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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.



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,

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

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