight meetings; no class July 4)
M: 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Singers who understand staff notation and can easily sing basic rhythms and find pitches on the keyboard are systematically taught to develop their sight-singing skills. Students are given regular drills in recognizing and singing all intervals; they also become fluent with all key signatures, learning to sight-sing accurately in all major and minor keys. Students are expected to attend class regularly and spend two to three hours a week in outside-class preparation.

Prerequisite: permission of the instructor; please call 781-397-6825.
1 SCE credit: $425
Non-credit: $305

Voice Class

Mark Lee
June 7-July 26 (eight meetings)
Tu: 6:30-8:30 p.m.

This course introduces the principles of good singing: posture, breath support, tone production, singer's diction and resonance. Students apply their knowledge by preparing songs of their choice and performing them in class, where they are coached by the instructor. Ideal for singers who wish to understand and strengthen their singing voice in a class setting that focuses upon increasing their confidence and enjoyment. Call the instructor at 781-397-6825 for a placement interview.
1 SCE credit: $425
Non-credit: $305

Tenor Tune-up: Basic Techniques for Tenors

Mark Lee
June 8-29 (four meetings)
W: 6:30-8:30 p.m.

This course is designed for the amateur or intermediate tenor, and will help singers develop increased range, stability, and stamina. Students will learn specific techniques for removing constriction, strengthening and stabilizing notes in the upper range, and achieving variety in tone quality.

Prerequisite: Teacher interview; please call instructor at 781-397-6825.
Non-credit: $160

Art Songs of Spain and Argentina

Clara Sandler
July 5-July 14 (eight meetings)
T-F, M-Th: 6:30-8:30pm
Final recital: July 14, 7:00 p.m.

We will learn and perform pieces from the vibrant Spanish and Argentine song repertoire of the 20th century; students are coached on assigned songs in class and will perform them at the final recital. We will also discuss the differences in the Spanish diction of both countries and listen to historic recordings of famous singers. Suitable for adult singers and advanced teenagers; some knowledge of Spanish is preferable, but not necessary. (Note: For an informational interview and to schedule an audition, please call Clara Sandler at 617-739-0365. Auditions will take place on Thursday, June 16, 7-9 p.m.; songs will be assigned by Saturday, June 18. Please work on your songs before the first class.)
1 SCE credit: $425
Non-credit: $305

How to Audition

Kathryn Fields
June 13-17 (five meetings)
M-F: 6:00-7:30 p.m.
Final performance: Fri June 17, 8:00 p.m.

A one-week intensive workshop on the successful musical theater or opera audition. Participants will hone audition skills, concentrating on physical and emotional focus, elements of character, interpretive through-line, and the specifics of the audition experience. A practical approach to auditioning.
Non-credit: $225

The Song Recital: A Workshop for Singers and Pianists

Murray Kidd, instructor
Mana Tokono, piano
June 28-July 21 (eight meetings)
T,Th: 6:00-8:00 p.m.
Final recital: July 21, 8:00 p.m.

Adult singers and pianists interested in preparing their own song recital are welcome in this class (originally designed for high school singers and pianists planning to major in music in college), which offers guidelines for the preparation necessary for a successful song recital. Students are coached and perform weekly with a professional pianist; the entire class will produce their own recital. The final recital will be professionally recorded and each student will receive a CD.

Auditions to decide repertoire: Sunday, June 5, 2:00-3:30 p.m. Call 617-585-1130 to reserve a time.
1 SCE credit or non- credit: $440

Lyric Diction for Singers I: The IPA, English, and Italian Diction

Eve Budnick
June 27-July 21 (eight meetings)
M,Th: 7:30-9:30 p.m.

For singers and coaches. The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and its application to the performance of English and Italian song. Classes include written, spoken and sung exercises; the course concludes with a short in-class performance for students and invited guests. No prior diction study is required.

Text: Joan Wall, International Phonetic Alphabet for Singers; also recommended: Joan Wall, Diction for Singers.
1 SCE credit: $425
Non-credit: $305

Lyric Diction for Singers II: The IPA, German, and French Diction

Eve Budnick
(eight meetings; schedule to be decided)
First meeting: June 28, 7:30âO"9:30 p.m.

A study of German and French diction using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and its application to the performance of lieder and chanson. Classes include written, spoken and sung exercises, one-on-one coaching, and (size permitting) a final in-class performance for invited guests.Those unable to attend the first meeting should contact the instructor at eve@vocalrep.org or 781-821-9321.

Prerequisite: Lyric Diction I or permission of the instructor.
Required text: John Moriarty, Diction; also recommended: Joan Wall, International Phonetic Alphabet for Singers.
1 SCE credit: $425
Non-credit: $305

Posted by Gary at 9:13 PM

Kilar's Missa pro Pace at Alice Tully Hall

Wojciech Kilar

A Mass From a Polish Orchestra, Seeming Perfectly Timed

By JAMES R. OESTREICH [NY Times, 26 Apr 05]

Amid the annual parade of world-class orchestras passing through New York, a visit by the Wroclaw Philharmonic of Poland could easily have been overlooked - and to some extent it was, in a sparsely attended concert at Alice Tully Hall on Sunday afternoon. But on Saturday evening, partly through an accident of timing, the orchestra played to a nearly full house in St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Click here for remainder of the article.

Posted by Gary at 5:54 PM

Daily Telegraph Interviews Richard Farnes of Opera North

The accidental maestro

[Daily Telegraph, 26 Apr 05]

Opera North is on sparkling form right now - but how will it cope with its forthcoming period of homelessness? Rupert Christiansen meets its inspirational music director Richard Farnes

If Richard Farnes was the jockeying, politicking sort, he would have been a front-runner to succeed Paul Daniel as music director of English National Opera.

The job has now gone to Oleg Caetani, who is pretty much an unknown quantity in this country and will be doubling up as supremo of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 5:44 PM

Boulevard Solitude at Graz

Michal Zabavík, Margareta Klobucar (Manon Lescaut), Andries Cloete (Armand) (Photo: Peter Manninger)

Boulevard Solitude, Graz Opera

By Larry L Lash [Financial Times, 26 Apr 05]

In the middle of 2006, when you'd rather scream than hear another note of Mozart, take heed of a less-heralded musical birthday: Hans Werner Henze will turn 80.

Since I don't see opera companies lining up to revive König Hirsch, Der Junge Lord or The English Cat, the Graz Opera's new look at Henze's 1952 Boulevard Solitude reminds us what a gifted and accessible composer he is.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).

Posted by Gary at 5:31 PM

April 25, 2005

In the News: Henze and Boulez Wow Paris; Faust at the Met; Chanticleer at the Temple of Dendur

Paris in raptures over two modern masters

[Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Apr 05]

Time is looking more fondly on the work of these radical composers, writes Roger Covell.

How do composers famous in their younger days for radicalism look to the future of their art and reputation as they reach their 80th birthday? Paris in the past few days has been witness to hints of how a baton change might occur for two eminent seniors of music, Frenchman Pierre Boulez and German Hans Werner Henze.

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Scene from Faust (Photo: The Metropolitan Opera)

We Have a Faust!


"Habemus Papam!" rang the cry from Rome last week. ("We have a pope!") Well, I cry, "Habemus 'Faustus'! "We have a new "Faust" at the Metropolitan Opera, the sixth production in the company's history. (And remember, the Met began life, in 1883, with "Faust.") Directed by Andrei Serban, a Romanian-born professor at Columbia, it is rip-roaring, a killer. Boo-birds sang at Thursday night's debut, but when don't they? The Met has a production that will last, and please. Besides which, Gounod's opera was treated to a first-rate performance, on this opening night.

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Saintly & Otherwise


The Temple of Dendur was transformed into the Temple of Athena on Friday evening as the all male a cappella choir Chanticleer presented a program of works entitled "Women Saintly and Otherwise." The power and scope of religion as well as the history and future of Catholic Europe are much in the news these days, and so this program of portraits both sacred and profane, which encompassed music from the 15th through the 21st centuries, seemed especially relevant. As a musical whole, the evening offered, shall I say, an unusual experience.

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Feminine mystique, in masculine harmony


In Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales," the henpecked cock Chauntecleer talks out of both sides of his beak, declaring that woman is man's ruin and also his "joy" and "bliss."

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 8:29 PM

Michelle DeYoung Steps In

Michelle DeYoung

DeYoung delivers at Mandel Hall

Michael Cameron [Chicago Tribune, 25 Apr 05]

In the wake of soprano Helene Hunt Lieberson cancellation of a Friday appearance at the University of Chicago's Mandel Hall, management was fortunate to land Michelle DeYoung, one of the finest in a strong contingent of young American mezzos.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 5:27 PM

BRITTEN: The Turn of the Screw

Benjamin Britten: The Turn of the Screw
Mark Padmore, Lisa Milne, Catrin Wyn-Davies, Diana Montague, Nicholas Kirby Johnson, Caroline Wise, City of London Sinfonia, Richard Hickox
Opus Arte OA 0907 D [DVD]

Britten biographer Humphrey Carpenter quotes a friend of the composer's as calling Miles "a male Lolita." For all the blather, if not bother, about innocence in The Turn of the Screw, I've never felt there was much of it present among the inhabitants of Bly. There's sure a nasty case of naiveté going around among the grown-ups though.

This new, beautifully filmed version of Britten's opera captures the sexual battle of wills for possession of the children between the hysterical (in Freud's use of that over-used--by his fellowmen--term) Governess, portrayed by Lisa Milne, and the ghosts--very real ghosts in Britten's view, not spooks conjured up from the depths of the subconscious of a girl with a crush on a dashing distant uncle. In contrast to the wonderfully spooky black-and-white version of the story with Deborah Kerr (The Innocents), here golden tones cast halos around the children, and desaturated blues point up Quint's and Miss Jessel's incorporeity, lost souls cursed with all-too-human longings.

Director Katie Mitchell filmed the opera at an English country estate, and to her and the producers' credit, the location they chose doesn't look like it's open to the American hordes every summer. Their Bly has seen better days, with a schoolroom in dire need of painting and other repairs that wouldn't be out of place in some inner-city school, and basement rooms that I wouldn't want to wander around in after dark with just an oil lamp to flesh out shapes flickering in the shadows.

Both as a dramatic and as a musical piece, this film succeeds brilliantly. Child actors can usually act or sing but not both, but Nicholas Kirby Johnson as Miles (slightly superior as an actor; some of his piping tones sounded under pitch) and Caroline Wise as Flora live their characters with wisdom, if not knowingness, older than their years. Both of the ghosts cast a spell on the listener: Catrin Wyn-Davies lends a tragic despondency to Miss Jessel, and Mark Padmore (they must coach every tenor to sound like Peter Pears in this role) spins the gossamer allure of Quint's deviltry--or is it just Quint's desperate longing for companionship?

My major quarrel with the film is that the director has promoted Miss Jessel to chief ghost. She makes an appearance in just about every scene, even if just in flashback to earlier shots we've had of her wandering around the lake (the female symbol in the story) or beckoning yearningly to Flora. Wyn-Davies plays the role, like Miss Jessel is described in the libretto, as a figure of higher status in real life than the valet, with a chin-held-high self-assurance that crumbles pathetically in her Miltonian confrontation with Quint at the beginning of act 2.

Quint, on the other hand, is downgraded to secondo spooko. We see him mostly peeking in at the windows like the neighborhood voyeur, and when we aren't following Miss Jessel as she mopes around the lake, Quint is shown from the shoulders down (all he needs is a jack o'lantern for a head) striding, striding, striding through the autumn leaves. In our first full-face, close-up shot when he sings his famous "The ceremony of innocence is drowned," my first thought was that the ghosts aren't getting iodized salt down in the abyss. Why would any respectable ghost go bug-eyed, especially to another ghost? Unless Hell is where bad actors go. And both Quint and Miss Jessel apparently are condemned to the circle of hell where the damned are denied hair brushes.

The tower--the male symbol in the story--is also downplayed. (Early on, Britten considered calling the opera "The Tower and the Lake"). When the Governess (well sung and acted by Milne, though I found her a little too mature for this eager-to-please young girl) tells Mrs. Gross (exquisitely portrayed by Diana Montague, projecting the character's indecision about who's really the cause of all the turmoil) that she has seen a man on the tower, here she has apparently seen someone on the roof, or perhaps in the attic. Quint doesn't call down to Miles from the tower at the end of act 1; instead, the Governess snatches the sleepwalking (?) Miles just before he steps off the roof. Maybe the producers couldn't find a decaying country house with a decent tower. In short, this version has been rethought as a confrontation between the Governess and Miss Jessel. It may work as the filmmakers' take on the story, but it certainly isn't Britten's or, God knows, Henry James's.

Another annoyance--to me, a viewer who doesn't have ADD and doesn't require constant visual stimulation--is the over-editing that's gone on. Scenes constantly cut back and forth à la Baz Luhrmann to the ghosts in their haunts, Miles playing his drum in a tree, Flora putting flowers on her mother's grave (and we get the mother in flashbacks, but not the father). Granted, the dramatically important instrumental interludes must be tricky to fill with visuals, especially in a film, when the viewer might grab the chance to run to the WC, but when a character is singing, most of us aren't in need of visual leitmotifs for a running commentary on the text, or the subtexts. This quibble aside, the director displays an expert sense of theater with small but striking bits of business: one with a bird's egg, Flora and Miles getting into mischief as Miles plays the piano, Miles when he steals the Governess's letter to his uncle.

Turn of the Screw is one of my favorite operas (I do! I do! I do! I do believe in spooks!), and despite the Women's Studies approach taken by the filmmakers, this DVD is well worth the consideration of opera lovers. Seeing the piece again got me pondering about its being one of the few musical-dramatic works to show that children can be creepy. I'd better make that Other People's children; old age and assisted care arrive all too soon. If we accept Stephen Sondheim's admonition that children may listen and learn, then we're probably seeing only something of ourselves in their creepiness. And our own ghosts.

David Anderson

Posted by Gary at 12:42 AM

April 24, 2005

In the News: DVD and Opera; Verdi in Florida; Trouble in Scotland

Universal Classics' 2005 DVD Releases

Can There Be Too Much of a Good 'Ring'?

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 24 Apr 05]

WITH the cost of recording operas in a studio now almost prohibitive, we are witnessing a boom time for opera on DVD. Opera buffs can hardly keep pace with the number of releases in the last year. And in June alone, Universal Classics plans to put out 18 complete operas on DVD, most of them reissues of productions originally taped and released on video.

Click here for remainder of article.

A gentle conductor stirs up a romantic tragedy

Guest conductor Alberto Veronesi says the uniqueness of a Verdi opera, like Un Ballo in Maschera, lies in the composer's ability to depict a subject precisely.

BY ENRIQUE FERNANDEZ [Miami Herald, 24 Apr 05]

Ah, Verdi. He is synonymous with opera to everyone except perhaps Wagnerians. Even during a rehearsal in which singers are holding back just to learn the staging, the musical voice sweeps the listener.

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Opera's voices lift Verdi's 'Aida' in a tight space

By Scott Warfield [Orlando Sentinel, 24 Apr 05]

Few operas are as well known as Aida, a work that is virtually a cliché for the genre, and that familiarity breeds certain expectations. Thus there is a tendency in many productions to attempt to ensure that Giuseppe Verdi's masterwork really is the "grandest of the grand operas"--as Orlando Opera billed its new Aida -- by packing the stage as fully as possible with visual elements.

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Opera chief's departure 'a political catastrophe'

WILLIAM LYONS [Scotsman, 24 Apr 05]

SIR Peter Jonas, the former English National Opera chief who advised the Scottish Executive four years ago to pump more funds into Scottish Opera, has described the departure of its chief executive as a political disaster.

Christopher Barron announced last week that he would step down to become chief executive of the Birmingham Royal Ballet in October. He is the second senior management figure to leave the company in a year.

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Posted by Gary at 8:18 PM

L'Express Interviews Peter Sellars and Bill Viola

Bill Viola (Photo: Darin Moran)

Wagner au XXIe siècle

par Bertrand Dermoncourt [L'Express, 24 Apr 05]

Le metteur en scène et le vidéaste américains présentent Tristan et Isolde, à l'Opéra Bastille. Ils révèlent les étapes de cette collaboration inédite

Par les attentes qu'elle aura suscitées et l'exceptionnelle pléiade de talents qu'elle réunit, la nouvelle production de Tristan et Isolde, de Wagner, à l'Opéra de Paris, est certainement le point d'orgue de la saison lyrique. Pour monter cet ouvrage monumental, il faut d'abord deux chanteurs d'envergure. Ils sont là: Ben Heppner, Tristan digne et noble, et l'incandescente Waltraud Meier, la plus grande wagnérienne d'aujourd'hui. A coté de ce duo de reve, une star de la baguette, Esa-Pekka Salonen, qui dirige pour la première fois Tristan. Sa direction claire, objective, propose une relecture profonde de la partition.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 8:09 PM

BIZET: Les Pêcheurs de Perles

Georges Bizet: Les Pecheurs de Perles
Annick Massis, Yasu Nakajima, Luca Grassi, Luigi De Donato
Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro La Fenice, Marcello Viotti, conductor
Dynamic 33459 [DVD]

Les Pecheurs de Perles is not a terribly major opera. Ned Rorem once memorably described it as "harmless" concerning the occasion on which it shared a double bill with the world premiere of Poulenc's Les Mammeles De Tiresias. But for a competent early work by a promising composer who went on to greater things (well, one greater thing, given his tragically early death), Pecheurs has been given an enormous amount of attention both on stage and in the recording studio. An attractive work of conventional Second Empire French oriental exotica, it's blessed to contain two beloved numbers that have won the hearts of opera lovers whose loyalty keeps it before the public with some frequency.

One of those numbers does not appear on this Dynamic video in its familiar form. The Teatro La Fenice production presents the composer's original 1863 score, without the cuts and touch-ups provided by Benjamin Godard who restructured the beloved duet "Au fond du temple saint" into the form known popularly today. He threw out the C section, repeating the A section to create a da capo structure concluding the duet with the most famous music in the opera--generally to thunderous applause. Heard here in Bizet's original form the C section takes Nadir and Zurga into a gentle martial rhythm that prefigures the Carlos-Roderigo duet in Verdi's Don Carlos four years in the future. There are various other differences, particularly in act 3.where the standard Choudens edition truncates the final scene. Nadir has a solo in the opening chorus, followed by a duet with Leila in the original. Zurga is not struck down for treason by Nourabad in this edition either, but lives on to watch the lovers depart, mourning his lost love and friendship with each of them.

The production was designed and directed by Pier Luigi Pizzi in warm earth tones highlighted by saffron and gold. Pizzi frequently has dancers enacting scenes from the past upstage in pools of light as they're being remembered downstage, most aggressively in a semi-aerial ballet by a dancer as Leila during the famed duet. The action takes place on a gently curved platform, whose ends rise at either side, in front of a temple in the form of a gilded stupa at the top of black lacquered steps up center. For some scenes a gilded Hindu stature provides the only backing. Pizzi places his chorus in traditional groupings that allow video director Tiziano Mancini to linger over the beautiful and characterful faces of the Fenice's sopranos and mezzos in particular. Choreographer/chief male dancer Gheorghe Iancu's dances are in the graceful calisthenics style that's relatively common now, creating an occasional grouping with arms and legs in the "now we're going to become a statue of Kali" mode. It's all decorative, unchallenging and, well, "harmless."

The major problem with this performance, one that may bother me more than it will some, is the scarcity of French singing style among the principles. Beyond the estimable Annick Massis, who is in very good form here, there are few head tones to be heard or floating high passages where the score really demands them. . The men all display a certain amount of vocal health combined with the thickened upper middle and top registers of singers who have pushed for power in more dramatic material. Tenor Yasu Nakajima, ideally youthful and handsome for Nadir, tries hard but cannot muster the elegant, finely shaded delivery to make a memorable impression in "Je crois entendre encore." It becomes just another aria competently sung in the prevailing international vocal style. Much the same can be said for Luca Grassi as Zurga. The clarity of vocal production with words far forward and floating on the tone that marks the best French singing is not his to give, although his solid, virile baritone and keen dramatic involvement offer rewards of their own. Young Luigi de Donato's bass is a work in development, although Nourabad is a small enough role that no particular harm is done.

Mme. Massis carries the vocal honors here in a stylish performance that wins the biggest audience response. Not a conventionally beautiful woman, her strikingly angular features and physical grace support a beautifully sung, highly expressive performance. Marcello Viotti takes the score seriously, bringing out its lyricism and supporting his singers. The chorus does well with Bizet's frequent choral episodes, particularly the big anthem that ends act two (here performed without any break into the short final act).

Subtitles are available in six languages including Chinese and Japanese. The sound is clear if just a shade distant at times. On the other hand, microphones aren't stuck down the singers' throats. This is an attractive release of a sweet little opera that will give some real pleasure unless you insist on absolutely authentic French vocal style. Whether the original version is an advantage or not will be up to each purchaser individually.

William Fregosi

Posted by Gary at 3:25 AM

Miliza Korjus sings Mozart, Donzetti, Delibes, Meyerbeer, Offenbach, Gounod, ...

Miliza Korjus sings Mozart, Donzetti, Delibes, Meyerbeer, Offenbach, Gounod, ...
Living Voices series
Hänssler Classic 94509 [CD]

Miliza Korjus (1912-1980), the "Queen of Pyrotechnics", sings with a crystalline precision, reminiscent of Joan Sutherland, and a purity of voice akin to Natalie Dessay. During the height of her operatic career, 1933-1936, Korjus had the flexibility, dynamic vocal range, and brightness to become the quintessential lyric coloratura. Hänssler Classic brings her voice back to life by remastering the very Electrola recordings that made her singing "immortal."

Korjus' selections include the bread-and-butter of the coloratura repertoire such as Lakmé, Olympia, Lucia, and Konstanze, but also enhance the selection with virtuosic show pieces of von Weber, Rossini, and J. Strauss. The technical precision and vocal purity most definitely surpass the involvement of text and emotion, yet it seems to be a small price to pay for such perfection. Her most impressive arias include "Les oiseaux dans la charmille" and "Ombre légère", featuring a beautiful clarity and flexibility even in the most extreme registers.

Hänssler Classic's remastered recording is also impressive. Recording the upper extremities of the human voice had not been mastered during the time of the original recordings, 1934-1936, but they have certainly captured Korjus' upper register with pure brilliance. Yet there are moments when a fuller, more acoustic sound is wished, especially in the top voice. All in all, this is an impressive recording with impeccable virtuosity, which bodes well alongside the coloratura queens of today.

Sarah Hoffman

Posted by Gary at 3:12 AM

“Fly, Thought, on Golden Wings” — Verdi’s Life told by Thomas Hampson

"Fly, Thought, on Golden Wings" — Verdi's Life told by Thomas Hampson
A film by Felix Breisach
Euroarts DVD 2051047

With a running time of 60 minutes, this DVD biographic feature on Verdi's life might possibly be a satisfactory introductory piece for the newcomer to the great man and his art. Even then, the knowledge gained would barely form an outline to be filled in by much more study. However, if one would like a pretty travelogue of the sights and landscapes of Verdi's Italian roots (with a side trip to Paris), plus a little time joining Thomas Hampson in admiring his own handsome self, Euroarts has a treat in store.

The film has a simple format - Hampson in voice-over tells the story of Verdi's life, in chronological fashion, while the camera pans the countryside near his hometown or the streets of whatever city his career took him to. The film is attractive and high quality, although everything tends to look just a bit too neat and pretty. From time to time Hampson appears on screen, seated in a church pew or leaning against a column, to intone some passably profound commentary.

Most of that commentary, besides running through the basic facts of Verdi's life, focuses on economic/social class issues, and not without interest. As delineated by the narration, Verdi's life epitomizes the dictum, "Living well is the best revenge." Feeling the humbleness of his roots, from his youth Verdi searches out ways to use his innate musical gifts to push his way up the social ladder. The crowning glory for him, therefore, is to build his beautiful home in his hometown and have it become larger and more magnificent than any of those inhabited by the local aristocracy who had apparently patronized him.

The quotes selected from Verdi himself tend to emphasize his brittle, cranky side, especially as regards his sojourns in Paris, trying to find that first big success outside his native Italy. Although not exactly focusing on "feet of clay," the film does tend to downplay the love and respect the man engendered, or at least it does until the description of his death.

The DVD cover trumpets the inclusion of four arias sung by Hampson. These are slipped in with no meaningful introduction. The four selections, in fact, come from Hampson's 2001 EMI release Verdi Arias, and Hampson, understandably, rather stiffly lip-synchs to the tracks. The Hampson voice glows with its fine amber tone through key arias from I due Foscari, Macbeth, Trovatore, (actually, sung in French), and Traviata. One can certainly question, however, what it means to have Verdi's art, best understood when heard with singers, confined to four baritone arias. The rest of the music offered is instrumental - the film opens, rather oddly, with the Traviata prelude over a beautiful scene of birches emerging from shallow water. Only the director, however, can explain why Rossini's overture to Barbiere appears early on, with no identification whatsoever.

The review copy came with no documentation of any kind other than the sparse info offered on front and back covers. The DVD has no subtitles, and so can only be recommended to English speakers. Finally, as a bonus, there is a brief trailer for an Aida staged at the Pyramids, with horses and elephants in numbers to make Zeffirelli die of jealousy. The tacky splendor of the scene can barely be described. Unfortunately, no singing is heard from a cast whose names were unfamiliar to your reviewer.

Only if the price for this DVD reflects its brief running time and lack of features should it be considered, and only then, as stated in the introduction, for those who need a brief, simple understanding of who this "Verdi" is. Other than that, this Euroarts DVD offers too little for even a modest investment of money or time.

Chris Mullins
Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy

Posted by Gary at 2:19 AM

Mozart's La Finta Giardiniera at Boston University

Illustration from the title page of a German vocal score to La finta giardiniera, printed around 1829.

Last night I saw the second of four performances of Mozart's La Finta Giardiniera given at the Huntington Theater by the Boston University Opera Institute. Hallmarks of their program are fresh, clear voices brought along in a sane way in appropriate repertory, with stage time given in productions directed, conducted and designed with care. There was a bit of extra drama to this production as Craig Smith, a grand figure in the Boston musical landscape, suffered a heart attack during the final days of rehearsal and David Hoose came to the rescue. The good news is that Smith is doing well. Hoose brought the opera to the stage in fine condition.

I had seen Finta Giardiniera at Glimmerglass almost ten years ago with a cast that reads interestingly now: Giuliana Rambaldi, Sondra Radvanovsky, Marguerite Krull, Karina Gauvin and William Burden. And I didn't get it. The production may well have been at fault, but things that struck me forcefully last night didn't come across at that time. This is very late teenaged Mozart, or he may actually have been twenty at the time of the 1775 premiere. Gluck's librettist for Orfeo provided a text that has at its center the same situation that would explode ninety years later into Tristan und Isolde. A pair of lovers in a tempestuous relationship: he stabs her in a fit of jealousy and flees, believing her dead. She survives and goes out in disguise to find him. She does so as he is on the verge of marrying. Their reunion causes emotional turmoil and other plot complications. The dramatic device here isn't a potion but a night of temporary insanity that ends at dawn with recognition that their love is still there. In a great duet they reconcile. A conventional happy ending with three couples united ends the opera. At this point in Mozart's career, many of the arias are delightful and well composed but conventional in form and the orchestral introductions to some create problems for singers and director by going on at great length with no obvious dramatic function. But some of the numbers — just enough to make the situation achingly real--find the composer trapping into the inner life of the characters in a way that presages the great works to come. The crucial duet of reconciliation, in particular, is deeply human and compassionate — and beautiful music into the bargain

The opera is chock full of previews of things to come, particularly in Cosi Fan Tutte and Don Giovanni. Of principal interest is the entire matter of tone, as LFG mixes seria and buffo characters in a manner that will lead to Leporello interacting with Donnas Elvira and Anna, and Despina calling the shots chez Fiordiligi and Dorabella, albeit a bit more smoothly in both cases. In an uncommonly interesting program note, director Sharon Daniels (who drops a line that will resonate well with many opera lovers: "believing as I do that the composer is the first stage director") discusses second and third thoughts about how to direct and design this opera based on what seemed like conflicting signals from that very composer. At first she found grinding rather than shifting gears, and grand tragic arias that simultaneously poked fun at the over-the-top suffering of the character involved — a device to be found in later Mozart as well. Her eventual solution was to place the action in the Edwardian period, in the artifice of highly colored art nouveau decor and graceful very masculine and very feminine costumes.

Under Hoose's lively presentation of what Smith had prepared, ensemble was strong and the young cast sang strongly, particularly Jessica Tarnish as heroine Sandrina and Darren Anderson as the limpid, bright-voiced tenor hero Count Belfiore. But the cast as a whole deserves mention: petite, accomplished coloratura Stephanie Chigas en travestie as Ramiro, Michael Callas, who understood perfectly that Nardo was to be father to both Leporello and Figaro, Joyce Ting's witty minx of a serpetta, Courtenay Symonds, scoring in both comedy and voice as Arminda, and Oshin Gregorian as the flustered, frustrated Podesta.

Ms. Daniels arrived at a particular series of decisions on the proper mix of low comedy, pathos and high sentiment. That her decisions might or might not have been mine in any particular instance is irrelevant. The production emerged a unified whole. An indication that she had achieved her goal was that intermission conversation centered around plot points and the sincerity of a particular character's emotions at a particular moment in the story.

William Fregosi

Posted by Gary at 1:59 AM

April 22, 2005

GOUNOD: Polyeucte

Because of the war, Gounod and his family moved to London, where he finished work on it. Gounod fell in love with a British soprano, Georgina Weldon, and promised to try to get her the lead role when the opera was eventually given in Paris. But the relationship turned sour, and Gounod abruptly moved back to France, leaving the score with the Weldons in London. They refused to return it, and Gounod wound up doing the job over again from memory. It was finally premiered in Paris at the Opéra on Oct. 7, 1878, where it was given a total of 29 times, before disappearing from the boards. The only other French city where it is known to have been performed is Nantes[1] (April 1881). But, it was never given in some of the other major French centers such as Lyons, Marseilles and Rouen. Outside France, it was produced in both Antwerp (April 1879) and Geneva (April 1882), but apparently not in Brussels nor Monte Carlo.

Polyeucte was the third significant opera loosely based on Corneille's Polyeucte. The first was Donizetti's Poliuto, originally intended for Naples in 1839, but banned by the censors. Donizetti revised it for Paris next year, renaming it Les martyrs, the première taking place on April 10, 1840. It was not overly successful in Paris, with a total of 52 performances over several seasons. However, Les martyrs was widely given in the French provinces, as well as French theatres in neighboring countries and New Orleans. It stayed in the repertory in the latter city until 1871. In the meantime, Poliuto was finally given in Naples in 1848, and soon entered the standard repertory, where it remained for over 50 years. Strangely, it was much more successful in Paris than the French version, and given at the Théâtre Italien in that city almost every season from 1859 to 1877. Some of the most important interpreters of the title role included Enrico Tamberlick and Francesco Tamagno. Gounod must have been aware of these facts, and probably had every reason to believe that an opera by him on the same subject would have an equivalent triumph. But that was not to be.

Steven Huebner, author of the definitive book on Gounod[2] attempts to explain the failure of Polyeucte, primarily using the most reliable sources at his disposal: contemporary reviews. They blame the lack of success largely on "the failure of the title character to excite the sympathies of opera audiences", and of his being "obsessed with his own destiny, at the expense of exhibiting more vibrant human attitudes[3]". He also cites these critics as questioning the love of Polyeucte for Pauline, and/or finding Pauline much too cold. Elsewhere Huebner comments on the negative reaction of the public to Gounod's religious beliefs: "The responsiveness of the chord that Polyeucte's mission struck within the devout Gounod is equal in volume to the unresponsiveness the theme found with the composer's contemporaries[4]".

Yet, these rationalizations do not appear to tell the whole story. The hero of Meyerbeer's L'Africaine also was concerned with his legacy, and seems to have been simultaneously in love with two women. Carmen is, perhaps, as unsympathetic a "heroine" as one can find in opera-in fact with the exception of Micaela, none of the characters are really likeable. And there are many other once successful operas without love interest or sympathetic characters. Yet, Carmen and L'Africaine were among the most popular operas composed in France between the premiere of Faust (1859) and that of Manon (1884). By the same token, the emphasis on religion of Donizetti's two operas on the subject did not detract from their popularity. In fact, Poliuto stayed in the repertory much longer than most of Donizetti's works, with perhaps three exceptions[5] .

I would postulate that the problems with Polyeucte were more complicated, and also included the fact that Pauline only has one relatively short, albeit beautiful, prayer with little opportunity for vocal display, although she does have four major duets, two each with her husband, Polyeucte, and her former lover, Sévère. By the same token, Polyeucte's only major aria occurs in Act V by which time both Sévère and a secondary character, Sextus, have had their solos. Another likely issue is that Polyeucte came at a time when the once great popularity of grand opera was on the wane. It was one of five major grand operas premiered at the Opera between 1875 and 1885, the others being Le Roi de Lahore (Massenet-1877), Le tribut de Zamora (Gounod, 1881) Henri VIII (Saint-Saens-1883) and Le Cid (Massenet-1885). The last, with 152 performances at the Opera and a major international career, was the most successful of these, but it also had the most sympathetic hero and heroine. But even the success of Le Cid was miniscule to those of earlier works by Meyerbeer, Halévy and Thomas[6]. All of these operas consisted largely of set numbers, something that Wagner and his followers thoroughly disliked. Polyeucte even has a cabaletta (a form that had virtually disappeared by 1878). But whether an opera composed 130 years ago was ahead of its time or not does not matter to this reviewer, and should not matter to modern audiences. There really is one valid criterion: Is the music beautiful? The answer to that question is a resounding "Yes!!!!".

Only one number in Polyeucte has become well known: the tenor's famous aria in the prison: "Source delicieuse" in Act IV, thanks largely to single recordings by the likes of Leon Escalais, Jose Luccioni, Jose Carreras, Roberto Alagna and others. But there is much else of great beauty in the work, starting perhaps with the first big duet for Polyeucte and Pauline in Act I. Later in the act, the march announcing Sévère's entrance is striking, as is the ensuing ensemble. The second act starts out with a fine aria for Sévère, and an effective duet between him and Pauline. There also is a fine barcarolle for Sextus. The third act has a pagan ballet followed by the most Meyerbeerian scene in the work where Polyeucte, with the help of Néarque, smashes the statues. The latter is stupendous. The last act has Polyeucte's fine prison aria, another duet for him and his wife, and the final "credo".

It has been my experience over the years that when long forgotten works are revived for the first time, the singers are often disappointing. This is because established stars may be reluctant to learn a new work that they may only sing that one time. This has not been the case recently at such adventurous centers as Martina Franca, Jesi, Compiègne, and Wexford, and is definitely not the case here. The tenor, Giorgio Casciarri, who sings the role of Polyeucte is a revelation. He has a large voice of great vocal beauty, with lots of "squillo", and a fine top. I hope that this recording will help launch a brilliant career, and that the stardom he so richly deserves will not deter him from continuing to take an interest in unusual 19th century repertory. He is a tough act to follow, but soprano Nadia Vezzu, baritones Luca Grassi and Vincenzo Taormina and the three basses all provide him with excellent support. It is interesting to note that, although he is a relative newcomer, Luca Grassi already is well on the way to establishing himself as a singer with an unusual repertory. In addition to Polyeucte, he has sung Mayr's Ginevra di Scozia in Trieste and Gounod's Reine de Saba in Martina Franca.

The presentation is reasonably good, although I am a little surprised that only an English translation is provided for an opera recorded in Italy by an Italian firm. It is also unnecessary and somewhat irritating to try to translate the names of the characters, calling Pauline Paulina, Polyeucte Polyeuctus, etc. Finally, the liner notes could have been more informative.

As a total package, this recording can be recommended in the highest terms

Tom Kaufman (c) 2005

fn1. The documentation of many French opera houses such as Bordeaux is inadequate to determine with certainty whether or not other French cities heard it.

fn2. Huebner, Steven: The Operas of Gounod

fn3. Ibid. pages 215 to 216

fn4. Huebner, Steven: After 1850 at the Paris Opera: institution and repertory in The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera, page 306.

fn5. Lucia di Lammermoor, Favorita, Lucrezia Borgia, possibly also Maria di Rohan.

fn6. These ranged from 384 for Hamlet to 1120 for Les Huguenots.

image_description=Gounod: Polyeucte

product_title=Charles Gounod: Polyeucte
product_by=Giorgio Casciarri, Nadia Vezzu, Luca Grassi,Tiziana Portoghese, Nicola Amodio, Vincenzo Taormina, Pietro Naviglio, Emile Zhelev, Fernando Blanco, Manlio Benz (cond.). Recorded live at the Festival della Valle d'Itria in Martina Franca-August 2004
product_id=Dynamic CDS 474 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 3:12 AM

WILLIAMS: Wagner and the Romantic Hero

Simon Williams. Wagner and the Romantic Hero
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. x, 193 pp.
ISBN 0-521-82008-1

There is no doubt that Richard Wagner as an artist, composer, and writer was the center of controversy both during and after his lifetime. Despite the overwhelming political, social, and psychological elements contained in his musical oeuvre, Wagner is one of the more enduring figures in the history of the arts. Based on lectures delivered at the Bayreuth Festival between 1998 and 2000, Simon Williams examines a topic that has generated much interest and scrutiny both within the arts and outside of it: Wagner's treatment of the hero.

The book is organized and structured around all thirteen of Wagner's stage works, exploring the concept of "hero" and "heroism" in each of these works. The author begins by defining "heroism" in the context of Wagner's time period and its implications for use by Wagner. The author then discusses each of Wagner's works in turn, and concludes with a discussion of modern interpretations of Wagner's works and how the Wagnerian hero and the idea of heroism are presented and realized in modern productions of his works.

In his introduction, Williams discusses the concept of heroism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and quickly moves into a short summary of the book. Williams indicates that in his examination of the literary, theatrical and operatic culture of Wagner's works, he can identify three modes of heroism: romantic heroism, epic heroism, and messianic heroism. The author divides Wagner's oeuvre into three phases: 1) the apprentice works (Der fliegende Hollander, Tannhauser, and Lohengrin), which feature the alienated romantic or epic hero not accepted by society; 2) Wagner's central work (Der Ring des Nibelungen) where the concepts of romantic and epic heroism compete in a tragic universe; and 3) the third phase works (Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, and Parsifal) where the concept of the messianic hero begins to emerge in Wagner's mindset (probably based upon his own life experience). What is interesting in Wagner's music dramas is that all three modes of heroism emerge only with male characters, but is often challenged by the female partner in the music drama.

The three modes of heroism identified by Williams are defined and discussed in chapter 1. The romantic hero, for example, has three qualities: a deep reverence for nature, a subjective viewpoint of the world, and a feeling rather than rational cognition towards the world. The epic hero, obviously, has the most admirable of human traits, immense strength and courage, and defines himself through action not thought. The messianic hero, finally, was based on Wagner's readings of Thomas Carlyle in the 1870's, and this hero has a tangible impact on everyday human life. He is "the Victorian self-made man writ huge," as Williams states on p. 18.

In chapter 2, the author discusses the early nineteenth-century theatre and its limitations in which Wagner had to work with in his Die Feen and Rienzi. Moving into Wagner's "isolated hero" early music-dramas in chapter 3, Williams provides subtitles for each of these that capture the drama succinctly: Flying Dutchman, vampire and wanderer; Tannhauser, sexual transgressor and artist; and Lohengrin, a glimpse of utopia. The Ring drama, examined in chapter 4, looks at the development of heroism and the concept of the hero in detail, both as romantic and epic figure, along with a short discussion of Brunnhilde. In chapter 5, Williams' subtitles for Wagner's music-dramas moving toward the messianic hero are: Tristan und Isolde, the endpoint of romanticism; Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, artistic utopia; and Parsifal, utopia found.

In the final chapter, the author concludes with a discussion of how Wagner's music-dramas have been represented on the modern stage. He mentions that he can only comment on those productions that he has seen. There are short sections focusing on specific productions that emphasize certain aspects of Wagner: his influence on fascism and anti-Semitism, dramas that focus on the concepts of greed and power, symbolic representations, and imagist and absurdist productions.

This book is a well-written, scholarly examination of Wagner's music-dramas from the focal point of one aspect: the hero. The author weaves an elaborate yet understandable thread throughout the book, in support of his thesis of Wagner's three types of heroism, and how each type appears and grows throughout each of Wagner's works. A very interesting and thought-provoking essay on the whole of Wagner's oeuvre focusing on one important topic and its growth and change throughout Wagner's career and work.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Posted by Gary at 2:31 AM

Joan La Barbara. Voice is the Original Instrument: Early Works (1974-1980)
Jacqueline Humbert. Chanteuse

Joan La Barbara. Voice is the Original Instrument: Early Works (1974-1980)
Lovely Music 3003 [CD]

Jacqueline Humbert. Chanteuse
Lovely Music 4001 [CD]

You can rely on Lovely Music. The new-music label Lovely Music invariably provides some of the most interesting new music available on recordings. They can be relied upon in a business with its fair share of unreliables — immaturity, bad quality recording, sophistry — to give good quality interesting recordings of innovative work. They've been around for at least two decades, and their catalog covers some of the very best in what can be called "downtown" new music — conceptual music influenced in large part by John Cage, world music, and modern American art and dance after abstract expressionism (let's say Warhol and after). Their rather humble website is at www.lovely.com, and really tells only a small part of their story. For someone exploring American new music for the first time, they make a very good starting point.

The two recordings under review here cover the spectrum of the catalog. La Barbara's phenomenal vocal experiments are typical of the almost machine-like experimentalism, the fascination with sound and sound production itself, that one finds in works by Lovely artists like Alvin Lucier. Humbert's "chanson" collection, on the other hand, is typical of the sometimes wildly humorous side, which owes a debt to pop music and experimental poetry.

The Humbert CD — 14 "chansons" in total — brings together such well respected new music artists as Lucier, David Rosenboom, Larry Polansky, James Tenney, and Robert Ashley. Overall there is a certain naivety to the recording (which only once or twice brings the level below the usual Lovely standard), but it there are many endearing moments. By far the best track is "Mosquitolove" by Sam Ashley, a humming and buzzing testament to our prickly friend, which makes perfect use of electronics and voice. Perhaps the most important aspect of the CD is the treatment of Humbert's charming voice, so nicely done in Sam Ashley's work, which is often fed through electronic devices in not unpleasant forms of manipulation. No doubt synthetic voices are here to stay. This CD gives an interesting spin, certainly with humor attached.

The La Barbara double CD is nothing short of incredible. I think it is a reissue of an earlier lp, but nothing indicates so on the CD jacket, and thus these are probably tracks that have lain fallow in someone's archive. It is simply one of the best examples of the new vocalism, with or without electronics. La Barbara relies upon her quite incredible native vocal technique. How to describe it? The "Queen of Night" meets Tibetan chanting monks doing Olympic style vocal calisthenics — that does not come even close to describing it.

Rarely will I recommend a CD as a must buy. But I do this one. You may not find La Barbara's work attractive ("pretty" in the sense of Humbert's vocal work). But I will not brook any dispute: this is the most remarkable of vocal techniques. And when combined with a conception of music as quasi-meditation, quasi-athleticism, it far exceeds any other forays into new vocal music that I am aware of. The very highest of recommendations. Recommended for a quiet room, under headphones, and in a state of relaxation. Oh, and with seatbelt firmly secured.

Murray Dineen
University of Ottawa

Posted by Gary at 2:21 AM

Stephan Lissner Named as New Superintendent and Artistic Director of La Scala

Stephan Lissner

Teatro La Scala, Meli lascia Lissner nuovo sovrintendente

Favorevoli i sindacati: "Pronti a revocare gli scioperi"

[La Repubblica, 21 Apr 05]

MILANO - Il neo sovrintendente Mauro Meli lascia la carica al Teatro alla Scala e abbandona anche l'opportunità di guidare il teatro degli Arcimboldi. La scelta comunicata nel corso del consiglio d'amministrazione della Fondazione a cui ha partecipato anche il prefetto di Milano Bruno Ferrante. Vengono quindi confermate le dimissioni che già erano nell'aria da giorni. La decisione segue di venti giorni le dimissioni del maestro Riccardo Muti, direttore musicale del teatro.

Click here for remainder of article.

<strongLa Scala Opera Names Frenchman Lissner as New Boss

[Bloomberg.com, 21 Apr 05]

April 21 (Bloomberg) -- The board of La Scala chose Frenchman Stephane Lissner as general manager and artistic director, putting a non-Italian in charge of the Milanese opera house for the first time in its history.

The appointment fills a power vacuum at the 226-year-old theater after the dismissal of its general manager Carlo Fontana and the resignation of music director Riccardo Muti. Lissner, 52, will keep his current job as director of the annual Aix-en-Provence music festival.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 12:03 AM

April 21, 2005

GLASS & MARSHALL: Les Enfants Terribles — Children of the Game

Philip Glass and Susan Marshall: Les Enfants Terribles — Children of the Game
Orange Mountain Music OMM0019 [CD]

Well I'm trying. The liner notes read: "Les Enfants Terribles, the final installment of Philip Glass' trilogy based on the work of Jean Cocteau, articulates Cocteau's belief in the transcendent power of imagination and creativity. It is the story of a brother and a sister, Paul and Lise, two characters so caught up in a world of their own imaginings that they can no longer see a reality beyond their 'game'." The music on this cd is the accompaniment to a dance/opera (and thus it's only half the story — to be as fair as possible to thing). The work is scored for three singers and a narrator, accompanied by three keyboards.

Now I may be getting all this wrong. The Glass and Marshall adaptation of Cocteau's tale is on the whole wooden, the French text and its translation are cardboard and stiff, the music resembles the accompaniment to a bad ballet class. The story comes off sounding bathetic and moral, whereas Cocteau's story is decadence incarnate. The whole thing at times sounds like a really bad DeKoven opera. It doesn't sound like Philip Glass.

But, that may in fact be the point. How is one to set Cocteau anyway? Not in a conventional, straightforward setting — modern, postmodern, or whatever. Glass's setting is disturbing — certainly in a way I've never been disturbed by him before. It sounds pretentious, downright sickeningly so at times. Perfect Cocteau.

If this is in fact the point — if Glass has given us such a subtle mis-take on Cocteau and opera, then he is a genius. If the opposite is the case, if this is supposed to be some kind of normal setting of an operatic text (after Menotti), then I'm bailing out. At this point, after several close listenings, I'm leaning to the former opinion (with nagging doubts). But it will drastically rework my impression of Glass, whom I've always thought of as a rather tame and unadventuresome composer, although his music is always nice to listen to. Taken as an experimental work, this is adventuresome. I can't recommend this whole heartedly, since I have reservations.

So I'll add my caveat emptor: Les Enfants horribles et subtils.

Murray Dineen
University of Ottawa

Posted by Gary at 2:03 AM

SAARIAHO: Cinq reflets de L'Amour de loin; Nymphea Reflection; Oltra Mar

Kaija Saariaho: Cinq reflets de l'amour de loin; Nymphea Reflection; Oltra Mar
Pia Freund, soprano. Gabriel Suovanen, baritone.
Tapiola Chamber Choir. Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Jukka-Pekka Saraste, conductor. Ondine ODE 1049-2 [CD]

This is very pleasant new music, long in breath, richly scored, nice poetry, nothing pretentious, but good solid rewarding composition. Ms. Saariaho is truly adept at making a great orchestral score, and she has a way with voices, particularly Pia Freund's on the first track, which truly soars.

From the liner notes, we glean that Saariaho (born in 1952) is obviously accomplished, certainly well known in her Finnish native land, presumably in Paris where she now resides. She fits in well with a principally European kind of new music--drawing on abundant orchestral resources, she belongs in a tradition that goes back to the early (and lush) Schoenberg but also Debussy and the French twentieth century tradition of experiment. Saariaho has at least five other Ondine CDs of her work, and one suspects they are as well brought off as this one.

We cannot help but characterize this as slightly conservative new music. Experimentalism is toned down, well kept in hand by an abundant craft. In this regard it makes a perfect gift for someone familiar with twentieth-century composition, but who might be put off by aggressive experiment. Well recommended, then, not necessarily for the novice, but certainly for the amateur.

Murray Dineen
University of Ottawa

Posted by Gary at 1:53 AM

April 20, 2005

Berg's Lulu at ENO

Lisa Saffer (Photo: J. Henry Fair)


Tim Ashley [The Guardian, 20 Apr 05]

Richard Jones's English National Opera production of Berg's Lulu was widely regarded as one of the company's finest achievements when it premiered in 2002. The first night of its revival, however, was a somewhat awkward affair, in which illness regrettably played its part. Lisa Saffer (Lulu) and Susan Parry (Geschwitz) were singing with apologies, after suffering from throat infections. Fine actresses both, they compensated for vocal roughness with performances of uncommon dramatic vividness, though Saffer's understandable tentativeness inevitably meant that we were faced with a Lulu whose physical glamour was unsupported by equivalent vocal allure.

Click here for remainder of article.


Robert Thicknesse at the Coliseum [Times Online, 20 Apr 05]

"BE APPALLED!" leers the ringmaster, introducing the cast of Alban Berg's sprawling tragic farce. If only. Despite a text replete with all the things (graphic sex and death, generally in close combination) that usually cause a ruckus, this is one of your more restrained ENO shows.

This production, by Richard Jones, first appeared three years ago, and a second viewing makes a few things clear. One: by his standards Jones doesn't engage too deeply with the work; two: Lisa Saffer's performance as the disaster-zone heroine is simply staggering; and three: maybe once was enough.

Click here for remainer of article.

Posted by Gary at 1:45 PM

Henze's The Bassarids in Paris Without Orchestra

Hans Werner Henze (Photo: Schott Promotion / Christopher Peter)

The Bassarids, Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 20 Apr 05]

No other city puts on a welcome quite like Paris. When the Olympic committee came to evaluate the city's bid to host the games, they were greeted by strikes, and last week the Théâtre du Châtelet's bid for artistic glory met with a similarly thumb-to-the-nose response.

The company had planned to honour Hans Werner Henze, 80 next year, with a production of his grandiose opera The Bassarids, based on Euripides' tragedy The Bacchae, but a strike at Radio France put paid to that. The Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France had to pull out, leaving this most orchestrally sumptuous opera with a gaping hole at its centre.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).

Posted by Gary at 1:31 PM

Gounod's Faust at the Met — A Preview

Charles Gounod

Creating a Stylish 'Faust,' With Tradition in Mind


Tomorrow night, the Metropolitan Opera unveils a new production of Charles Gounod's "Faust," its sixth. The musical expectations are high. James Levine, the Met's music director, is conducting the opera for the first time, leading an international A-list cast: the French-Sicilian tenor Roberto Alagna as Faust, one of his signature roles; the Finnish soprano Soile Isokoski as Marguerite, the innocent he seduces and abandons; the German bass René Pape as Méphistophelès, an eagerly anticipated role debut; and the Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky as the soldier Valentin, Marguerite's brother.

Click here for the remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 1:20 PM

Menotti's The Consul in Arizona

Arizona Opera's 'The Consul' a haunting depiction of cruelty

Dimitri Drobatschewsky [Arizona Republic, 20 Apr 05]

Even though no sensation-hungry opera director has tampered with Gian Carlo Menotti's The Consul to "update" the work in today's all-too-common effort to make opera "relevant" to modern audiences, this half-century-old opera has not lost one iota of such relevancy.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 12:35 AM

April 19, 2005

Sir Thomas Allen: Great Operatic Arias

Great Operatic Arias, Vol. 16 — Sir Thomas Allen
Thomas Allen, baritone
London Philharmonic Orchestra, David Parry
Chandos Opera in English series
Chandos CHAN 3118 [CD]

Some 20 years ago I ended my subscription to Opera Magazine after an article by its editor, the late Harold Rosenthal. He had written a review of La Clemenza di Tito that described tenor Stuart Burrows in words that, for those who did not attend the performance, they had missed the second coming of Enrico Caruso, Jussi Björling and Beniamino Gigli in one person. I had attended and I knew that Rosenthal and his colleagues could be almost funny in their chauvinism but enough was enough. Well, I'm happy to report the old tradition still lives on. I looked at some reviews of this recital by British critics and Giuseppe De Luca, Tito Gobbi and Robert Merrill in their heydays would have been proud of such notices.

Now I have some fine memories of Tom Allen ("has someone ever called him "Sir Thomas" in all seriousness?) in the theatre. One Figaro in Barbiere at Covent Garden was especially fine and I liked his aloof diplomatic coolness as Sharpless at the Met as well. But most people will agree that a lot of pleasure comes from his outstanding acting: I suppose he could as easily have had a big a career in straight theatre. Not that the voice is devoid of charm but I doubt Allen himself would call it a great natural instrument, though he makes a sizeable sound that carries well in a big house.

An extremely intelligent performer as Allen slowly built a great career without ever extending his means: as an outstanding Mozartean Allen wisely let big Verdi or Puccini alone and restricted himself to such lyrical parts as Marcello or father Germont. He has been singing since 1969 and there was still a lot of voice left after a 34-year career in this 2003 recording. Most of the arias, however, don't belong in his natural voice category and it sometimes shows. Take father Miller's aria "Sacra la scelta" and especially the cabaletta "Ah, fu giusto il mio sospetto." The voice is somewhat dry and not rich enough for this kind of aria. There is no weight of tone in the middle voice and the angry outburst goes for nothing.

An aria that would suit him better like Valentin's farewell from Faust suffers from a somewhat dull sound and a top that doesn't ring free. He is better in one of his best roles, that of Figaro, though there, too, is some unsupported sound that makes the voice opaque.

Allen has no real low notes and he clearly is not at ease in Yeletsky's aria where he compensates with some caressing tone. He is very fine as the count in Nozze where he sings the rarely performed alternate version of the Count's aria in an almost tenor tessitura. Tannhäuser too brings out the best in him: soft plangent singing.

I don't think it a coincidence he is at his very best in arias written in English or in some more showy fare. Billy Budd's monologue is full of melancholy; finely tuned moving singing. The same can be said of the clown's aria in the second act of Die Tote Stadt. And then there is room for the magnificent Allen.

I have an inkling that 60 years ago Allen could have been a big star in operetta or classical musical. The moment he started his career the money for classical singers in Europe was no longer in those magnificent, yet dwindling, genres but in heavily subsidized opera. Singers have to eat too! But in his duets of both Fledermaus and The Merry Widow, he is just wonderful: charming, boyish even at his age and with voice to spare. And he doesn't yield one penny to Gordon MacRae in Billy Bigelows' Soliloquy. Typically, one doesn't miss the meaning of one single word in this monologue which cannot be said of the operatic arias, especially in translations with newly minted words by conductor David Parry, who proves to be an accomplished accompanist. Moreover everything is recorded as "come scritto": every small sentence by a comprimario, every note for chorus is included. To be honest, I wished Tom Allen had given us a whole operetta and musical CD. It would have been a worthy successor to that wonderful CD with love duets from musicals he recorded with Valerie Masterson some 12 years ago.

Jan Neckers

Posted by Gary at 1:50 AM

The Cambridge Companion to the Lied

The publisher knows they won't sell many copies, but university presses in particular are charged with promoting scholarship, and so corners are cut all around, starting with the quality of the scholarship. Often a senior (or more academically secure) figure in a field will recruit fellow academics, often young scholars just beginning their careers, to write chapters. On other occasions someone will organize a conference around a given composer or subject, and the papers given at the conference form the basis of the book. In both cases, consistency and quality frequently are jeopardized. Unless the editor is very conscientious, many of these books make little attempt to adopt a consistent approach throughout, so the reader is confronted with, at best, a mishmash of critical approaches. And getting academics to cooperate and submit their chapters on time is like herding cats, so the chapters may be several years (or more) old.

Fortunately for readers of the Cambridge Companion to the Lied, the editor, James Parsons of Southwest Missouri State University, has been conscientious in his duties, and the cats have been well behaved. The topics here aren't limited to the usual Big Five: Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wolf, Strauss. Two chapters on the eighteenth-century Lied explore works by C. P. E. Bach, Haydn, and Mozart and their predecessors. Among the chapters on the nineteenth-century Lied, one is devoted to the song cycle, and another to instrumental adaptations of Lieder, such as Liszt's versions of Schubert's songs and Mahler's reworkings of his Wunderhorn songs for his symphonies. Sections of the chapter on the Lied at mid-century discuss the songs of Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel. The final chapter is a superb discussion of issues in the interpretation of the Lied by accompanist Graham Johnson.

One of the most valuable chapters is Rena Charlin Mueller's discussion of the songs of Franz Liszt. Most of the time, when "Liszt" and "song" are mentioned, we think of his Schubert arrangements or "Oh! quand je dors;" but Mueller shows the importance that Liszt gave to his composition of Lieder and how they reflect his artistic development as much as his piano music or symphonic works.

As is the case in most companions, the authors take various approaches to their subjects, but readers will gain new insights about their favorite composers and songs and encounter some new works to explore via CD or the piano. (One can only hope that people are still exploring new music — or music new to them — on the family upright.) Some authors, like the superb Susan Youens on Hugo Wolf, take a chronological approach. Heather Platt uses published reminiscences by Brahms's only composition student, Gustav Jenner, as the scaffolding for her chapter on his songs. Jürgen Thym devotes some of his discussion of Schumann's songs to key relationships in the song cycles like Dichterliebe. Johnson, in his summing up, also addresses this issue, but from the point of view of practicality: the composer may have woven a most ingenious or subtle network of tonal relationships, but if a singer has difficulty singing all the songs in a set or cycle in the original keys (or transposed), what's more important — keeping the key relationships or interpreting the song?

Quibbles about this volume are few. The chapter on Schubert seems more like a review article, but how can you adequately discuss this most important of all composers of the Lied in a few pages? Enough has been written about Carl Loewe's setting of Goethe's Erlkönig in relation to Schubert's that musical examples comparing their openings are the last thing we need in the all too short section on Loewe. Parson's chapter on the Lied in the twentieth century chooses examples selectively, as well he must, but his very brief section on Othmar Schoeck hardly gives justice to this very important Swiss composer of the Lied. On the plus side, readers won't be frightened off by complicated musical analyses — there's not a Schenker graph to be seen — and academic jargon is kept to a minimum. All in all, lovers of the Lied will find this a valuable addition to their collections and a model of how a "Companion" volume should look.

David Anderson

image_description=The Cambridge Companion to the Lied

product_title=The Cambridge Companion to the Lied
product_by=Edited by James Parsons
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, 369 pp.
product_id=ISBN 0 521 80471 X (paperback)

Posted by Gary at 1:18 AM

April 18, 2005

Gérard Mortier — The Misunderstood Megalomaniac

Gérard Mortier

Revolutionär auf Reisen

Er hat die Salzburger Festspiele aufgemischt und das Ruhrgebiet belebt. Jetzt kämpft Intendant Gérard Mortier an der Pariser Oper für Innovationen

von Axel Brüggemann [Welt am Sonntag, 17 Apr 05]

Monsieur Mortier ist nervös. Gleich will Isabelle Huppert anrufen. Frankreichs Vorzeige-Actrice möchte eine Karte für seine Oper. Und Ehrengäste sind für den Intendanten Chefsache. So wie alles andere eigentlich auch. Die Fotos fürs Programmheft, der Zug im Schnürboden und die Versammlung der Gewerkschaft. Jetzt, wenn die Huppert anruft, macht er einen Bückling, sagt "oui" und "bien sur". Gérard Mortier ist ein Mann mit hervorragenden Manieren. Und ein Netzwerker. Er weiss: Wenn die Huppert morgen kommt, ist übermorgen ganz Frankreich bei ihm zu Gast. Sein Auftrag ist es, den protzigen Glaspalast an der Pariser Bastille jeden Abend mit 3000 Menschen zu füllen.

Click here for the remainder of this article.

[Editor's Note: A tip of the hat to Frank Cadenhead in Paris for this link.]

Posted by Gary at 2:35 PM

Muti in New York

Riccardo Muti

Of the Highest Order


Riccardo Muti, the Italian conductor, has been much in the news lately, having quit La Scala - that is an interesting story. But that is not today's story: Mr. Muti was in New York last week, for a subscription series with the Philharmonic. On his program were two seldom-heard works, the first more seldom heard than the second: Goffredo Petrassi's "Coro di morti" ("Chorus of Dead Ones") and Liszt's "Faust Symphony." Saturday's was a concert of the highest order.

Click here for remainder of article.

La Scala's loss just might be New York's gain


Since the days of the Borgias and Medicis, Italian politics has horrified the squeamish. Poisons and daggers, though, are cleaner means of regime change than the backroom shenanigans that drove conductor Riccardo Muti to resign as music director of Milan's Teatro alla Scala earlier this month.

Click here for remainder of article.

Click here for additional commentary from Marion Lignana Rosenberg.

New York Philharmonic/ Muti, Avery Fisher Hall, NY

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 18 Apr 05]

And so the drama rages on. Riccardo Muti, the poetic perfectionist who remoulded La Scala in his own stern image, resigned from his post in Milan earlier this month. After 19 years of glory, the great and sensitive dictator had apparently alienated his charges in a situation with as many political as artistic subtexts. Threatened with mutiny, the maestro took his baton and walked. The music world, which always savours a good scandal, watched and gasped. Some observers (this one, for instance) expressed horror; others exulted in Schadenfreude.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).

Celebrating Santa Fe Opera's Golden Anniversary in 2006

Santa Fe Opera

A golden lineup for Santa Fe Opera's 50th

Craig Smith [The New Mexican, 16 Apr 05]

The Santa Fe debut of famed Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter, the U.S. premiere of an acclaimed British opera and a gala operatic concert are highlights of the Santa Fe Opera's 50th anniversary season next year, general director Richard Gaddes announced Thursday.

Speaking at a news conference in the opera's Stieren Hall, Gaddes said that the company will pay special tribute to late founder John O. Crosby by mounting Richard Strauss' Salome, and also produce a hard-cover, 144-page, half-century commemorative book.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 2:07 AM

Joseph Schwarz Sings Arias by Verdi, Wagner, Leoncavallo and Meyerbeer

Still, the older collector will probably have the originals, the Preiser LP’s or the 2 Preiser CD’s with most of Schwarz’s output on Parlophone and Gramophone. As far as I know no one has ever put young Schwarz’s records on Zonophone (2), Edison (1) or Pathé (12) on CD. The CD under review gives us 18 tracks, all recorded for Gramophone and is very much duplicated by the Preiser CD’s. Therefore this is meant for either the new collector or for someone who doesn’t need to have the complete recorded output of a particular singer. Not that Schwarz doesn’t deserve to be remembered by every note he ever sang for the horn. In his magnum opus German critic Jürgen Kesting (Die Grossen Sänger, 3 vols., 2089 pp.) writes: “ though he never recorded electrically his recordings show us the best German baritone of the century.”1 High praise indeed though probably well-deserved. Kesting still tells us that Schwarz died at the early age of 46 due to kidney insufficiency. However the sleeve notes on this latest issue bluntly say the baritone was an alcoholic who by the time of his death had become a sad wreck. Therefore it was Schwarz’s own behaviour that caused the tragedy which resulted in us having no electric recordings.

Still, these acoustics give a formidable portrait of the singer and we can understand British publisher Victor Gollanz who put Schwarz’s Rigoletto on the same height as Caruso’s Duca. As Schwarz was Jewish, his records were not available in Germany for a whole generation and this may be one of the reasons he is less well remembered than he deserves.

All of the transfers on this CD were recorded during the baritone’s best years between 1916 and 1918. It strikes me that in those exceedingly lean years when elementary conditions of living had so badly deteriorated in Germany (due to the Allied blockade) singers still made records. It strikes me still more that Schwarz sang a few of them in the war’s last year in somewhat unidiomatic Italian, a language he probably didn’t know because everything was sung in German in those days and his brief international career didn’t start until three years later. I have an inkling that by 1918, when all international imports had long dried up and Germany was at war with Italy since 1915, there was some need for the international version.

These recordings are not among Schwarz’s best as he is clearly somewhat less incisive in Zaza than he is when singing in German and the recording of “Solenne in quest’ora” is severely handicapped by the pinched sounds of Jadlowker, lost in territory foreign to his voice. But all other records show Schwarz’s mastery of bel canto, which almost immediately makes you forget he is singing in translation. There is much to enjoy here. There is the easy top, common to many golden age baritones, easily sailing to G and even A. Then there is the rich and homogenous sound of the middle voice which he can colour at will. At the lower end there is some weakness, one of the reasons he probably avoided the later Wagner roles, which ask for more bottom. Schwarz’s legato is impeccable and the few sobs he introduces in “Cortigiani” are sung as a means of expression and not meant to break the line to take a breath. On top of all this is the imaginative phrasing from an artist who had carefully listened to Mattia Bastianini as can clearly be heard in both singers “Di Provenza”. Some of these recordings are pure magic, maybe the best being the “Scintille diamant” where he decorates the high G sharp and then finishes with a heavenly diminuendo on a long final E. Indeed he often uses pianissimo in places where the common baritone roars away like “Eri tu”; therefore impressing his listeners all the more with strong endings on high F.

The sound of these transfers is clear and I have no complaints with pitching decisions.

Jan Neckers

1 Translation by author.

image_description=Joseph Schwarz Sings Arias by Verdi, Wagner, Leoncavallo and Meyerbeer

product_title=Joseph Schwarz Sings Arias by Verdi, Wagner, Leoncavallo and Meyerbeer
Living Voices series. Recorded 1916-18
product_by=Joseph Schwarz, Bruno Seidler-Winkler (cond.)
product_id=Hänssler Classic CD 94507 [CD]

Posted by Gary at 2:00 AM

Anna in Köln

Anna Netrebko

Stars in der Manege

Olaf Weiden [Kölnische Rundschau, 17 Apr 05]

KöLN. Als Anna Netrebko ihre Stimme zum silbernen Mond hob wie Rusalka in der gleichnamigen Märchenoper Antonín Dvoráks, tönten die ersten Bravi der 8000 Gäste in der Grossoper Kölnarena. Annas Aufstieg ist märchenhaft verlaufen; von Kälte, dem Problem der Nixe Rusalka, war in der gut geheizten und besuchten Halle keine Spur, und einen Prinzen musste sie nicht verführen, sie hat ihn einfach angerufen. José Cura, der gut aussehende und zudem stimmgewaltige Tenor aus Argentinien, war der Einladung gern gefolgt.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 1:13 AM

April 17, 2005

Nabucco at Opera Australia


Michael Shmith [The Age, 17 Apr 05]

Giuseppe Verdi State Theatre, Arts Centre

Despite Nabucco's rudimentary plot and underdevelopment of its subsidiary characters, its dignity is maintained through its music, which, although still primitive by Verdian standards, already shows signs of the greatness to come.

The famous chorus of the Hebrew slaves, Va, pensiero, the composer's signature tune, made the opera an immediate success in 1842: 59 years later, it was sung at his funeral.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 3:22 PM

Michelle DeYoung in Chicago

Michelle DeYoung

The new girl of the golden West ... Michelle DeYoung

BY WYNNE DELACOMA [Chicago Sun-Times, 17 Apr 05]

Michelle DeYoung, to seriously understate the fact, looked radiant.

The first of three performances as Sieglinde and Waltraute in Lyric Opera of Chicago's hugely successful production of Wagner's "The Ring of the Nibelung" was behind her, and the American mezzo-soprano seemed to be counting the minutes until she would be back on the Civic Opera House stage making passionate love to Placido Domingo, Siegmund to her Sieglinde in this production. Her cloud of long, crisply crinkled blond hair caught the light like an angel's aureole as she settled into a conference room backstage at Lyric. She was revved up to talk about her transformation from a Colorado-reared, conservative Christian teenager whose chosen life goal was to marry and have lots of children into an opera singer in demand across the United States and Europe.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 2:46 PM

La Vie parisienne at Théâtre Silvia-Monfort

"La Vie parisienne" en version de chambre d'hote

Pierre Gervasoni [Le Monde, 15 Apr 05]

Fondé en 1985 par Olivier Desbordes, Opéra Eclaté Midi-Pyrénées est bien connu des amateurs d'art lyrique qui fréquentent, au mois d'aout, le festival de Saint-Céré (Lot). Cette compagnie nationale de théâtre musical, fixée depuis 1996 à Tarbes (Hautes-Pyrénées), trouve toutefois sa raison d'etre dans une décentralisation qui s'est traduite pendant vingt ans par plus de 900 représentations données en France et à l'étranger.

Sa nouvelle production de La Vie parisienne de Jacques Offenbach est actuellement à l'affiche du Théâtre Silvia-Monfort, à Paris. On y trouve presque tous les bienfaits des spectacles en format réduit (choeur de dix unités, ensemble de neuf instrumentistes). A commencer par le dynamisme d'une équipe grisée autant par l'oeuvre que par le public fort diverti.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 4:01 AM

What happened to that old black magic?

Renata Tebaldi

Why the Starriest of Opera Houses Needs to be More Starstruck


REALITY changes; myths endure. For more than a century, the Metropolitan Opera has been synonymous with superstardom, so much so that no opera singer's claim on immortality has been secure without seasons of glory at the Met.

Long before there was an MGM, the Met was living the classic studio line, "More stars than the heavens." The Met booked stars, and symbiotically, stars made the Met. But while the company's prestige remains intact, its star quotient has declined steeply, with dire consequences at the box office.

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Posted by Gary at 3:51 AM

April 16, 2005

The Diminishing Relevance of Critics

Beckmann: Paris Society (1931)

Do art critics still matter?

Today's frenetic art world pushes criticism to the sidelines--and many critics are not helping matters

By Marc Spiegler [The Art Newspaper, 16 Apr 05]

In the popular imagination, the art critic seems a commanding figure, making and breaking careers at will, but one hard look at today's contemporary art system reveals this notion to be delusional."When I entered the art world, famous critics had an aura of power", recalls ArtBasel director Samuel Keller. "Now they're more like philosophers--respected, but not as powerful as collectors, dealers or curators. Nobody fears critics any more, which is a real danger sign for the profession."

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to The Art Newspaper required once article is archived).

Posted by Gary at 11:11 PM

García's L'isola disabitata at Wake Forest University

Manuel García

WFU Premieres Manuel García's Salon Opera L'isola disabitata

by William Thomas Walker [Classical Voice of North Carolina, 8 Apr 05]

The second of two performances of Manuel García's L'isola disabitata (The Uninhabited Island) in WFU's Brendle Recital Hall on April 8 was a happy marriage of musicological scholarship and practical vocal pedagogy. I am familiar with Teresa Radomski's work as an opera and oratorio soloist; the focus of her scholarship - the careful transcription of manuscripts and the creation of a performing edition of a salon opera by García - was fascinating. Her splendid program notes place the work in its historical context and recount aspects of her research. She transcribed the score from a complex original manuscript in the Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris) while on research leave. With her brother, musicologist James Radomski, she completed a critical edition of the opera which is being published by A-R Editions, Inc.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 6:26 PM

April 15, 2005

Lotte Lehmann: “Frauenliebe und Leben” — Works by Schumann, Brahms, Schubert and Sacred Songs

Lotte Lehmann: "Frauenliebe und Leben" — Works by Schumann, Brahms, Schubert and Sacred Songs
Living Voices
Hänssler Classic 94.508 [CD]

Of all the singing geniuses of the 20th century, Lotte Lehmann is among the forefront. Though not blessed with the most beautiful voice or impressive technique, Lehmann knew how to reach her audience through unmatched musical interpretation and expression. She was able to win the love of her audience, and now, almost a century from the start of her career, the world continues to sing her praises.

Lehmann began as an "ugly duckling", a student told that she would never earn a penny with her voice; and then, after finding a teacher who uncovered the beauty of her instrument, she was told that she could never act. Yet she matured into a beautiful swan, becoming the most highly acclaimed and beloved singer in Europe and America.

Her first success at the Hamburg Municipal Theater was as Elsa in Lohengrin. She put technical insecurities behind her and became the part she was playing. Her most memorable success was her work with Richard Strauss, premiering the role1 of the Composer (Komponist) in Ariadne auf Naxos. A leading critic wrote: "last night at 7:40 all Vienna knew who Lotte Lehmann is." Lehmann's mark on America, however, was introducing the intimate beauties of German song. Her expressive singing transcended any language barrier; she made you see what she was seeing, feel what she was feeling.

Hänssler Classic has chosen recordings of Lotte Lehmann performing with salon orchestra accompaniment, which adds a sense of excitement to the songs and cycles. Lehmann is able to apply her dramatic intuition to each song, creating a character and scene that complement the colors of the orchestra. Brahms' "Von ewiger Liebe" is a fantastic re-interpretation with orchestra, painting the contrasting characters with more depth and beauty than the original piano accompaniment. The orchestra also supports the warmth and line of the voice, particularly in Schubert's long lines of "An die Musik."

All recordings included on this disc are from Lehmann's height of her European career, spanning from 1927-1932. Hänssler Classic has done much to clean up these very old recordings, but there is much artistry and nuance that has not survived the recording due to its age. Despite the aged quality, this is a fantastic addition to anyone's collection for those interested in enjoying a voice that so influenced Richard Strauss.

Sarah Hoffman

1 She also performed in the premieres of Intermezzo and Frau ohne Schatten, as well as the Vienna premiere of Arabella. Click here for a short biography of Lotte Lehmann.

Posted by Gary at 9:42 PM

Ariodante in Vienna

Georg Friedrich Handel

Aus barocker Seele

Wien-Premiere. Händels "Ariodante" auf hohem Niveau.

Daniela Tomasovsky [Die Presse, 16 Apr 05]

Am 8. Jänner 1734 wurde erstmals eine Oper von Georg Friedrich Händel am Royal Opera House in Covent Garden gespielt. "Ariodante" hiess sie - und wurde ein voller Publikumserfolg. Bald darauf fiel das Werk in einen 200-jährigen Dornröschenschlaf. Erst ab 1927 erlebte es eine Renaissance, wurde in Stuttgart gespielt, an der Berliner Staatsoper, beim Salzburger Pfingstfestival. In Wien war die opera seria, die auf demselben Stoff beruht wie Shakespeares "Viel Lärm um nichts" (auf "Orlando furioso" von Ariosto), noch nie zu sehen.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 8:48 PM

DUNSBY: Making Words Sing: Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Song

Without oversimplifying the aesthetic and philosophical underpinning that he describes in the introduction, Dunsby attempts to deal with song in a different way. By choosing to avoid the traditional distinction between words and music, where meaning is sometimes inferred as falling between the two components, he focuses on the intrinsic bonds between texts and sounds that are at the core of song. Toward this end, Dunsby's study consists of a series of essays that deal with several vocal works: Johannes Brahms' "Von ewiger Liebe;" Arnold Schoenberg's "Vorgefühl" (Op. 22, no. 4); "Stripsody" by Cathy Berberian; and "Going to Heaven!" by Aaron Copland.

It is useful to examine such varied works in detail to arrive at what some may describe more traditionally as stylistics, in contrast to the formalism that results from outlining the form, tonality, and melodic shape, etc. without showing how they merge. Certainly the objections that Dunsby makes about the conventional way of analyzing song as text and music reinforces the fact that any interaction between words and sounds is a single dimension of a process that is ultimately more complex. Traditional music analysis provides empirical knowledge of the components without necessarily shedding light on the process of perception, which is critical for understanding the heightened sense of meaning that occurs in effective settings of music. Dunsby's own analysis of a Romantic work like Brahms' "Von ewiger Liebe" brings to light some of the details of composition that may have even escaped the composer as Brahms gave shape to his setting of a lyric that intrigued him. What emerges is a sense that no one can hear music immediately in the way that such intensive analysis demands. The very act of stepping aside to evaluate the fusion of the tonal and temporal, aspects of music that the pioneering musicologist Guido Adler singled out in his own studies from the previous century (see pp 25-27), must occur after the experience of music.

What heightens the text in one's experience of the music can sometimes escape verbal analysis, and this is one of the challenges that Dunsby faces in this study. The listener cannot rely solely on outlines of form to convey the sense of the whole that can only be experienced through perception. Thus, the Schenkerian analysis that Dunsby used to summarize the tonal and motivic structure of Brahms' song "Von ewiger Liebe" must become a tool that musicians take into their own study of that song and use, perhaps, as a point of departure for dissecting other songs that are meaningful to them.

While similar approaches can be useful with Schoenberg, avant-garde vocal music of the twentieth century does not lend itself easily to conventional music analysis. Berberian's "Stripsody" is ultimately a vocal piece that pushes the boundaries of traditional song because it requires the performer to make sound effects, rather than sing a conventional text. The various cartoon-like notations contain letters and words that suggest to the performer what to do, rather than confine this vocal work to a sung text. Yet this work and others like it often demand a vocal technique that must succeed in its wordless sounds.

Through non-traditional notation, music like the piece by Berberian transcends the boundaries of traditional nineteenth-century song. Yet it is hardly unique in breaking the conventions of the artsong. Even within more traditional melodic and harmonic structures of pieces like the Bachianas Brasilieras of Villa-Lobos and the Chants d'Auvergne of Canteloube, the texts create an exotic effect through the sounds of the Portuguese language in the former and the langue d'oc dialect of the latter. Works like these force the listener to consider the vocality of the music, just as the operatic idiom of a composer like Janacek engages listeners through the soaring instrumental accompaniments to the vocal lines in works like The Cunning Little Vixen.

Although Dunsby does not take up examples such as those cited above, his selection of case studies is useful because of the varied ways in which each composer created a vocal work. In the end, more questions may exist than answers when it comes to expressing the aspect of vocality that is often understood within the experience of such music in performance. Dunsby's study is nonetheless valid, but it raises the question of efficacy: When is it appropriate to use his level of analysis to explore a song? Or, should the analyst use such measures if a song captures the imagination so strongly that it is important to know what makes it work so well as a piece of music?

These and other questions emerge from a careful reading of Dunsby's unique study. The aspect of vocality is certainly a valid one, but it begs the question of a thorough investigation of the nature of the vocal music as it evolved from the late nineteenth century through the twentieth. In making words sing, to paraphrase the title of the book, it is important to consider the kinds of texts twentieth-century composers set. The very departure from the use of traditional poetry signals a break with the past that merits attention, when even graffiti, fragments from Joyce, and other texts are part of a nominally non-vocal piece like Berio's Sinfonia. Likewise, vocalized sounds in a piece like the Grand Pianola Music by John Adams contribute an aspect of lyricism that might fall flat had the composer introduced a traditional sung text — and if he had, what would suffice that is not better than the connotative text that emerging from the pop idiom he used for those passages?

If Dunsby forces readers to consider the nature of vocality in music, it succeeds well. Yet this kind of study is still new, and the best responses to it will be further investigations that move beyond the traditional boundaries of text and music, to express more cogently how vocal and instrumental elements function. For those ready for the challenge of an unresolved hermeneutic and aesthetic study, Making Words Sing should incite further thought and, certainly, some debate about vocality and the perspective this distinction contributes to understanding that nature of song, not on only in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but also for other styles and eras.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=Jonathan Dunsby: Making Words Sing: Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Song

product_title=Jonathan Dunsby: Making Words Sing: Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Song
product_by=Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, 164 pp.
product_id=ISBN 0-521-83661-1 (hardcover)

Posted by Gary at 7:50 PM

English Choral Music

English Choral Music
Choir of St. Johns College, Cambridge
Christopher Robinson
Naxos 8.557557-58 [2CDs]

One has to wonder if the number of recordings of English choirs singing English choral music will ever reach a saturation point. This Naxos double disc by the Choir of St. Johns College, Cambridge, may very well signify such a moment through its attempt to chronicle the succession of English choral music from the 19th century to the present. The choir of men and boys sings gloriously, nearly equaling their more famous sister choir at King's College, yet the musical montage is rather unusual.

The set progresses chronologically, from Charles Stanford through eleven of the greatest English composers of the last one hundred and fifty years. Selected from previous recordings devoted to each individual composer, the tracks are assembled haphazardly. The representative works do not follow a single unifying thread. Most are purely liturgical, reflecting the overwhelming majority of English choral music. However, mixed in with settings of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis by C. V. Stanford or the Coronation Te Deum of William Walton are famous anthems not intended for use in service. Benjamin Britten's monumental Hymn to St. Cecilia, a setting of W. H. Auden's surrealist poem, feels out of place. Herbert Howells' haunting elegy to the slain John F. Kennedy, Take Him Earth for Cherishing, also feels awkward following his settings of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis for the St. Paul's service.

Another peculiarity of this compilation is reflected in the type and frequency of works of certain composers. Ralph Vaughan Williams, who was instrumental in shaping the modern English choral sound, has only one piece included. "The Call," is not a true choral anthem but comes from the song cycle Five Mystical Songs. The baritone solo is sung by a boy treble creating a nice, albeit highly atypical, effect. The lesser-known composers Edmund Rubbra and Lennox Berkeley provide four and three pieces respectively. Their compositional voices are unique, but nonetheless less satisfying than their more famous counterparts. In addition, works by the contemporary composer John Tavener are included on the final disc. An argument can be made for including him because of the profound contribution he has made to western church music, but his presence seems nevertheless incongruous due to his break with Anglicanism and subsequent devout Eastern Orthodox faith1.

Despite its programmatic peculiarities, this disc excels musically. The Choir of St. John's College, Cambridge sings with wonderful warmth often absent from many English choirs' stark and hollow sound. The boy trebles, led by the marvelous Oliver Lepage-Dean who is highlighted with several solos, sing with a strong ringing head voice, and also with a pleasant richness in their lower register. Director Christopher Robinson has fashioned a fabulous ensemble with brilliant clarity, precise intonation, and a striking pure tone. But if you're picky about the anthems on your disc, perhaps the choirs' individual recordings of works by these composers would be a better choice than this clumsy compilation.

Adam Luebke

1 Click here for developments in this regard.

Posted by Gary at 5:14 PM

April 14, 2005

Tristan at Paris

(Photo: l'Opéra National de Paris)

In Pursuit of a Total Art, the Paris Opera Adds Video to 'Tristan und Isolde'

By ALAN RIDING [NY Times, 14 Apr 05]

PARIS, April 13 - Huge, dense, taxing, with almost all the action taking place in the heart, Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" is notoriously difficult to stage. Indeed, the composer himself abandoned his first attempt in Vienna in the early 1860's after no fewer than 77 rehearsals. Now, in a daring experiment, the Paris National Opera has invited the American video artist Bill Viola to accompany the work with his own visual commentary.

Click here for remainder of article.

Mariage mitigé entre la scène et l'image pour "Tristan et Isolde"

Marie-Aude Roux [Le Monde, 13 Apr 05]

Effervescence maximale à l'Opéra-Bastille pour la première de ce Tristan et Isolde attendu comme le Messie, ou plutot la révélation d'une nouvelle Trinité opératique

Posted by Gary at 4:29 PM

Masked Ball at Covent Garden

Karita Mattila (Amelia)

Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 14 Apr 05]

The aesthetics of this new staging have been determined by a co-production deal with Madrid and Houston, rather than by any wish to explore Verdi in a modern context. Like La forza del destino earlier this season, it is an old-fashioned singers' show - safe, bankable, peppered with big-house spectacle but oblivious to the characters' psychology and Verdi's elegantly crafted dramatic situations. The onus for making those situations come alive once again falls on Antonio Pappano.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).

Un Ballo in Maschera

Andrew Clements [The Guardian, 14 Apr 05]

The Royal Opera's previous version of Un Ballo in Maschera was looking its age when it was last seen (with a cast including Pavarotti) 10 years ago. Its replacement, though, already looks old before its time. The new staging by the Italian film director Mario Martone is couched in the kind of deadening naturalism and approximate acting that do nothing for opera as living theatre. Even by the mediocre production standards at Covent Garden since the arrival of Antonio Pappano as music director, it's a desperately poor show.

Click here for remainder of article.

How Mario went to the ballo

Robert Thicknesse [Times Online, 8 Apr 05]

AS OPERAGOERS know to their cost, an opera can turn decent theatre and film directors into bunnies in headlights. They freeze. Theatrical talent flies out of the window. They produce pantos and naturalistic jokes. They ruin the lives and confidence of singers.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 4:00 PM

April 13, 2005

RANDALL & DAVIS: Puccini & the Girl

The book's genesis was the inheritance from Ms. Davis's late father of a complete set of letters that passed between Giacomo Puccini and librettist Carlo Zangarini over the adaptation of David Belasco's popular western melodrama The Girl of the Golden West for the operatic stage. She and collaborator Randall have realized Professor Gray's long-frustrated intention of writing a book around these letters and, in doing so, they have expanded the topic into all aspects of the creation, rehearsal, critical response and cultural contexts of the play and opera.

Along the way they realized that a mini-biography of Zangarini would be necessary to fully understand the dynamics of the collaboration, and it is one of the most interesting parts of the book. Throughout his career, the frequently complex and turbulent dealings between Puccini and his librettists — particularly the mob scene attendant on the birth of Manon Lescaut — may have given the impression that these writers were less than ideally skilled. The truth is otherwise, supported by a complete list of Zangarini's plays, poems, libretti, song lyrics, essays and public speeches. After the opera opened in New York, Zangarini acknowledged in print that no matter how infuriating and frustrating Puccini's constant calls for cuts and improvements may have been, he was always right and that he possessed an instinctive theatrical sense.

The authors trace the lengthy development of the Italian text, made the more difficult by the three layers of English used in the west based on class and ethnic culture (and incorporated by Belasco into the play), through the employment of journalist and playwright Guelpho Civinini as libretto doctor and, most devastatingly of all, the "affaire Doria" in which Elvira Puccini drove a housemaid to suicide with scandalous public charges of being her husband's mistress. They also document the first signs of the composer's fatal cancer to the onset of frequent throat infections and irritations in the spring of 1908.

One theme that emerges strongly from Randall and Gray's in-depth coverage of the world premiere at the Metropolitan in December of 1910, the second U.S. production in Philadelphia almost immediately thereafter, and the various European premieres, is how underappreciated Fanciulla was by the critics in the face of general audience enthusiasm.

Lack of melody, lack of the many soaring arias that had graced previous Puccini operas, and the increasingly advanced harmonies the composer introduced in his new work were cited by the press as problematic. An entire chapter is devoted to the subject of "Americanness" in Fanciulla, a point touted in the advance press publicity almost to the point of hysteria, and which horrified Puccini who never claimed more than an Italian opera on an American subject; he even had placards announcing "An American Opera" removed from the Met's façade. The authors discuss the search for an indigenous American musical style that was ongoing in the early 20th century as part of the general pressure for the opera to be what the critics expected and wanted — An American Icon. (Dvorak's advice to look to American Indian and African-American music for inspiration occurred at this same time.) Without ever getting bogged down in theory, the authors place Fanciulla firmly in the Italian branch of the European imperialist appetite for the "exotic" and the "other," most readily recognized in works like Aida, Lakme, Iris and L'Africaine, etc. They speculate that critics from a nation flexing its own imperialist aspirations resented being examined as the "other" themselves, particularly given the complex racial and ethnic issues explored on both opera and play (mining camp minstrel Jake Wallace was written as a white musician performing in blackface, for example — a common bit of stage stereotyping at the time).

Randall and Gray also provide a history of the racial, ethnic and class make-up of both urban and wilderness California during the Gold Rush. They conclude with a discussion of the theme of Redemption, a rather Wagnerian operatic concept, that virtually nobody picked up on in 1910 but that was central to Puccini's vision. They look at the issue of Minnie as a prominent example of the "New Woman" who was emerging in American society at the time of the premiere, and the fact that theater audiences took her to heart but opera audiences, used to the passive, victimized woman of 19th century opera, were hesitant if not actually affronted by her independence and ability to interact with and control men. There's a brief coda looking forward to the expected glut of centennial productions in 2010, speculating on how contemporary America will deal with all these issues on stage in a still polarized nation.

In addition to the list of Zangarini's works, the last fifth of the book presents in Italian the entire Puccini-Zangarini correspondence and the text of all quotes used in the text in translation; the complete performance history of the opera at the Metropolitan up to its latest performances in 1993; an extensive discography and videography for the opera, as well as a bibliography and index.

The only aspect of the Fanciulla saga that's missing is Belasco's play script, currently difficult if not impossible to find. Searching amazon.com for the author's name and the play's title produced only a single offering that turned out on arrival at my house to be the novel Belasco made from the play rather than the script itself. The script would have been extremely valuable here as Belasco's third and fourth acts were dropped by Puccini and Zangarini in favor of the rescue drama in the mountains that we know from the opera. However, what Randall and Davis have produced is an eminently readable, ideally direct and information-packed book that's an absorbing study of a great and increasingly popular masterwork.

William Fregosi

[Editor's Note: A performance history of Fanciulla and other works at the Met may be obtained at the MetOpera Database.]

image_description=Annie J. Randall and Rosalind Gray Davis: Puccini & the Girl — History and Reception of The Girl of the Golden West

product_title=Annie J. Randall and Rosalind Gray Davis: Puccini & the Girl — History and Reception of The Girl of the Golden West
product_by=Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005, 224 pp.
product_id=ISBN 0-226-70389-4

Posted by Gary at 5:38 PM

WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde
Marc Deaton (Tristan), Susan Marie Pierson (Isolde), Gwendolyn Jones (Brangäne), David Malis (Kurwenal), Ethan Herschenfeld (König Marke), Timothy Jon Sarris (Seemann/Melot/Ein Hirt), Peter Yanakov (Ein Steuermann)
Bulgarian Festival Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Glen Cortese
(Live complete performance National Palace of Culture, Sofia, Bulgaria, February 8, 2004)
Titanic Records Ti-261 [4CDs]

After playing a few tracks I was reminded of the late Harold Rosenthal's review of a 1973 Callas and Di Stefano-concert in his own Opera Magazine: "This is one of the saddest reviews I ever had to write."

I looked this set up on Amazon and duly noted that it sold for $57.98 while most critics' favorite set (not mine as I still prefer the Flagstad-Melchior-sets, heavy cuts and less than perfect orchestral sound included) is $20 cheaper (Nilsson, Windgassen, Böhm on DG). And a full-priced set like this one under review should surely have a libretto, which is conspicuously lacking. There are some 35 complete Tristans available and I utterly fail to see what this one can add to one's pleasure in exploring this score. And soon there will be another competitor with Placido Domingo.

Let's tackle the bull straight on. No Tristan is acceptable with such a pair of lead singers. The unknown tenor Marc Deaton could be acceptable in a very small provincial house in Europe or in one or another summer festival in the backwoods of the United States where opera lovers flock to who normally only have their Met radio performances. In those meager circumstances people are often grateful that at least for once they get the possibility of hearing a performance in the house and will almost accept anything. But on record one simply doesn't understand the reason this performance had to be immortalized. Mr. Deaton's is a small lyric sound, pitifully devoid of beauty in tone, volume, top notes etc. in short somewhat of a very poor man's Windgassen. Moreover though the initial heavy vibrato becomes somewhat less during this concert performance the voice is completely overwhelmed in the love duet and becomes a long and painful "geschrei" just to hit the notes. No intelligent treatment of the words (and Mr.Deaton's German is rather good and quite understandable), no acceptable phrasing and some fine diminuendi in Tristan's long death scene can redeem the basic colorless and the forcing and gliding and thinning out of the voice on any note higher than middle F.

His Isolde, soprano Susan Marie Pierson, is slighter better known but the joy of hearing her in this whale of a role is not any greater. The basic voice is not bad, be it a somewhat indistinctly colored sound in that generalized Anglo-Saxon way that makes it so difficult to distinguish one singer from another. Still such singers often have a full workload in Europe as most general managers nowadays want to have their own Ring and their own director with his own concept. They say openly there are no real Wagner singers at the moment and still they persist in programming Tristan or Der Ring as the producer's concept is more important than the sometimes painful sounds on the scene. Therefore there is always a heavy demand for singers just able to overcome an evening of heavy singing. For a few years Brünnhildes like Mrs. Pierson go from here to there until the voice inevitably wears down and the career suddenly is over. The soprano's voice reminds me of Susan Owen's lirico who also specialized in heavy Wagner and whose voice so deteriorated in a few years time that last year she met with the ultimate disaster for any singer. During the Liège Walküre the house didn't whistle or booed; no, people just openly laughed their hearts out at the produced sounds. Mrs. Pierson is still in somewhat better shape but the great killer is already there: the persistent beat throughout the range and some more severe critics wouldn't hesitate and call it a wobble that takes away much of the pleasure. And then there is something sharp even edgy to the voice that sometimes make for painful listening.

I don't suppose anybody ever bought a Tristan und Isolde for Kurwenal or Brangäne, though they are singers on a par with their role. I still remember David Malis winning the BBC's Singer of the World competition in 1985 and at the time I was sure he would go far. Well, he didn't, though it surely was not for having lost his voice. It is well-rounded, warm, even beautiful and he makes the most of his role. Gwendolyn Jones as Brangäne has a good mezzo though somewhat sharp at the top. Apart from Malis the best performance is given by conductor Glen Cortese at the head of a so-called festival Bulgarian orchestra. He paces so well, never lets the attention flag, doesn't indulge himself in overly slow or fast tempi and he never drowns his singers. The sound even slightly favors them though all orchestral details are clear. But why, oh why, was this set published in the first place?

Jan Neckers

Posted by Gary at 5:38 PM

HANDEL: Athalia

George Frederic Handel, Athalia HWV 52
Simone Kermes, Olga Pasichnyk, Trine Wilsberg Lund, sopranos; Martin Oro, counter-tenor; Thomas Cooley, tenor; Wolf Matthias Friedrich, bass.
Kölner Kammerchor and Collegium Carthusianum, conducted by Peter Neumann.
MDG 332 1276-2 [2CDs]

I have long been accustomed to the grumblings of my German and Italian colleagues concerning the pronunciation and expression of musical works in their native languages by English-native singers and choirs. I had chalked it up to benevolent xenophobia, but this beautiful recording gives me new insight into their perspective.

I should first start with pointing out that this is an inherently valuable project since it is one of a very few recordings of Athalia available (though an extraordinary Academy of Ancient music performance released more than two decades ago, with Dame Joan Sutherland in the title role, is still available) — and it is arguably the best recording yet. Given the proliferation of Messiah and Jephtha CDs, it is great to have this gem available to complement the plentiful offerings of more well-known oratorios. This early example of the genre is all the more interesting to those of us who know Handel's later choral works, since it is so clearly indebted to the English anthem tradition on which Handel drew self-consciously in his invention of the "English Oratorio". Choruses from his later and more famous oratorios contain large and elaborate polyphonic passages, as Handel brought to bear his chops as Lutheran sacred composer; here the choruses are for the most part lighter and more homophonic (but equally grand) in the style of the anthems of Purcell and Blow. In these passages, the ensemble brings out the wonderful subtleties of texture, and the crispness and flexibility is as remarkable as the apparently effortless beauty of tone and tuning.

The soloists also have spectacular voices, and the recording space chosen absolutely brings out the resonance and individual color of each voice (with three sopranos as leading roles, this is important to follow the interaction between the parts). But here is where I join the curmudgeonly perspective of my German and Italian friends: the English pronunciation is uniformly quite stilted, and the singers (with the exception, interestingly, of native-English speaking Cooley) seem to revel in their tone quality to the point of sacrificing enunciation and clarity of text. Martin Oro, in particular, has a delightful counter-tenor, but does not seem too concerned with the fact that the words he is singing have consonants as well as vowels. Granted, the stereotype of "the early music sound" as requiring complete subservience to enunciation, to the detriment of beauty of tone, is fortunately a thing of the past. Still, especially in the recitatives, this reviewer might have wished not to rely on the printed libretto in order to understand the words.

In any case, the linguistic awkwardness does not in any way take away from the supreme beauty of the soundscapes that Neumann and his ensembles — and the silver-voiced soloists — create. Each of them has a marvelous sound, and the contrast in dramatic character between the evil queen Athalia and the pure Joas and Joad are conveyed with great expression. But if the listener's native language is English, there should be no expectation of being able to follow the story without reliance on the booklet (which is very well prepared, with great background on Athalia and some thoughtful comments on performance practice). Of course, that doesn't generally bother us when we sit down to enjoy a recording in a language that we don't know well, so perhaps this is proper payback for the self-assuredness with which English singers have butchered other European languages for a very long time.

All in all, a beautiful and much-recommended recording, a great companion to a CD of Messiah or Jephtha to bookend a Handel-lover's collection of the remarkable genre of English Oratorio.

Andrew Dell'Antonio
The University of Texas at Austin

[Editor's Note: Click here for a discography of Athalia and other oratorios by Handel. No claim is made regarding its completeness.]

Posted by Gary at 4:23 PM

April 12, 2005

An Interview With Michael Maniaci

Michael Maniaci (Photo: Lake, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The Rise of the Male Soprano?

Michael Maniaci has a fight on his hands. In the world of baroque opera he's a young singer who seems to have it all: he's intelligent, immensely talented, well-trained, committed and surprisingly wise for his 29 years. On top of that he's already been successful in the USA winning prestigious competitions, and recently gaining significant roles at such proving grounds as Glimmerglass, New York City Opera and Santa Fe.

So what's the difficulty? The problem — and it's perhaps only one for the more conservative of baroque directors — is that Maniaci is a true male soprano. He is not a countertenor with a falsetto head voice above a tenor or baritone chest voice, and the roles he wants to make his own are the great Handelian ones which were written for that most high-flying of long-lost vocal types, the soprano castrato, and normally sung by female mezzos or sopranos today: Xerxes, Ariodante, Sesto, Tirinto, not to mention Mozart's "pants" role of Cherubino which Maniaci has already performed with critical success at Pittsburgh Opera working with Christopher Alden in a ground-breaking production of Figaro. Phrases such as "thrilling agility and musicianship" and "pure tone, perfect trills and exquisite legato in the soprano range" abound in his press clippings.

I caught up with Michael Maniaci in Copenhagen, where he was dipping his toe into mainstream European waters with the small but significant role of Nireno in Handel's "Giulio Cesare", alongside the likes of Andreas Scholl, Inger dam Jensen and Christopher Robson. I was intrigued to hear more from the man himself, and to find out just how much of a fight might lie ahead for him before he gains his vocal goals.

Coming from the Midwest of America, his Baptist parents had hoped that he might join his sister in becoming a teacher and although happy enough to encourage the young Michael at school choir and in church singing, they were not a musical family in the accepted sense and were worried about him following a career in music, let alone one in the high octane world of opera. But a love of singing, and of the theatre, was in his blood from somewhere, and from high school he progressed to college in Cincinnati and then on to the renowned Juilliard School in New York where 5 years scholarship study brought him to a place on their elite Opera Centre programme.

However, it hasn't all been quite as simple or easy as that may sound. From his teenage years he has fought to be accepted at all these places because, simply, he sings in the soprano range and heard over and over again from directors and teachers "you don't fit any of our programs". He explained to me how his voice came about in a natural, if unusual way: "During puberty my voice just stayed where it was; it didn't change with the rest of me, although it's got stronger and fuller. Doctors examining my throat found that the larynx and vocal cords had not lengthened and thickened in the normal way; I don't have an Adams apple, and yet in every other way I'm a normal male". On top of that, this young man has also had to cope with another problematic "spin" ball, as he was born with a slight facial palsy. However, in the same way that he has capitalised on his unusual vocal gift, he has also overcome any minor disadvantage of this potential difficulty by putting even more effort into the dramatic side of his art — and his ability to hold the eye, to inhabit his mainly non-singing but ever-present character of Nireno in "Cesare" was as admirable as his effortless, full-toned and dramatic single aria. He found the part rewarding: "It's been extremely challenging, but I've learned a lot here". The Royal Danish Opera was obviously convinced as to his potential as they restored his character's one aria in their revival of "Cesare" in order to ensure his acceptance of the role. In his turn Maniaci gave up the, on the face of it, much more attractive role of Medoro in NYC Opera's "Orlando" in order to sing here. "I was willing to turn down the Medoro, knowing that the opera would be a huge success in Lincoln Centre, because I was thrilled to come here and do something very small and work with these people, get my feet wet, and of course benefit from the upcoming DVD exposure. I'm convinced I made the right choice".

Taking that sort of calculated risk comes naturally to Maniaci and he did the same when he recently took on the role of Cherubino, with Christopher Alden directing, at Pittsburgh Opera. "It's a fascinating experiment" said Alden before the first night, and of course there were a few voices raised against Maniaci taking on a role written by Mozart for a female soprano to sing dressed as a boy. However, the local, usually conservative, press were warm in their praise on first night and Maniaci defends his decision, saying "it was right for me, and you have to remember I'm not going to put myself up for anything that I feel I can't fully serve". He also admits to harbouring a desire to sing Octavian and the Composer, although they might be a further into the future, and will probably take second place to the Handel roles in major houses that he covets more immediately.

If Michael Maniaci no longer has to sing auditions in his native country, and will shortly be singing the "secondo uomo" role of Lucio Cinna to Susan Graham's Cecilio in Mozart's "Lucio Silla" at Santa Fe Opera this summer, his profile this side of the Atlantic is not so defined. Also, he is quite aware that he will have a struggle on his hands to get accepted by some of the big guns of European baroque opera — the likes of Jacobs, Minkowski and Christie on the musical side and the more conservative opera intendants who have scarcely yet admitted to the pulling power of the countertenor revolution in the past ten years, let alone to the existence of a true male soprano. He has already auditioned for Rene Jacobs and found that although the much-feted conductor and ex-countertenor praised his musicianship and technical expertise, the very fact of his voice's soprano range "confused" Jacobs entirely. It will take daring and far-sighted musical directors to pick up the reins of Maniaci's European career and run with a voice that must be a unique embellishment to the Baroque revival over here. Luckily for him there are already just such people who do have that faith, and Maniaci is grateful to them for as he says "I started singing and performing so young ...... I love it, I'm thankful for it and — frankly — when I don't have the chance to communicate with people on stage I can feel it affecting me in a negative way, and I do feel that is what I must be doing. I am based in New York City at the moment but I have a feeling that I could easily become an ex-patriot!" Judging by what I have heard and seen of Michael Maniaci to date, it would be our gain, and America's loss.

© S.C.Loder 2005

Posted by Gary at 5:20 PM

April 11, 2005

Faust at Linz

Charles Gounod (1818 - 1893)

Drum schonet mir Prospekte!

VON HELMAR DUMBS [Die Presse, 12 Apr 05]

Regisseur Michael Sturm bebildert im Linzer Landestheater Charles Gounods "Faust".

Kam da doch glatt ein Franzose (ausgerechnet!) und stellte 1859 nonchalant das deutsche Literatur-Nationalheiligtum vom Kopf auf die Füsse! Sprich: Ignorierte Goethes Motto "Wer vieles bringt, wird manchem etwas bringen" und nahm des Dichterfürsten Ideendrama als Text-Steinbruch einer amour fou. Bei den deutschen Kritikern fiel das Stück durch, das Publikum hingegen war begeistert, bekam es doch genau das zu sehen, wonach es in einer Oper dürstet.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 5:37 PM

Pearl Fishers at NYCO

Mary Dunleavy (Photo: Elisa Haber)

That Old Ceylon Razzle Dazzle

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Times, 11 Apr 05]

The new "Pearl Fishers" that arrived at New York City Opera on Sunday afternoon came from the San Diego Opera, but it looks as if it came from the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Maybe it was the fluorescent hues; or the attempt to create local color with tinselly choreography; or the stylized patterns painted on the stage, like sun on sand, and the women's bikinis, which evoked the flavor of a recent addition to the Games, beach volleyball.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 5:22 PM

Olga Borodina in New York

Olga Borodina (Photo: State Academic Mariinsky Theatre)

Powerful, Pure & Pleasing; Not Loud Enough

BY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 11 Apr 05]

My last encounter with Olga Borodina as a songstress was a particularly memorable one, and I daresay it was for her as well. In May 2001 she postponed a Carnegie Hall recital literally at the last minute, a hastily scrawled piece of paper taped over the poster out front our only greeting. Ms. Borodina was suffering from allergies and gamely attempted to forge ahead a week later with James Levine at the piano. The afternoon was challenging, but the half-empty hall was populated by a dedicated group that admired her courage.

Click here for remainder of article (subscription to New York Sun required).

Posted by Gary at 4:53 PM

More on Mignon at OONY

Ambroise Thomas (1811-1896)

Francophilia makes a New York comeback


Once upon a time, Freedom Fries didn't exist, no one made apologies for charm and grace, and operas like Ambroise Thomas' "Mignon" (1866, revised 1870) ruled the boards.

As it happens, April 2005 is a throwback to those innocent days of musical Francophilia in New York. The Philharmonic just performed "Damnation of Faust" by Berlioz; a new staging of Bizet's "The Pearl Fishers" opened yesterday at New York City Opera, and the Metropolitan Opera presents Gounod's once-ubiquitous "Faust" with a promising cast later this month.

Click here for remainder of article.

Click here for additional commentary by the article's author.

A Lucky Experience

April 11, 2005
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/12027

Last week at Carnegie Hall, the Opera Orchestra of New York presented a rarity that used not to be a rarity: Ambroise Thomas's "Mignon." A few arias have always been familiar - "Connaistu le pays," for one, and "Jesuis Titania," for another - but the opera itself has fallen into disuse. Thomas's "other" opera, "Hamlet," has also become a rarity. But the Opera Orchestra of New York, under its founder-conductor Eve Queler, is always unearthing rarities, and giving us doses of the familiar, too. This is a valuable institution.

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Posted by Gary at 4:04 PM

SCHUBERT: Die Winterreise

Franz Schubert: Die Winterreise, D. 911
Andreas Schmidt, baritone; Rudolf Jansen, piano
Hänssler Classic 98.3810 [CD]

When it comes to any new recordings of Schubert's song cycle Winterreise, it is difficult not to think of the fine performances by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau at various points in his career. While Fischer-Dieskau's recordings can serve as points of reference, the recent CD by the baritone Andreas Schmidt adds to the many excellent recordings that already exist for this work. Schmidt brings to this cycle a personal and effective interpretation that emerges clearly in the recording, where the close ensemble with Rudolf Jansen results in a nuanced performance. By allowing themselves fluid tempos, the performers allow the text to serve the music well. At times they linger over a syllable or stretch a phrase to reinforce the meaning. These are subtle differences that are at the core of experienced and effective Lieder performance.

In "Der Lindenbaum," for example, the give-and-take of tempo helps to punctuate the text and enhance the meaning of the text. Such interpretive room extends to the dynamic levels, where Schmidt and Jansen match each other well in softening the volume of repeated phrases to reinforce the text, as occurs with the final phrase of that song. In other songs, like "Auf dem Flusse," the accompaniment is beautifully pointed to set off the vocal line that Schmidt delivers effortlessly. Likewise, the careful juxtaposition of half- and full-voice in "Frühlingstraum" creates a memorable effect that is served well by the sensitive recording levels. If this cycle is dramatic, it is in the carefully placed details that persuade the listener to pay attention to the text and its delivery in this well-conceived recording.

This is a solid interpretation by two accomplished performers who express themselves well in this work, which complements the other Hänssler recordings by Schmidt and Jansen of Schubert's songs, particularly the cycle Die schöne Müllerin and the collection Schwanengesang. For those interested in Schmidt's approach to the music the liner notes included with the CD contain Schmidt's thoughtful comments about the place of this music in his life. His openness to various interpretations of the music and text demonstrates the mature approach to Schubert's Winterreise.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

Posted by Gary at 12:57 AM

April 10, 2005

Rossini's Il Viaggio a Reims at the Mariinsky

Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868)

Rossini revival

By Galina Stolyarova [St. Petersburg Times, 8 Apr 05]

Rossini's long-lost, magnificent "party piece," originally created for an army of bel canto singers, "Il Viaggio a Reims," is being revived at the Mariinsky Theater, where it premieres on Wednesday with a further performance on April 16. The French actor and director Alain Maratrat is responsible for the staging, while his compatriot Pierre Alain Bertola created the sets. With their show, the French team promises an explosive fusion of Rossini's subtle comedy and raving Russian madness.

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Posted by Gary at 2:01 PM

The Crucible in Boston

Robert Ward

No need for a witch hunt, `Crucible' mix rings true

By T.J. Medrek [Boston Herald, 10 Apr 05]

Sex, religion and real estate: Put 'em together, and you've got a plot that will bring out the best and the worst in any cast of characters.

The late playwright Arthur Miller used all three as motivators in his classic play about the Salem witch trials, ``The Crucible.''

And these same subjects (well, the sex and religion parts at least) made the play a natural for operatic treatment by composer Robert Ward in 1961.

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Posted by Gary at 1:40 PM

Thinking About Wagner

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner, Musical Mensch

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 10 Apr 05]

THERE are moments in "Die Walküre," Wagner's most humane opera, that never fail to dissolve me, even though I know they are coming. One occurs fairly early in the first act.

During a terrible storm, a sad and fearful young woman trapped in an abusive marriage gives shelter to a rugged and sullen young man who has turned up at her door, injured and exhausted. They are strangers to each other, or so they think. Somehow the woman feels compelled to tell this outcast about her childhood - that a band of brutal warriors ransacked her home, murdered her mother and forced her to marry a boorish clansman. On her miserable wedding night, her new husband's oafish friends came over to get drunk and ridicule her.

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Posted by Gary at 1:26 PM

April 9, 2005

Madama Butterfly at Volksoper Wien

Scene from Madama Butterfly (Photo: Volksoper Wien/Dimo Dimov)

Puccini und die Frauen

[Die Presse, 9 Apr 05]

Die Volksoper spielt wieder "Madama Butterfly".

Sieben von zwölf seiner Bühnenwerke sind nach einer Frau benannt. Puccini selbst wird der Satz nachgesagt: "Wenn ich nicht mehr verliebt bin, begrabt mich!" Was lag daher für Regisseur Stefan Herheim näher, als sich der "Madama Butterfly" aus dieser Perspektive zu nähern, die Bühne zeitweise zu einem Puccini-Museum zu machen. Mit stummen Auftritten von Tosca, Mimi und Manon Lescaut, aber auch dem Komponisten selbst. Ungewohnt auch Butterflys Ende: Sie muss in einem blutrünstigen Harakiri ihr Leben lassen.

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Posted by Gary at 7:53 PM

Die Tote Stadt in Amsterdam

Scene from Die Tote Stadt (Photo: De Nederlandse Opera)

Die Tote Stadt

Andrew Clements [The Guardian, 9 Apr 05]

Die Tote Stadt is often described as Erich Korngold's masterpiece. An enormous success when first performed simultaneously in Hamburg and Cologne in 1920, it has become one of those pieces every opera fan has heard of, yet few have seen: it has never been staged in Britain. That makes the new production from Netherlands Opera a real collector's item. Musically and dramatically, it does the work proud. What it can't do, though, is turn a deeply flawed piece into a good one.

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Posted by Gary at 7:41 PM

La finta giardiniera in Cleveland

Illustration from the title page of a German vocal score to La finta giardiniera, printed around 1829.

Singer soars in opera by Mozart

Donald Rosenberg [Cleveland Plain Dealer, 8 Apr 05]

The CIM Opera Theater is offering two revelations this week, one old and one new. What a joy to experience Mozart's neglected "La finta giardiniera," which the precocious fellow wrote at the age of 18. The more recent discovery is soprano Jung Eun Oh, who was a sensation in the title role at Wednesday's opening.

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Posted by Gary at 7:26 PM

Nabucco at Opera Australia

Saddam song of vainglory

Middle Eastern woes drive a new opera season, writes Robin Usher.

[The Age, 9 Apr 05]

Saddam Hussein has a lot to answer for but his unlikeliest legacy will be unveiled at the Arts Centre next week - a new production of Verdi's first successful opera, Nabucco.

The key to this interpretation is a poster that the Iraqi tyrant unveiled in his final year in power portraying himself as the ancient Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar (Nabucco in the opera, sung by baritone Michael Lewis).

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Posted by Gary at 7:11 PM

Tancredi in Toronto

Ewa Podles

Podles proves spectacular

KEN WINTERS [Globe and Mail, 5 Apr 05]

Tancredi by Gioacchino Rossini

There is one conspicuous reason for reviving Rossini's Tancredi in our time. Fortunately that reason — the availability of the Polish contralto Ewa Podles — underlay the Canadian Opera Company's production of that work which opened Friday night for six performances at the Hummingbird Centre in Toronto.

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Posted by Gary at 2:50 PM

April 8, 2005

Ambrose Thomas’s Mignon at OONY

Stephanie Blythe (Photo: J Henry Fair)

Mignon at OONY turned out to be a mixed experience last night. Eve Queler is controversial as a conductor and last night's opera did not play to her strengths or do anything to conceal her deficiencies. The overture began in a plodding fashion and only came intermittently alive in the conclusion based on the coloratura showpiece for Philene. Throughout, Mignon has some really lovely arias and ensembles but a lot of note spinning as well and not just during the recitatives (the opera was presented in Thomas's second of three scores, the one in which he suppressed most — not quite all — of the spoken dialog and wrote his own recits). Ms Queler provided almost nothing to enliven, vary or give grace and charm to these conventional passages.

Mignon needs a major infusion of French singing style in order to blossom. This was intermittently available last night. Firstly, there was a huge divide in vocal quality and/or size. Ms Blythe and Mr Relyea have extremely large voices — the rest of the cast considerably smaller. In trios, ensembles and numbers sung against the overly large chorus, a lot of solo lines were not audible versus others that soared out easily. Ms Blythe is a wonder and was in fine form. She can control her dynamics, has great legato and unquestionable star power. The lower quarter of her voice has become the most formidable mezzo chest I have heard since Horne in her prime and there lies my one complaint. This Mignon sounded as if she could have easily dispensed with the Gypsy leader and Philene with one stroke of the back of her hand. There was little vulnerability or charm about her Mignon. But vocal health and beauty for days, oh my! Mr. Relyea also scored on vocal plushness and legato — in fact these two roles depend on those qualities as others in the cast get the ear-catching numbers. There wasn't the great rolling bass-of-the-old-school authority about his Lothario but, again, lots of vocal health and ease in the music.

Announced as singing with a cold, Massimo Giordano nevertheless showed off a very good tenor voice, all of a piece from bottom to a secure, freely spinning top as Wilhelm Meister. Eglise Gutierrez must still be showing the effects of her cold. She was in and out of phase all night, sometimes quite absent in the middle and lower registers, sometimes singing securely and interestingly. The climax of "Je suis Titiana!" collapsed into a pitchless yell and scrambled conclusion, after which she seemed unable to open the door to leave the stage and decided to sit in chairs vacated by percussionists. Unfortunately, she elected to slump into a most inappropriate posture for a concert stage. In her vibrant red dress, strange posture (and while flipping pages of her score back and forth) she created an unfortunate distraction as Blythe, Relyea and Giordano were trying to bring the opera to its conclusion. Much of this may be due to inexperience. Her career is only eighteen months old. She showed a lot of vocal promise and we'll have to hope she's at her best next year as Lakme.

Kate Aldrich wowed everyone with Frederic's lilting song, and clear-voiced lyric tenor William Ferguson again impressed in the role of Laerte — what a fine Prunier in La Rondine he will be if and when he takes on the role. Backed up against the stage wall, the massive chorus sometimes overpowered the soloists and could have afforded to be a good deal more modest in size, although they did sing with admirable tone and vigo (perhaps Ms Queler could job some of them out to patch things up in the Metropolitan's chorus).

Only about 75 to 80 percent of a house — rare for the usually sold out or close to sold out OONY performances — was in attendance. On the whole, a very good if not extraordinary evening of a lovely, tuneful piece. Next year: Guglielmo Tell (with Marcello Giordani), Lakme, and L'Amore dei tre re with Fabiano Bravo and Samuel Ramey.

William Fregosi

Posted by Gary at 7:28 PM

Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina in Frankfurt

Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

Khovanshchina, Frankfurt Opera

By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 8 Apr 05]

Alcoholism, depression and loneliness were a few of the things that killed Modest Mussorgsky in 1881. He was 42 years old. He left behind the unfinished piano score of Khovanshchina, a vast historical opera that was, among other things, a criticism of Tsar Peter I.

Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky and Shostakovich all had a go at completing and orchestrating the opera but it still has not really entered the repertoire. Each good revival makes you wonder why not.

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Triumph der Musik über das Drama

Kirill Petrenko dirigiert eine fulminante Premiere von Modest Mussorgskis "Chowanschtschina" an der Frankfurter Oper

Von Götz Thieme [Stuttgarter Zeitung, 30 Mar 05]

Im Ephemeren der Oper, der Vergänglichkeit einer Aufführung, sind Heil und Trauer verschwistert. Im Misslungenen liegt die Chance der Wiedergutmachung durch Wiederholung - dem gelungenen Augenblick ist die Trauer um die Vergänglichkeit, Unwiederholbarkeit des lebendigen Kunstwerks eingeschrieben. Zwischen diesen Polen bewegt sich die zarte Kunstform Oper, die oftmals mit brachialen Bild- und Musikmitteln die Zuhörenden und Zuschauenden bezwingt. Am Ende bleibt der Nachklang der Musik, das Zittern eines Sekundintervalls, der Schauer eines A-capella-Chores, das Orgeln einer Bassstimme.

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Posted by Gary at 7:28 PM

What Led to Muti's Ouster?

Riccardo Muti (Photo by Pool/Reuters)

The arts column: Farewell to the last of the great autocrats

[Daily Telegraph, 6 Apr 05]

Rupert Christiansen on the charisma and idealism of Riccardo Muti

Few tears will be shed for Riccardo Muti, who resigned last Saturday from La Scala, Milan, the opera house he has conducted with a baton of iron for the last 19 years. That's quite long enough for anyone to be in the same job, and Muti's prestige means that he can take his pick of offers from the international circuit — except perhaps Covent Garden, which is still smarting at his peremptory withdrawal from last October's production of La Forza del Destino, apparently in protest over the insignificant alteration of a piece of scenery.

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Posted by Gary at 2:40 AM

April 7, 2005

Le Figaro Interviews Peter Sellars

Peter Sellars

Peter Sellars : "Un nectar d'amour"

Christian Merlin [Le Figaro, 7 Apr 05]

C'est l'événement lyrique de l'année à Paris. L'oeuvre, d'abord : le Tristan et Isolde de Wagner, véritable opéra impossible, monument visionnaire ou tout est tourné vers l'intériorité, a toujours fasciné. La distribution, ensuite : Ben Heppner et Waltraud Meier sont tout simplement les plus grands. L'équipe artistique, enfin. Le chef finlandais Esa-Pekka Salonen, pour ses débuts à l'Opéra de Paris et son premier Tristan, retrouvera le metteur en scène Peter Sellars, dont la conception scénique s'appuiera sur l'univers visuel du vidéaste Bill Viola. L'occasion d'interroger Sellars sur sa vision de l'oeuvre : surpris en pleine répétition d'orchestre (il y assiste car pour lui la mise en scène procède de la musique), il nous répond avec une générosité, un sens de l'humain, une intelligence pédagogique qui font de lui un etre d'exception.

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Posted by Gary at 7:23 PM

Wiener Staatsoper Upset with ORF Broadcast Plans

Ioan Holenders Breitseite gegen ORF

[Die Presse, 8 Apr 05]

Der Staatsoperndirektor präsentierte streitbar den Spielplan der kommenden Saison.

"Ein Affront, eine Beleidigung dieses Hauses und des Publikums, aber auch der Künstler" - so kommentierte Staatsoperndirektor Ioan Holender die Absage der übertragung von Donizettis "Liebestrank" mit den Stars Anna Netrebko und Rolando Villazón durch den ORF. Holender hatte gegen die späte Sendezeit im Pfingstsamstags-Programm des ORF (Beginn 22.35h) protestiert und gefragt, ob die mit Netrebko geplante übertragung der kommenden Salzburger Festspiel-"Traviata" auch zu so später Stunde gezeigt werden würde. ORF-Programmdirektor Scolik nahm daraufhin die "Liebestrank"-Sendung überhaupt aus dem Sende-Programm.

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Posted by Gary at 6:01 PM

Der Ring in Chicago

Scene from Götterdämmerung (Photo: Lyric Opera of Chicago)

Der Ring des Nibelungen

Martin Kettle [The Guardian, 7 Apr 05]

For opera conductors, the Ring cycle remains the professional Everest. So the fact that Andrew Davis has just completed his first Ring at the Lyric Opera in Chicago marks not merely a career peak for one of this country's most important conductors, it is also a major event for British music — even if it is taking place thousands of miles from home.

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Chicago opera marks 50 years with staging of Wagner's masterwork

By Lawrence A. Johnson [Chicago Sun-Times, 7 Apr 05]

CHICAGO -- The Lyric Opera of Chicago is celebrating its 50th anniversary season in ambitious style, closing its year with a revival of Wagner's sprawling Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Encompassing four operas and nearly 16 hours of performance time, The Ring of the Nibelungen — popularly known as the Ring cycle or just The Ring — remains the largest and most staggeringly ambitious work in classical music. It took Wagner 28 years to complete his musical epic, and its blend of Norse-German mythology remains hugely influential today. People who don't know a note of The Ring will be familiar with its literature and pop-culture offshoots, from its oft-satirized breast-plated heroines to recent acclaimed film versions of Tolkien.

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Posted by Gary at 5:44 PM

Un ballo in maschera at the Met

Ripples of lightness in Verdi's dark 'Ballo'


Humor is not a quality normally associated with Verdi. He was a dour fellow, dubbed "the bear of Busetto" by his long-suffering wife. His first comic opera, "Un giorno di regno," was a crashing failure, and "Falstaff," his final work for the stage, looks more intently into the abyss than most commentators care to admit.

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Un Ballo in Maschera/Voigt, Metropolitan Opera, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 6 Apr 05]

It isn't over, apparently, until the fat lady has gastric-bypass surgery. And tells the world about it.

Earlier this season, the soprano Andrea Gruber garnered a lot of attention by declaring that she had undergone an abdominal-stapling procedure in time to sing Turandot at the Met and Covent Garden. Now Deborah Voigt, the diva famously fired by the Royal Opera for not fitting into Ariadne's little black dress, has followed suit.

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Posted by Gary at 1:23 PM

April 6, 2005

HANSEN: The Sibyl Sanderson Story — Requiem for a Diva

Sanderson was an immensely popular late nineteenth-century opera singer in Paris, where she made her debut at the Opéra-Comique in 1886. Sanderson and her family hailed from California where her father was a wealthy and influential politician and lawyer until his death in 1886, at which point Sanderson moved permanently to Paris with her mother and sisters, and Sanderson began her operatic career in earnest. That her studies began rather late resulted mainly from her father's opposition to her having a career on the stage, a circumstance that also resulted in a lack of proper vocal training until she was older than usual for opera divas to start studying. Yet despite her inauspicious beginnings, Sanderson became known for her three-octave range and excellent acting skills, as well as her apparently irresistible beauty. In particular, she was associated with the French composer Massenet, for whom she created roles such as Manon, Thaïaut;s, and Esclarmonde; and she also worked closely with Saint-Saens, who wrote Phryné for her.

There was, however a dark side of her life, as she developed an addiction to alcohol and morphine, which resulted in advanced liver disease at an early age. Hansen captures all of this, from the time that Sanderson's parents married through her tragic death at the age of thirty-eight. Moreover, he broadens the picture with information about the many composers, conductors, and singers with whom she worked.

Throughout, the attention to detail and thorough review of the numerous documents surrounding Sanderson's life and career attest both to Hansen's integrity as a biographer and to his obsession with the divine Mlle. Sanderson herself. Clearly, he has left no stone unturned, and he has thought long and hard about the reasons for her tragic illness, and subsequent poverty and early demise. Hansen supports his claims about Sanderson's life with a wide variety of documentary evidence including letters, telegrams, diary entries, receipts, hotel registers, newspaper articles, and extensive personal interviews with Sanderson's relatives and acquaintances and their progeny.

Unfortunately, in his zeal to present Sanderson's life in the fullest, Hansen often includes documents that are less than fascinating and occasionally banal. If the overall result is a scintillating story, it is occasionally a slow read. Hansen's prose is repetitive and too often spiced with dramatic insinuations and heavy-handed foreshadowing. And though the text is rarely interrupted either by musical examples (there are only four), or by copious endnotes, sometimes the lack of specific documentation sometimes gives the impression that Hansen is carefully controlling the reader's access to documents in order to support his own romantic versions of events. It is unfortunate that more documents are not made available in their entirety in an appendix or in the endnotes, since these would allow the reader to draw her own conclusions.

The reader might also find frustrating the lack of contextual information about French opera at the time of Sanderson's career. Although The Sibyl Sanderson Story includes captivating, if tangential, anecdotes and biographical tidbits about many of the major figures in French opera at the end of the 19th century, it fails to account for the overarching politics and nationalism then rampant in the opera business. While Hansen portrays Sanderson's career as turning on the machinations of such powerful personalities as Massenet and Svengali, he only occasionally alludes to the contemporary debates that raged over the direction of French opera in the face of the rising tide of Wagnerian music drama.

That Hansen is enamored with Sanderson is apparent in his portrayal of her as a larger-than-life talent moving in the highest echelons of musical society. He never acknowledges that Massenet may have been a "second-rate composer" (as Elliot Forbes describes him in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians) who needed a gimmick--such as a beautiful, unknown, American singer with extraordinary sex appeal--to help his operas fill the house. Moreover, though the reasons Hansen gives for Sanderson's alcoholism and forced early retirement, such as early overuse of her untrained voice and a predilection for socializing, may indeed be a part of her story, it is also true that the genre to which Sanderson dedicated her career--French grand opera--was not championed in her day (nor is it today). She dedicated herself completely to a small number of French lyric-soprano roles written by Massenet, Saint-Saens, and Gounod, to the exclusion of repertoire by Mozart, Verdi, and Wagner. Thus, her choice of roles limited her potential for popularity and fame outside the Opéra-Comique or the Opéra, just as much as mismanagement and greed destroyed her voice.

In short, The Sibyl Sanderson Story is an entertaining biography of an unusual operatic personality, though it occasionally lacks focus. Hansen speculates a great deal about the particulars of some events in Sanderson's life--including the possibilities of her lesbianism and of having been the victim of euthanasia--but having done exhaustive research on Sanderson, he is surely qualified to do so.

Megan B. Jenkins
CUNY — The Graduate Center

image_description=Jack Winsor Hansen: The Sibyl Sanderson Story — Requiem for a Diva

product_title=Jack Winsor Hansen: The Sibyl Sanderson Story — Requiem for a Diva
product_by=Pompton Plains, NJ: Amadeus Press, 2004
product_id=ISBN: 1-57467-094-8

Posted by Gary at 9:07 PM

More On Fanciulla

David Belasco

A Puccini Blizzard


While ruminating about "Madama Butterfly" in these pages the other week, I mentioned that the de facto premiere of the work was not in Italy at all but rather New York, since the David Belasco play originally opened on Herald Square. In the case of "Girl of the Golden West," both the Belasco theatrical piece and the Puccini opera were launched in Manhattan, the latter under Toscanini in 1910.

It is interesting to remember that European audiences of the period largely perceived New York and the Wild West as virtually the same place - the way they thought of Cairo and "Aida." Recent events indicate that this perception has changed little. The "West" of the title - which is given in English rather than Italian - represents more of a state of mind, an emblem of the rugged individualism of the new world, similar in its symbology to the orchestral essay "Ameriques" by Edgard Varese, than a geographical location.

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La Fanciulla del West, New York City Opera

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 5 Apr 05]

La Fanciulla del West, which arrived in a new production at the New York City Opera on Sunday, is a conglomeration of lovely contradictions. The libretto delivers a stark all-American shoot-'em-up, but the music delivers lush old-world verismo. Puccini was an eager tourist in this brash new locale.

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A golden portrayal of rot


California miners and barflies singing their hearts out in Italian, hollering "Hallo!"? The picture inevitably provokes titters, even in New York City Opera's excellent production of Puccini's 1910 music-drama "La Fanciulla del West."

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Posted by Gary at 1:48 PM

ENO Closes the Ring

Twilight of the Gods, Coliseum, London

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 5 Apr 05]

Four years after the initial concert performances, English National Opera's Ring cycle has reached its Wagnerian summit. It is not a triumph of the kind that the young company enjoyed with its first-ever cycle in the 1970s, but at least the staging is complete, with cast and production team intact, as planned. Other, more prestigious companies have achieved less.

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Twilight of the Gods

Andrew Clements [The Guardian, 4 Apr 05]

Anyone who has persevered with English National Opera's Ring cycle will find few surprises in the final instalment. But where the attempt of Phyllida Lloyd's production and Richard Hudson's designs to ground every scene in images from contemporary life scored at least a partial hit in last autumn's Siegfried, the new Twilight of the Gods returns to the relentlessly trivialising approach that so seriously undermined the stagings of The Rhinegold and The Valkyrie last season, and so transforms one of the greatest of all operatic achievements into the soundtrack for the trashiest of TV soaps.

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Posted by Gary at 2:52 AM

Il Trovatore in Toronto

Irina Mishura as Azucena (Photo: Michael Cooper)

COC stages masterful 'Il Trovatore'

By JOHN COULBOURN [Toronto Sun, 5 Apr 05]

TORONTO -- Just how good is the Canadian Opera Company's current Hummingbird production of Il Trovatore?

Good enough, that we wouldn't be all too surprised to find opera buffs donning hard hats and workboots to pitch in down at the corner of Queen and University, just to ensure that this world class company finally has a home that is worthy of it.

After a very gloomy kick at the Verdi classic in 1999, the COC comes up aces in this revisiting, thanks to the direction of Stephen Lawless, who manages to focus a lot more passion, if not a lot more light, on librettist Salvatore Cammarano's operatic adaptation of Antonio Garcia Gutierrez's stage play.

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Posted by Gary at 2:29 AM

Hasse's Cleofide in Dresden

Scene from Cleofide (Photo: Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden)

Die Wiedergeburt einer Hasse-Oper als Soap

Von Jörg Schneider [Chemnitzer Morgenpost, 29 Mar 05]

DRESDEN - Es gab was zu feiern am Ostersonnabend in der Semperoper, und das Publikum feierte gern mit: 274 Jahre nach der Uraufführung stand erstmals wieder ,Cleofide" im Rampenlicht.

Die wieder entdeckte Oper des früheren Dresdner Hofkapellmeisters Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783) hatte einst den Ruf Dresdens als Opernmetropole begründet. Klar, dass sich die Staatskapelle besonders ins Zeug legte, um dem barocken Kleinod wieder Leben einzuhauchen.

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Posted by Gary at 2:20 AM

April 5, 2005

Anna Takes Vienna

Anna Netrebko

Opernselig eingetrankelt

[Die Presse, 5 Apr 05]

Staatsoper: Grosser Bahnhof für Donizettis Liebestrank. Augen auf, Ohren auf: Der ORF war da!

Donizettis "Liebestrank" ist sonst eine gern gepflegte Repertoire-Bank. Diesmal war jedoch alles anders. Gleissendes Scheinwerferlicht schon beim Betreten der Oper: Der ORF war angetreten, um das Ereignis für die Nachwelt zu bannen. Solches passiert eher selten im Repertoire-Alltag. Selten passiert es aber auch, dass der Besucher eine derart adrett aufpolierte und klingend besetzte Staatsopernaufführung einfach unterm Jahr serviert bekommt. Sogar Aussenministerin und Star-Tenor lauschten in der Loge. Der Grund? Anna Netrebko, der schöne, junge russische Sopranliebling, war als Jungbäuerin Adina angesetzt.

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Posted by Gary at 2:14 AM

Fanciulla: The Banality of Reality?

Nuggets of True Romance, With Weepy Gold Miners Singing in Italian

By ANNE MIDGETTE [NY Time 3 Apr 05]

Conventional wisdom has it that Puccini's operatic tale of the wild West, "La Fanciulla del West," is too melodramatic to be fully credible - a reason it hasn't joined his "Tosca," "La Bohème" and "Turandot" in the top-most echelon of audience favorites. And it's true that there are lots of things in it that seem silly today (like a bunch of weepy, childlike gold miners singing in Italian) or even offensive, like American Indians whose pidgin vocabulary frequently includes "ugh!" . . . .

The real Achilles' heel of "Fanciulla" may not be that it is over the top or dated, but that the romance it depicts is too real, its characters too flawed, and under their patina of local color, even too familiar. Which makes this opera all the more worth seeing and certainly hearing, even if ideally it would get a more sensitive production than this one.

Click here for the complete article.

A Rebuttal

I think there are a number of things that conspire to make La Fanciulla del West hard for some Americans to embrace, including a real lack of knowledge of our own history.

David Belasco was the great realist of his generation in the theater. He once purchased an actual Child's Restaurant, a chain somewhat akin to the old Howard Johnson's or the current Friendly's, dismantled it and had it reassembled on stage in New York because a Child's was the setting for a particular play. Melodrama was, of course, a recognized and appreciated form in the American Theater of the time. But how over the top Minnie and Co. actually are depends on your reading of "the Old West." Clearly some astonishing and unusual things went on out there. I think the Donner Party's cannibalism or the High Meadow Massacre during which Mormons exterminated an entire wagon train coming west indicate that just about anything could happen.

Ms. Midgette jeers at Minnie's "single kiss before chastely bedding down in separate bunks." During the high Victorian, whether in a city or in the high Sierras, a woman's virginity was a closely guarded thing. But listen to the feverish, sensuous music as Minnie and Johnson cling to each other after the kiss, punctuated by several highly suggestive gunshots from offstage, to get an idea of what's really going on. Our Minnie may not be as coldly chaste as Ms. Midgette thinks, and she certainly isn't by act three--her month consorting with Johnson during the second intermission is clearly driving Rance wild with jealousy.

As to the miners, Midgette says they seem silly today, "a bunch of weepy, childlike gold miners singing in Italian." Well,they sing in Italian because it's an Italian opera. Do we jeer because Carmen and the other Spanish characters sing in French? Or Verdi's ancient Egyptians sing in Italian? The miners who stampeded westward during the gold rush were frequently lacking in education, many were incredibly young boys, and they all found themselves in a place where only a few would ever find gold and make a fortune. In a highly sentimental age, their emotional vulnerability and total lack of sophistication is not only understandable but can actually be very moving if depicted properly in an opera that's all about loss, isolation, loneliness, and broken dreams. I frequently remind people that the educational and cultural level we have today cannot be assumed for people from the past. Not so very long ago, a grammar school diploma--the equivalent of what Minnie is trying to give her boys, was the highest most people could hope to get and many never achieved it.

I'm glad she recognized the "wonderfully rich, dense score," that many of us feel is Puccini's finest. And she is spot on about the reality of the characters — Rance, for example, is no cardboard heavy but a deeply conflicted, emotionally desperate man. Her point about the characters being "too real, too flawed" for a modern audience could be right on the button. At Carnegie Hall a large part of the audience walked out after the first act of Donizetti's Marin Falliero because they had been given a libretto and could see there were no conventional love duets and no climactic mad scene for the soprano — merely a deeply human drama with a serious, not happy ending. The population embraces "reality shows" that are ludicrous for their actual lack of anything real or human. In Fanciulla the characters are in our faces, they hurt us and make us think and yearn and feel loss. That's what art's all about.

William Fregosi

La Fanciulla del West in Full Score

Posted by Gary at 1:43 AM

MOZART: Idomeneo

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Idomeneo (KV 366)
Richard Lewis, Leo Goeke, Bozena Betley, Josephine Barstow
The London Philharmonic Orchestra, The Glyndebourne Chorus, John Pritchard
Arthaus Music 101 079 [DVD]

In 1934, John Christie launched an institution of English musical life with Fritz Busch and Carl Ebert: The Glyndebourne Festival. Since 1951, the Festival has staged four productions of Mozart's Idomeneo (1781), the most recent being in 2003.

Listening and watching a performance almost thirty years after the event is in some respects like Monday morning quarterbacking. It is good to keep in mind that at the time of this performance, the study of historical performance practice was still in its nascent stage and Mozart research was, by today's standard, still in its youth. More significantly, the re-discovered performing score of 1780/81, used by the composer, was not available in 1972 when the Neue Mozart Ausgabe score of Idomeneo was published. To speak of a single definitive Idomeneo is difficult because of the many variants and alternatives that Mozart composed for this opera.

This 1974 production, the third staging at the Glyndebourne Festival, takes editing liberties of its own to fit a four-hour opera into two hours, without the ballet. Act I begins with scene eight, skips Idamante's aria Il spadre adorato, and segues to the Intermezzo, which is also edited. The remaining two acts are similarly edited, omitting recitatives and abridging the arias. Program notes attempt to fill the void.

Act II scene one, uses the opening scene composed for the 1786 performance in Vienna, namely, a recitative between Idamante (Leo Goeke) and Ilia (Bozena Betley). Goeke sings the aria that follows accompanied by an obligato violin, both of which are disappointing. Act III is the most dramatic and was the most appealing to Mozart--"there is hardly a scene in it which is not extremely interesting." (3 Jan 1781) Elettra's final aria (Oh semania! Oh furie!), which always "brings down the house," is considered by some the best in the opera. This performance by a young Josephine Barstow does not disappoint, either vocally or dramatically, and illustrates why the soprano is today one of the Grand Dames of opera.

Mozart referred to this work as his "Munich opera" or his "grand opera" (meine grosse oper), but not as an opera seria. Composed for the celebration of carnival in Munich (1781), this work differs from the traditional opera seria most noticeably in its musical continuity and the exquisite ensemble writing, a hallmark of Mozart's operas. Regrettably, the vocal ensembles are not at their best in this performance. Markedly, the quartet Andro ramingo e solo, which moved Mozart to tears, neither draws in the listener nor elicits a depth of emotion.

The sound of the orchestra is not always even, a fault of the recording. The overall vocal performances are good but not stellar, and there are moments where intonation is uncertain. Richard Lewis, the first English Idomeneo in the 1951 production, and Leo Goeke are wanting; their acting and characterizations are stiff and uninspiring; posed and bland. Unfortunately, this seeps into their singing. Goeke however, finally breaks out of the box in the last scene, giving more drama and voice than previously heard. Bozena Betley and Josephine Barstow dominate the opera both vocally and dramatically. Barstow's performance as the lascivious, vitriolic, and frenzied Elettra is a total package; she does not miss a beat. Bozena Betley's coloratura is remarkably natural; she is at her best in the Act II aria, Se il padre perdei.

The set design by Roger Butlin is reflective of the 1970s. A receding series of rings/arches--reminiscent of depictions of time warps--frame an already small stage, making it seem even smaller. Halfway through the opera, one might feel claustrophobic. It is only in the last scene of the opera that their purpose becomes clear: the interior of Neptune's temple. It is not worth the wait. The backdrops capture some of the splendour of opera seria, the pastoral scenes are quite pleasing; the storms are effective but the sea monster--called for in Mozart's original directions--is disappointing, bordering on the ridiculous. The chorus, whose overall performance is good, delivers one of its better scenes at the end of Act II with the appearance of the sea monster. Its effectiveness is compromised however, by the staging which has the chorus seemingly fettered to their places as they sing "let us run, let us flee." When they finally do leave the stage, it is simply too orderly for a citizenry fearing for its life. It seems that the size of the stage, once again, contributes to the problem.

In 1974, this John Cox production did not thrill the operagoer. Thirty years latter, it is still a "mixed bag." It is the performances of Dame Josephine and Bozena Betley however, that are worth the view.

Geraldine M. Rohling

Posted by Gary at 1:10 AM

Garcia's L'isola disabitata Recovered

Manuel García as Otello

Professor directing premiere of lost "salon opera"
WFU students to perform 1831 salon opera by Spaniard

By Bob Workmon [Winston-Salem Journal, 3 Apr 05]

Not all operas are grand, full-blown theatrical events. There are many smaller, more intimate works, some called salon operas, meant to be performed, as the name implies, in intimate surroundings. Most of these smaller operas are far less well known than their super-size relations.

One of those intimate operas is Manuel Garcia's L'isola disabitata (The Uninhabited Island), a work long forgotten until Teresa Radomski, a Wake Forest University music professor, began its recovery in 2003. Audiences can hear the fruits of her work Thursday and Friday in Brendle Recital Hall on the WFU campus. "As far as we can tell, this music hasn't been heard since it was written in 1831," Radomski said.

Click here for remainder of article.

Click here for press release.

Click here for program and other details concerning the production.

Manuel Garcia (1775-1832): Chronicle of the Life of a Bel Canto Tenor at the Dawn of Romanticism
Manuel Garcia (1775-1832): Chronicle of the Life of a Bel Canto Tenor at the Dawn of Romanticism

Posted by Gary at 12:29 AM

April 4, 2005

BALAKAUSKAS: Requiem in Memoriam Stasys Lozoraitis

Osvaldas Balakauskas: Requiem in Memoriam Stasys Lozoraitis
Donatas Katkus, conductor
Judita Leitait

Posted by Gary at 3:24 PM

Albert Herring/Eugene Onegin/Genoveva in Boston

A View of Boston

A Tale of Three Operas

I ended last week with three very different operas here in Boston. On Thursday, the Boston Conservatory of Music put on a nicely designed, lovingly directed production of Britten's Albert Herring. Based loosely on a Guy de Maupassant short story Albert sends up English small town blue stockings who stage an annual May Queen pageant, finding themselves unable to find a young woman of acceptable virtue in the immediate area. Their choice falls on a May King in the person of Mamma's boy Albert Herring who is mortified by the whole experience. Albert proceeds to use the cash part of his prize to go off on a toot, stay out all night to return home a happier, wiser and far more independent young man, to the chagrin of all.

The sets were inspired by Victorian photographs, the costumes were satisfyingly full of high Victorian frou-frou, Lady Billows even had a most appropriate Victorian figure. David Powell who sang Albert possesses a high, clear, sizeable lyric tenor and admirably clear diction. The orchestra did well by the score under Bruce Hangen's buoyant direction.

On Friday, the second Boston Lyric Opera performance of Eugene Onegin was a study on the depths of romantic passion. Stephen Lord ignited a deeply felt, exciting performance. In the pit, horns and trumpets had a very good night and everyone on stage and in the pit appeared to be "on."

Designer Bruno Schwengl and director James Robinson created a lovely romantic world backed by a stand of tall white birch with furniture and props as required. The look had almost certainly been influenced buy the current MET production (Mme. Larina's party featured an oval of chairs within which the guests gossiped and danced, and very little else, for example) but had much to say on its own. Robinson made a point of linking Tatyana and Lensky as equal victims of Onegin's alienated inability to feel or give in a relationship. She had always with her the romantic novel and he had always his little notebook; during the cotillion when the chorus was focused on the off-stage dancers, only Tatyana and Lensky were left in the oval of chairs, each nursing hurt inflicted by Onegin. A wonderful touch was to have the servant girls hang out a laundry of white bed sheets to dry on the way to picking berries and for Tatyana to hide among them in panic at Onegin's approach. After shooting Lensky dead in the duel, Onegin bowed formally to the two seconds, carefully picked up and brushed off his coat and hat and strode coldly from the scene as if nothing disturbing had happened.

Schwengl's costumes were richly detailed, flattering and sharply distinguished as to class and character. As with the emotions of the principals, white and black predominated, white in acts one and two, funereal black in act three. Not all of the action was "realistic." Some was poetic and indicative of the psychological situation of the characters at any one time. When Tatyana enters in the final scene she comments that she feels again like a young girl waiting in panic for Onegin and breaks the face of a table clock as if time no longer exists.

The cast was a strong one. Maria Kanyova's slender, angular body and features suited a still gawky teenager perfectly. Her wide-ranging voice, secure top and slightly Slavic sound sounded fin in the music and she tore into the phrases with passion or a lovely delicacy as required. She has remarkable dynamic control. Garrett Sorenson's Lensky was probably the favorite of the audience. The upper middle and top of his voice have a brilliant spin and freedom that create a satisfying buzz in the ears and he phrases beautifully. The lower middle and bottom are not yet fully developed and need work, but his potential would seem to be enormous as there is no sense that the voice has been overused or abused in any way, and the basic sound is very beautiful. Completing the main trio, Mel Ulrich has the vocal color and affect for the anti-hero. A bit more power in the biggest moments would be welcome but he didn't force or distort the line at any time and the voice is all of a piece from top to bottom.

Dorothy Byrne and Josepha Gayer worked well together as Larina and Filipyevna. Both have strong lower ranges and their opening scene registered sistinctly against the off-stage duet of the two girls, something that does not always happen. John Cheek's Gremin had warmth and dignity but his voice has dried significantly and a persistent unsteadiness undermined the first part of the aria that is essentially his whole part. Because the lowest notes are still solid and full, he concluded successfully. Elizabeth Batton's vibrant mezzo and volatile personality worked well for Olga. Frank Kelley either decided to sing Triquet with a clinical depiction of a very old man's voice or is losing breath and solidity of tone. Either way, legato suffered and there were many intrusive breaths in the middle of lines.

On Saturday night a real novelty--Robert Schumann's Genoveva, produced in concert by Emmanuel Music in an effort to show that the opera is viable musically and dramatically and deserves revival. A similar effort for Schubert's Alfonso und Estrella a couple of years ago only pointed up the static nature of that pretty but unexciting work, but Genoveva is something else again. Schumann unquestionably knew how to shape a scene and, at the same time that Wagner premiered Tannhauser in Dresden, was experimenting with monologs that developed from or segued into scenes, rather than producing a string of closed form arias. The prelude to the final act prefigures the feeling if not the harmonies or chromaticism of the third act of Tristan.

In structure, Genoveva seems to have looked to existing works for some guidelines. Once the gender of the rescuer and the rescued is reversed, act four is structured exactly like the second act of Fidelio. Genoveva is led to a desolate place to be secretly executed by two minions of the villianous Golo; a hunting horn fanfare alerts them to the arrival of her husband, who frees her; the set then changes to the first scene of the opera where a local official (baritone) and a jubilant chorus greet the couple and praise their heroic qualities.

James Maddelena's baritone has become darker and more powerful over his long career and sounded wonderful as Count Siegfried. As his wife Genoveva, Sara Pelletier created a most attractive character with her shimmering lyric soprano and lyrical phrasing. Frederick Urrey handled Golo's high tenor lines with ease after a bit of a warm-up period and Krista River made the most of the sorceress Margaretha in whom the program notes see a prefiguration of Klingsor. The role would probably benefit from a more dramatic voice than Ms River's smoothly lyric one but in a moderately-sized venue she was able to score all the necessary points. David Kravits gave strong support in tow roles. Veteran conductor Craig Smith got warmth and passion out of his cast, chorus and orchestra. The audience's reaction to the opera built steadily all evening, ending in genuine enthusiasm. Genoveva is viable indeed.

William Fregosi

Posted by Gary at 3:01 PM

Feodor Chaliapin sings Russian folk songs

Feodor Chaliapin sings Russian folk songs
Living Voices Series
Hänssler Classic 945040 [CD]

This new release from Hänssler Classics presents an anthology of live and studio performances by the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938), undoubtedly one of the greatest singers in recorded history. The title of the album, "Feodor Chaliapin sings Russian Folk Songs," is somewhat misleading. Apart from traditional songs such as "Mashenka," "Eh, Van'ka," and "Down the Volga," the recording includes arrangements of 19th-century popular songs such as "Dubinushka," "Down the Peterskaya," and the perennial Gypsy favorite "Black Eyes," as well as a selection of salon romances, art songs, and ballads by Mikhail Glinka, Alexander Dargomïaut;zhsky, Anton Rubinstein, and Modest Musorgsky, among others. Most of the selections on the new CD have been previously released on various labels, with the possible exception of "Dubinushka," which I have not been able to find among the recordings currently available. Hence, avid Chaliapin collectors should be aware that the Hänssler release offers little if anything new to them. Those music lovers still unacquainted with Chaliapin's art, however, or those whose exposure to this singer has been limited to his opera recordings, would find this album a great insight into a spectacular voice and a unique artistic persona.

Feodor Chaliapin's 45-year career has been tied for the most part to the operatic stage. Born near Kazan on the Volga river, he first joined an operatic troupe in Tiflis (now Tbilisi, Georgia), and later performed on various stages in St Petersburg. In 1896, the 24-year-old singer made a decision that would change his life and catapult him to stardom: he agreed to join the troupe of the Moscow Private Opera created, sponsored, and directed by art patron and railway tycoon Savva Mamontov (1841-1918). At this company, Chaliapin developed the classic roles of his repertoire, including Susanin (Glinka, Life for the Tsar), Mephistopheles (Gounod, Faust), the Miller (Dargomïaut;zhsky, Rusalka), Prince Galitsky (Borodin, Prince Igor), Nilakantha (Delibes, Lakmé), the Varangian Guest (Rimsky-Korsakov, Sadko), Dosifey (Musorgsky, Khovanshchina), and Boris (Musorgsky, Boris Godunov). The singer befriended a group of modernist painters associated with the company who revolutionized his ideas on costume, props, make-up, facial expression, and stage movement. He was also exposed to Mamontov's own innovative vision of fusing opera and drama on stage — a vision that also influenced Konstantin Stanislavsky's concept of method acting. By the time Chaliapin entered the stage of the Imperial Bolshoi Theater in Moscow only three years later, he was already a fully formed, unique creative artist that the world came to know during the remainder of his international career.

In Russia, meanwhile, Feodor Chaliapin's reputation extended far beyond the walls of the opera houses in which he performed. He was known to people in the barracks and universities, factories and street markets - people of all walks of life, including those who had never in their lives attended an opera performance. During the revolutionary uprising of 1905-07, and later in the years following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Chaliapin — a rich dandy known to enjoy the wealth that came with his stardom — was seen performing charity concerts in front of thousands of people in factories and shipyards. He sang folk lyrical songs like "Eh, Van'ka" and "Mashenka," traditional robber and Cossack ballads such as "Stenka Razin" and "The Legend of the Twelve Brigands," and revolutionary songs, including the ever-popular "Dubinushka," a frequent encore. A unique aspect of the singer's approach to his material was a natural, almost nonchalant, conversational manner of performance, with his voice casually traveling the gamut between singing and ordinary speech. Even while performing art songs, Chaliapin's sometimes controversial interpretations tend to stray away from the score to infuse the music with the unique dramatic power of his personality. Rare among classically trained singers, this approach proved particularly conducive to performing the folk and popular songs Chaliapin recorded throughout his career — a living tradition that thrives on improvisation and expressive freedom. A recording of Feodor Chaliapin singing this repertory is therefore a must in any opera lover's collection.

Olga Haldey
University of Missouri-Columbia

Posted by Gary at 2:35 PM

April 3, 2005

Caballe: Beyond Music

Caballe: Beyond Music

Monserratt Caballé's journey to La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera was truly a road of talent, dedication, and will. One of the most beautiful and athletic voices of our generation, declared as Callas' successor, Caballé dominated both the dramatic spinto and bel canto arenas, transcending the realm of the opera world to influence the popular masses.

EuroArts' DVD documentary Caballé: Beyond Music follows Caballé along the singer's path to success. Opening with Caballé entering her childhood conservatory of Barcelona, we witness the very roots that have supported her throughout her career. She talks warmly about memories of her teacher, the endless hours of practice and study, and those rare moments sneaking into the concert hall to sing. Her story is that of Cinderella; growing up in a poor family during post World War II, her family could no longer support her studies until the Betrand family, a wealthy Barcelona family influential in the arts, came to provide for her. On a whim, the family had Caballé sing for Conchita Bodia, a famous Lied singer and prized student of Granados. Bodia became her mentor and teacher, instilling in her a love for the songs of Strauss.

We follow Caballé as she recounts her first audition tour at the age of 23. Though told to go home and have children, Caballé found the strength in her to continue and secure a place in the opera house of Bremin, Germany. There she developed her prize roles of Mimí, Butterfly, and Violetta, and a firm foundation as a house lead singer. Her overnight success is attributed to a quick cover for a pregnant Marilyn Horne singing Lucrezia Borgia at the Met. From there, Caballé moves on to Covent Garden, singing Zeffirelli's Tosca, Norma at Paris Opera, and Semiramade at the Festival Aix-en-Provence.

This documentary delivers video footage of scenes from Adriana Lecouvreur, Tosca, Norma, and a duet with Marilyn Horne from Semiramade. We also hear from established artists and close friends of Caballé, including Claudio Abbado, José Carreras, Plácido Domingo, Renée Fleming, Zubin Mehta, Freddie Mercury, Mstislav Rostopovich, Cheryl Studer, Giuseppe di Stefano and Joan Sutherland. EuroArts also includes footage of live concerts with her daughter, soprano Montserrat Marti, as well as a performance with Freddy Mercury at the opening of the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

It is clear that Caballé was truly one of the top performers of our time. She says, "When a singer truly feels and experiences what the music is all about, the words will automatically ring true." With a voice of angel, executing a pure, spinning piano at the top of her range with endless phrasing, she always aimed to be of service to the composer. Yet, EuroArts is able to take us beyond the performance to find the warm and endearing woman that is Caballé.

Sarah Hoffman

Posted by Gary at 8:49 PM

Will Chailly Replace Muti?

Riccardo Chailly

Scala: Folgt Riccardo Chailly?

VON WILHELM SINKOVICZ [Die Presse, 4 Apr 05]

Riccardo Mutis Konsequenzen. Der Musik-Chef der Mailänder Scala hat am Samstag seinen Rücktritt eingereicht. Muti reagiert damit auf den Streik des Personals.

Die Musiker der Scala hatten ihren Chefdirigenten zuletzt mehrfach aufgefordert, das Haus zu verlassen. Muti sprach in seiner Rücktrittserklärung von einer "mir gegenüber offen zur Schau getragenen Feindseligkeit seitens Menschen, mit denen ich mehr als zwanzig Jahre zusammengearbeitet habe. Das macht eine Fortsetzung meiner Tätigkeit unmöglich."

Der Streit entspann sich an der von Muti betriebenen vorzeitigen Absetzung des Scala-Intendanten Fontana, mit dem es zuletzt immer öfter zu Meinungsverschiedenheiten gekommen war. Fontana wurde auf Betreiben des Dirigenten durch Mauro Meli ersetzt, den die Scala-Belegschaft aber geschlossen ablehnte. Die politischen Hintergründe des Streits waren zuletzt immer offenkundiger geworden: Muti ist dem konservativen Lager zuzuzählen, die Gewerkschaft mobilisierte nun gegen ihn alle Mittel und gewann die Auseinandersetzung.

Click here for remainder of article.

Mutiny at La Scala


On Saturday morning, Riccardo Muti, the conductor of the famed La Scala opera house in Milan, ended an ugly battle with his musicians by resigning. The following article, which appears in this Sunday's Arts & Leisure section and went to press earlier in the week, explains how one of the world's greatest conductors found himself in one of classical music's biggest messes.

EVEN by operatic standards, the plot turned with stunning swiftness. Not two months ago, Riccardo Muti seemed the unshakable master of the Teatro Alla Scala, the legendary opera house in Milan. But now, besieged in the political arena and denounced by the orchestra he so lovingly molded over two decades, he has all but lost his grip on the company.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 6:44 PM

Battle of the Rings

Phyllida Lloyd

Opera at war over Wagner

ENO strikes a sour note over Brunnhilde's suicide bombing scene, as La Scala director is forced out by staff

Vanessa Thorpe [The Guardian, 3 Apr 05]

The escalating artistic arms race between London's two rival opera houses, Covent Garden and the Coliseum, reached a new level of threat this weekend.

Both venues are in the middle of staging block-busting versions of Richard Wagner's epic and expensive Ring cycle, but audiences at the Coliseum last night were left reeling from more than the music after the English National Opera mounted a violent coup de thétre.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 6:27 PM

L'Opéra de Bordeaux Embroiled in Sexual Harassment Suit

Charles Jude

L'Opéra de Bordeaux ébranlé par une affaire judiciaire

Bordeaux de notre correspondante [Le Monde, 1 Apr 05]

Depuis plusieurs mois, le climat est tendu au ballet de l'Opéra de Bordeaux. Il pourrait l'etre davantage après la comparution, jeudi 31 mars, de son directeur et chorégraphe, Charles Jude, devant le tribunal correctionnel de Bordeaux, pour harcèlement moral. Cet ancien danseur étoile de l'Opéra de Paris, âgé de 51 ans, élève de Noureev, est poursuivi par Hélène Ballon, danseuse de 33 ans, soliste du ballet de Bordeaux. "Ce ne sont pas les qualités chorégraphiques de M. Jude qui sont mises en cause, mais son comportement", précise Me Gérard Boulanger, l'avocat de la plaignante.

Click here for remainder of article.

Ballerinas revolt at moves of 'predatory' dance boss

[The Australian, 4 Apr 05]

PARIS: The French music world has never seen anything like it. A revolt among dancers at the prestigious Bordeaux National Opera has resulted in the director of the corps de ballet being hauled before a judge on charges of "moral harassment".

Charles Jude, 51, a former disciple of Rudolf Nureyev, was accused in court on Thursday of rewarding with star billing those ballerinas who agreed to have sexual relations with him and penalising those who did not.

Click here for remainder of article.

Posted by Gary at 5:47 PM

April 2, 2005

The Cambridge Companion to John Cage

The volumes in the Cambridge Companions to Music Series are excellent remedies for this kind of situation, and the Cage volume is no exception. There is plenty of material here for someone without any basic training in music, since on one level Cage's music is readily appreciable without (perhaps in opposition to) customary musical training. To master the book in its entirety, however, the reader will need some minimal sophistication — a knowledge of musical "rudiments" (since Cage had a way of making the rudimentary anything but basic), an ability to read simple musical notation, and perhaps some minimal exposure to modern music theory (the notion of a musical motive, and its transformation and development). To this the reader must add a healthy dose of curiosity, since there is nothing more curious than Cage's oeuvre. No one, certainly no modern musician working in the line of thought that stems from European classicism, rethought music in such an ingenious and unprecedented fashion. The Canadian composer R. Murray Schaefer used to refer to a process of "ear cleaning," whereby we remove the accumulated dust of several centuries of classical listening (repeated listening to Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc.). Cage gives the ear a good scrubbing, and for this reason among others, despite the cultivated ignorance that surrounds his work, it is worth getting to know.

The book is divided into three sections. The first of these covers Cage's aesthetic background (the American, European, and most important perhaps the Asian influences on Cage's conception). David Patterson's essay on the Asian context is particularly illuminating, and while he has very little space in which to cover a broad and important question, Patterson introduces us to Cage and Zen, as well as Cage and the I Ching (a link that is in truth well documented) but also South Asian influences that are less well known — Ananda Coomaraswamy and the Ramakrishna sources. The second section of the book, "Sounds, words, images," appraises his work in terms of three periods (to the late 1940s, to the late 1960s, and thereafter until his death), and surveys his writings and his relationship to the world of visual art. Of these essays, "Visual Art," by Kathan Brown is particularly rewarding, opening up avenues for comparison between Cage's music and the paintings that dot the walls of our national (and in some instances local) art museums, and which we sometimes ignore as thoroughly as we do Cage and Einstein. Cage had a vibrant relationship with modern art and incorporated the visual into both his scores and his general conception. If you like modern art, you harbor the potential for liking Cage's music, and this chapter may serve as a door into the stuff. The final section of the book, "Interaction and influence," is a miscellany of essays relating Cage to his world and ours. The first three will be of interest to music scholars primarily, but the latter three, "Music and Society," by William Brooks, "Cage and Postmodernism," by Alastair Williams, and "No escape from heaven: John Cage as a father figure," by Kyle Gann, make particularly interesting reading. In fact, I would recommend starting the book with them. For those interested in vocal music and opera, Alastair Williams's discussion of the five Europeras will be of particular concern.

The bibliography is short but selective, comprehensive in its coverage, and the index is a model of concision. As my only caveat, the book begins with a brief chronology of Cage's life that could have been, perhaps, a little lengthier.

An excellent offering, then, in keeping with the high standards usually set by the Cambridge series. Highly recommended.

Murray Dineen
University of Ottawa

image_description=The Cambridge Companion to John Cage

product_title=The Cambridge Companion to John Cage
Cambridge Companions to Music
product_by=Edited by David Nicholls. London: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
product_id=ISBN-10: 0521789680 | ISBN-13: 9780521789684

Posted by Gary at 11:05 PM

Verdi Gala

Verdi Gala
Soloists, including Placido Domingo, Barbara Frittoli, Jose Carreras
Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Chorus del Festival Verdi
Zubin Mehta, conductor
Euroarts DVD 2051057

As a live occasion, the gala format allows for a festive atmosphere — a variety of singers trot back and forth across the stage, usually performing a series of "opera's greatest hits" with no distractions, if one may, in the way of costume, set, or dramatic context. Recorded for posterity, such gala events can lose, for many viewers, the attractions of the live atmosphere and become rather labored exercises.

The DVD of a 2001 concert celebrating the 100th anniversary of Verdi's death, Verdi Gala, may escape such a judgment for many. The title reveals why: this concert focuses on one composer, and offers a comprehensive overview of the career of the master's art. Spread over two discs, with a total timing of almost three hours, the program starts with the famous chorus from Nabucco, offers some glimpses of other early Verdi (Jerusalem, the French version of I Lombardi, and Il Corsaro). From there, a leap is taken to the great mid-career masterpieces of Rigoletto, Traviata, and Trovatore, and the disc proceeds to cover the most popular of Verdi's later operas, before concluding with a reprise of the Nabucco chorus.

The DVD package cover features a blurb boasting of a "behind the scenes slide show" and "spoken introduction by the artists." The slide show? A dozen or so photographs of the artists in rehearsal, with no captions. The "spoken introductions"? They consist of brief biographical sketches of Verdi and some perfunctory setting of the scenes for the excerpted scenes. Delivered in Italian by the singers themselves, holding scripts, these introductions may prove informative and entertaining to some. Others, such as your reviewer, found them so consistently cringe-inducing that, in order to postpone the day when a Botox injection might be taken into consideration, frequent use of the "skip scene" button on the DVD remote became required. Fortunately, all these introductions are separately tracked.

Inevitably, the value of this DVD comes down to the individual singers, and how many of them overcome the "gala" format to deliver truly musical, dramatic performances. A couple do accomplish this feat, but thankfully, none are truly defeated.

Of the two highlights for this reviewer, Mariella Devia's rendition of Violetta's act one closing scene appears first. Accompanied off-stage by Marcelo Alvarez, Devia has the vocal goods for this challenging music, and though not a strikingly attractive woman, she has an air of class and self-possession that projects Violetta's character very well.

Late in the evening Placido Domingo, looking a bit tired and all of his years, takes on the closing scene of Otello, with Daniela Dessi as his Desdemona. In the longest excerpt of the night (over 20 minutes), Domingo manages the rare feat of finding his character so deeply that the gala trappings - the tuxedo and seated orchestra - cannot distract the viewer. His Nium mi tema must rank with any of his staged performances for tragic depth and pathos, and Dessi's committed Desdemona deserves admiration as well.

To see Carreras on stage singing opera in 2001, one admires the man's art and passion, and of course his triumphant personal story, though the beauty that propelled him to a world-class career has long gone. He manages Riccardo's death scene fairly well, but is more impressive in lesser-known music from Jerusalem and Il Corsaro, the latter sung with an able Elisabete Matos. Younger tenors Jose Cura and Marcelo Alvarez do well for themselves, though this reviewer wouldn't mind hearing the smoother beauty of Alvarez's voice in the more dynamic dramatic persona of Cura.

Frittoli surprises with a very convincing Ritorna vincitor; the other key soprano solo comes from Dessi as the Forza Leonora. Her Pace, pace finds her at the outer edge of her range, but not distressingly so.

Veterans Leo Nucci and Ruggero Raimondi cover the baritone/bass sections admirably. The mezzos are not as satisfying. Luciana D'Intino's Eboli hits all the notes but feels manufactured, and Gloria Scalchi's Azucena, in the closing scene of Trovatore, delivers her part well without making any greater claims on our interest.

The Parma audience is all dressed up and seemingly enthusiastic, though most audience shots seem to find a few grumpy, unenthused guests. Andrea Bocelli, many will be glad to know, makes only a brief appearance, near the end — he is in the audience.

One major quibble must be dealt with: the subtitles in English insist on capitalizing the first word of every line, even if said line is only the continuation of a previous thought. Distracting.

Finally, Mehta holds the evening together, and by the latter half, really gets some fine performing from his orchestra. He is also to be endlessly thanked for refusing to let audience applause keep him from conducting the last beat of the final Nabucco chorus. He turns and puts his hands out in the universal plea for "stop!" and then, all smiles, gets that final note in. Bless him.

So if one has a great personal affection for gala evenings, and especially for Verdi, this Verdi Gala could be fine entertainment value. If, however, errant capitalization or insipid narration, let alone inconsistent artistic endeavor, dismay one, look for these artists in complete recordings of opera on DVD.

Chris Mullins
Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy

Posted by Gary at 10:56 PM

Runnicles at Carnegie Hall

Donald Runnicles (Photo: San Francisco Opera / Ken Friedman)

A Scot's Travel Guide to Prague


Donald Runnicles, the longtime music director of the San Francisco Opera, has been earning excellent reviews for his conducting of Strauss's "Rosenkavalier" at the Metropolitan Opera, a run that ends with a matinee performance today. But New Yorkers also know of him as the principal conductor of the Orchestra of St. Luke's. Wearing that hat he appeared at Carnegie Hall for a program on Thursday night titled, rather too cutely, "Postcard From Prague."

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Posted by Gary at 8:35 PM

Domingo Makes a Surprise Visit

Placido Domingo

Tenor praises 'future of music'

Domingo delighted with student orchestra


BILOXI - World-renowned tenor Placido Domingo, who sings tonight for a near sell-out audience at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum, had high praise Friday for the Hattiesburg-based youth orchestra that will accompany him.

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Posted by Gary at 7:47 PM

Muti Resigns

Director of opera, Riccardo Muti (center), acknowledges applause at the end of a performance of 'Europa Riconosciuta' at La Scala theatre in Milan in this December 7, 2004 file photo. Muti has resigned as the musical director of Milan's La Scala after his 19-year reign at the opera house dissolved into a bitter battle for power, mutiny in the musical ranks and cancelled performances. Photo by Pool/Reuters

Teatro alla Scala. Riccardo Muti si e' dimesso da Direttore musicale

Milano, [RAI, 2 Apr 05]

Il Maestro Riccardo Muti ha dato le dimissioni da Direttore musicale del Teatro alla Scala, incarico che ricopriva dal 1986.

La decione è stata comunicata questa mattina con una breve missiva al presidente del cda della Fondazione Teatro alla Scala, il sindaco di Gabriele Albertini, ai componenti del Consiglio e al sovrintendente Meli.

Questo il testo del comunicato diffuso dal Teatro alla Scala: "Il Maestro Riccardo Muti ha comunicato al Presidente del Consiglio di Amministrazione della Fondazione Teatro alla Scala, dottor Gabriele Albertini, ai componenti del Consiglio e al Sovrintendente, le proprie dimissioni da Direttore Musicale, incarico che ricopriva dal 1986".

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Riccardo Muti Resigns as La Scala Music Director

Sat Apr 2, 2005 07:02 AM ET

MILAN (Reuters) - Riccardo Muti has resigned as the musical director of Milan's La Scala after his 19-year reign at the opera house dissolved into a bitter battle for power, mutiny in the musical ranks and canceled performances.

Muti, hailed as one of the world's great conductors but criticized for running La Scala as his own private fiefdom and holding back innovation, said Saturday he had no choice but to resign.

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Posted by Gary at 5:25 PM

April 1, 2005

Angela Brown Replaces Jessye Norman in Premiere of Margaret Garner

Angela Brown

Jessye Norman bows out of 'Margaret Garner' debut

Up-and-coming soprano Angela Brown to replace her in MOT world premiere.

By Lawrence B. Johnson [Detroit News, 1 Apr 05]

When soprano Jessye Norman cancelled her appearance in the Michigan Opera Theatre's world premiere of "Margaret Garner" next month, David DiChiera MOT general director admits it felt a lot like raindrops were falling on this head — and on his parade.

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Posted by Gary at 11:34 PM

Eugene Onegin in Boston

Boston Lyric's 'Onegin' sings
Strong orchestra, bold voices carry Tchaikovsky gem

Richard Dyer [Boston Globe. 31 Mar 05]

Most operas are about love, but Tchaikovsky's ''Eugene Onegin" is a special case because the composer took the subject so personally. Tchaikovsky's own life was tracing the plot of Pushkin's verse novel, with catastrophic consequences, and the music is full of yearning, passion, pain, and regret.

It's a tricky, intimate piece to bring off and Tchaikovsky was terrified of what opera companies would inflict on it. The Boston Lyric Opera's version is a bold, brave effort, and much of it is compelling.

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`Onegin,' off-again love springs to life at Lyric

By T.J. Medrek [Boston Herald, 1 Apr 05]

Love can be all in the timing. Just ask the would-be lovers in Tchaikovsky's opera ``Eugene Onegin,'' which opened — with a Boston Lyric Opera performance as close to perfection as you could want — at the Shubert Theatre on Wednesday.

The innocent young Tatyana (soprano Maria Kanyova) is crushed when the worldly Onegin (baritone Mel Ulrich) condescendingly rejects her love. Years later, after she's moved on to a successful marriage and life as a St. Petersburg aristocrat, Onegin decides he loves Tatyana after all. Her response? Too late, pal.

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Posted by Gary at 11:21 PM

Genoveva in Boston

Clara and Robert Schumann

Revisiting Schumann's opera 'Genoveva'

By Richard Dyer [Boston Globe, 1 Apr 05]

Three of the greatest composers of art songs — Schubert, Schumann, and Hugo Wolf — also harbored operatic ambitions. All of them wrote operas and set great store by them, but none has ever gained a foothold in the repertory.

Schumann planned more than a dozen operas, but completed only one, ''Genoveva." It failed at its premiere in 1850, but the score has never ceased to attract the curiosity and admiration of musicians, beginning with Liszt. The overture has enjoyed intermittent life in the concert hall, and there have been at least three recordings of the complete work, the best of which was made by conductor Kurt Masur in 1977.

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Posted by Gary at 11:16 PM

Don Giovanni at the Met

Ryszard Horowitz: Don Giovanni

A 'Don Giovanni' to fall for


Bleak but uproarious, bawdy but singed with hellfire, Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni" is just as elusive as its title character. Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard identified Don Giovanni with music and desire: "a force, a wind, impatience, passion," forever ungraspable.

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Posted by Gary at 1:43 PM

Rosenthal's Children at the Bolshoi

Scene from Rosenthal's Children (Photo: Bolshoi Theater)

Big scandal at the Bolshoi

By Raymond Stults [St. Petersburg Times, 25 Mar 05]

New operas by Russian and Soviet composers once played a prominent part in the repertoire of Moscow's Bolshoi Theater. But nearly 26 years have passed since the theater last produced an operatic world premiere. On Wednesday, the long drought finally ended with the staging of "Rosenthal's Children," a work fresh from the pens of St. Petersburg composer Leonid Desyatnikov and writer Vladimir Sorokin.

Even before its unveiling, "Rosenthal's Children" managed to provoke a widely publicized scandal. Three years ago, Sorokin's allegedly pornographic writing became the subject of a protest by Moving Together, a pro-Kremlin youth organization. Then, two weeks ago, State Duma Deputy Sergei Neverov took it upon himself to denounce "Rosenthal's Children." Although he admitted that he had not then read the opera's libretto - or any of Sorokin's works, for that matter - Neverov called upon the authorities to ban Sorokin's "dirty poetry" from the hallowed precincts of the Bolshoi. Moving Together backed him up this week, holding yet more protests against the opera.

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Bolshoi shows what fuss is about

By Sophia Kishkovsky [International Herald Tribune, 25 Mar 05]

MOSCOW The opera "Children of Rosental" premiered at the Bolshoi Theater on Wednesday night in a hall packed with Moscow's political and cultural elite and a protest outside organized by a youth group that supports President Vladimir Putin and reviles Vladimir Sorokin, a writer and the opera's librettist.

Sorokin told state television's Channel One on the eve of the premiere that the opera, his first libretto, is "about the loneliness of a genius in the crowd, about the impossibility of reliving a life in art."

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Loyal Children

By Raymond Stults [Moscow Times, 1 Apr 05]

Coming away from a dress rehearsal of "The Children of Rosenthal" three days before its premiere last week, my principal reaction was one of dismay at the staging by director Eimuntas Nekrosius, which smothered what seemed like a rather nicely constructed musical drama under a blanket of irrelevant and distracting stage business.

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Not Just Another Cloned Classic

By John Freedman [Moscow Times, 1 Apr 05]

How ironic that the Bolshoi Theater's "The Children of Rosenthal" is on the tongues of so many in the world this week for all the wrong reasons.

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Posted by Gary at 4:08 AM

With the Face of a Tyrant Before Their Eyes

Riccardo Muti

A coup of operatic proportions frees La Scala from the tyrant's grip

NORMAN LEBRECHT [The Scotsman, 28 Mar 05]

LA SCALA this past week has been like the Kremlin during the putsch against Mikhail Gorbachev. For days on end, no-one knew who was in charge or what was going on. The only certainty was that the world would never be the same again.

Riccardo Muti is gone from La Scala, that much is clear. Omnipotent for 19 years, the music director walked out when the opera company rose up against his ousting of an internally popular sovrintendente (general manager), Carlo Fontana, and his replacement by the more pliant Mauro Meli. Muti, affronted, declared that he could no longer make music in "the atmosphere created by the insinuations, the insults and the incomprehension".

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La Scala row may mute maestro Muti

John Hooper in Rome [The Guardian, 1 Apr 05]

The renowned Italian conductor Riccardo Muti is so depressed by the crisis at Milan's La Scala theatre that he may give up music altogether, his wife was quoted as saying yesterday. Cristina Mazzavillani told an interviewer: "I really don't know if he still has the will to work."

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Posted by Gary at 3:10 AM

Cuba libre in Erfurt

Uraufführung in Erfurt: Die Oper "Cuba libre" von Cong Su

von Joachim Lange [Die Welt, 1 Apr 05]

Es wird nicht mehr lange dauern bis zur Forderung, Filmleute generell von Opernbühnen fernzuhalten. Nicht nur wegen der jüngsten Fehlschläge an grossen Häusern, bei denen Filmregisseure und Kinoproduzenten mit Neuinszenierungen dilettierten - sogar in der sich charmant bemühenden Stadttheaterprovinz grassiert nun offenbar das cineastische Virus.

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Posted by Gary at 3:07 AM

Merkur Interviews Lawrence Zazzo

Lawrence Zazzo

Zauberer in der Oper

Interview mit Countertenor Lawrence Zazzo

[Merkur Online, 1 Apr 05]

Als Nachwuchshoffnung wird der amerikanische Countertenor Lawrence Zazzo weltweit gehandelt. Sein Münchner Debüt ist also fällig. In der Wiederaufnahme der bereits 1997 bejubelten Inszenierung von Claudio Monteverdis "L'incoronazione di Poppea" der Bayerischen Staatsoper - unter der Regie von David Alden und der musikalischen Leitung von Harry Bicket - ist er nun als Ottone zu sehen.

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Posted by Gary at 2:51 AM