Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Prom 60: Bach and Bruckner

Bruckner, Bruckner, wherever one goes; From Salzburg to London, he is with us, he is with us indeed, and will be next week too. (I shall even be given the Third Symphony another try, on my birthday: the things I do for Daniel Barenboim…) Still, at least it seems to mean that fewer unnecessary Mahler-as-showpiece performances are being foisted upon us. Moreover, in this case, it was good, indeed great Bruckner, rather than one of the interminable number of ‘versions’ of interminable earlier works.

Prom 57: Semyon Bychkov conducts the BBCSO

Thomas Larcher’s Second Symphony (written 2015-16) here received its United Kingdom premiere, its first performance having been given by the Vienna Philharmonic and Semyon Bychkov in June this year. A commission from the Austrian National Bank for its bicentenary, it is nevertheless not a celebratory work, instead commemorating those refugees who have met their deaths in the Mediterranean Sea, ‘expressing grief over those who have died and outrage at the misanthropy at home in Austria and elsewhere’.

40 minutes with Barbara Hannigan...in rehearsal

One of the initiatives for the community at the Lucerne Festival is the ‘40 min’ series. A free concert given before the evening’s main event that ranges from chamber music to orchestral rehearsals.

Prom 54 - Mozart's Last Year with the Budapest Festival Orchestra

The mysteries and myths surrounding Mozart’s Requiem Mass - left unfinished at his death and completed by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr - abide, reinvigorated and prolonged by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus as directed on film by Miloš Forman. The origins of the work’s commission and composition remain unknown but in our collective cultural and musical consciousness the Requiem has come to assume an autobiographical role: as if Mozart was composing a mass for his own presaged death.

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some Hitchcockian provocations.

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Vera Galupe-Borszkh [Photo by Robert Milazzo]
21 Jun 2009

Madame Says Farewell

Last week (May 27), “without further a-don’t,” as she adorably puts it, Madame Vera Galupe-Borszkh, the world’s reigning traumatic soprano — lately, she says, more of a soprano “spento” — bade a last, lingering, loving farewell to her adoring public in a sold-out concert at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Madame Says Farewell

Madame Vera Galupe-Borszkh Back By Personal Whim (and popular demand).

Above: Vera Galupe-Borszkh [Photo by Robert Milazzo]

 

She said it again twice more that week, in the same venue; no doubt other such occasions will occur. (In any case, there are several CDs and DVDs available. Check her Web site, www.granscena.org.)

It is easy for anyone to make jokes about opera — everyone already has. Most of them aren’t funny, never mind witty, never mind as delicious as the real thing — but that never stops the jokers. What is rare, besides jokes about opera that are actually funny, witty, and delicious, is someone who can make a joke about opera last (before a pretty knowledgeable audience, too) for three hours at a stretch, without deadening out. Anna Russell managed it — but opera, though her best-known target, was not the only string to her bow. (I’m not mixing metaphors; I’m setting them on PUREE.) Gerard Hoffnung managed it, but died too tragically young. Vera Galupe-Borszkh can still clock it in at three hours after 28 years in the saddle, which is nothing short of extraordinary — sometimes she has even been known to resort to new material! No doubt she owes some of her creativity to a long and suspiciously well-guarded but indescribably relationship with the vastly knowledgeable Ira Siff, who co-announces Metropolitan Opera broadcasts.

But how she manages to get her magnificent mane of red hair (natural, she swears by the Virgin of Kiev) out of its scruffy featherduster á la nature into a taut geisha coiffure during one swift scene change (you never saw a redheaded Butterfly? This must be the place) and then formed into a trillion sausage curls for the dying Violetta in another — that calls for skill, technique and effrontery, which have been (along with a haphazard, not to say biohazard, shtetl Bessarabian accent) the hallmarks of her career.

Born Vera Vsyevelodovna Borszkh on the outskirts, or fringes, or gym socks of Odessa, more years ago than Madame can be relied upon to count, she fled Soviet Russia “when I got tired of singing Aida in languages which got no wowels.” Later she became the last pupil and ultimately the bride of the last bel canto castrato, Manuel Galupe (“for a diva, marrying a man already a castrato is good thing — it save so much time”). Vera Galupe-Borszkh is not only a living legend (they’re common enough), she is a voice from the golden age when such things were preserved only by memory and by the rare and often unconvincing magic of scratchy shellac at 78 revolutions per minute. When you hear G-B, you not only hear the technique, the talent, the dedication of a bygone golden era, you seem always to hear in her very throat the echo of scratchy shellac. Perhaps she is one of those who has used her throat not wisely but too well — the Muse is a harsh mistress, and G-B has never been one to hold back. Fake it, yes — hold back, never.

Only a cad — or a critic — to make a distinction without difference — would point out that Madame’s sustenance of tone has begun to waver, like the breeze flitting over the Ukrainian wheat fields at noon. To put it crudely, you could drive a tractor through that tremolo. Yet, properly warmed up, she can still exquisitely float the opening tone of the opening “Pace” in Leonora’s aria from Forza del Destino so that it seems to last longer than the entire opera usually does. (Just as well she omits the rest of the aria.) Her pitch in the Philip Glass takeoff is no longer machinelike — and Glass’s music, even in sendup, does not take kindly to human performance. And was I really the only member of the audience so moved by her singing of the Sleepwalking Scene from Bellini’s La Sonnambula that I could not resist shouting: “Jump! Jump! Jump!” (A friend said he was saving the comment for Mary Zimmerman’s next curtain call.)

More grateful for her instrument in its present vocal estate (or tenement, as she has been a New Yorker for years), were five “Rossyan fok songs,” in which the audience was invited to join her. (“You are good! You must all be Juilliard drop-outs!”) Lieder, too — her signposted “Erlkönig” is justly famous, her “Morgen” sublime — were rather easier on voice and ear than the full-scale arias. Let lesser singers take note: Madame never sings with surtitles or subtitles or translations — the voice and the gestures (and the costumes) give us every drainable drop of meaning, and you’re lucky to get it.

It was a great event in the present — but it was, still more, as Madame put it herself, an evening of extraordinary mammaries. So much of the style — and the singing — and the shtick — and the annotation — seemed uncannily to recall occasions long, long ago. But it was delicious to hear her shtick it to the Met, with all the fervor of someone who might have been tactfully repressing her real opinions during a season of broadcast commentary. (“I love the Salome — where she take off everything! Even some of the high notes!”)

She was ably assisted by Maestro Sergio Zawa, engulfing the piano, and Carmelita della Vaca-Browne stealing the crumbs of the scenes Madame was chewing. Della Vaca-Browne lovingly recreated a moment I’ve never forgotten, from the very first season of La Gran Scena Opera Company di New York in 1981, when Annina beheld the gasping Violetta on her deathbed and tossed confetti in her face, then responded to her furious glare with the explanation, from the libretto: “E carnevale.” In Vera’s vocal presence, when is it not Carnival?

Ladies and gentlemen, all I can say is (to echo Tosca, one of Madame’s great roles): “Ecco un artista!”

John Yohalem

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):