August 31, 2010

Scottish Opera may survive and thrive as a smaller and leaner part-time company

By Alan Rodger [Herald Scotland, 31 August 2010]

Michael Tumelty’s trenchant criticism of the decision to reduce the orchestra of Scottish Opera to half-time working is high on anger and suggestions of mischief (“Hang your head in shame, Scottish Opera, you are a disgrace to the nation”, Herald Arts, August 28).

Posted by Gary at 2:49 PM

August 30, 2010

Salzburger Festspiele: Triumph jenseits von Dur und Moll

Walter Weidringer [Die Presse, 30 August 2010]

Die Berliner Philharmoniker unter Simon Rattle triumphierten mit Schönberg, Webern und Berg. Mit solch beredtem Ausdruck erfüllten die Berliner auch die bewegenden Totenklagen von Weberns.

Posted by Gary at 5:14 PM

Krisen und Triumphe: Jonas Kaufmann erinnert sich

[Focus, 30 August 2010]

Dies war der Fall nach seinem Debüt an der legendären New Yorker Metropolitan Opera in La Traviata im Februar 2006. Die Erinnerungen daran (Meinen die wirklich mich?) lässt ihn an die Anfänge seiner Karriere in Deutschland in der Provinz, aber auch an persönliche Krisen zurückdenken. Aber wenn eine große alte Dame der Opernkunst wie Christa Ludwig meint, nachdem sie Kaufmann zum ersten Mal gehört hat, das ist ganz große Kunst, dann lässt das aufhorchen.

Posted by Gary at 5:10 PM

Puccini’s Edgar at the Teatro Regio Torino

But opera companies have another strategy as well — to resurrect/rehabilitate forgotten works of proven masters. For Giacomo Puccini, the main beneficiary among his lesser-known operas has been La Rondine, a slight work with a mostly gorgeous score that has enjoyed a growing number of performances in recent years. Puccini’s extremely negative recorded comments on his first full-length opera, Edgar, seem to have kept the inquisitive away. The chief revelation of this 2008 Teatro Regio Torino staging of the full four-act Edgar is how right Puccini was to dismiss the work as hopeless. That does not mean, however, that the resulting DVD isn’t of interest. With strong male leads and a colorful, handsome staging by Lorenzo Mariani (with costumes and sets by Maurizio Balò), this Edgar makes for a mostly entertaining show.

After the initial failure of Edgar, Puccini convinced his publisher to find him another librettist than Ferdinado Fontana, indicating the theatrical sharpness that would guide the creation of the composer’s masterpieces to come. For Fontana, as judged by Edgar, was a hopeless librettist — narratively sluggish and prone to lumbering attempts at flights of poetry that never leave the ground. The opera’s basic story bears a strong resemblance to that of Wagner’s Tannhäuser — a young man can’t choose between a woman who excites him physically (Tigrana) and a more innocent woman who touches his heart (Fidelia). Fontana attempts a sort of love rectangle with the addition of Frank, another admirer of Fidelia who ends the opera at Edgar’s side, helping to restore Edgar’s reputation after his dalliance with Tigrana and flight to the army has led him to fake his own death. The story veers between being oppressively obvious and elliptically obscure. Later Puccini works would show the composer comfortable with sharp changes of mood and place between acts that require an audience to “catch up” with the story. That strategy doesn’t work here because the characters in Edgar, hobbled by Fontana’s verse, haven’t made a claim on the audience’s involvement.

José Cura’s portrayal of Edgar gains strength as the character darkens; the callow youth of the opening scene doesn’t fit him as well. The voice is as idiosyncratic as ever, with lines of forceful energy interspersed by unfortunate growls and yelps for high notes. A less charismatic tenor might sing the entire role better, but really only a stage animal like Cura has a chance of making the character believable at all. Cura is well-partnered in several key scenes by Marco Vratogna’s Frank, a very masculine and credible rival and, later, friend of the hero. Frank has a brief solo early on and not much of interest to sing after that, but Vratogna manages to hold his own anyway.

The two key female roles are less happily cast. Julia Gertseva has no choice but to ham up the overtly sexual, murderously jealous Tigrana. She is at least fun to watch and sings with attractive tone. As Fidelia, Amarilli Nizza never recovers from a long opening scene where her soprano sounds overly mature and strained. She does somewhat better in the last act, but her character’s passivity has long wore out her welcome by then.

Although the full blossoming of Puccini’s melodic talent was yet to come, much enjoyable music can be found in the score. Unfortunately, conductor Yoram David and the Torino forces sound tentative and undernourished. Be prepared, by the way, in the fourth act (discarded fairly early on by Puccini) to hear a great deal of the last act duet between Tosca and Cavaradossi.

Strangely, Richard Eckstein’s booklet essay ends abruptly with an ellipsis. Before that sudden conclusion, the writer covers the errant history of the opera satisfactorily. The Blu-Ray edition does a great job of presenting the bold colors and designs of the set and costumes. Only historical accuracy can explain the bizarre helmet of crow feathers Vratogna’s Frank and other soldiers have to sport in the third act.

Put the disc in your player expecting no more than some occasional patches of fine music and a great deal of insight into the early stages of Puccini’s career, and this Edgar will justify its existence.

Chris Mullins


image_description=Giacomo Puccini: Edgar

product_title=Giacomo Puccini: Edgar
product_by=Edgar: José Cura; Fidelia: Amarilli Nizza; Tigrana: Julia Gertseva; Frank: Marco Vratogna; Gualtiero: Carlo Cigni. Conservatorio “Giuseppe Verdi” di Torino Boys’ Choir. Torino Teatro Regio Boys’ Choir. Torino Teatro Regio Chorus and Orchestra Yoram David, conductor. Lorenzo Mariani, stage director. Maurizio Balò, set and costume design. Christian Pinaud, light design. Recorded live from the Teatro Regio Torino, 2008.
product_id=ArtHaus 101378 [Blu-Ray]

Posted by chris_m at 12:37 PM

August 29, 2010

Brahms: Lieder

Her sense of style is apparent from the start of the recording, with a spirited reading of “Bei dir sind meine Gedanken,” and Vignoles sensitive accompaniment supports Fink well. The nuances of musical phrasing fit well into the poetic lines, as it should be, and that, perhaps is one of the best things to say about this recording of range of Brahms’s Lieder. The “Sapphische Ode” is telling for the understated simplicity Fink offers in allowing the lines to emerge effortlessly, and with that the accompaniment comes to the fore readily. This is chamber music in the best sense, as one player hands off the line to the other, with Fink’s phrases intersecting with Vignoles, and Vignoles leading nicely to the continuation of the vocal line.

Such interplay is particularly noticeable in “Von ewiger Liebe,” with its two-part structure juxtaposing the somber opening with the affirming conclusion, a transformation that is supported by the metric change, from 3 / 4 to 6 / 8. The valediction at the conclusion suggests the kind of intensity Mahler would create in his setting of Rückert’s “Um Mitternacht.” This calls to mind the more sustained mood of this song, which Fink and Vignoles deliver with conviction, The rhythmic interplay and the vocal inflection combine well in the execution of this piece, along with the other songs in the selection.

The pieces are from various sets of Lieder that Brahms composed at various times in his career, and this results in a useful overview of the composer’s efforts in this genre. At the same time, the in wide selection requires the performers to be sensitive to the details that set the pieces apart from each other, and they meet that challenge well. The early “Liebestreu” from his Opus 3 set is effective, as are later compositions, such as “Der Jäger” (Op. 95) and “Das Mädchen spricht” (Op. 107). Throughout the recording Vignoles offers a solid and nuanced accompaniment that not only supports Fink, but also suggests the kind of partnership essential to Lieder and particularly necessary in the contributions of Brahms. The other choices from Brahms’ approximately 200 Lieder include some pieces that are heard less often, yet fit Fink’s voice quite well, like “Der Gang zum Liebchen,” while the familiar ones, like Brahms’s famous lullaby, “Wiegenlied,” is fresh and fitting, especially as the final selection on the CD.

In this Harmonia Mundi recording, the sound is sympathetic to the repertoire, with a warm resonance that lets the voice and piano work well. The result is an exemplary studio recording of Lieder which, at the same time, offer the immediate sound associated with live recitals. In addition, the booklet that accompanies the recording is conceived well, with the full texts and translations of each of the Lieder complemented with a brief essay by Walter Rösler. These elements of the CD support the excellent performances found in this recording my mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink and pianist Roger Vignoles.

James L. Zychowicz

image_description=Brahms: Lieder

product_title=Brahms: Lieder
product_by=Bernarda Fink, mezzo-soprano. Roger Vignoles, piano.
product_id=Harmonia Mundi 901926 [CD]

Posted by jim_z at 8:38 PM

Prom 51, Royal Albert Hall, London Tête à Tête Festival, Riverside Studios, London Così fan tutte, Village Underground, London

By Anna Picard [The Independent, 29 August 2010]

Gothic sensibility permeated the Royal Albert Hall on Monday evening: euphoric, melancholic, sun-dazzled and moon-drunk.

Posted by Gary at 12:57 PM

BBC Prom 54; La fanciulla del West; Joyce DiDonato; Simon Keenlyside; Kronos Quartet

By Fiona Maddocks [The Guardian, 29 August 2010]

Driven and obsessive, drawing on 1970s jazz funk, soul and gospel, Mark-Anthony Turnage's new BBC Proms commission Hammered Out burst noisily upon the world at Thursday's world premiere conducted by David Robertson. A scrunchy havoc of whip, sleigh bells, saxophones, bass guitar, as well as the full forces of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Nibelung note of a household hammer for good measure, bashed, danced and whirled through this 15-minute non-stop toccata.

Posted by Gary at 12:52 PM

David McVicar’s Salome

To the left is a large manhole cover, under which Jochanaan fulminates; to the right is a spiral staircase, lit by a harsh moon.

It is easy to see why the director, David McVicar, would be attracted to this rehistoricizing. Suddenly the little ghost-waltz that accompanies Salome near her entrance (“Ich will nicht hineingehn”) becomes something like diegetic music; the extreme cruelty of much of the action becomes institutionalized as state policy; and we may recall, with a slight shiver, that Strauss’s only recordings as a opera conductor are of fragments from two 1942 performances of Salome. On the other hand, the opera’s treatment of the disputatious Jews is unsympathetic, and the Nietzschean Strauss said that he regarded Jochanaan in particular as a clown; so McVicar skirts a dangerous area of interpretation, in which the Jews of the Third Reich might seem to deserve what they get. Possibly McVicar tried to avoid this by playing down the comedy of the disputation-fugue: the Jews look at one another like mildly peeved intellectuals.

Wilde regarded Salome and John the Baptist as occult twins, and even contemplated a sequel in which Salome, still alive after being crushed by the soldiers’ shields, put on a hair-shirt and started to preach the gospel of Jesus in the wilderness; eventually she would make her way to France and fall through the frozen Rhône—the ice would refreeze leaving only her head visible. Nadja Michael’s Salome is hectoring, brutal, unseductive—she is a sexual being only through sadism. She doesn’t cajole Narraboth into opening the cistern: she browbeats him, and even pushes him to the floor when he capitulates. Michael raves powerfully throughout the opera, and sings powerfully too, though she doesn’t always hit the correct notes, and there’s a distracting warble in her voice, almost the warble of 1940s pop singers.

Michael Volle’s Jochanaan is everything you could want: shirtless, dressed in a long drab Jewish coat with a phallic belt-dangle, he is a potent lunatic, uncontrolled in his gestures as he reels across the stage, but superbly controlled in his voice. When he sings of Herodias’ lovers—the young Egyptians in their delicate linen and hyacinth stones and golden shields and gigantic bodies—he writhes on the floor, as if he were caught up in some sexual trance at the thought of these beautiful young foreigners. This is how the production emphasizes the way in which Jochanaan and Salome are doubles: they are both obsessive-compulsives, obsessive-convulsives, mad with lust.

The unhappy aspect of this production is the Herod of Thomas Moser. Moser can make a handsome sound, but he’s a somewhat listless presence, loud but bland. Philippe Jordan, the brilliant conductor, makes the opera move like the wind (as all Strauss opera, particularly the schmaltzy ones, should move) except when Moser sings: then momentum is lost, perhaps owing to Moser’s flaccid, rhythmically inexact phrasing. His one impressive scene is a silent one, during Salome’s dance, here staged as a black-out scene in which Herod and Salome play together with a Salome-shaped doll, a dress-maker’s dummy, a large dressing-mirror, and a long rack of dresses—it’s a lovely conceit, as Salome enters Herod’s fantasy-world of fetishes and idols, deflections of sexuality onto dead images. Wilde’s Salome was never anything much more than an image in a mirror: “She is like the shadow of a white rose in a mirror of silver,” Narraboth says, and in her dance she dances her way right into the glass that she, in some sense, never left.

Daniel Albright

  image= image_description=Richard Strauss: Salome product=yes product_title=Richard Strauss: Salome product_by=Salome: Nadja Michael; Herodias: Michaela Schuster; Herod: Thomas Moser; Narraboth: Joseph Kaiser; Jokanaan: Michael Volle. The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Philippe Jordan, conductor. David McVicar, stage director. Recorded live at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden on 3, 6, and 8 March, 2008. product_id=Opus Arte OABD7069D [Blu-Ray] price=$35.99 product_url=
Posted by Gary at 12:33 PM

At Bard Festival, placing Berg at center of modern musical Vienna

By Jeremy Eichler [Boston Globe, 29 August 2010]

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. — The year in the photo is 1920. The great Viennese composer Alban Berg, 35 years old, stands at an open window of his Vienna home, gazing directly out at the camera yet also somehow beyond it. His face conceals like a mask. The breakthrough triumph of his first opera, “Wozzeck,’’ is five years in the unknowable future. We sense perhaps an air of reserved confidence, perhaps a tint of melancholy. But there is more to this picture.

Posted by Gary at 12:00 AM

August 28, 2010

Multimedia Opera Production to Debut at Roosevelt University

Chicago, IL, August 28, 2010 --( On October 22, Roosevelt University will host a multimedia opera production composed and produced by Kyong Mee Choi, assistant professor of music composition in the university’s music conservatory and recipient of the prestigious Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship. The opera will be held at Ganz Hall, Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan Ave., at 7:30 p.m.

Posted by Gary at 5:12 PM

Opera San Jose plans 'gigantic' production for West Coast premiere of 'Anna Karenina'

By Richard Scheinin [San Jose Mercury News, 28 August 2010]

Future operatic soprano Jasmina Halimic discovered Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" as a schoolgirl in Bosnia. But it wasn't until years later -- after moving to the United States in 1994 -- that she really got it: Tolstoy's masterpiece became an Oprah's Book Club selection in 2004, and Halimic reread it while studying music in Indiana.

Posted by Gary at 8:46 AM

August 27, 2010

La fanciulla del West/L’Heure espagnole, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 27 August 2010]

By choosing Oceans Apart for his 2010 theme, Edinburgh International Festival director Jonathan Mills opened up fertile avenues for exploration in spoken theatre and classical music, while leaving little room for manoeuvre in opera. The obvious choice was Puccini’s wild west thriller La fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West). Premiered in New York 100 years ago and never previously heard in Scotland, it conjures a picture of the New World that, though seen through the eyes of a composer who had never experienced it, effectively captures the values of a frontier community.

Posted by Gary at 5:23 PM

Us and them is the cultural problem, not Pomp and Circumstance

By Lynsey Hanley [The Guardian, 27 August 2010]

There are more ways of divvying people up than according to how much money they've got. A survey this week by Reader's Digest concluded that a large proportion of Britain is culturally impoverished, with one-third of those surveyed never having listened to classical music and three-quarters unable to identify Edward Elgar as the composer of Pomp and Circumstance.

Posted by Gary at 5:21 PM

How we learned to start worrying and love Mahler

By Jessica Duchen [The Independent, 27 August 2010]

On Gustav Mahler's 11th birthday, the story goes, a family friend asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. "Jesus Christ," said the lad. To the astonished "Why?" he replied: "Because I want to suffer for other people."

Posted by Gary at 5:17 PM

Rolando's musical passion for home

[BBC, 27 August 2010]

The celebrated tenor Rolando Villazon is renowned for his exuberance when it comes to his beloved opera but he's equally passionate about the music of his Mexican homeland.

Posted by Gary at 8:32 AM

August 26, 2010

HGO to produce Wagner's massive Ring Cycle

By Everett Evans [Houston Chronicle, 26 August 2010]

Siegfried, Brünnhilde, Wotan and company are heading for Houston, as Houston Grand Opera prepares to tackle the Mount Everest of opera, Richard Wagner's monumental Ring Cycle.

Posted by Gary at 11:59 PM

Classique, opéra, danse : les temps forts de l'automne

Christian Merlin [Le Figaro, 26 August 2010]

L'Opéra de Paris lance sa rentrée en douceur, avec trois reprises de productions anciennes ( Le Vaisseau fantôme, de Wagner, L'Italienne à Alger, de Rossini, Eugène Onéguine, de Tchaïkovski): sans l'attrait de la nouveauté, on ira surtout pour les distributions, avec notamment la brillante Vivica Genaux dans les vocalises rossiniennes et l'immense Ludovic Tézier en Onéguine.

Posted by Gary at 5:03 PM

Unlocking the Mystery of Honegger

By Leslie Sprout [NY Times, 26 August 2010]

Arthur Honegger’s “Chant de Libération” was not a piece I intended to consult during a research trip to Paris in June 2009. Like others who knew of it, I thought the score was lost. Honegger had composed this song for baritone, chorus and orchestra in secret during the German occupation of France. Its only known trace was a tantalizing description of its October 1944 premiere in liberated Paris: a “triumph” by a “musician of the Resistance,” the music critic Maurice Brillant wrote.

Posted by Gary at 4:57 PM

The Sixteen/Christophers, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

By Rowena Smith [The Guardian, 26 August 2010]

The festival's New World theme has already offered up one baroque representation of the Aztec emperor Montezuma in Graun's opera seria - here it presented another in the form of Purcell's music for The Indian Queen. Dramatically, the play from which the music was taken seems to have been an unwieldy work. The outline synopsis runs to seven pages in the concert programme and contains more twists, turns, and complicated relationships than an entire basket of Handel operas - not in themselves known for either their concision or their plot rationality.

Posted by Gary at 3:51 PM

August 25, 2010

Mostly Mozart finale, Avery Fisher Hall, New York

By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 25 August 2010]

The Mostly Mozart Festival ended on Friday with an only Mozart concert. It may have promised a bit more than it delivered, but it did end in a reasonable blaze of grandeur.

Posted by Gary at 8:39 AM

Opera Lover Targets Young Patrons With $25 Seats

By Erica Orden [WSJ, 25 August 2010]

At 80 years old, Agnes Varis is trying to make opera audiences younger. "Your average opera-goer cannot be 65—give me break," said Ms. Varis. "You're not going to keep an opera house alive with that."

Posted by Gary at 12:00 AM

August 24, 2010

Aspen makes Corigliano’s Ghosts classic

The Met production journeyed to the Chicago Lyric — and then the work disappeared. Happily, Ghosts returned to life a year ago when John David Earnest’ s revised and trimmed-down version was premiered by the St. Louis Opera Theater and then exported to Ireland for the festive opening of a new house in Wexford.

Still scored, however, for 60 singers and a full-sized orchestra, the demands made by Ghosts places the work beyond the reach of many professional companies, while making it a field day for student opera enterprises. Northwestern University staged the work last season, and a third totally new production by the Aspen Opera Theatre Center brought down the certain on the 63rd season of one of the nation’s major summer festivals late in August. Edward Berkeley, Juilliard mentor who has directed the Aspen Center for three decades, built the 2011 season around the figure of Figaro. Ghosts was preceded by both Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, the first two parts of Pierre Beaumarchais’ 18th-century account of the Almavivas. (Northwestern staged the same “trilogy” during its past season.)

Ghosts fits a festival well,” said Berkeley, who directed the production, seen on August 19 in Aspen’s historic Wheeler Opera House. “And in this context it gave students a look at how different composers treat the same group of characters.” “It also gave our audience a chance to compare how they have used the same material.”

Although the reduced version — with a single intermission it runs slightly less than three hours — contains enough plot and calls for singers sufficient for three operas, the Aspen staging made clear that Ghosts is a success now worthy of entering the standard repertory. The central figure of the story is Marie Antoinette, who 200 years after she was beheaded in the French Revolution, wants to return to life. In an opera-within-an opera the story moves back to 1793 and offers a complex picture of the Almaviva family, familiar from Rossini and Mozart.


For the libretto William M. Hoffman relied heavily on The Guilty Mother, the third part of Beaumarchais’s Figaro trilogy. But instead of merely re-writing the story Beaumarchais, author the original, becomes the central figure of Ghosts — author, director and major figure of the inner opera, in which he and the late Empress fall in love. Although it is still more opera than can be absorbed in a single performance, Ghosts is now effective and often moving theater. (Small wonder that one heard voices in the Aspen audience express the wish to see the work again.)

Top vocal honors in Aspen went to South-African soprano Golda Schultz, now a student at Juilliard, who sang Rosina. Her tender duet with Korean mezzo Chorong Kim, now — as Beaumarchais tells it — the loving father of Léon, was the highlight of the Aspen staging. As Beaumarchais, the man who makes everything move in Ghosts, tall and lean bass-baritone Andreas Aroditis, a further Juilliard student, was amazingly adept and versatile. Christin Wismann, cover for the role in St. Louis and a member of the supporting cast in Wexford, was a delicately tragic Marie Antoinette, an ideal object for Beaumarchais’ affection. As ill-intentioned Begéarss Julius Ahn, a regular with Boston Lyric Opera, was delightfully malicious in his Aspen debut. David Williams, a recent studio artist with Berlin’s Komische Oper, left one with a strong desire to hear him as the “real” Figaro, the role that he sang with such professional aplomb in the Aspen Ghosts. And Aspen provided him with a vivacious Susanna in Kim Sogioka, a mezzo with impressive credentials in the oratorio world. Tenor Michael Kelly, highly regarded as a song recitalist, sang an aristocratic — if dissolute — Count Almaviva, while Lauren Snouffer was thoroughly engaging as his illegitimate daughter Florestine.

Major credit for the success of Aspen’s Ghosts goes, however, to Michael Christie, who conducted both the St. Louis and Wexford performances of the revised score. Still in his mid-’30s Christie, now music director of the Phoenix Symphony, began his career as assistant to Franz Welser-Möst at the Zurich Opera. Earlier in the summer he identified himself as a future Wagnerian of promise in a concert with Jane Eaglen at the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder.


Conducting an orchestra that overflowed into the Wheeler Green Room, Christie’s total command of the score was impressive; he further showed that rare balance of concern for both singers and ensemble under his command. Handsome — and ghost-like — sets were by John Kasarda; lavish period costumes were the work of Marina Reti.

Finally, Ghosts could profit from further reduction. If excised, the entire scene built around Samira, the hoochie-cochie dancer at the Turkish embassy bash, would not be missed — even if this was the role on which Marilyn Horne squandered her talent at the Met.

Wes Blomster

image= image_description=Sketch of Figaro by Marina Reti courtesy of the Aspen Opera Theater Center product=yes product_title=John Corigliano: Ghosts of Versailles product_by=Aspen Music Festival 2010 product_id=Photos by Alex Irvin courtesy of Aspen Opera Theater Center
Posted by Gary at 11:41 PM

Les Enfants Terribles

By Andrew Clements [The Guardian, 24 August 2010]

In the 1990s, Philip Glass composed a trilogy of music-theatre pieces based on films by Jean Cocteau. His remarkable reworking of La Belle et la Bête was brought to London by the composer's own ensemble soon after the premiere, while the first and most conventional of the three, Orphée, was seen at the Linbury theatre five years ago. But Les Enfants Terribles, completed in 1996, has had to wait for its British premiere, impressively staged by the Volta theatre company as the last event in this year's Grimeborn season, east London's alternative summer opera festival.

Posted by Gary at 10:52 PM

A Globe-Spanning Musical Feast

By George Loomis [NY Times, 24 August 2010]

EDINBURGH — The Edinburgh International Festival has gone multicultural. In a sense, when the offerings of a festival number well over 100 and embrace opera, dance, drama, concerts and other categories, it might be hard not to. But the festival’s theme this summer, “oceans apart,” seeks to connect continents, and in a four-day visit, one could experience a number of events that did just that.

Posted by Gary at 10:46 PM

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo, Op. 7.

Derived from Finnish mythology, the movements depict major events in the life of the hero Kullervo and found in the epic the Kalevala. This five-movement works opens with an instrumental piece that sets the stage for idiom Sibelius would explore in the work, and the reading by conductor Ari Rasilainen is convincing. The breadth of timbre, the pacing of rhythm and the placement of the percussive accents at the dramatically appropriate points support the structure of the movement. The second movement is a depiction of Kullervo’s youth and is reminiscent structurally of a Scherzo. In this movement the chordal figures in the low brass evoke well an important element of the style associated with Sibelius’s mature symphonies. At the same time, some of the colors are typical of Sibelius, the extended lines in the clarinet interacting with strings and other sections of the orchestra.

In the third movement Sibelius leave Kullervo’s story to the suggestions of instrumental writing, but incorporates voices to clarify the narrative. Kullervo’s story resembles that of Siegmund and Sieglinde in Wagner's Die Walküre, except for its tragic consequences in the Kalevala when the hero realizes that he seduced his sister. His sister commits suicide, and Kullervo resolves to become a warrior, where he meets his own tragic fate. Here the male chorus relates the lays of the Kalevala with excellent diction, which sets up the exchanges between the solo voices that convey the dialogue between Kullervo and his sister. Sibelius punctuates the choral sections with appropriate figures in the orchestra, and Rasilainen does well to allow the forces to render the sometimes dense score with admirable clarity

Of the two soloists, Juha Uusitalo should be familiar to audiences from his recent international performances, including Wotan in Zubin Mehta’s recent Ring cycle in Barcelona (released on Blu-Ray). This recording of Kullervo captures Uusitalo at an earlier point in this career, since it is based on performances given between 13 and 15 December 2005. Uusitalo is persuasive here, with his sonorous voice emerging clearly; soprano Satu Vihavainen likewise delivered a fine performance, with those voices prominent in the third movement, where Sibelius used voices to bring out the dramatic core of Kullervo’s story. Voices are absent from the fourth movement, and Rasilainen does well here bring out the evocative music to continue Sibelius’s narrative as envision in this score. The chorus is part of the final movement, which depicts the Kullervo’s death, and the text serves as a fine valediction of the Finnish hero.

This is a work that reveals much about Sibelius’s development as a symphonist and at the same time stands well on its own merits through Rasilainen’s compelling interpretation. While Sibelius is known better for his instrumental symphonies, that should not detract from the merits of the Kullervo Symphony or the symphonic poems that include voice.

This fine CPO recording includes the texts and translations of the vocal music, and the Karin Kempken’s notes offer some good background on this fine work by Sibelius. The sound is clear and rich, without excesses that detract from the nicely voiced chords. Not the first recording of this important work, this release is a solid contribution to the discography of Sibelius.

James L. Zychowicz

image_description=Jean Sibelius: Kullervo, Op. 7

product_title=Jean Sibelius: Kullervo, Op. 7
product_by=Satu Vihavainen, soprano, Juha Uusitalo, bass-baritone, KYL Male chorus, Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Ari Rasilainen, conductor.
product_id=CPO 777 196-2 [SACD]

Posted by jim_z at 10:15 PM

Glimmerglass Rarities Out-Score Hall of Famer

Handel’s little-performed Tolomeo was treated to an endlessly witty, constantly surprising — aw hell, let me say it — smasheroo production by the one of opera’s most imaginative directors, Chas Rader-Shieber. Sometimes he can be a bit too imaginative, it is true, as in St. Louis’s fussy Una Cosa Rara, where he seemed to be mistrustful of the material and hence created endless distraction from it.

Not so here, where Mr. R-S’s inventions not only underscored the characters’ emotional states and complemented the dramatic situation, but masterfully fleshed out a very very very (did I say ‘very’?) lean plot, rife with convoluted masquerades. Purists will carp that this serious (seriously boring?) dramatic material is not the basis for humorous interpretation. I say Chas has upended the static piece to its own benefit, and thrown the heart-aching moments into even higher relief.

Tolomeo-Press-KCadel-001.gifAnthony Roth Costanzo as Tolomeo and Julie Boulianne as Elisa [Photo by Karli Cadel courtesy of Glimmerglass Opera]

That Glimmerglass has been challenged by the financial climate is evidenced by the pleading recorded pre-show announcement in which music director David Angus not only silences cellphones but solicits donations. Practically, enforced austerity required that all the operas share the same basic scenic environment, a big textured gray box in which doors, windows and structural elements could be swapped out. In the case of Tolomeo set designer Donald Eastman and the director turned this into a springboard for simple, well chosen visual delights.

At rise, Tolomeo sings of the sea, but is contemplating the waters…in a fishbowl on a stand. As he sings of maritime perils, a stuffed shark descend from the flies. The director concocts a true star entrance for our hero by having him crouched behind the bowl, face distorted by the water until a musical swell occasions his standing upright so we can take full measure of our leading man. The shipwrecked Alessandro staggers on with half of a ‘destroyed’ toy boat in each hand, before he faints as the plot requires. Boat pieces get passed to Tolomeo and, in short order, to Elisa who takes charge of the situation by fusing the halves back together, re-appearing with the boat as an adornment incorporated into her wild henna wig (the excellent hair and make-up were by Anne Ford-Coates). This is not only clever entertainment, but underscored Elisa’s character in her entrance aria.

Carefully selected set pieces from an upper crust home of Handel’s time provided apt images and visual clarity: a richly set dining table; an armoire that contained appropriately changing images and, in one goof, a piece of colorful topiary that got unceremoniously schlepped out to decorate/punctuate a ‘garden’ moment; and a bed-cum-funeral-bier for Tolomeo. Chas added three extras to the ensemble in the form of mute, slightly doddering old men (Desmond V. and Julian A. Gialanella, Jack Loewenguth) who were almost omnipresent as they constantly adapted the environment by moving around various furniture elements. I will not soon forget the image of the ‘dying’ Tolomeo in his great aria, being drawn to, and languishing on the constantly circling bed. The image of serene repose achieved as the supers inched it into its final resting place just as the music concluded was stunning.

The lustful sexiness was heightened, too, with more leering machinations than on an average episode of The Bachelorette. The inspired finale found everyone getting prepped for a good tumble by stripping down to their skivvies, with even the villainous Araspe suddenly redeemed as he is overtaken by randy urges to shuck his red suit and join the partying. There were so many telling moments that it is impossible to include them all, but surely one of the loveliest effects was the placement of ordinary (period) oscillating room fans down stage to create the ‘breeze’ of which Seleuce sings, and which carried her scattered white tissue paper messages about the playing space. This theme was carried through with a small shower of red tissue paper as Tolomeo subsequently sings of his longing, and shortly thereafter, a cascading profusion of red from the flies as accompaniment to Seleuce’s haunting aria.

Tolomeo-Press-KCadel-003.gifJoélle Harvey as Seleuce and Steven LaBrie as Araspe [Photo by Karli Cadel courtesy of Glimmerglass Opera]

Lest I imply that clever effects were all there was, Mr.Rader-Shieber also showed a deft hand at creating meaningful subtext for his performers, and he beautifully judged interaction between the characters. It did not hurt that he had a superlative lot of singers at his disposal.

It is so gratifying to see how counter tenor Anthony Roth Costanzo has developed in only the two years since his Nireno in Julius Caesar here. Already then an artist of great promise, Mr. Costanzo had matured into an assured star on the verge of a major international career. He is possessed of an exceptionally clear, incisive timbre and his sure-fire, take-no-prisoners way with even the trickiest coloratura was thrilling. He does not shy away from some aggressively butch singing in the lower register, but it is in the upper reaches that he truly shines. His nuanced, deeply felt reading of his death aria held us spell bound. Although slight of stature, he nevertheless commands the stage with his committed physicality.

Joélle Harvey, too, has progressed remarkably since last I encountered her in Orpheus in the Underworld. On this occasion she was giving the kind of controlled, ethereal, affecting performance that had the intermission crowd asking “who is that fabulous soprano?” She has a limpid and technically secure lyric instrument which gives over easily to the plangent outpourings Handel asks of her. Ms. Harvey’s spot-on performance was the heart of the production, the emotional rock that grounded the proceedings. The celebrated echo section and duet with Tolomeo was a standout. although in one of the show’s only minor miscalculations, I wished the supers had butted out for the duration of that gorgeous set piece so we could have just reveled in its musical perfection.

I quite liked Julie Boulianne in last year’s Cenerentola but nothing about that performance prepared me for the brilliance of her Elisa. Ms. Boulianne still displayed a bit of covered vocal production and (just) decent fioriture in her first appearance, but immediately thereafter she caught fire and lavished us with sizzling vocal pyrotechnics all night. Moreover, she displayed a fiery and comically savvy stage presence throughout, greatly assisted by a wonderfully daffy costume — part tutu, part vamp, all Lady Gaga — from the talented costume designer Andrea Hood. Ms. Hood scored big with all of her ingenious creations, but Seleuce’s distressed, wilting, catty-wompers hoop skirt also greatly illuminated the character. And while I am on ‘illumination,’ Kelley Rourke’s diverse lighting design perfectly enhanced the scenic effects.

Young American Artists Steven LaBrie and Karin Mushegain more than held their own up against these three masterful portrayals. As the evil Araspe, Mr. LaBrie cut a handsome figure and is possessed of a ringing, rich lyric baritone. His assured portrayal never descended into cliche and he mined much humor from his chicanery. Ms. Mushegain has an ideal, dusky mezzo for the trousers role of Alessandro, and she reveled in her florid singing. Her stage demeanor was sympathetic and appealing.

The musical proceedings were masterfully helmed by conductor Christian Curnyn, who brought out much subtlety in Handel’s writing, phrased with his soloists as one, and displayed admirable pacing and theatrical drive. He was ably abetted by the sensitive playing from Ruth Berry (Continuo), Michael Leopold (Theorbo) and especially David Moody (Harpsichord).

Tolomeo was truly ‘Festival’ opera, a performance and production that would be at home on any world stage. Very close behind was a wholly engaging new production of Copland’s The Tender Land. If the all-Young Artist cast is any gauge, the future of operatic singing is very, very bright.

Press-TheTenderLand-KCadel-.gifL to R: Joseph Barron as Grandpa Moss, Mark Diamond as Top and Andrew Stenson as Martin in The Tender Land [Photo by Karli Cadel courtesy of Glimmerglass Opera]

Let us immediately discount the fact that for the several character roles, the apprentices are simply and unavoidably too young. That said, I found Stephanie Foley Davis not only able to suggest a couple of decades of life experiences as Ma Moss, but also to sing it with a knowing richness of tone and musical authority that belie her years. This was a secure and memorable role assumption. Almost as successful was Joseph Barron in the (let’s face it) unsympathetic role of Grandpa Moss. Although the company wisely eschewed cheesy age make-up, the burly Mr. Barron nevertheless conveyed ample gravitas and seniority, and used his secure, authoritative bass-baritone to good effect. Mr. Splinters made the most of his crucial moments thanks to the pleasing baritone of Chris Lysack. In the small role of Beth Moss, Rebecca Jo Loeb made a fine impression with her totally committed, always consistent take on the young girl.

The Tender Land is Laurie’s journey of course, and who wouldn’t want to to make the trip with immensely gifted young soprano Lindsay Russell. Ms. Russell has all the goods for this deceptively simple role. She has the ‘heart’ in her ample lyric voice for the simple longings of “The World So Wide”, to be sure. But she also has the ‘ping’ and the moxie for the determined pronouncements in the opera’s climactic scena. Her instrument is uniform throughout, her musicianship is natural and clean, and her technique easily accommodates the often angular Copland writing. If she does not yet float a pianissimo quite as effortlessly as Dawn or Renee, rest assured, she will. Lindsay Russell is poised on the fast track to the major league.

Andrew Stenson’s pleasing tenor has just enough heft for the under-written role of the drifter Martin. He did all that was required dramatically, although somehow I felt there was more complexity to the role than could be found in Mr. Stenson’s hale-fellow-well-met approach. Still, it is not every day we enjoy a young artist with such a beautiful tone and with a reliable technique that is hooked up so well.

TenderLand-StageOrch-CMcAda.gifStephanie Foley Davis as Ma Moss and Chris Lysack as Mr. Splinters (right) in The Tender Land [Photo by Claire McAdams courtesy of Glimmerglass Opera]

My bet on The-One-To-Watch is young Mark Diamond whose virile, buzzy baritone brought his every phrase as Top to vivid life, and whose intense, prowling stage demeanor was marked by a concentrated arc of dramatic conviction. From the moment Mr. Diamond appeared he commanded attention and admiration. Watch for him soon at an opera house near you.

Conductor Stewart Robinson not only conveyed his affection for the score in his pre-show talk, but more important he conducted it lovingly in the pit. The orchestra responded with secure, vibrant, sensitive Copland of the highest order. The Maestro ably supported his young artists, and he shepherded the great ensembles with elan that was tempered by clean control. I confess I am a sap for the unfolding tune and steady crescendo of “The Promise of Living” and the addition of the chorus to the soloists (with the Copland estate’s permission) was an affecting choice that should become the ‘standard.’ Most impressively, Robinson also guided the assembled forces through a tight and propulsive reading of “Stomp Your Foot”, never missing a beat even though the actors were simultaneously cleanly executing some simple but effective (and uncredited) choreography.

TenderLand-Press-CMcAdams-0.gifL to R: Rebecca Jo Loeb as Beth Moss, Lindsay Russell as Laurie Moss and Stephanie Foley Davis as Ma Moss in The Tender Land [Photo by Claire McAdams courtesy of Glimmerglass Opera]

Perhaps the dance steps were just another part of the successful staging devised by director Tazewell Thompson, who served the naïveté of the homey story and the folksiness of the score with the creation of uncomplicated, straight-forward, clean-as-a whistle blocking that made for charming stage pictures as well as well-pointed confrontations. The ‘basic box’ set was somewhat adorned by the addition of two white clapboard walls fronting the sides and a ladder propped up stage right that afforded some use of levels as Top and others variously scrambled up and down. Otherwise, well-chosen set pieces and props, and imaginative directorial re-definitions of the playing space provided all that was required for The Tender Land to make its gentle points.

Smaller companies are usually at a disadvantage taking on a bread-and-butter staple such as Tosca. First of all, it is the stomping ground for very the biggest stars. We cannot help but come to the piece with echos of Caballe and Verrett and Nilsson and Pavarotti and Domingo and Milnes and MacNeill in our ears. On top of that, we have the ‘real-famous-Roman-sites’ visuals of Zeffirelli and Visconti and Pizzi in our eyes. And then there are the over-sized passions of the story and the thundering musical punctuations required from the sizable orchestration. Is there any opera in the repertoire that is laden with quite so many expectations? Given all that, it surprising that the competent Glimmerglass production succeeds as well as it does.

Tosca-Press-KCadel-002.gifAdam Diegel as Cavaradossi and Lise Lindstrom in the title role of Tosca [Photo by Karli Cadel courtesy of Glimmerglass Opera]

Certainly, Lise Lindstrom is a polished singer who has a good touch of steel in her well-schooled soprano, which is admirably ‘present’ at all extremes of the range. Ms. Lindstrom also commands some of the most secure, laser-like high notes I have ever heard. She never misses…B-flat…B…C…she could probably keep zinging them out to the point only dogs can hear. What Lise does not yet have is an Italianate delivery, rather seeming to be a very admirable Straussian caught in the wrong opera. Nor is she helped by Matthew Pachtman’s beautifully tailored but wrong-headed 1920’s gowns in silver, white and black. I mean, Floria is not a black-grey kinda gal. She (and the production) cried out for color, not only to mirror the seething emotional situations but also to evoke the turmoil of a politically unsettled Rome. The diva would never ever wear a white evening gown to sing a cantata in a chapel. Never. Here, Mr. Eastman’s multi-use sets showed their limitations, functional to a point but evoking neither time nor place, although Jeff Harris’s varied lighting made some amends.

I wanted to love Adam Diegel’s Cavaradossi as much as the rest of the public seemed to, for his is an often thrilling pushed lyric sound with spinto leanings. However, I confess I feared for him in a way that I feared for Carrerras when I heard him do it — thrilling yes, but at his limit and, it turned out, at his peril. Mr. Diegel has a troubling way of often clinging hard to a forte sustained top note and releasing it with a slight catch that veers just sharp of the pitch. I couldn’t help but think he is just getting through it…for now. “E Lucevan le Stelle” was arguably his best moment all night, his soft singing heartfelt (albeit crooned) and his final descending anguished portamento enthusiastically over-stated enough to give Franco Corelli pause. But effective? You betcha.

Tosca-StageOrch-CMcAdams-04.gifLester Lynch as Scarpia and Glimmerglass Opera Chorus Member Paul Griswold in Tosca [Photo by Claire McAdams courtesy of Glimmerglass Opera]

It was booming baritone Lester Lynch who served notice that he is now in consideration for admittance to the Scarpia Preferred Pantheon. Mr. Lynch sang much of the night with exceptionally controlled suavity and mellifluous rolling tone, but when he needed to pour it on he had the Puccinian fire power and the dramatic heat to raise the hair on the back of your neck. And ‘heat’ was otherwise sorely missing from the night’s activities. Much of the blame must be placed on Ned Canty’s generalized direction. In a scenario where the action springs from jealousy, sexual attraction, manipulation, and political intrigue, the characters too seldom even looked at each other. As our hero and heroine sung much of their first encounter straight out to the audience side by side or separated, they could as easily have been Rodolfo and Mimi, so non-specific were their dramatic intentions, so unremarkable the communication of their needs and opinions.

David Angus did not bring much more to the mix by way of support from the pit, the orchestra sounding reduced in size and with a significant lack of presence in the lower voices. The opening chords didn’t thunder, the unison horns at the top of Three sounded puny (and punky), and little refined orchestral detail made it as far as my seat. You know who did fare very well indeed? The Young American Artists! Again. Although they were appearing in roles always played by seasoned older comprimarios, Robert Kerr was a splendid Sacristan, Aaron Sorenson an orotund Angelotti, Zachary Nelson a solid Sciarrone, and Dominick Rodriguez offered the best-sung Spoleto of my experience. Xi Wang intoned the Shepherd with her lovely (if too womanly) soprano.

James Sohre

Cast Lists

Tolomeo — Tolomeo: Anthony Roth Costanzo; Allessandro: Karin Mushegain; Elisa: Julie Boulianne; Seleuce: Joélle Harvey; Araspe: Steven LaBrie; Supernumeraries: Desmond V. Gialanella, Julian A. Gialanella, Jack Loewenguth. Continuo, Baroque Cello: Ruth Berry. Theorbo and archlute: Michael Leopold. Harpsichord: David Moody. Conductor: Christian Curnyn. Director: Chas Rader-Shieber. Set Design: Donald Eastman. Costume Design: Andrea Hood. Lighting Design: Robert Wierzel. Hair and Make-up: Anne Ford-Coates.

The Tender Land — Beth Moss: Rebecca Jo Loeb; Ma Moss: Stephanie Foley Davis; Mr. Splinters: Chris Lysack; Laurie Moss: Lindsay Russell; Top: Mark Diamond; Martin: Andrew Stenson; Grandpa Moss: Joseph Barron; Mrs. Jenks: Jamilyn Manning-White; Mr. Jenks: Will Liverman. Conductor: Stewart Robinson. Director: Tazewell Thompson. Set Design: Donald Eastman. Costume Design: Andrea Hood. Lighting Design: Robert Wierzel. Hair & Make-up: Anne Ford-Coates.

Tosca — Cesare Angelotti: Aaron Sorenson; Sacristan: Robert Kerr; Mario Cavaradossi: Adam Diegel; Floria Tosca: Lise Lindstrom; Baron Scarpia: Lester Lynch; Spoletta: Dominick Rodriguez; Sciarrone: Zachary Nelson; Shepherd: Xi Wang; Jailer: Jonathon Lasch. Conductor: David Angus. Director: Ned Canty. Set Design: Donald Eastman. Costume Design: Matthew Pachtman. Lighting Design: Jeff Harris. Hair & Make-up: Anne Ford-Coates.

image= image_description=Joélle Harvey as Seleuce [Photo by Claire McAdams/Glimmerglass Opera] product=yes product_title=Glimmerglass Rarities Out-Score Hall of Famer product_by= product_id=Above: Joélle Harvey as Seleuce (Tolomeo) [Photo by Claire McAdams courtesy of Glimmerglass Opera]
Posted by james_s at 4:02 PM

Naxos founder Klaus Heymann on what lies ahead for classical recordings

[The Gramophone, 24 August 2010]

Gramophone met up with Klaus Heymann, founder of Naxos, to find out his views of the future of the classical recording business and the role Naxos will play in it.

Posted by Gary at 3:45 PM

Robert Baksa — An Interview by Tom Moore

He is a long time resident of New York, where he was born, but due to childhood asthma, spent much of his childhood in Arizona. The last decade has seen numerous CDs dedicated exclusively to his work, including a 2003 disc including the three sonatas for flute and piano performed by Katherine Fink and Elizabeth DiFelice, and a 2009 disc by the Heim duo with Christine Bock of chamber music for flute, viola and guitar. We spoke by telephone on March 9, 2010.

TM: Where were you born and raised? Was your family musical?

RB: I was born in New York City. My family had just come over from Hungary about four years before I was born. My mother was actually an American citizen, because she was born in Ohio. The rest of her family was waiting to gain citizenship, and the grandmother decided that she was ready to die, and the family had to go back to Hungary, because Grandmother wanted to see her grandchildren. As it turned out she lasted another five years, and by that time the war had broken out and nobody could get out of the country. My mother grew up in Hungary, and as long as she could go back to the US before she was eighteen, she would retain her citizenship, which is what actually happened.

With regard to musicality, my mother wanted very much to study music when she was a child but she was so nearsighted that she could not see the music with a violin under her chin. She was also a wonderful artist — she wanted to be an artist, but her mother died when she was only eleven or twelve and in rural Hungary she had no choice but to leave school and take care of the kids. Her two older brothers were trained as violinists, and in fact when the whole family came to the United States they had a Hungarian Gypsy orchestra, which I have a very clear memory of when we were still in New York.

I was very precocious — my mother told me that I started to talk when I was nine months old. One of the first things I ever asked for was the Widdavals (the Merry Widow Waltz). Music really excited me. The recorded music that my parents brought over from Hungary was the classics — I remember Brahms symphonies, excerpts from Johann Strauss operas. That was very early in my life. I got excited by music, and would jump and dance around the room. Unfortunately, I was asthmatic. One of the first things that the doctors said to my parents was “Get a piano and sit this kid down”. So at a very early age I was working on the piano. I remember that I would bring my little friends in and make them sit down while I improvised pieces for them. The whole idea of creating music came very, very early for me. My piano teacher was driven to distraction because I would never play the lessons the way that they were written, especially if there was a dissonant passing tone. I would get outraged, and say “this is wrong!” and refuse to play the music as it was written.

The asthma was pretty serious, and they told my parents that if they didn’t move me to a drier climate I might not survive. We packed up when I was about four or five, and moved to Arizona, so I grew up in Tucson.

TM: Please say a little more about the family in Hungary. Where was the family from?

RB: It may have been Gyor. I have never been to Hungary, and don’t know too much about it, because once we had moved to Arizona, the whole milieu of the family and friends who were Hungarian disappeared from our lives. My father, I think, was born in Nyregyhaza. He and my mother met via correspondence. She went back to Hungary after they had corresponded for a while, and they actually only met on the day that they were married. His biggest gift was antique repairing. When we moved to Arizona, where people didn’t have antiques at that time, that was a big disadvantage for us. We didn’t even get a piano there until I was eleven or twelve, so I didn’t have the chance to develop into a good pianist as far as technique was concerned. I did play well enough, and worked my way through college as a dance band pianist. I even did a short gig as a cocktail pianist once I was out of college, but basically my training through junior high, high school and college was as a violinist. However, I really didn’t like the instrument, and when I came back to New York on my own, in my early twenties, I just put the instrument aside, and with very few exceptions, never played again. I was convinced that everybody in New York was practically a Heifetz, so I didn’t want to compete with that. I could probably have made a good living as a pit violinist for the Broadway shows, but it was a decision I made, and that was the end of it.

TM: Was the family Jewish?

RB: No — as a matter of fact, my great-grandfather was a Hapsburg duke who also happened to be a Catholic priest, so we are all illegitimate.

TM: A very complicated story…I asked since there were many Jews who had to leave Hungary at that time.

RB: We had many Hungarians who came to visit us in Tucson at the time of uprisings in the 50s. I think anybody who could get out of Hungary did so, Jewish or not. When my mother came back to the USA in order to retain her citizenship, she was working as a domestic servant, and there was an older Jewish couple — he was a chef, and she was a chief pastry chef — who worked in various resorts around the country. They took her in as a kind of daughter, and they were the only grandparents that we ever knew, since our actual grandparents had died long before we were born. So I have always had an affinity with Jewish people, but am not Jewish.

TM: Please talk about your days playing for dances.

RB: I was a scrawny kid, with thick, thick glasses, about as geeky as anyone could be, I wasn’t cool, but they always hired me to play the dance jobs, so I must have been doing something right. I am not very fond of jazz, and people tell me that all it would take would be to spend more time with it. But having worked my way through college as essentially a jazz pianist, I can attest to the fact that it didn’t work. I am very involved with putting down the right notes in a composition. Jazz has so much to do with the energy of the performer, a lot more to do with the energy of the performer than with getting the notes right. All of these improvisational things can be interesting, but not if you are involved with writing the right notes. What I admire is a composer who can write a few simple notes, and it just takes the top of your head off. I got to know the music of Chopin when I was in my early teens, about the time that we got a piano in Arizona, and having heard it on recordings, I went to the music store to look at the sheet music. I would think “Is that all it is?” I couldn’t quite figure out what made it so wonderful. It seemed to have little to do with those notes, and something to do with Chopin having put those notes down, whatever it was that came out of his personality.

TM: What you said about not playing the notes on the page at your lessons is a story that I have heard from numerous other composers. You were a working musician by the time you were in your teens. At what point did you decide that you were a composer?

RB: When we got a piano, I simply bought music paper and started to write music. At the same time, I was studying in school to be a commercial artist. Throughout my years of high school there was a definite pull in one direction or another. As a matter of fact, I had a series of cartoons published on a weekly basis in the Arizona Star, and people would say, “Is that your dad that does the cartoons?”, and I would cheerfully say “No, that’s me!” That was a real decision for me to make — which one would win out. I always loved music more than art, but I had a feeling that perhaps I wouldn’t be able to make a living as a composer…very prophetic! I pushed the art for a while, but by the end of high school I realized that my heart really was in music.

At that time, the music that attracted me was by a man named Leroy Anderson. People don’t often remember who he is, though they still play and sing his Sleighride at Christmas time. I did a lot of short novelty piano pieces in that style. I was also very interested in film music, especially music for the big biblical spectaculars, because they had such lush, brilliant orchestration. This was all before I had had any kind of training as a composer. When I went to college I became friends with the guy who was the filmmaker at the film bureau of the University of Arizona. He gave me the chance to score a bunch of documentaries that he was making. We would record most of them with the University Orchestra, and so I had considerable opportunities to learn orchestration in a “hands-on” way by writing for film, which was invaluable. While I was still in high school, the musical director for a big spectacular called Cinerama Holiday came to Tucson because he was doing a big documentary about Arizona. He gave me a little bit of money and asked me to write a short theme, which would be performed by the school orchestra in the film. Just by chance, while we were rehearsing or recording it, Ferdie Grofe was in the audience. Not so many people know his Grand Canyon Suite anymore, but it was wonderfully popular. He said “I was dozing off, and I heard your music!” He was really quite taken with it. Unfortunately, they didn’t use it in the final cut of the film. This was in the late fifties.

When I got the chance to do those documentaries, I sent one of my film scores to Miklos Rozsa in Hollywood. One of my favorites among his scores was Quo Vadis. He was most complimentary. He wrote me back that the music was “extraordinarily well-written and well-suited to the subject matter.” It seemed as though it would be a good opportunity to go to Hollywood and study with him. We corresponded for a while, but when I went to Hollywood to visit an aunt, he was in Europe and I couldn’t reach him. Somehow the idea of going to the West Coast got put aside. I thought the best place for a serious career would be the East Coast. In 1961 I went to New York after having been in Tanglewood for the summer.

TM: How was Tanglewood in 1961?

RB: I think that I was very intimidated by the whole experience, because there were not a whole lot of heavies in the musical world who had come to Arizona where I had studied. Most of the other students at Tanglewood had studied with important composers at important eastern conservatories. Because of the way the curriculum at the U of Arizona was structured, I was an education major — I think everybody had to be. I got a degree in composition, but only a bachelor’s degree. The first teacher that I studied with there was a man named Robert McBride. If you look very hard you might find a piece of his recorded somewhere. He was a big, folksy man — very laid-back. During the time I studied with him, he might have made a few suggestions, but mostly he said “All right. Go on with this now.” The other man that I studied with, who was the orchestra director at the time, Henry Johnson, was someone whom I had a lot of respect for. I was always under his elbow because I was the section leader of the second violins. But we argued all the time about composition. He would say “this is not consistent”, and I would say “Yes, it’s consistent”. I was never an easy student — I always had my own ideas.

When I went to Tanglewood, I had hoped that I would study with Copland, because Copland had been out in Arizona, and was in fact instrumental in getting me to Tanglewood, but I was assigned to Lukas Foss instead. Unfortunately Foss and I just had a basic personality conflict. I couldn’t write anything during the six weeks that I was there. I first played him a piano sonatina, which is a small work. All he had to say was that I didn’t used enough of the keyboard at the higher end. I thought to myself “I know that it’s there — if I want to use it, I’ll use it….” He also said “You are obviously very fond of Ravel”, and I was not fond of Ravel. So for me he had two strikes against him from the start. Foss was the best-known teacher that I ever had, but I don’t think I gained anything from studying with him. You have to be more willing to listen to somebody else than I was at the time. Or if I had felt more compatible with him it might have been a different experience.

One of the things that has struck me in thinking about what has happened with me over the years is that there seems to have been a certain pressure from teachers to expand one’s language, be more experimental, try new things. When I left Tanglewood, and moved back to New York, I wrote a large string piece, a piece which I am very proud of to this day. Unfortunately, it has never been performed. Stokowski was interested in the piece but he died before he could schedule it. I sent it to Copland, and he simply wrote it off — he said “this is irrelevant”. This is not the way to treat a creative person, I feel, especially since I have always demonstrated a certain technical level in my work. I have a letter somewhere from Ned Rorem where he says “Obviously you have technique to burn.” Copland, before he stopped writing, was getting into more dissonant music, and trying all kinds of systems. The big problem for me is that I have never liked that music, I don’t respond to that music. I listen to these pieces again and again, thinking that something will finally grab me and interest me — and it doesn’t happen.

When I was in college, I took out the scores, and listened to all the Bartok string quartets, and was blown away by them. But I found, later in my life, that the more I heard them, the less I found them satisfying. I know that many people might think that is a sacrilegious thing to say. But I find those pieces ugly, I find very little beauty in them, and I don’t see the point in forcing myself to write in a way that is incompatible with what I like to hear and with what I like to write.

After that wonderful compliment I got from Rozsa, I sent him some of my chamber music, but he had lost interest in me. Today, a lot of people are going back to tonality and seeing what they can come up with, as a natural expression of what they want to say. I was doing that all along. I tried once to write a twelve-tone piece, but when I took out all the notes that I absolutely hated, it was in G minor….the handwriting was on the wall.

My experience of music is not only intellectual. I love things that are cleanly written — with lots of correlation between every part in the accompaniment, the inner voices, the melodies — but beyond that, it has got to have an emotional impact other than angst which is all I get from atonal music. One of the things that has always surprised me when I talk about it to other people in the field is that when I hear very, very dissonant music, with no resolutions, my stomach tightens up. It’s a visceral experience for me. I don’t understand how people can sit at a concert or in front of a speaker, and not be affected like that. We know that the whole universe is nothing but vibrations. The strongest vibrations of the overtone series produce the triad. If you have very dissonant music, what you have is very jumbled vibrations hitting the ear. Beyond a certain point, it becomes noise. This has always been very immediate for me, and I get less and less patient with music that doesn’t pay attention to that reality.

In the 1930s, when he wrote all those sonatas, Hindemith’s music became much more harmonious and lyrical. He still used his system, but the music became more transparent and less dissonant. After Salome and Elektra, Strauss started to write music that just melts you when hear it. Here were two master technicians, who came upon the idea that one doesn’t have to “push the envelope” all the time contrary to what everyone else was promoting.

TM: Could you talk about a piece of chamber music from your production that comes from this period in the early 1960s?

RB: When I got back to New York, I did not have a piano for a long time. I had to sneak into a local church to use the piano (because I have always written at the piano, at least to start a piece). I wrote a lot of small choral pieces, and a lot of songs. I wanted to go back to school, because I only had the bachelor’s degree but there was no money for that. I had done chamber music in college, but with the exception of one piece, those are forgotten items which I have either lost or discarded by now.

I don’t feel that I really started to write my mature works until about 1970, 1972. Within a few years, I wrote the Oboe Quintet, which is still very much on the boards and the Octet for Woodwinds which has been very popular. Many people have criticized me over the years for being too backward-looking, but I have three pieces which I wrote as a teenager which are still published and still being performed. That says something. Arthur Cohen, who used to head Carl Fischer, used to say that he expected a good choral work to have a five-year shelf life, but the choral pieces that I wrote in the sixties are still selling. Choral music is not doing so well these days, because people will buy a single copy and make photocopies, and the number of choruses has certainly diminished, but I have several things that have continued to sell for forty years. In the song area, people say that they are always hearing my songs in recital (another problem, because students go to the library and photocopy one song). There’s a lot of music out there being done all the time. This is very different from composers in the university system, with their comfortable pensions, which makes it very easy for them to be in line for grants, commissions, and awards. It’s very frustrating for me, because my music doesn’t sound difficult. It’s easy to understand, and the effect may be that not too much is happening. But when a performer starts working on it, he realizes that it’s not easy music at all. My Bagatelles, which I was just going to show a pianist friend — have pages that are thick with notes. One reviewer compared them to Bach inventions. If you give a piece like that to someone who has to listen to forty-seven entries for a contest, it may not make much of an impression on the first hearing. But there won’t be a second hearing, because they have got too much to go through. So I’ve had bad luck with the contest business.

TM: But you have had good luck with performers who pick up the score and continue into the piece.

RB: Yes, there are many performers who have been very supportive over the years. Oddly, some of them did not like my stuff when they first heard it. Always a mystery to me.

I made my living as a music copyist in New York for about forty years. That has gone by the wayside, since now every composer has their own software on their computer. Every once in a while I will still pick up a job. Because of the fact that I had been an art student, I had a wonderful hand for copying, and that was very valuable to me for a long time. Once I switched over to doing it on the computer, I would never pick up a pen again. What a boon that was!

TM: Perhaps you would like to say a little about your operas.

RB: In about 1967 I wanted to do an opera. When I was in college, I had a book called Fifteen American One-Act Plays, and one of the pieces in there was a play by Edna St. Vincent Millay called Aria da Capo, which is not very often done. I think it’s kind of an awkward play in a way, but it certainly cried out for music. So that was my first opera. I entered it in a contest for one-act operas for children. It wasn’t necessarily a play for children, but it was a chance to perhaps get somewhere with it. I didn’t win the first prize, only the second, largely, I’m sure, because there is a double murder in it. But it did get the attention of the Metropolitan Opera Studio which was connected to the big house. They had a stable of young singers who would do performances in the schools. I don’t recall if they did anything from the winning opera, but they did parts of my Aria da Capo, and the singers liked it so much that they went to the director of the studio and said “Why don’t we commission this guy?” That was exciting. My eyes were full of lots of zeros after the dollar sign. I got a call from the director who said “Well, Mr. Baksa, the Lincoln Center committee doesn’t know who you are, so they have given a commission to someone better known than you. But if you will accept five hundred dollars, we will give you a commission as well.” That’s how I came to write Red Carnations. Unfortunately they only did a few performances before the new regime came in and got rid of the Studio. The Studio no longer exists.

I decided that I needed to orchestrate the new piece. At first they had told me they wanted a few instruments, but once I started the piece, they said, no, no, no, just piano, so I had to go back and redo it with piano accompaniment. My mother managed to find a little money, which allowed me to take the time to orchestrate the piece.

A friend of mine who was a manager for singers said “Let’s show Aria da Capo to David Lloyd”, Lloyd was a prominent American Tenor who was at the time the director of the Lake George Opera. David got excited, and said “we’ll do it this summer.” But that was a problem because the season had already been programmed, and so I actually only got one performance of it, as a part of a gala. But I said, OK, let’s go with this, because they always brought a new work into Manhattan, at Hunter College. Unfortunately, Hunter disbanded their program, and it never came into New York.

I heard about a contest, which was looking for entries, and I entered the score and waited and waited. After a year, I called, and learned that the conductor/adjudicator had lost the score, so I never was part of the contest. This was some kind of good luck, right?

By this time I had become friends with Richard Woitach, who was one of the assistant conductors at the Met, and one of their best coaches, too. He was working at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, and suggested that we do a performance there, with piano, not a fully-staged performance, more of a reading, but it was staged. They loved it so much so that they performed it again in the spring of the next year. I had hoped that they would do a full performance, staged at the Walnut St. Theater, but it never went anywhere.

Many of the people that I showed Aria da Capo to didn’t want to take a chance, because it was a one-acter, and calling for at least a thirty-piece orchestra. About this time many arts organizations were beginning to find fundraising more difficult. I had already added a prologue to the work and decided to reorchestrate it for a chamber group. I was able to complete that about a year ago. Now it has eleven instruments in the orchestra, and five characters, so it should be an evening of opera suitable for smaller companies.

Next chapter: For the opera that the Met commissioned, Red Carnations, I went back to the book with the one-act plays. I found a little throwaway play about a couple that meet at a costume party, and make plans to meet at a city park. But they are not sure that they are going to recognize each other — that’s where you get the “red carnations”. I had orchestrated it for a chamber group. At the time I had been doing copying of a Haydn opera for Michael Feldman and the St. Luke’s orchestra. Michael liked the piece and agreed to do the premiere of the orchestrated version. The Orchestra of St. Luke’s used to rehearse in downtown Manhattan, in St. Luke’s Church, which is where they got their name. They found that the kids from the school next door would come into the rehearsals and sit entranced. Michael decided to form an organization called The Children’s Free Opera of New York to showcase this opera that I had written, and they did it twenty-five or thirty times, would take it out to various places in the city, or to Town Hall, and would bus kids in. About the same time there was a small opera company in Baltimore, the Minnikin Opera, which toured it as an introduction to opera for two years. Unfortunately the publisher who was handling the piece went belly-up. For a number of years I had no representation for Red Carnations at all. I was able, because I had already formed my own publishing company, to take everything back, and make a deal with the Theodore Presser Company, and since that time the work has been used by the Dallas Opera as an introduction to opera. Santa Fe used it for their apprentice tours as well, There were also some smaller companies which presented it as part of their regular seasons. But I really haven’t had anyone pushing on the work, which is a shame, because you can do it easily with piano, and the kids and adults love it. When I met my singers at a recent production in Hudson, the tenor said “You write so beautifully for voice”. It’s been a frustration that I haven’t had an agent to help get this piece produced more often.

When I came to New York I showed a bunch of my work to someone who was very important at Boosey and Hawkes, and he engineered a couple of careers for fledgling opera composers, some of whom became rather well-known. He said to the management of Boosey, “Let’s take this guy on — I think he is going to be a comer”, but within a few weeks he left Boosey, and we were never with the same house again, so I never had that somebody who would be really pushing my work. So much of what happens with new music comes through your university position, or the teachers that you have worked with, who probably sit on the boards for prizes or foundations. Anybody can say they are a good composer. We need to have another voice singing our praises.

TM: You mentioned the new CD with several of your works, including Celestials.

RB: Some time ago Bret and Annette Heim recorded Celestials and contacted me. We kept in touch. Since I am not a guitarist, I am always happy to an instrumentalist check over what I have done, since writing for guitar is no easy matter. After some time Bret said “We’d like to do a whole album of your work”, since by that point they had also performed the Sonata for Flute and Guitar. So they made a second recording of Celestials along with two sonatas for guitar and Journeys which they commissioned. This last piece added viola to the flute and guitar duo. The first recording they did of Celestials was wonderful but having lived with the piece for some time, the second is even more beautiful…even more of a living thing.

TM: You seem to have knack for writing for woodwinds, which might be connected to the fact you write so well for the voice.

RB: I try to write music for an instrument that makes it sound good.

TM: That does what it does, rather than what it doesn’t do.

RB: If the performer doesn’t sound good, it doesn’t reflect well on me. But I do seem to have a knack since I have had instrumentalists come up to me and assume that I play their instrument. There was a piece for piano and three winds performed and the oboist said to me “You’re an oboist, aren’t you?” And I’m not. I did have a couple of weeks on almost every instrument when I was in college, but I also make an effort to learn what every instrument does well, and I think that makes a big difference.

TM: I am reminded of the great Telemann, not sufficiently regarded by those who are Bach-worshippers, who made a point of knowing what an instrument did well, and writing for its assets.

RB: I am just getting to know Telemann…of course he was terribly well-known in his day.

TM: He was the most successful composer in Europe, by some standards. Do you have an upcoming project for this year or next?

RB: There might be a recording down South of some of my woodwind and brass chamber music. But funding is so hard to come by these days. There might also be a premiere of a piece for harp and strings which I am really very proud of. In June there is a choral group in Colorado which will do the premiere of a Mass for mixed chorus, a premiere I have waited for for almost forty years. In fact, that work is largely based on music that Copland heard in Arizona when he decided that I had enough going for me to go to Tanglewood to study. It’s a vastly different work, because I used what it had that was good, and tried to make some better connections, rewrite sections…I am a big rewriter. I am always willing to find another solution for things in my work. If you have worked as long as I have, and have written as many pieces as I have — it’s getting close to six hundred pieces, with a hundred pieces of chamber music alone — you are constantly dealing with the craft. It’s very difficult for me not to rewrite things that are already on the boards.

TM: One of the impressive things in your production is precisely the fact that you don’t have the academic luxury of mulling over a piece for year, or else you wouldn’t have an oeuvre of six hundred works.

RB: There’s a point at which what you write down as a start takes over and develops by itself. The craft of putting down the notes, or lollipops as my mother referred to them, has always been very fulfilling for me. I am happiest when I am involved in a piece. In the eighties, things were not going well for me. I had to force myself to get out of bed, and what I did was to plan to write another invention every day or so, so there is a whole set of about thirty-six keyboard inventions from that time — I could always use that to get me going. I used to like to write in the morning, and still do. Making a living would be for the afternoon and the evening, which was not great for my social life, but better for my stomach and rent.

TM: A question about compositional process: does the work come inwards from the structure, or outwards from the details?

RB: It’s hard to answer that. Basically, if I decide what the instrumentation will be, what the character of the instruments will be, then I need to have something in the way of melodic interest to get me going. I have always felt that music is very much like a play. A melody is like a main character. If you don’t have a main character in a play that people know, recognize, and are interested in, they are going to be bored with the play. You can imagine seeing eighty-seven people on a stage wandering in and out, not talking to each, not communicating with each other, or to the audience — how long would a play like that last. I find so much modern music, some of it highly regarded, that strikes me that way. I listen and listen, and it never gels.

TM: There was a movie about a decade ago called Boogie Nights, starring Mark Wahlberg and what I thought notable was that it was a virtuoso exercise in making film with characters that were not attractive, not intelligent, not charming — individuals whom you would not want to spend any time with. I hear you saying the same thing about modern music.

RB: In that instance, that film stood because of that, but you can’t have a repertory made up only of that kind of film. It stands out because it is an example of what not to do.

TM: You mentioned the Mass, and the piece it was drawing upon. What was the original piece?

RB: I had written the original piece in the fifties, which is what Copland heard when he came to Arizona. It was a wholesale rewriting — the only thing that I retained is the opening, period.

TM: Any closing thoughts?

RB: It has not been an easy time for me, because so much of the industry of the promotion of new music is geared toward music in a certain style. It has changed a good deal in recent years but people tend to be interested in younger composers. Without having the resources to promote myself very much, it has been a constant frustration, because I see that people respond to my work. Recently I learned about two acquaintances who were hospitalized with very serious life threatening illnesses. Their spouses told me that all their partners wanted to listen to was my music. That kind of thing makes it all worth while.

image= image_description=Robert Baksa [Photo by Allen Schaefer] product=yes product_title=Robert Baksa — An Interview by Tom Moore product_by=Above: Robert Baksa [Photo by Allen Schaefer] product_id=
Posted by Gary at 2:44 PM

Lulu at Covent Garden

But even Loos might have thought Christof Loy’s Covent Garden production of Berg’s Lulu a bit under-ornamented: there is no stage set except a blank greenish screen, divided into panels, sometimes Rothko-ized by white floorlights. Maybe you’ve seen the television weatherman when the chroma-key fails, and instead of standing in front of a map inflected with numbers and diagrams, he’s just standing in front of a green or blue screen: that’s the basic visual effect of this production. The props—a chair, a razor, a gun—are so scanty that a Beckett play seems a Zeffirellian extravaganza by comparison.

Instead of going backstage, the characters may simply turn their backs to the screen; in moments of unusual passion, they may simple plant themselves four-square and face the audience, as if they were dummies in a vitrine. A certain aesthetic of puppet theatre can be found throughout, particularly in the case of Agneta Eichenholz, the Lulu, who often makes a sudden crooked smile, as if a string tugged up one side of her face, and who sometimes makes spineless disjointed gestures; when she (visibly, behind the screen) collapses in a faint in act 1, scene 3, you feel that her limb-strings were suddenly cut. She’s not a marionette in the Kleistian sense, a creature of superhuman inanimate grace; instead she’s a puppet in the Chucky sense, slightly ghastly even when not actually killing anybody. Nothing she does has even the faintest tinge of the erotic, even when she’s massaging Schigolch’s groin in act 3, scene 1; instead the Fatal Attraction she exerts on everyone seems an absurd plot contrivance, like the love potion in Tristan. At certain moments her behavior is more animal-like than puppet-like, as when she licks the blood off Dr. Schön’s fingers and cheeks; but she does even this icky thing in an almost completely flat, affectless manner.

Sometimes she seems to convert the other characters into puppets as well. The Medizinalrat first dies, then picks himself up and walks offstage, scattering banknotes in his wake; reincarnated for the second time as Lulu’s first client in act 3, scene 2, he repeats the money-gesture, with perfectly mechanical aplomb. Then the Painter appears as Lulu’s second client, the African Prince, his throat still cut and bleeding. In act 1, scene 3, Lulu daubs Dr. Schön’s face with heavy white makeup and lipstick, a gesture of triumph as she compels him to write the letter breaking up with his fiancée; and all throughout act 2 he will continue to wear the clown face, as if permanently demoted from the human race.

The singing and conducting are of the utmost magnificence: Eichenholz remains lyrical, controlled, unshrill, even during her cruelly high Lied; Michael Volle’s Dr. Schön is strong and secure, eloquently anguished—an Amfortas to the Parsifal of Klaus Florian Vogt, a surprisingly delicate, deft, cantabile Alwa. All of the minor characters deserve praise, but I will mention only the blustering bravura of Peter Rose’s Athlete (and Animal Trainer), and the blasé insinuation of Philip Langridge’s Marquis—Langridge is the only tenor I ever saw who could make Don Ottavio a figure so dangerous that Don Giovanni seemed to have something to worry about, and that skill at menace serves him well in this role.

Daniel Albright


image_description=Alban Berg: Lulu (with Act III completed by Friedrich Cerha)

product_title=Alban Berg: Lulu (with Act III completed by Friedrich Cerha)
product_by=Lulu:Agneta Eichenholz; Dr. Schön / Jack the Ripper: Michael Volle; Alwa: Klaus Florian Vogt; Countess Geschwitz: Jennifer Larmore; Schigolch: Gwynne Howell; Animal Trainer / Athlete: Peter Rose; Prince / Manservant / Marquis: Philip Langridge; Dresser / Schoolboy / Groom: Heather Shipp; Painter / Policeman / Negro: Will Hartmann; Banker / Professor: Jeremy White. Royal Opera House Orchestra. Antonio Pappano, conductor. Christof Loy, stage director. Herbert Murauer, designs. Eva-Mareike Uhlig, costume co-designer. Reinhard Traub, lighting designer. Thomas Wilhelm, movement director. Recorded live at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, June 2009.
product_id= Opus Arte OABD7070D [Blu-Ray]

Posted by Gary at 12:25 PM

Un ballo in maschera at the Teatro Real

Both offer a stage persona with a sort of “Golden Age” stature — they are attractive creatures, if generously proportioned, and neither is much of an actor. Sadly, what is less than “Golden Age” for both Alvarez and Urmana is the quality of their vocalism. Alvarez has ample voice and a pleasant tone. He lacks, however, a final reserve of power and authority to truly put across the big moments that stand as landmarks in the most famed roles of Verdi and Puccini. Urmana manages the higher stretches in soprano roles better than some may have predicted after her transition from mezzo roles, but her voice has less color and warmth in the stratosphere.

The audience at Madrid’s Teatro Real for this production of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera tends to favor Urmana’s Amelia over Alvarez’s Riccardo, judged by the ovations heard in the DVD taken from live performances on September 25 and 28th, 2008. A voice heard live has much more impact than one heard recorded, even if recorded in the clean, detailed audio picture available on this Blu-Ray edition. Urmana’s Amelia is convincingly tormented over her misbegotten and adulterous passion for Alvarez’s “Governor,” though she and her co-star have next to no chemistry. Nothing she does in the role’s biggest moments has much originality, but she undoubtedly has the role in her voice. Alvarez, however, seems a shade too small at times, and even in the lighter, “comic” side of his role’s music, he comes across as goofy more than endearingly light-hearted. He works hard, producing some good moments, but the sheer effort gets a bit wearing.

Urmana dwarfs her on-stage husband, Marco Vratogna as Renato. With his shaved head, lean figure, and outsized-golden earring, Vratogna manages to cut a masculine figure and yet one not necessarily believably interested in Urmana. Modern stagings have sometimes played with a homo-erotic context to the romantic rivalry between Riccardo and Renato. Director Mario Martone doesn’t seem to be suggesting that here. Neither Urmana’s Amelia nor Alvarez’s Riccardo seem the type for Vratoga’s Renato. Martone doesn’t seem to be suggesting much of anything, at any rate. This is one of those expensive-looking productions lacking an incisive perspective to make the drama come to life. Sergio Tramonti’s sets range from the fussy detail of act two’s concrete ruins to the tastefully stark mirrored ballroom of the last act. It’s all stylish and yet dramatically inert.

Elena Zaremba as Ulrica and Alessandra Marianelli, at opposite ends of the female voice spectrum and in roles that can either steal the spotlight or really annoy, manage to be effective but not all that memorable. Jesus López Cobos and the Madrid forces provide all these singers with excellent accompaniment — lush, rhythmic, and propulsive as needed.

At the moment there may not be better casts for these roles and this opera than found here. The great act two duet comes off well, and Vratogna strikes some sparks in his later scenes. Anyone with a sudden urge to see a recent Ballo may find enough entertainment value here. But it’s far from “Golden Age.”

Chris Mullins


image_description=Giuseppe Verdi: Un ballo in maschera

product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Un ballo in maschera
product_by=Riccardo: Marcelo Álvarez; Amelia: Violeta Urmana; Renato: Marco Vratogna; Ulrico: Elena Zaremba; Oscar: Alessandra Marianelli; Silvano: Borja Quiza; Samuel: Miguel Sola; Tom: Scott Wilde; A Judge: Orlando Niz; Amelia's Servant: César San Martín. Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Real, Madrid. Jesús López-Cobos, conductor. Mario Martone, stage director. Recorded live at the Teatro Real, Madrid, on the 25 and 28 September 2008.
product_id=Opus Arte OABD7048D [Blu-Ray]

Posted by chris_m at 10:32 AM

Sigismondo, La Cenerentola, Demetrio e Polibio at Pesaro

He was twenty-two when he composed the tragedy Sigismondo and only twenty-five when he wrote La Cenerentola (the last of the four Italian comedies that are now stables of the standard repertory)! This was the stuff of the thirty-first Rossini Opera Festival.

Rossini was born in Pesaro, though he left when he was eight years old. He somehow retained enormous affection for his birthplace, returning in 1818 to conduct La Gazza Ladra in a performance that inaugurated Pesaro’s new Teatro Nuovo (now named the Teatro Rossini). In 1864, three years before his death (in his seventy-third year) Rossini was again in Pesaro for the unveiling of his statue in bronze (a gift to the city by a Parisian and a Madrilian) that now sits in the courtyard of the music school he pledged his fortune to found.

These days legions of Rossinians from around the world harbor great affection for Pesaro because it is home to the Rossini Foundation that resurrects the Rossini oeuvre in pristine editions to be performed by the annual (since 1980) Rossini Festival, These days Pesaro itself is a not-too-attractive beach town where it is hard to find a quiet hotel and a good restaurant. Plus the festival occurs across the sacrosanct Feast of the Assumption when every Italian who can walk or be pushed find themselves at the beach — it might be hell but it is heaven.

This festival edition was the young Rossini (though all Rossini is relatively young as he wrote his last opera at age thirty-seven). And youth was present wherever you looked and listened. The Rossini Foundation had restored Demetrio e Polibio to its original form, purging the goosed up version Rossini had concocted for its belated premiere. Thus it was the adolescent Rossini with a clumsy libretto, imitative vocabulary and tentative bravura. Strangely the opera gave little clue that it was composed by the man would soon, very soon become the world’s greatest opera composer (be aware that it takes awhile for Rossini euphoria to wear off).

One of Italy’s more able stage directors, Davide Livermore, was in charge of a group design students of Urbino’s Accademia di Belle Arti and together they came up with the very good idea of suggesting that this little opera might be best left on the shelves of the Rossini archives.

MG_9595_barcellona_siragusa.gifBarcellona and Siragusa [Photo by Studio Amati Bacciardi]

It was a witty resolution. The back wall of the Teatro Rossini became the proscenium opening and the real proscenium became a transparent wall through which we would soon spy on the ghosts of the darkened theater. But first we saw all those kids from the Accademia di Belle Arti packing up some other show, and of course the ever present fire inspectors getting in the way, nonchalant because fires (a constant and real danger) so rarely happen. But this is Italy where everyone smokes (or used to), so one of the inspectors saw no reason not to light up.

This Demetrio e Polibio was a frenzy of jokes, a play on commedia dell’arte lazzi (sight gags) and they flowed throughout the evening, one after another, most subject to the libretto’s indication that a fire somehow broke out while Eumene abducts Lisinga. We learned that theatrical technology has discovered a flame that smokes but does not burn and these quite real flames were passed around a lot. Add to this lighted candelabras that flew across the stage and even out across the pit and halfway back into the auditorium.

But once the young design students had got the departing show packed up and had left the stage, and the fire inspectors had made their last round the stage became alive with the ghosts of theater all in period costumes, here the aforementioned Eumene who is really Demetrio, king of Syria, and Siveno, his son (but nobody knows this) who loves Lusinga. Both lovers call Polibio, king of Parthia, their father. Through all this the lazzi kept us amused, and charmed for the fairly brief duration of the opera.

And the young singers were equally charming. Casting was based on promise more than on accomplishment, with our interest piqued as to what Pesaro artistic director Alberto Zedda hears in these voices that encourages him to provide such important opportunity to fledgeling artists. Italian bass Mirco Palazzi shone as Polibio, as did tenor Chinese tenor Vlhe Shi who was Demetrio, Last season Mr. Shi, already a fine Rossini singer, was a tentative Comte Ory but here presented himself as a far more finished artist. Russian mezzo Victoria Zaytseva delivered a plausible Siveno, while Spanish soprano María José Moreno popped out big voiced high E’s with aplomb but was not a convincing Lisinga.

Davide Livermore is a stage director of great sophistication who brought an abundance of theatrical technique to this production. Maybe an over-abundance. But Italian conductor Corrado Rovaris managed to hold the young Rossini’s own, evoking fine playing from the Orchestra Sinfonica G. Rossini (rarely present for the festival’s main-stage productions) and urging his singers to excellent performances with tempi that were delightfully driven and never over-challenging. It was a successful collaboration.

_MG_0962_totale.gif[Photo by Studio Amati Bacciardi]

The Rossini Festival seems to have been nurturing young Venetian stage director Damiano Michieletto, who returned to stage Sigismondo even though he provided an unimaginative, lackluster La scala di seta last summer. Mr. Michieletto must watch a lot of prime time television as he had turned La scala di seta into pure run-of-the-mill TV sit-com. This summer he made Sigismondo into a classic made-for-TV horror movie (low budget, low taste). At intermission disgust was everywhere and very appropriate.

Sigismondo has attacks of madness because he had had his wife put to death for a supposed infidelity that he now seems unsure of. Unbeknownst to him she escaped by assuming another identity, and strangely she still loves him. Thus there was lots to sing about and Rossini saved the day. But not until well into the second act when Sigismondo and Aldimira managed with extended difficulty to reconcile. Complex emotionally, musically and vocally it was the stuff if not the essence of the great Rossini.

Two veteran Italian Rossinians set the pace, Antonino Siragusa as the villain and Daniela Barcellona as the protagonist. Mme. Barcellona is the epitome of the pants-role mezzo, tall of stature with a large, round burnished voice that magnificently soars to the occasion when agility is demanded. Her aria Vincesti, iniqua sorte brought the house down (Rossini Festival audiences like nothing more than to roar approval). Mr. Siragusa is the epitome of the Rossini villain, a shaved head and a cutting voice that became exceptionally expressive and musically brilliant when Ladislao (his character) repented in his spectacular Misero me!

Youth came to the fore in the casting of young Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko as the unhappy queen Aldimira. If in the first act she seemed miscast, an ingenue asked to play a tragic queen. In the second act she shed all doubt as to her queenliness in her splendid, extended scene with the chorus Ah, Signor! nell’alma mia tu non leggi, tu non vedi.

Without showpieces the balance of the cast fell victim to the production set in a mental ward in the first act, the supernumerary inmates frequently mauling the principals and then following them into the halls of state in the second act where the molesting continued.

The weird solo-wind instrument in the overture was a piccolo playing in a very low register, though later Rossini gave it even more brilliant solo opportunity. Surprising too was the double bass solo — the young Rossini having fun experimenting with orchestral colors. The orchestra of Bologna’s Teatro Comunale offers a fine, finished sound that Pesaro-born conductor Michele Mariotti, Bologna’s music director, exploited to the fullest in sympathetic participation with his singers in the opera’s showpieces.

_MG_1258_esposito_brownlee_.gifEsposito, Brownlee, Pizzolato, Bordogna, Alaimo [Photo by Studio Amati Bacciardi]

Canadian-born young conducting star Yves Abel was at the helm for La Cenerentola, propelling it onto plateaux of extended lyricism that approached delirium (Rossini mania again). It was an inspired collaboration with Italian master stage director Luca Ronconi (now 77 years-old) and his co-director Ugo Tessitori in a revival of his 1998 Pesaro production. Add to this a brilliant young cast and a bit of luck — the original Cinderella, Kate Aldrich, backed out and was replaced by Marianna Pizzolato — though Mme. Aldrich may be from Maine she reads as pure Kansas while la Pizzolato is cento per cento italiana. Her voice is large, well-focused and agile and her persona even projects goodness. Not to mention that last summer she stole the show as nurse to Mme. Aldrich’s Zelmira.

This Italian comedy based on the familiar fairytale offers two buffo roles, Cinderella’s father and the the prince’s page. Unusual for productions of this Rossini masterpiece was the youth of these buffo interpreters, here Italians Paolo Bordogna as Don Magnifico and Nicola Alaimo as Dandini. The comparative lightness of their voices allowed Mo. Abel to take the patter songs at breakneck speed and Mr. Ronconi to exploit their physical agility thus setting a tone for these roles that was otherworldly. The prince’s troublemaking tutor Alidoro was played by Italian bass Alex Esposito who possesses a voice of exceptional beauty that both conductor and director used with magical effect to diplomatically reconcile (sort of) the Don Magnifico family situation.

The stepsisters are thankless roles, with only Clorinda given a brief, hopeful aria. Here they were lightly played and sung by French soprano Manon Strauss Evrard as Clorinda and Spanish mezzo Cristina Faus as Tisbe. American tenor Lawrence Brownlee contributed fine singing and an appropriate if generic presence as Don Ramiro (the prince).

La Pizzolato is an unlikely Cenerentola given that she does not fit into the classic princess mold. In fact she seemed right at home in Don Magnifico’s kitchen. But she too could dream, and that she did with consummate vocal finesse and bravura. There can be no doubt in our minds that these were the attributes (not her goodness) that won her the throne. After all this is Rossini.

The Ronconi production is a masterwork. It is huge, heavy and complicated and this added to the impression that La Cenerentola is Rossini’s biggest and best comedy. Put this together with the celerity of the music and action and it seemed very witty indeed that we sat in complete silence for five minutes to watch Don Magnifico’s jumbled household lifted by cables to the rafters slowly, but very slowly. Little by little the Palace rooms were revealed with not just the one over-sized chimney of Don Magnifico’s kitchen (now transformed into a very grand chimney) but a jumble of massive, very grand fireplaces.

Luca Ronconi’s knows that Rossini’s music is architectural, thus the large pile of furniture that was Don Magnifico’s house and the fireplace jumble of the palace provided many levels and places on which the singers could stand to deliver the music. Action was accomplished by moving from singing position to singing position rather than by inventing stage business in an attempt to create comedy. And Ronconi had no fear of stopping movement while musical development took place, particularly effective in the big ensembles though this technique worked just as well in arias.

The massive fireplace palace was constructed of merging levels and spaces into which the chorus, the men of Bologna’s Teatro Comunale, intruded always as a formally dressed phalanx. This sheer size and complexity echoed the complexity of the very largest of the Rossini Cenerentola ensembles and the flashiest of its aria showpieces. When it got truly rolling in the second act the ovations got truly huge and clapping, shouting and stomping became part of the Rossini fun.

Michael Milenski

image_description=Rossini Opera Festival 2010

product_title=Rossini Opera Festival 2010
product_by=Click here for 2010 Program

Posted by michael_m at 9:26 AM

August 23, 2010

Idomeneo, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 23 August 2010]

Of all the tributes to Charles Mackerras since his death last month, this concert performance of Mozart’s first operatic masterpiece was probably the most fitting. The edition was as complete as anyone could wish, retaining the ballet music but excluding the arias Mozart cut shortly before the 1781 Munich premiere and did not restore for Vienna in 1786.

Posted by Gary at 11:00 PM

Edinburgh Festival 2010: Susan Bullock on playing Minnie in La fanciulla del West

By Rupert Christiansen [The Telegraph, 23 August 2010]

'She’s Mother Earth, she’s a schoolmarm, she’s a romantic, she’s a tough cookie, and she runs a mean saloon bar.” Susan Bullock is waxing lyrical about Minnie, the heroine of Puccini’s glorious Gold Rush opera La fanciulla del West - a role she takes on for the first time at Scottish Opera’s concert performance in the Usher Hall tonight.

Posted by Gary at 10:57 PM

The battle for Bayreuth

By Kate Connolly [The Guardian, 23 August 2010]

Wotan, father of the gods, has just kissed his daughter, Brünnhilde, to sleep and left her to burn alive. Katharina Wagner raises her eyebrows as she smacks her lips around an ice-cream, and looks on in satisfaction at the sea of 20,000 people who have gathered on Bayreuth's carnival ground to watch a live transmission of The Valkyrie on a huge screen. "I think we've pulled it off," she says.

Posted by Gary at 10:54 PM

August 22, 2010

Spratlan’s arid, pretentious “Dream” proves dated and deadly in belated world premiere

By Lawrence A. Johnson [Classical Review, 22 August 2010]

“What labyrinth is this where reason finds no clue?” cries the frustrated King Basilio on the stage of Santa Fe Opera.

Posted by Gary at 11:05 PM

A Rarely Heard Mozart Cantata Completes a Wide-Ranging Festival

By Anthony Tommasini [NY Times, 22 August 2010]

Since becoming the music director of the Mostly Mozart Festival in 2002, the conductor Louis Langrée has worked closely with Jane Moss, the festival’s artistic director, to expand its repertory horizons. This season we have heard everything from ancient Georgian polyphony to an avant-garde work by Helmut Lachenmann.

Posted by Gary at 11:02 PM

August 20, 2010

A Response To Philip Kennicott’s “Ring Ideal”

By A. C. Douglas [Sounds & Fury, 20 August 2010]

Were a patient presenting with symptoms of amnesia to submit his case to a neurologist, the diagnosis would almost surely be one that involves some degree of organic brain damage, temporary or permanent, but one for which no corrective surgical or chemical treatment is yet available. Were that same patient to submit his case to a psychoanalyst, the diagnosis would almost surely involve the psychodynamic phenomenon of repression that may or may not be susceptible to correction by an intense and rigorous psychoanalysis.

Posted by Gary at 11:46 AM

Opera Australia in harmony again

By Bryce Hallett [Sydney Morning Herald, 20 August 2010]

Since Lyndon Terracini assumed artistic control of Opera Australia, he has been steadily galvanising its artists and ensemble for what he predicts will be the most ambitious chapters in the company's history.

Posted by Gary at 11:21 AM

August 19, 2010

New book, 'Opera for All Seasons,' depicts history of Indiana University Opera Theater

[UI New Room, 19 August 2010]

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A lavishly illustrated history of the first 60 years of Indiana University Opera Theater at the Jacobs School of Music has recently been released by IU Press.

Posted by Gary at 11:23 AM

August 18, 2010

Tristan und Isolde, Bayreuth 2009

Are we seeing spots swimming in the lovers’ eyeballs, as ecstasy makes the blood drain from their heads? Are we seeing an abstract kinetic visualization of the music, as in the Bach toccata episode in Disney’s Fantasia? All these things, from the deliriously silly to the deliriously fatal, are relevant to Christoph Marthaler’s bizarre, bizarrely moving Tristan.

The production is more or less modern-day, set in a 1940s or 1950s seedy-plush ocean liner: in each act we move a floor lower, until we’re in the ship’s innards at the end. There are two principal virtues to this updating: first, the actors know how to register emotional shifts delicately and instantly, without thinking to themselves, How does a bloodthirsty Irish princess from the Middle Ages express (say) ironically subdued courtesy?; second, uncanny events register as especially uncanny when transposed into an unmagical world. The fluorescent circles, for example, turn out to be ceiling decorations on the ocean liner; but in the last act, as Tristan’s fever grows, disconnected light-circles, casually slung onto hooks, start, eerily, to glow.

Nietzsche considered that Wagner’s heroines were all modern neurotics, Madame Bovarys; Marthaler goes Nietzsche one better by making the cast into grown-up children improvising various sexy absurdities. When Tristan and Kurwenal sing their nyah-nyah ditty about how Morold’s head is a payment of a toll, they pantomime a patty-cake patty-cake baker’s man game; during the orchestral interlude, as Tristan and Isolde drink the potion and intend to die, Isolde casually checks her own pulse—she is, after all, a physician, and knows how to Play Doctor; during the love duet, when Brangäne sings her aubade, Isolde removes her glove by biting the third finger and pulling it off, a brutal vulgar gesture that undercuts the sober magnificence of the music.

Still, there are ways in which the production is unusually faithful to Wagner’s aesthetic and philosophy. Because the acting is subtly naturalistic—especially the acting of the Isolde, Iréne Theorin—the strange quotation-games in the first act register with a clarity I’ve never seen before. Brangäne quotes Isolde’s “Befehlen liess dem Eigenholde”; Isolde quotes Brangäne’s “für böse Gifte Gegengift”—the characters keep switching lines, for emphasis, or new shading, or mockery. Wagner’s philosopher hero Schopenhauer thought that individuality is a delusion, and that one will gropes through every living thing in the universe—and the easy trading of words and tunes suggests how effortlessly each of us can turn into someone else. These ideas are more familiar in the metaphysically intense undoings of identity in the love duet, but they haunt the whole opera: in the Marthaler production, Isolde begins to sing the “Liebestod” from Tristan’s sickbed, and pulls his sheet over her head as her private shroud or final-act curtain, as if she were turning into his corpse before our eyes.

Theorin’s singing is a bit unsteady, but deep, penetrative, thrilling; Robert Dean Smith is not in her league as an actor, but has a perfectly controlled, slightly sapless voice, always at the exact center of each note—I was slightly reminded of Gunnar Graarud, the light but impressive Tristan in the 1930 Elmendorff recording. For pure excellence of singing, best of all is Michelle Breedt, the phlegmatic but powerful Brangäne. And I mustn’t neglect to mention Jukka Rasilainen’s Kurwenal: almost tenorial, at once puppyish and an endearing coot, the jester at the court of Thanat-Eros.

Daniel Albright

  image= image_description=Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde product=yes product_title=Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde product_by=Tristan: Robert Dean Smith; Isolde: Iréne Theorin; Marke: Robert Holl; Kurwenal: Jukka Rasilainen; Melot: Ralf Lukas; Brangäne: Michelle Breedt; A young Sailor: Clemens Bieber; A Shepherd: Arnold Bezuyen; A Steersman: Martin Snell. Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra. Peter Schneider, conductor. Christoph Marthaler, stage director. Recorded live at the Bayreuth Festival, Germany, in August 2009. product_id=Opus Arte OABD7067D [Blu-Ray] price=$45.49 product_url=
Posted by Gary at 10:31 PM

More critics weigh in on the Rosenberg/Cleveland Orchestra/Plain Dealer case

By Tim Smith [Baltimore Sun, 18 August 2010]

You're all tired of my ranting about the trial of music critic Don Rosenberg versus the Cleveland Orchestra and Cleveland Plain Dealer -- he sued his paper and the orchestra after being reassigned and forbidden to write about the orchestra, which had objected to his reviews of music director Franz Welser-Most; Rosenberg lost his case in court. So I thought I'd direct you to some commentary from a couple of other critics -- one from music, Pulitzer Prize-winning Martin Bernheimer; one from film, the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips. (Posting their perspectives also makes it a little easier on me, since I'm technically on vacation.)

Posted by Gary at 1:52 PM

Mozart and Rossini Finales at Grant Park, Chicago

The finales from Act I of Rossini’s La Cenerentola and Act II of Don Giovanni were featured in the fist half of the program; after intermission, the finales from Act I of L’Italiana in Algeri and Act II of Le Nozze di Figaro concluded the program. Carlos Kalmar conducted the Grant Park Orchestra.

Already in the first ensemble from La Cenerentola a strong impression was made by the individual voices and their abilities to interact in the collective spirit of the composition. Tenor René Barbera and baritone Paul La Rosa began the famous “Zitto, zitto: piano, piano” [“Hush, hush: softly, softly”] as the characters Don Ramiro and Dandini evaluate Cinderella’s step-sisters. Both men showed appropriate dramatic sensitivity, just as the sisters Clorinda and Tisbe, sung by Jennifer Jakob and Katherine Lerner, entered with their frenetic appeals and comments. Ms. Jakob and Ms. Lerner acted well with their accomplished voices, with the others all leading to an announcement by Alidoro that a “dama incognita” [“an unknown woman”] had arrived at the festivity. In the role of Alidoro, Evan Boyer displayed a sonorous and eloquent bass-baritone voice which he used to good effect in this important role. Attention then centered on the Cenerentola of Emily Fons, who entered the stage with both lyrical and physical grace. As her presence increased, Ms. Fons enhanced the impression she gave with an assured vocal technique and a mezzo-soprano range with an upper extension equal to the demands of so many female Rossinian lead roles. Her decorations on “Sprezzo” [“I scorn”] and “rispetto” [“respect”] were impeccable and sung with a florid and clearly traced line. Don Ramiro’s reaction to the unknown woman led to a well-rehearsed conclusion in which all delivered their impressions of confused gaiety.

In the finale from Don Giovanni several of the above singers were joined by additional members of the Ryan Center. After a bright orchestral introduction under Kalmar’s direction Mr. La Rosa gave a lyrical and confident assumption of the role of Don Giovanni. His Leporello was sung by Sam Handley, whose deeper and equally well-schooled bass-baritone made him a believable foil to the Don. Ms. Fons took on the role of Donna Elvira with superbly dramatic top notes in her fervent appeals; Amanda Majeski sang Donna Anna with an exquisite sense of pitch and believable dramatic poise, both qualities so vital to the wronged noblewoman. Craig Irvin gave solid and even intonation to the role of the statue, and Ms. Jakob was a sprightly, memorable Zerlina.

In the second half of the program several singers shifted to leading roles in the excerpt from L’Italiana in Algeri. Ms. Lerner delighted as Isabella with her combination of acting and descent to a lower register, while Ms. Fons and Ms. Jakob sang smaller yet important roles contributing to the atmosphere of the Eastern court where Isabella, the Italiana, is captive. Perhaps most impressive in this scene was Mr. Handley’s fluid, seamless approach to the bass role of the Mustafá. So often taken simply as a comic part, it is refreshing to hear a truly fine, young basso cantante give lyrical expression to the ruler’s yearnings. The onomatopoetic conclusion received a dramatically disciplined and comic touch.

The final selection from Act II of Le Nozze di Figaro featured Mr. La Rosa as the Count and Ms. Majeski as the Countess. Both sang committed, believable performances as the noble couple caught in their own misunderstandings and comic, marital deceptions. The supporting characters, especially the Susanna of Ms. Jakob, lent a sense of collective confusion in the spirit of Mozart’s delightful ensemble writing. The Grant Park Music Festival is to be commended for showcasing the talents of these performers who have distinguished themselves in such a variety of operatic roles.

Salvatore Calomino

image= image_description=Carlos Kalmar [Photo by Michael Jones] product=yes product_title=Rossini: La Cenerentola, Finale Act 1; Mozart: Don Giovanni, Finale; Rossini: L’Italiana in Algieri, Finale Act 1; Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro, Finale Act 2. product_by=Click here for program notes with cast lists. product_id=Above: Carlos Kalmar [Photo by Michael Jones]
Posted by Gary at 1:36 PM

Schumann’s Genoveva

The plot of Genoveva is based on legendary Genevieve de Brabant, who is associated with the historic thirteenth-century figure Marie de Brabant, who was married to Louis II of Bavaria. The story concerns the machinations of Golo to seduce Genoveva, and when she spurns him, Golo decides to convince her husband Siegfried to murder her as punishment for infidelity. While Golo and the sorceress Margaretha conspire to put forth this scheme, Siegfried ultimately learns the truth and spares Genoveva. While some connect this story with that of Elsa of Brabant, as set in music as Wagner’s opera Lohengrin, various elements of the narrative suggest deeper, symbolic elements at work, with a magic mirror, the apparition of the Virgin Mary, the ghost of Drago, a member of the household whose death is the result of Golo’s schemes (and thus a kind of Doppelgänger), to suggest a rather modern fairy tale. The libretto is by Robert Reinick and Schumann himself, rather than adapted from the versions that Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich Hebbel had already published. The inspiration Schumann had taken from Wagner for setting a German legend to music seems connected to his personal involvement with the text.

Among the handful of recordings of this work, the present performance is the only staged one, and it gives a sense of the opera as Schumann intended it. While it is possible to appreciate the score as a sound recording, the full impact of the score is possible only when it is seen on stage. It is a neglected work that deserves rehearing, a case that Harnoncourt makes in this intensive recording and which benefits from the modernist staging of the score. While it is possible to dispute the use of modern dress for this opera, a case may also be made for disallowing the trappings of costume drama so as not to compromise the music with connotations that might draw other associations into this relatively unfamiliar work. (The overture is family from concert performances, and it receives an effective reading here.)

The cast is uniformly excellent, with Juliane Banse in the title role, who performs the role with appropriate expression and suitable emotion. When necessary, her exclamations punctuate the line fittingly, and her phrasing underscores the text well. The extended duet with Golo in the second act is persuasive, as the virtuous Genoveva resists the lust of Golo, and it is not just phrasing that makes the difference, but the pacing between Banse and Mathey, which allow the lines to combine well. Banse is convincing as Genoveva, with her fine musical presence supported by the physical portrayal of her character. As Siegfried’s deceitful friend Golo, Mathey creates the character with appropriate passion and without overplaying the lecherous elements. His Golo is self-serving, with the lust driven by jealously, rather than anything else, and Mathey contrasts well Martin Gantner’s characterization of the duped husband Siegfried.

Supported by the Cornelia Kallische as the sorceress Margaretha, the principals work together well in establishing a musical tension and emotional pitch that makes this performance compelling. While it may be difficult to support the contention in the liner notes about Genoveva being the most significant opera of the second half of the nineteenth century, the sustained scenes and anticipate the innovation Wagner would introduce fifteen years later in Tristan und Isolde, and as much as comparisons can be made between Schumann’s opera and Wagner’s earlier score for Lohengrin, the emotional situation in Genoveva has a relationship to the groundbreaking score Wagner would compose in Tristan.

It is laudable to find this production available both in Blu-ray and DVD formats, so that both media can take advantage of this powerful work. Blu-ray offers the refinements of visual display and audio that support the fine efforts of Harnoncourt in creating an excellent performance that merits attention. As the celebrations of Schumann include reissues of fine recordings of the composer’s more familiar works, Harnoncourt deserves congratulations for his efforts to bring out a score that is not familiar yet, through his shaping of Genoveva makes a case for knowing this score better.

James L. Zychowicz


image_description=Robert Schumann: Genoveva

product_title=Robert Schumann: Genoveva
product_by=Genoveva: Juliane Banse; Golo: Shawn Mathey; Siegfried: Martin Gantner; Margaretha: Cornelia Kallisch; Drago: Alfred Muff; Hidulfus: Ruben Drole; Balthasar: Tomasz Slawinski; Caspar: Matthew Leigh. Orchestra and Chorus of the Zurich Opera House. Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor. Martin Kušej, stage director. Recorded live from the Zurich Opera House, 2008.
product_id=ArtHaus Musik 101328 [Blu-Ray]

Posted by jim_z at 12:00 AM

August 17, 2010

Elektra, Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg Festival

By George Loomis [Financial Times, 17 August 2010]

Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s new production of Richard Strauss’s Elektra ends with a stroke of genius that arrives with a shock. As Elektra’s “dance of triumph” gets under way following her brother Orest’s murder of their mother Klytemnästra and Klytemnästra’s lover, Aegisth, a panel rises and you see the bloodied scene - a stark tiled room with Klytemnästra’s body hung by her feet and Aegisth’s body on the floor. Orest emerges and stands motionless, oblivious of Elektra’s crazed euphoria.

Posted by Gary at 2:00 PM

'Measure for Measure' adds a Southern twist

By Anonymous [California Chronicle, 17 August 2010]

The summer of Shakespeare continues, as Opera House Arts presents the Bard's most caustic and complex comedy, "Measure for Measure," at Stonington Opera House.

Posted by Gary at 1:58 PM

August 16, 2010

Metropolitan Opera Breaks Box Office Record

New York, NY (August 16, 2010) - The Metropolitan Opera set a new record for opening day at the box office when single tickets for the 2010-11 season went on sale to the public yesterday. Total sales reached $2,653,676 (24,087 tickets) as compared to $2,505,793 (23,766 tickets) on the equivalent day last season, which was the previous record.

Posted by Gary at 11:48 AM

Opera goes in search of fresh talent

By Eamonn Kelly [The Australian, 16 August 2010]

Moffatt Oxenbould retired after 15 years as Opera Australia's artistic director. The Nugent Inquiry into the Major Performing Arts was released. In Melbourne, there was considerable agitation for a new state opera company. After a tempestuous decade, Opera Australia has returned to calmer waters under new artistic director Lyndon Terracini. The Nugent inquiry led to sustained Australia Council funding arrangements for 28 major performing arts companies through the Major Performing Arts Board. And in 2005, a new, "boutique"
state company, Victorian Opera, was announced.

Posted by Gary at 9:54 AM

Muti, fighting for his art

By Andrew Patner [Chicago Sun-Times, 16 August 2010]

SALZBURG, Austria -- At T minus one month and counting, Riccardo Muti is spending a lot of time preparing for his new position as music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He has built in some downtime next month, but he's also fulfilling longstanding commitments such as a Brahms Requiem in Stockholm, Sweden, on Sept. 2, and keeping up historic institutional relationships, especially here in this historic and picturesque Austrian town.

Posted by Gary at 9:48 AM

August 15, 2010

Tales of Hoffmann at Santa Fe

Since the composer died on October 5, 1880, some four months before the premiere of his opera, the score was assembled by Ernest Guiraud who paid more attention to the needs and desires of theater presenters than to the presumed wishes of the dead composer.

In 1976, French conductor Antonio DeAlmeida, the leading expert in modern Offenbach studies, discovered more than 1,250 pages of the opera’s earliest manuscripts at the home of the composer’s relatives. The new pages were mostly music for voice and piano dating from a period when Offenbach was composing the title role for a baritone. Based on his extensive knowledge of Offenbach’s life and works, DeAlmeida was able to authenticate them. Since musicologist Michael Kaye assisted him on the preparation of his thematic catalogue of all of Offenbach’s compositions, both he and Kaye had unlimited access to many sources of the composer’s work.

DeAlmeida arranged for Kaye to meet the heirs of Jacques Offenbach, who permitted him to have copies of all of the Tales of Hoffmann manuscripts in their possession. In 1986, three hundred and fifty previously unknown, fully orchestrated pages came to light. Kaye received permission to publish them for the first time and started compiling a performing edition that would be as close to Offenbach’s intentions as possible. He wanted it to be a faithful reflection of the composer’s achievements as realized in his posthumous masterpiece. Kaye’s goal was to reunite all the pages of the various manuscripts that were found in public and private collections and produce one definitive edition.

There have been several phases of Kaye’s Tales of Hoffmann Publication Project. There are provisional scores for opera companies. The original dialogues have been located. Guiraud’s recitatives have been made compatible with the recovered Offenbach music and the original dramaturgy. That, of course, has generated various performing versions with dialogues and recitatives. There have also been additional discoveries, including the authentic final scene of the Giulietta Act. One of these discoveries was that the role of Giulietta, often given to mezzo-sopranos, contained high C’s, D’s and E-flats, which could only be sung by a soprano. Another find contained music for Stella to sing in the last act. These and other changes were brought to life in the new edition performed on August third.

On August 3, the Kaye edition of The Tales of Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach was presented at Santa Fe Opera. The imaginative production by Christopher Alden with scenery by Allen Moyer and attractive costumes by Constance Hoffmann underscored the dream element of the original E.T.A. Hoffmann stories. Hoffmann was portrayed by the dependable Paul Groves who colored his robust voice to fit each situation. Unfortunately, the soprano who sang his love interests, Erin Wall, had noticeable difficulty negotiating her coloratura.

Kate Lindsey interpreted the extensive role of The Muse/Nicklausse with a clear, rich, lyric mezzo sound. Her ‘Violin Aria’ was particularly affecting. Wayne Tigges was an evil villain who sang with incisive dark tonal colors. As the servants, David Cangelosi proved to be fascinating as both acrobat and vocalist. Surprisingly, leading mezzo Jill Groves sat in the beer hall for ages before she finally sang the lines of Antonia’s Mother. All the smaller parts were well sung and the orchestra, expansively conducted by Stephen Lord, underscored the enduring delight of the French composer’s music. It was a truly fascinating evening.

Maria Nockin

Click here for a contrary opinion.

image= image_description=Kate Lindsey as Nicklausse with Paul Groves as Hoffmann in the background [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Santa Fe Opera] product=yes product_title=Jacques Offenbach: Tales of Hoffmann product_by=Stella / Olympia: Erin Wall; Antonia / Giulietta: Erin Wall; Nicklausse: Kate Lindsey; Voice of Antonia's Mother: Jill Grove; Hoffmann: Paul Groves; Spalanzani: Mark Schowalter; Lindorf / Coppelius: Wayne Tigges; Dr. Miracle / Dapertutto: Wayne Tigges; Andres / Cochenille: David Cangelosi; Frantz / Pittichinaccio: David Cangelosi; Crespel / Luther: Harold Wilson. Conductor: Stephen Lord. Director: Christopher Alden. Scenic Designer: Allen Moyer. Costume Designer: Constance Hoffman. Lighting Designer: Pat Collins. product_id=Above: Kate Lindsey as Nicklausse with Paul Groves as Hoffmann in the background [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Santa Fe Opera]
Posted by Gary at 9:32 PM

Tristan in Seattle

Best known for its regular Ring cycle, the Seattle Opera presents other Wagner operas in the off years. The high quality of this summer’s performance of Tristan und Isolde is a tribute to the company’s seriousness of purpose. While perhaps not quite a match for its legendary 1998 Tristan, in which Jane Eaglen and Ben Heppner debuted in the title roles, it nonetheless presents as strong a cast as one is likely to encounter anywhere today.

Clifton Forbis is that rarest of singers: a genuine dramatic Heldentenor whose clarion top rests on a dark baritonal base. If his voice seems a bit less supple than in his impressive 2005 Geneva performance (available on DVD), it is now more solidly grounded. On August 4, despite lingering indisposition, he displayed hardly a single moment of technical insecurity. While somewhat restrained in Act I, perhaps by design, he trumpeted the Act III high notes with apparent ease—as if, in the Birgit Nilsson tradition, he could sing it all over again. (The performance was shorn of the Act II “Tag und Nacht” segment, a standard Seattle cut, but Act III was performed complete—more than many Tristans sing.) Throughout there were moments of genuine musical and dramatic insight. While those with a historical perspective might quibble, calling here and there for clearer diction, subtler phrasing, gentler pianos, warmer timbre, or deeper psychological insight—who today sings a finer Tristan?

10 Tristan rl 139.pngAnnalena Persson as Isolde

Much anticipation surrounded the American debut of Annalena Persson. The young Swedish soprano sang the role of Isolde to acclaim at the Welsh National Opera in 2006, where Seattle impresario Speight Jenkins signed her up. (The local press hints that she is slated as Seattle’s 2013 Brünnhilde as well.) Young, blonde, comely and, by Wagnerian standards, slim, Persson looks the part. Her silvery voice has edge and brilliance that can project, despite some lack of warmth and heft, through a Wagnerian orchestra. At times she is a thrilling interpreter, particularly at moments of anger and excitement, such as the Act I Narration and Curse—especially where the orchestration is light. But the role of Isolde overstretches her vocal resources. On sustained (particularly rising) tones in the upper middle part of the voice, the voice weakens and the vibrato widens dangerously. The “Liebestod,” almost entirely comprised of such passages sung against full orchestra, was thus anti-climactic.

The secondary roles were all taken by Seattle favorites, to great effect. Stephen Milling nearly stole the show with a moving König Marke. His rich bass effortlessly filled the hall, and his German diction was exemplary. Margaret Jane Wray is gaining attention these days, consistently singing major roles at the Met. To judge from her Brangäne here, the spreading fame is well-deserved. Hers is a soprano approach to this Zwischenfach role, slightly steely at the top, but clearly projected and delivered, with plenty of volume. Greer Grimsley, Seattle’s resident Wotan, made a more convincing Kurwenal for being understated and elegant wherever possible. Jason Collins plays a forceful Melot, Simeon Esper a sweet Shepherd/Sailor, and Barry Johnson a fine Steersman.

10 Tristan rl 301.pngClifton Forbis as Tristan

Seattle’s Principal Guest Conductor Asher Fisch is not one to pepper this score with excessive accelerandos, overweighty accents, or bloated brass. He strives instead for a consistent mood of classical restraint, brilliantly achieved through smooth line, subtle detail, smooth blend, and transparent textures. (Connoisseurs might note also the innovative use of open strings and Wagner’s specified Holztrompete in Act III.) The orchestra, once past some botched entrances in the prelude, played splendidly.

Stage director Peter Kazaras conceives Acts II and III as Tristan and Isolde’s final hallucination. That is, the potion is indeed the death potion Isolde ordered, and from then on we share the images that pass through the lovers’ minds in the moments before they expire. The inspiration is Ambrose Bierce’s famous short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” This concept offers many potential insights into text and score. It promises to link the opera’s two central concepts, love and death, in a unique way, underscores Tristan and Isolde’s uncanny separation from all that goes on around them, with everything important taking place within their minds, and highlights the opera’s uniquely distorted sense of time.

10 Tristan rl 043.pngAnnalena Persson as Isolde and Margaret Jane Wray as Brangäne

Ultimately the production fails to fully engage this demanding concept, though the stage direction, set design, and costumes (the latter two being the work of Robert Israel) display numerous virtues. On the positive side, a semi-transparent curtain draws the viewer gently into the dream world of each act, as if falling asleep (in the best possible sense!). The gloomy semi-abstract unit set, with a window at the back into reality, is visually neutral but acoustically resonant—a virtue too often neglected these days. The blocking of Act II, in which Tristan and Isolde slowly follow one another across a dark stage, like Orpheus and Eurydice, evokes their ghostly state between worlds. Similarly consistent with the concept, Kurwenal is never killed but simply recedes from Tristan’s consciousness. Tristan and Isolde’s costumes shift from mortal red to half-red, and finally to pure transfigured white, as if the blood is slowly draining from them. The extensive use of computer-aided lighting effects, a Seattle innovation with this production, is evocative. Tristan sings his first lines in Act II while apparently fully encased in a large slab of solid stone—a striking effect in itself, but also one that highlights that Isolde is summoning him only in her mind. (It would be even more effective if maintained for more than a few lines.) Other coups de théâtre include a glittering shower for the potion, and a giant, glowing holographic candle for the Act II light.

Yet much else is a jumble, undermining the production’s core concept. Semi-realistic elements—large wrapped paintings, a tree, furniture, and the little model ship (mandatory, it seems, in contemporary Tristan productions)—coexist uneasily with abstract ones, such as laser-like red cords and a “stage within a stage” curtain behind which characters intermittently disappeared. This is hallucinatory, perhaps, but incoherent. The blocking at the end of Act I, and throughout Act II, tells us less than it might about the subjective experience of passing from day into night: It is not clear, for example, why the “dying” Tristan and Isolde are separated at the start of Act II, then again reunited. Nor does the costuming and comportment of secondary characters clearly delineate their status from the subjective perspective of the dying couple: One would expect a more fundamental change in how they are perceived after the Tristan and Isolde imbibe poison. In the end, too much of the production is static, even blandly realistic, in a classic stand-and-sing manner.

In the intermissions and on line, one encounters considerable criticism of this production for being too radical. I believe it is, on balance, too conservative. Readers of my recent commentary on the Stuttgart Ring know I can be critical of the excesses of Wagnerian Regietheater. Yet this production of Tristan might profitably have been more radical and rigorously intellectual—more konsequent, a German critic might well have said. The production is insightful as it stands, but a future revival might give Kazaras a second chance to realize its promising central idea more starkly.

Andrew Moravcsik

image= image_description=Annalena Persson (Isolde) and Clifton Forbis (Tristan) [Photo by Rozarii Lynch] product=yes product_title=Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde product_by=Isolde: Annalena Persson; Tristan: Clifton Forbis; Brangäne: Margaret Jane Wray; King Marke: Stephen Milling; Kurwenal: Greer Grimsley; Melot: Jason Collins; Shepherd/Sailor: Simeon Esper; Steersman: Barry Johnson. Conductor: Asher Fisch. Stage Director: Peter Kazaras. Set and Costume Designer: Robert Israel. Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler. product_id=Above: Annalena Persson as Isolde and Clifton Forbis as Tristan

All photos by Rozarii Lynch courtesy of Seattle Opera
Posted by Gary at 2:23 PM

To Loxford with Love

Under founding director John O. Crosby’s regime only two minor Britten operas were heard over many years. Today, Santa Fe is something of a ‘Britten house’ — long over due — under the recent directorship of Richard Gaddes and now Charles MacKay whose new production of Albert Herring is playing through August. Word is about that Santa Fe’s observance of Britten will continue, with more of his operas planned in seasons ahead. Delightful news!

The time is circa 1900, Loxford, a mythic English village, with an era just ending and a new one about to emerge. But old ways die hard, and in tiny Loxford Victorian ‘morals’ (they were hardly that), are slow to change. When the local autocrat Lady Billows learns there is not a virgin girl available for Loxford’s annual May fete where she plans to give a prize celebrating ‘purity,’ she is outraged. What has the world come to? These country girls “think too little and see too much!” Hold on, says Police Commissioner Budd! There is Albert Herring, 22, pure as the driven snow, the virtuous hard working son of the widow Herring, village greengrocer. Would Lady B. accept a King of the May this year? Harrumph! Very well, if we must. So the plot is set in motion and we find that for Loxford, as well as Victorian-Edwardian England, public morality will soon enough be changed. (I must add a small criticism here: Santa Fe sets the opera in 1947, its debut year, and a cultural disconnect results. By 1947, England had gone through two world wars and a back-breaking depression since the time of Britten’s tale, and pious moralizing of the Loxfordians, entirely suitable in 1900, was out of tune after WWII. I had thought the ‘set in the time of composition’ fad had faded, as indeed it should.)

_MG_2701.pngJoshua Hopkins as Sid and Kate Lindsey as Nancy

Britten’s singular music and the wonderfully singable text of librettist Eric Crozier (adapted from a story of Guy de Maupassant), are the basis for what may very well be the best operatic comedy since Verdi’s Falstaff. Albert Herring is a perfect blending of a simple story with endlessly sophisticated music that supports and elaborates every word of the text and falls easily upon the ear. Melodies abound amidst orchestration of much color and freshness. True, there is a bit of mocking satire, but withal Britten’s villagers are treated gently. ‘Tis a gift to be simple!’

[However, let me add that even today Britten’s opera is somewhat controversial. I was at a performance of it once where an audience member had a heart attack and died, his wife later sued the opera company for “that awful Britten’s music” causing the problem! Several people, and not opera neophytes, have complained after seeing Albert Herring , that it was boring as it’s meant for “high-school or college workshop” production. I could not disagree more! I will say that the piece is quite ‘literary,’ and appeals most to those who especially appreciate form and music. All is restrained and contained, but as contrasted to the repressive formalities of early 20th C. English village life, the music yields up an unusual expressivity, to my perception, producing as it does a rare measure of ironic humor, musical humor as well as rhetorical, for Haydn-like Britten is somehow always able to make a little musical joke or unexpected commentary with a quirky change of harmony, a quote from other sources (Tristan!) given a moment’s special treatment, the strict formality of the Threnody, for example, shattered by the chaos of complaints that immediately follows Albert’s final entry — these techniques all mean something, but admittedly may appeal more to formalists than to those who want a less obviously rhetorical approach to music — Puccini, for example; Britten falls into the same school as Mozart and a few other good companions.]

Santa Fe Opera showed proper respect for Britten’s little masterpiece by engaging Lyric Opera of Chicago’s music director, Sir Andrew Davis, to lead Britten’s musical forces. With an expert 13-piece chamber orchestra in the pit, Sir Andrew on the podium and a cast including Christine Brewer, Joshua Hopkins, Celena Shafer, Alek Shrader, Jill Grove, Kate Lindsey and Judith Christin we were bound to enjoy a memorable evening of Britten. The English village settings by Kevin Knight and, especially Paul Curran’s clarifying stage direction, simply added icing to the confection — all ready and waiting for Lady Billows to serve at tea!

The show’s opening night was a victim of one of Santa Fe’s famous monsoon rains, with horrendous storm noise virtually covering the stage and pit. For purposes of this review I was fortunate to attend the second performance, August 4, a perfect evening, quiet and cool with a brilliant Venus glowing prominently, and appropriately, in the evening sky.

Mme. Brewer, long a Santa Fe favorite and something of a specialist in Britten’s music, dominated every scene as the imperious grande dame of Loxford. With adroit wit, understated playing and a bright soprano voice she became Lady Billows. Her side-kick maid, Florence Pike, was nicely achieved by contralto Jill Grove. The town leaders were capably handled by Dale Travis as Commissioner Budd, Mark Showalter as Mayor Upfold, a fine young bass Jonathan Michie as Vicar Mr Gedge, while the local head teacher was chirped brightly by Celena Shafer who must have been a nervous wreck by the end of the evening as director Curran had her in frantic motion at all times (a tad distracting).

Theirs was good ensemble acting and singing, and in several of the great musical moments, especially the nine-part Threnody of mourning for Albert in the opera’s penultimate scene, Davis and his forces created some genuinely magical musical beauty. He played the Threnody in a hushed pianissimo, then Bang! The lost and “dead” Albert suddenly pops through a trap door and in an instant the mourned becomes the beleaguered, as all hands castigate him for taking his prize money, skipping town and having a helluva good drunken time, returning covered in muddy dishevelment. After all this, Albert’s defining moment arrives, when he sings to his domineering parent, “That’ll do, mum.” And the opera is over.

_MG_2391.pngCelena Shafer (Miss Wordsworth), Jonathan Michie (Mr. Gedge), Dale Travis (Mr. Budd), Alek Shrader (Albert Herring), Mark Schowalter (Mayor Upfold), Christine Brewer (Lady Billows), Jill Grove (Florence Pike) and Judith Christin (Mrs. Herring)

But not quite: As Mum Herring disappears through a door in her store, she looks back, that is the wizardly Judy Christin does, at the audience and gives the show away -- she bestows upon Sid, Nancy and Albert the most wicked little smile you have ever seen, which tells the whole story. You can imagine her thinking, “My boy did it after all, good for him!” If there is a better comic actor in all of opera than Judy Christen, whom I first heard sing Mrs. Herring 32-years ago at the St. Louis opera, I don’t know who it would be.

The brief story of a repressed lad who has escaped Mum, the oppressive town and the fury of Lady Billows thus ended on a note of high amusement before a delighted audience. This show is too good to quit; I hope it plays at other venues and ultimately returns for another season. It is that good.

© J. A. Van Sant 2010

image= image_description=Alek Shrader as Albert Herring [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Santa Fe Opera] product=yes product_title=Benjamin Britten: Albert Herring product_by=Lady Billows: Christine Brewer; Miss Wordsworth: Celena Shafer; Florence Pike: Jill Grove; Nancy: Kate Lindsey; Mrs. Herring: Judith Christin; Albert Herring: Alek Shrader; Mayor: Mark Schowalter; Sid: Joshua Hopkins; Vicar: Jonathan Hopkins; Budd: Dale Travis. Sir Andrew Davis, conducting. Paul Curran, director. Kevin Knight: scenic and costume designer. Rick Fisher, lighting designer. product_id=Above: Alek Shrader as Albert Herring

All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of Santa Fe Opera
Posted by Gary at 12:49 PM

Marco Polo at Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam

Marco Polo provides evidence for both arguments. His score, to a libretto by Paul Griffiths, leaps (or lurches, depending on one’s aural perspective) from his updated take on classical Chinese music with authentic instruments to orchestral passages where Puccini lusciousness gets spiked with Prokofiev edginess. The singers have to use their trained voices for yelps and yips as well as for the occasional legato section. Popping up frequently — arguably all too frequently — a Chinese opera-trained performer, Zhang Jun, squeals and grunts in English in a variety of incarnations, and if he is meant to be a guide for the audience, he is a singularly incomprehensible, if not annoying, one.

Griffith’s libretto attempts no historical narrative. Instead we have a sort of avant-garde pageant of symbolic stages of the Polo journeys, from “Piazza” to “Sea” to “The Wall.” Each of the four seasons gets a section called “The Book of Timespace,” which should go a long way to answering the rhetorical question, “Just how pretentious is this opera?” Charles Workman takes the role of Polo, while Sarah Castle performs as Marco. Stephen Richardson gets the role of Kublai Khan to himself. Apparently only Western explorers cannot resolve their feminine/masculine ying/yang issues. All the singers perform their roles with a stoic professionalism.

A straightforward historical approach probably would have produced a dismal opera, and there will be viewers for whom Tan Dun and Paul Griffiths’ efforts will reverberate with newly realized insights into the long and complex history of Western interactions with China. For others such as your reviewer, the occasional patch of interesting music doesn’t compensate for the long stretches of impatience with the over-stylized, under-realized silliness on stage.

Director Pierre Audi keeps the stage picture continually interesting, if seldom understandable, but then he should, working with the brilliant stage design of Jean Kalman and the costumes of Angelo Figus. But an opera should be more than a visually compelling collection of the weirdest and most wonderful Project Runway designs.

Reiner E. Moritz’s booklet essay matches the opera in its rambling pretentiousness. One example: “When asked whether he composed the music or the music composed him, Tan Dun replied...” Elsewhere Moritz claims that Tan Dun’s 1996 opera “conquered the opera houses of the world,” an event which many an astute follower of opera may have somehow missed. This performance comes from a 2008 revival at the DeNederlandse Opera, with the composer conducting. Those who endured Tan Dun’s The First Emperor at the Metropolitan Opera a few seasons back will know what to expect here.

Chris Mullins

image_description=Tan Dun: Marco Polo

product_title=Tan Dun: Marco Polo
product_by=Polo: Charles Workman; Marco: Sarah Castle; Kublai Khan: Stephen Richardson; Water: Nancy Allen Lundy; Shadow 1 / Rustichello / Li Po: Zhang Jun;
Shadow 2 / Sheherazada / Mahler / Queen: Tania Kross; Shadow 3 / Dante / Shakespeare: Stephen Bryant; Chinese / Arabian dancer: Mu Na. Cappella Amsterdam
Netherlands Chamber Orchestra. Tan Dun, conductor. Pierre Audi, stage director.
product_id=Opus Arte OA1010D [DVD]

Posted by chris_m at 12:08 PM

Michael Christie conducts Corigliano in Aspen

Yet he was the obvious choice to conduct the world premiere of the revised version of the work at St. Louis Opera Theater in 2009.

“To celebrate John’s 70th birthday I had done a Corigliano festival with the Brooklyn Philharmonic,” says Christie, who then took James Robinson’s St. Louis production to Ireland to open the new opera house at Wexford. “I had worked with him; I knew his style and I knew his sounds. “Conducting Ghosts was a natural next step.”

This week Christie is on the podium for an all-new staging of the revised version by the Aspen Opera Theater Center, the music-theater wing of the Aspen Music Festival and School. “I’ve now lived with Ghosts for a year,” says the conductor, who has just wound up his 10th season as music director of the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder. “I’m totally at home with the score.”

In addition to that, Christie loves it. “I’ve watched the video of the Met production,” he says. “It’s all about stars Teresa Stratas and Marilyn Horne. “Now John has really tidied things up and made a true opera of it.” Nonetheless, Christie will be working with 60 singers on stage and an orchestra so large that it spill over into the Green Room of Aspen’s historic, 500-seat Wheeler Opera House. (With supers, the Met had 300 on stage for the original production.)

Christie further feels that the revision — it was done by John David Earnest with input from Corigliano — refines the lines of the opera-within-an-opera. “It’s now two acts instead of three and half an hour shorter than the original,” he says. “It holds together much better.”

Central figure of the outer story is Marie Antoinette, who 200 years after she was beheaded in the French Revolution, wants to return to life. The story then moves back to 1793 and offers a hilarious picture of the Almaviva family, familiar to all from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. Instead of re-writing the story Mozart’s librettist, Pierre Beaumarchais and the late Empress fall in love.

“Laughter threatens to drown out the music in Act One,” Christie says, “but then comes the love story, and the opera has a very serious side. “Much of it is breathtakingly beautiful!” Although it’s wrong to see the score as “Mozartian,” Mozart, he says, is everywhere in it.

In mid-summer Christie spent three days in Aspen rehearsing singers. “It’s a different ‘take’ on opera,” he says. “Corigliano’s vocabulary is very specific, yet he leaves the orchestra quite free — almost improvisational at times.” In Ghosts the orchestra, he explains, is at the service of what is on stage. It’s up to the conductor to keep the singers moving and to keep the orchestra with them. “It’s an usual role for a conductor,” he says. “If you’re used to being in charge, this opera is not for you.”

Christie focused on opera at the outset of his career, having served for three years as assistant to Franz Welser-Möst in Zurich. With Ghosts he returns to the pit with performances of Verdi’s Traviata and Wuthering Heights by Hollywood master Bernard Hermann at Minnesota Opera. In 2011 he returns to St. Louis to conduct John Adams’ Death of Klinghoffer.

Edward Berkeley, his Juilliard mentor who has directed the Aspen Opera Center for three decades, has built the summer season around the figure of Figaro. Ghosts was preceded by Rossini’s Barber of Seville and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. “Ghosts fits a festival well,” say Berkeley, who directs the production “and in this context it gives students a look at how different composers treat the same group of characters.” “It gives our audience a chance to compare how they have used the same material.” He calls Corigliano “very skilled.” “He’s taken these characters beyond Beaumarchais and added his own layer to the story,” he says. He is awed by the dimensions even of the revised score. “It’s an enormous work,” he says. “It may be the biggest thing we’ve ever tried.”

Michael Christie as conductor was for Berkeley “a natural choice.” “I knew his work in Brooklyn,” he says. “He was widely praised for his mastery of Ghosts in St. Louis and Ireland.” Earlier in the summer Christie proved himself a Wagnerian of great promise with a Colorado Music Festival program that featured veteran soprano Jane Eaglen in the “Liebestod” from Tristan and the “Immolation scene” that concludes Götterdämmerung.

John Corigliano based Ghosts largely on The Guilty Mother, the third part of Beaumarchais’s Figaro trilogy. Sets for the production are by John Kasarda; costumes by Marina Reti.

John Corigliano’s Ghost of Versailles is on stage in Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House at 7 p.m. on August 19 and 21. For information and tickets at $25 to $50, call 1-970-925-9042 or

Wes Blomster

image= image_description=Sketch of Figaro by Marina Reti courtesy of the Aspen Opera Theater Center product=yes product_title=John Corigliano: Ghosts of Versailles product_by= product_id=Above: Sketch of Figaro by Marina Reti courtesy of the Aspen Opera Theater Center
Posted by Gary at 9:59 AM

Santa Fe Opera sings a familiar note

By Sarah Bryan Miller [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 15 August 2010]

SANTA FE, N.M. • It feels like St. Louis West this year. Charles MacKay's first fully planned season as general director of the Santa Fe Opera brought in a lot of faces — and a lot of voices — familiar from his years of running Opera Theatre of St. Louis.

Posted by Gary at 9:46 AM

August 14, 2010

Santa Fe's Busy 'Tales,' Bloody 'Butterfly,' Tinny 'Flute'

By Heidi Waleson [WSJ, 14 August 2010]

Concept-driven opera productions can illuminate or bewilder, and Christopher Alden's version of Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffmann" at the Santa Fe Opera this summer did some of both.

Posted by Gary at 1:36 PM

Unthinkable? Mid-opera clapping

Editorial [The Guardian, 14 August 2010]

Last month, during the Proms performance of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, a few people began to applaud - which probably appalled others in the audience and would certainly have upset Richard Wagner. The opera is meant to be a comedy, and its second act ends with a riotous crowd, yet convention demands that it is heard in austere silence until the end of each act. In Italian opera you can cheer an aria - although even then a few po-faced devotees will sit ostentatiously on their hands.

Posted by Gary at 10:24 AM

August 13, 2010

Families get to go Behind the Curtain at Wolf Trap

By: Emily Cary [Washington Examiner, 13 August 2010]

Behind the Curtain, Wolf Trap's Family Opera Day, is an opportunity for youngsters and their families to immerse themselves in the magic of live theater. They will closely investigate the lights, the scenery, the costumes, the hair and makeup, the special effects, and the props, and meet the opera singers who thrive in this environment.

Posted by Gary at 10:04 AM

August 12, 2010

VERDI: Ernani — Florence 1957

Music composed by Giuseppe Verdi. Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave after Victor Hugo’s play Hernani.

First performance: Venice, Teatro La Fenice, 9 March 1844

Principal Roles:
Ernani, the bandit Tenor
Don Carlo, King of Spain Baritone
Don Ruy Gomez de Silva, a Spanish grandee Bass
Elvira, his niece and betrothed Soprano
Giovanna, her nurse Soprano
Don Riccardo, the King’s equerry Tenor
Jago. Silva’s equerry Bass

Setting: The Pyrenees, at Aix-la-Chapelle and at Saragossa, in 1519


Act I

Mountains of Aragon

The bandits demand the reason for Ernani’s gloom. (Chorus: Eviva! Beviam! Beviam! / “To you we drink” and Ernani pensoso! / “Ernani, so gloomy? Why, oh strong one, does care sit on your brow?”). Ernani replies (Recitative: “Thanks, dear friends”; Cavatina: Come rugiada al cespite / “As the flower turns to the sun”) that he loves Elvira, who is about to be married against her will to old Gomez de Silva (O tu che l’alma adora). He asks the bandits to abduct her.

In Elvira’s chamber

Elvira worries about her upcoming marriage (Scene: “Now sinks the sun and Silva does not return”; Cavatina: Ernani, Ernani involami / “Ernani, Ernani, save me”) as servants deliver Silva’s wedding presents to her. She reaffirms her love for Ernani (Tutto sprezzo che d’Ernani / “I scorn everything which does not speak to my heart of Ernani”). King Carlos, disguised as a peasant, enters, but Elvira recognizes him and rejects the love that he offers her. As he attempts to use force, she grasps a dagger, but Ernani suddenly arrives and stops Carlos (Trio: “A friend comes quickly to your aid”). Carlos recognizes Ernani as the leader of the bandits. Ernani replies that Carlos robbed him of his lands and forced him into a life of banditry. As he invites Carlos to fight, Silva appears and sees Ernani (Infelice!..e tu credevi..che mai vegg’io! / “Dreadful sight”; Silva’s cavatina: “Unhappy man! You thought this lovely...was yours”). Ernani offers to fight them both when Riccardo approaches and recognises the king. Ernani whispers to Elvira to prepare to flee.

Act II

A hall in Silva’s palace

Ernani enters disguised as a pilgrim. He asks for shelter, which Silva grants him, and then learns from Silva that he about to marry Elvira who believes Ernani to be dead. Ernani reveals his true identity to Elvira and she tells him that she plans to kill herself at the altar (Duet: Ah, mourir potessi adesso / “Ah, if I could die now”). unfortunately, Silva walks in at that moment, discoveres the pair, but agrees to keep his word to Ernani and protect him from the king, for which Ernani will owe him a perpetual debt. (Trio: No, vendetta piu tremenda / “No, I want to keep a greater revenge”). Carlos arrives and wishes to know why the castle is barred. Silva refuses to surrender Ernani (Carlos’ aria: Lo vedremo, veglio audace / “We shall see, you bold old man”) while Don Carlos’ men cannot find Ernani’s hiding place. Silva keeps his word, even when the king secures Elvira as a hostage. Silva releases Ernani, and then challenges him to a duel. Ernani refuses to fight with his saviour, but unites with Silva in his plans to free Elvira from the king. Ernani swears to appear at the summons of Silva, wherever he may be at that time (Odi il voto o grande Iddio / “Oh God, hear the vow”) and the act ends with Ernani’s aria of vengeance (Sprezzo la vita ne più m’alletta / “Life means nothing to me, only hope of vengeance”).


In the burial vault of Charles the Great at Aachen

Carlos visits the grave of the emperor (Cavatina: Oh, de’verd’anni miei/ “Oh, the dreams and deceits of my youth”). Hiding behind the vault, he overhears a gathering of conspirators including Silva and Ernani. Ernani swears to murder Carlos. The conspiracy is foiled when Carlos’s attendants enter and surprise the conspirators. The king commands that all the traitorous noblemen be executed. Ernani steps forward, declaring that thus he must die too; he is not the bandit Ernani, but Don Juan of Aragon, whose lands were taken from him. Elvira begs mercy for her lover, and Carlos, whose mood has changed, forgives them both and places Elvira’s hand in that of Ernani.

Act IV

Ernani’s Castle

Elvira and Ernani have just been married, when, in consternation, Ernani hears a bugle call. Silva arrives and silently hands Ernani a dagger. Ernani asks for time to “sip from the cup of love” (Ascolta, ascolta un detto ancor/ “Listen, just one word...”) but, cursed by Silva as coward, Ernani keeps his oath and stabs himself in the heart. (Trio with Silva: E’ vano, o donna, il piangere, e vano / “Your weeping is in vain, woman”).

[Synopsis Source: Wikipedia]

Click here for the complete libretto.

image= image_description=Scene from Ernani audio=yes first_audio_name=Giuseppe Verdi: Ernani (m3u playlist) first_audio_link= second_audio_name=Giuseppe Verdi: Ernani (pls playlist) second_audio_link= product=yes product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Ernani product_by=Ernani: Mario Del Monaco; Don Carlo: Ettore Bastianini; Silva: Boris Christoff; Elvira: Anita Cerquetti; Giovanna: Luciana Boni; Riccardo: Athos Cesarini; Jago: Aurelian Neagu. Orchestra e coro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Dimitri Mitropoulos, conducting. Florence, 14 June 1957. product_id=
Posted by Gary at 8:07 PM

Eugene Onegin, Royal Opera House, London

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 12 August 2010]

The Bolshoi Ballet has dazzled London audiences with its jumps, leaps and spins, and returned to Moscow. Now it is the turn of the Bolshoi Opera, which is following in its footsteps for a short run of four performances of the company’s 2006 production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin - the one that caused such a furore back home.

Posted by Gary at 10:09 AM

Braving All the Boos To Advance A Wagnerian Vision

By Anthony Tommasini [NY Times, 12 August 2010]

It is traditional for the director of a new opera production to appear during curtain calls on the night of the premiere. But no protocol compelled the director Katharina Wagner to take a solo bow at the Aug. 5 performance of Wagner’s “Meistersinger” here at the Bayreuth Festival.

Posted by Gary at 10:06 AM

August 11, 2010

Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto at Chicago Opera Theater

For the first opera during its Spring 2010 season Chicago Opera Theater staged a production based on the new critical edition of Mosè by Charles S. and Patricia B. Brauner. As Philip M. Gossett indicates in his notes accompanying the program for this production, the Italian Mosè, originally performed in Naples, “is a work of great value” which “contains some of Rossini’s finest music.” The present production, with strong vocal contributions from a convincing cast, gave ample support to these statements.

Under the direction of Leonardo Vordoni the brief orchestral prelude set a tone both stately and somber, in which the distraught court of the Pharaoh and the plight of Moses and his people are alternately depicted. Darkness has fallen over the land, and Faraone determines to free the camp of Moses in order to release Egypt from such a plague. When he sends for Moses and makes known his intention, the captive leader calls out to God and, with the gesture of his staff, causes light to return to the land. The two opposing leaders were sung by bass-baritone Tom Corbell as Faraone and bass Andrea Concetti as Mosè. Mr. Corbell showed admirable facility in his delivery of rapid notes whereas Mr. Concetti struck an imposing figure with declamatory weight in his delivery of Mosè’s opening lines. In the ensemble showing varied reactions to this change, brought about by Mosè, Faraone and his consort Amaltea are joined by the Egyptian heir and Prince Osiride along with Aronne, the compatriot of Mosè. Faraone declares that the Hebrews will, in return for this gesture, be set free and Amaltea supports the decision. Corbell as Faraone was joined in his florid statement with the equally challenging line composed for Amaltea, here sung admirably by Kathryn Leemhuis, a member of the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Leemhuis gave a strong individual impression in her careful decoration yet blended with the others to yield a memorable and dramatic ensemble. The final lead member featured in this group was the Osiride of Taylor Stayton. Mr. Stayton shows great promise as a tenor able to project with dramatic lyricism the challenging dramatic line featured in this and comparable pieces by Rossini. Here Osiride expresses his disagreement concerning the release of the Hebrews, since his secret beloved Elcia is one of the people of Mosè, now scheduled to depart in freedom.

After the others leave, Osiride plots with the high priest Mambre and suggests that the latter use his powers to sow discord once again between Mosè and Faraone. Elcia now joins her lover Osiride in order to bid farewell as she expects to leave Egypt with Mosè. In their moving duet Siân Davies sang the part of Elcia with great urgency and proved to be an appropriate match for Mr. Stayton’s compelling depiction of the Egyptian prince. Upon the exciting conclusion to their duet, Amaltea appears and chides Mambre for his attempts to dissuade Faraone from releasing the Hebrews. Her words go unheeded, for Osiride’s plan has succeeded, Faraone declares his decision revoked, and the Hebrews feel themselves betrayed. At the close of the act Mosè invites further storms to fall upon the land of Egypt.

Moses_COT_Photo-5.gifTaylor Stayton as Osiride

After an intermission, Acts II and III were performed without pause in this production by Chicago Opera Theater. Attempts to resolve the imprisonment of the Hebrews are fueled by Amaltea’s independent negotiations with Mosè. At the same time Faraone resolves to marry off Osiride to an Armenian princess and to proclaim him co-ruler of Egypt. The dismay of Osiride was expressed in Stayton’s fervent delivery, in which he maintained hopes still to retain Elcia’s love. When the latter enters among the imprisoned Hebrews, she advised Osiride to seek an equivalent love in his official betrothed. Ms. Davies’ moving expressiveness and exquisitely secure pitch in this aria remained one of the highlights of the performance. Osiride then threatens violence to Mosè but he is, instead, struck dead by a lightning bolt; as the act concludes, both Faraone and Elcia mourn his loss.

Moses_COT_Photo-8.gifJorge Prego as Aronne, Andrea Concetti as Moses and Siân Davies as Elcia with the Israelites

In the brief Act III on the banks of the Red Sea the famous prayer delivered by Mosè calms his people, who fear that they will be sacrificed to the anger of Faraone’s troops. Elcia is encouraged to continue her journey with the other Hebrews. In this Mr. Concetti as Mosè delivered a fervent declamation in the concluding piece of the opera. The Red Sea parts and his people cross, just as Faraone and the high priest are swallowed up as they attempt to pursue. The dramatic moment received an appropriately conclusive orchestral flourish.

Salvatore Calomino

image= image_description=Andrea Concetti as Moses [Photo by Liz Lauren courtesy of Chicago Opera Theater] product=yes product_title= product_by=Moses: Andrea Concetti; Faraone: Tom Corbeil; Elcia: Siân Davies; Amaltea: Kathryn Leemhuis; Mambre: Samuel Levine; Aronne: Jorge Prego; Amenofi: Emily Grace Righter; Osiride: Taylor Stayton. Conductor: Leonardo Vordoni. Director: Andrew Eggert. Production Designer: Anka Lupes. Lighting Designer: Keith Parham. Chicago Opera Theater. product_id=Above: Andrea Concetti as Moses

All photos by Liz Lauren courtesy of Chicago Opera Theater
Posted by Gary at 2:28 PM

August 10, 2010

Middle Ages Next to Come

Above all, there is no evidence that they would compete for queen Rodelinda, who instead was exiled to Benevento with her little son Cunincpert and lived peacefully there until Perctarit, after finally recovering the throne, summoned her back to the kingdom’s capital Pavia.

Turning into melodrama characters those practical barbarians, more interested in power than in romance or bloody vengeance, was the endeavor of such Baroque playwrights as the French Pierre Corneille and the Florentine Antonio Salvi. The latter’s 1710 libretto for Giacomo Antonio Perti (Rodelinda, regina de’ Longobardi), drastically pruned by Nicola Haym for the London stage, was set to music by Handel in 1725. It immediately proved a resounding success, also thanks to a cast including soprano Francesca Cuzzoni in the title role, the legendary Senesino as Bertarido, and some of the best singers available in the side-roles: tenor Francesco Borosini, bass Giuseppe Maria Boschi, and alto castrato Andrea Pacini.

7123.pngFranco Fagioli as Bertarido [Photo by Laera]

The present staging in Martina Franca, a festival traditionally claiming to “authentic” performing practice, plunged the romanticized 18th-century music drama back into the darkest Middle Ages, or into a “Middle Ages next-to-come”, as phrased by director Rosetta Cucchi. At least visually, through the combination of muddy and disheveled landscapes with costumes (by Claudia Pernigotti) featuring leather, rags, metal decorations, and heavy-duty boots. Entertaining enough, but how much “authentic” is questionable, if only one checks Senesino’s portrait as Bertarido in the flamboyant livery of a Hungarian haiduk, as painted by John Vanderbank in 1725. At the most, this is Regietheater that dare not speak its name, a compromise likely to dissatisfy modernists and authenticists alike.

The show’s musical side was far more convincing, with the Swiss conductor Diego Fasolis succeeding to elicit from the festival orchestra — equipped with modern instruments plus harpsichord, theorbo and Baroque flute — a sound that was both luscious and historically informed. Within an evenly balanced company, the Argentinean alto Franco Fagioli (Bertarido) towered for projection, agility, seamless transition between registers, unfailing musicianship. His manly color and stage charisma may set a new standard among countertenors. As Rodelinda, mezzo Sonia Ganassi tended to underact throughout and suffered some strain in the upper register. For her convenience, a couple of high pitches were transposed an octave lower, and her whole climactic aria “Ombre, piante” was set in G minor instead of the original B minor. Nevertheless, she sang with an elegant restraint hitherto unnoticed in her main repertoire, stretching from Rossini and Donizetti to Massenet.

Her sister-in-fiction Eduige (the established Baroque specialist Marina De Liso) outplayed her as to style awareness, consistently unfolding hot temperament and fanciful coloratura. On the contrary, both the villain Grimoaldo (Paolo Fanale) and the arch-villain Garibaldo (Gezim Myshketa) were absolute beginners in the field of early opera, yet delivered their fast runs and stalking utterances pretty nicely. A further pleasant surprise was the male alto Antonio Giovannini, who lent the loyal Unulfo mellow color, tasteful da capos and lots of acting stamina, particularly in the alternative E-minor version of “Sono i colpi della sorte” after the Hallische Händel-Ausgabe (HHA).

To many affectionate Handelians, the opportunity to hear this and some more passages restored to the composer’s final intentions was a novelty. Yet the claim of a “world premiere in Andrew V. Jones’ critical edition” is mere pressroom hype. The actual premiere with HHA material before official publication was in Glyndebourne 1998, followed by the Göttingen Händel-Festspiele in 2000 and sundry houses worldwide. Anyway, the new artistic manager in Martina Franca, Mr. Alberto Triola, can rightfully boast for bringing to attention a dramatic masterpiece which, despite its Italian subject, was hitherto neglected by the major opera theaters in Italy.

Carlo Vitali

image_description=Sonia Ganassi as Rodelinda [Photo by Laera]

product_title=George Frideric Handel: Rodelinda, regina de’ Longobardi
product_by=Rodelinda: Sonia Ganassi; Bertarido: Franco Fagioli; Grimoaldo: Paolo Fanale; Garibaldo: Gezim Myshketa; Eduige: Marina De Liso; Unulfo: Antonio Giovannini. Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia. Rosetta Cucchi, director. Diego Fasolis, conductor. Palazzo Ducale, Martina Franca, Italy. Performance of 2 August 2010.
product_id=Above: Sonia Ganassi as Rodelinda [Photo by Laera]

Posted by Gary at 5:12 PM

Life is a Dream/Albert Herring, Santa Fe Opera, New Mexico

By George Loomis [Financial Times, 10 August 2010]

Good things come to operas that wait, at least sometimes. Lewis Spratlan’s Life is a Dream, written in the late 1970s, went unperformed when its commissioning organisation folded. Two decades later Act Two was performed in concert, with the surprising result that it won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for music. Fast forward one more decade and Life is a Dream has its world premiere at America’s leading summertime opera venue, the Santa Fe Opera.

Posted by Gary at 10:12 AM

August 9, 2010

Glimmerglass’s Le Nozze di Figaro: a handsome wedding, on a budget

By David Abrams [CNY Café Momus, 9 August 2010]

It doesn’t take an expensive wedding to produce a successful marriage.

Posted by Gary at 3:00 PM

August 8, 2010

Festival Opera plays it safe, soars with 'Lucia'

By Joshua Kosman [San Francisco Chronicle, 8 August 2010]

Festival Opera in Walnut Creek has undertaken a number of adventurous projects over the years, trying new things in either repertoire or approach. The company's new production of Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor," which opened Saturday night at the Lesher Center for the Arts, isn't one of those.

Posted by Gary at 9:19 PM

August 6, 2010

A Wagnerian Treat for Children: ‘Tannhäuser’

By Anthony Tommasini [NY Times, 6 August 2010]

BAYREUTH, Germany — There is a general and well-founded perception of the Bayreuth Festival as an elitist stronghold for opera, as much a shrine to Wagner as a festival of his works. And there is no ticket harder to come by. Wagner lovers wait an average of 10 years to get a coveted ticket to the Festspielhaus, which seats only about 2,000.

Posted by Gary at 9:25 PM

BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London

By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 6 August 2010]

Contrary to popular belief, flags are not waved every night through the BBC Proms season. It took one patriotic soul to go it alone on Tuesday and hold a Scottish flag proudly aloft to herald the arrival of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for the first of its visits south of the border this year to the Proms.

Posted by Gary at 9:21 PM

Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey

The volume (over-priced at $39.95) might just as well have been called ‘the loves and hates of Lotfollah,’ well spiced with gossip, pay-back, and self-regard as it is. In other words, it is a business-as-usual celebrity memoir. But it is also a bit more, because in many ways Mansouri was a cut above.

To be serious about Mansouri, his long career producing opera in Europe and leading North American companies such as Canadian Opera in Toronto and the San Francisco Opera, accomplished much that was creative and remains positive for the opera world. Perhaps Mansouri’s finest hours were in Toronto, where he took a minor provincial opera company and developed it into a thoroughly professional operation capable of first rate performances, with excellent community outreach and support. He also was the earliest sponsor of ‘supertitles’ or singing texts projected over the stage during performances. His reputation in Canada remains strong and favorable, as it should.

Mansouri, born (1929) to a family of some prominence in Iran, and came to the US to study music much to the dismay of his father who wanted him enrolled in Scotland to study medicine, remains, for all his accomplishments, a controversial figure. His personal work in producing and stage-direction were, if generally traditional, usually competent and entertaining. He left Toronto with a good quality company, healthy and viable — far more so than he found it. San Francisco is another matter. He followed the tenure of the star-struck Terry McEwen, a recordings executive and bon vivant, with little interest in administration, who had attended well the needs of the superstars he loved to bring to the San Francisco stage, but did not bother with much more.

Mansouri’s noted success in Canada seemed to make him a fair choice to replace McEwen when “bad health” dictated McEwen’s retirement to Hawaii. But even before Mansouri was finally hired at SFO there were doubts about the fit. A friend on the SFO board telephoned me one winter evening at my home in St. Louis to discuss the pending Mansouri matter. “Many of us on the board do not think him sufficiently elegant to succeed here,” I was told, a comment received with some amusement. Mansouri seems to confirm such doubts, however, when he writes, “the Victorian Board room cast a glum shadow over much of my tenure” [p. 163], at San Francisco. Even early on, when in its first days, Mansouri did stage work at the Santa Fe Opera summer festival where general director John O. Crosby would refer to Mansouri as, “our Persian rug merchant.” His constant “Persian smile” (his term) did not always inspire confidence.

Mansouri and Arthur write an interesting narrative of rebuilding the SFO and restoring it to the luster of former years. Then, in 1989, the severe Loma Prieta earthquake struck, rendering the War Memorial Opera House structurally unsound. Rebuilding would be necessary, and in due course, Mansouri had the staggering, and as it proved, thankless job of finding temporary quarters for the company for several years, mounting operas under makeshift conditions in ill-suited venues, and keeping the company at least alive, if not thriving, until it was time to return to the reconstructed Van Ness Avenue opera house.

Somehow, from that point on, his career in San Francisco seemed to wane. He does not directly admit such, though his report is filled with tales of Board intrigue and dire politics. Most particularly, Mansouri undertakes a long diatribe of blame against Scots musician Donald Runnicles, a first-rate Wagner conductor who Mansouri had brought to SFO as music director, and who by the account of this book, spent increasing amounts of time undermining Mansouri in order to take over his job. Neither side won that battle, whatever it may have been, and by the late 1990s while a large repertory was being mounted each season, quality began to slip as budgets grew to record heights. I was much in attendance at San Francisco during that period, reviewing opera for a UK publication, and have rarely seen a major company provide so many ill-set or sloppy performances. Massenet’s tedious Herodiade was played, with an expensive all-star cast, looking as though it was set with scenery from several other shows, while standard repertory, such as Il trovatore, was indifferently given with singers hardly up to their assignments. Yet, an embarrassingly clichéd Carmen, directed by Mansouri himself, was in the same mix with a stylish and effective Lulu.

I well remember Mansouri’s disastrous casting of a striking red-haired American soprano as Isolde, whom I had last heard singing Massenet coloratura in Santa Fe, a singer who could not even get through a Wagner rehearsal without vocal collapse. “I didn’t think she could sing it,” Mansouri muttered in the aftermath, as the opera company scrambled for a replacement. During those days, Robert Commanday, the venerable Bay Area music critic and writer, said to me in the Opera press room one night, “Runnicles has abrogated his responsibilities; he should not allow this musical mismanagement to happen.” Mansouri’s retort to that can only be guessed, but it would not be favorable to Runnicles.

Yet, to give well-earned credit, Mansouri commissioned some operatic exploits that gave pleasure — notably Dead Man Walking, a memorable evening of music theatre composed by a SFO employee, Jake Heggie — a piece that has now entered standard repertory. A new opera, Harvey Milk, a production shared with Houston, was interestingly mounted, and Dangerous Liaisons by another local composer, Conrad Susa, in a strong production, found some approval, while a certain amount of success was enjoyed by Andre Previn’s first operatic effort, A Streetcar Named Desire, which stage director Colin Graham called “a play with incidental music, and Renée Fleming.” Meow. I thought Mansouri’s effort to expand repertory and support contemporary opera was valid, and made with above the usual results for such. One can only imagine the things that might have happened under his direction — for example, he reveals he really wanted Sondheim or Henze (!) to write the Tennessee Williams opera that eventually devolved to Previn (by no means a composer of Sondheim or Henze stature).

SFO did not end well for Mansouri; his contract was not renewed and he had to produce his own farewell gala in 2001, apparently not a particularly warm occasion. Soon enough his even more controversial successor, Pamela Rosenberg from the German opera world, was installed in Mansouri’s wake at SFO, only to depart five years later. But that is another story, no doubt featuring “the Victorian board.”

Meanwhile, in spite of its cost, the worthwhile Mansouri book contains much of value and interest to opera aficionados and historians of the art-form.

© J. A. Van Sant/Santa Fe

image= image_description=Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey product=yes product_title=Lotfi Mansouri: An Operatic Journey product_by=By Lotfi Mansouri; Donald Arthur, contrib. Northeastern University Press, 2010. 348 pp. 40 illus. 6 x 9". product_id=ISBN: 978-1-55553-706-7 price=$39.95 product_url=
Posted by Gary at 8:40 AM

Prom 21 — Berlioz and Wagner

And, that’s no bad thing. This concert, the first of Sir Simon Rattle’s three Prom appearances this season, offered the opportunity to hear two great romantic scores performed on contemporary instruments and if the results of the lower pitch and the full, mellow tone of the OAE were not always wholly successful in the dramatic contexts, they were certainly thought-provoking and at times illuminating.

While the decision to present classic dramas of love and death by two cultural giants, Shakespeare and Wagner, seemed a natural and sensible one, it led to a slightly unbalanced programme, with the erotic love scene of Berlioz’s dramatic symphony, Romeo and Juliet, forming a first half lasting only 18 minutes — even in this rather slow reading by Rattle. Berlioz’s vast structure and forces — nine double basses towered over the centre of the platform — were shaped and guided with finesse by Rattle, who was ever alert to the composer’s startling harmonic effects. However, despite the use of copies of nineteenth-century woodwind instruments (for example, the oboes played on models of German instruments c.1865, with an easy, soft lower register; the bassoons employed French instruments c.1840 for the Berlioz, switching to German post-1870 for the Wagner, the latter possessing a darker, less reedy tone which blends well with the horns and clarinets), the sharp individuality of particular instrumental lines was somewhat softened, woodwind colours blending sweetly with the whole but not always delivering their full dramatic impact.

A similar problem was apparent after the interval, in Act 2 of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, where the harmonious whole was achieved at the expense of orchestral incisiveness. Wagner aimed for a unity of instrumental and vocal lines, with the symphonic leitmotivic texture carrying the burden of the emotional and dramatic narrative, in dialogue with declamatory and naturalistic vocal melodies; but here the wash of orchestral sound served primarily as a secure, relaxed back-drop to the singers, who were therefore pushed to the foreground. Adding the fact that this was a concert performance, with no scenery and little dramatic interaction between the soloists, this was hardly the Gesamkunstwerk of Wagner’s ideal.

That said, the concordant orchestral cushion elicited by Rattle did evoke a sense of ‘distance’, and an appropriately ethereal atmosphere, for Tristan’s and Isolde’s desire can never be fulfilled in this world and release from yearning will only be achieved through transcendence. Moreover, particular instrumental effects were not neglected, and the rich palette of the period orchestra was revealed: the off-stage horns signalling the departure of the hunting party were strident and clamorous, while eerie sul ponticello playing by the strings conveyed both the delicacy of the moment and the anxious vulnerability of the lovers. Low woodwind colours intimated the shift from the daylight world to the realms of night, from the mundane to the oblivion of the sub-conscious.

With two renowned Wagnerian specialists in the cast, expectations were high, and it was no surprise that the quality of the singing invested this performance with vigour and compelling drama. Violeta Urmana, as Isolde, had no difficulty filling the vast space of the Royal Albert Hall, her powerful, impassioned soprano always secure and focused, her tone thrillingly ecstatic. Sadly, Ben Heppner’s Tristan was less assured and rather inconsistent. While there is no doubting his innate appreciation of this musical language, there were more than a few wobbles, as he struggled to project. Yet, the exquisite sound for which he is renowned can still genuinely reveal Tristan’s exaltation. Franz-Josef Selig negotiated King Mark’s long monologue with confidence and clarity, conveying both the authority and stature of the betrayed King and the pain caused by Tristan’s disloyalty. Sarah Connolly communicated Brangäne’s distress thoughtfully, with controlled phrasing and delivery. Timothy Robinson (Melot) and Henk Neven (Kurvenal) completed the accomplished cast.

Overall this was a thoughtful and refined performance. But while these two passionate romantic encounters certainly touched the heart they did not, perhaps, quite reach to the soul.

Claire Seymour

image= image_description=Violeta Urmana [Photo by Christine Schneider] product=yes product_title=Prom 21: Hector Berlioz: Romeo and Juliet — love scene; Richard Wagner: Tristan and Isolde — Act 2 product_by=Isolde: Violeta Urmana; Tristan: Ben Heppner; King Mark: Franz-Josef Selig; Brangäne: Sarah Connolly; Melot: Timothy Robinson; Kurwenal: Henk Neven. Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Conductor: Simon Rattle.BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London. Prom 21 Sunday 1st August, 2010. product_id=Above: Violeta Urmana [Photo by Christine Schneider]
Posted by Gary at 8:08 AM

August 5, 2010

Montezuma, Potsdam Music Festival

By Shirley Apthorp [Financial Times, 5 August 2010]

War might be brutal, but enlightened pacifism can be very bad for your health. This might be one reading of Carl Heinrich Graun’s 1755 opera Montezuma, for which Frederick the Great planned the libretto.

Posted by Gary at 10:18 AM

August 3, 2010

Glimmerglass’s Tosca: an economy of means, an extravagance of voice

By David Abrams [CNY Café Momus, 3 August 2010]

Ever since its first performance some 110 years ago, Tosca has commanded the attention of the listener’s eyes as well as ears. Who can forget the vivid images of the interior of the Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, the iconic candles-and-crucifix ritual following Scarpia’s murder and the eerie pre-dawn calm preceding Cavaradossi’s execution atop Castel Sant’Angelo prison?

Posted by Gary at 3:03 PM

August 2, 2010

Der Ferne Klang, Bard College

Schreker’s operas, most of them set to his own libretti, explore these psychological and musical trends with a more embittered, less sentimental style of dramaturgy than that of many other post-Wagnerians yet a more easily accessible idiom than the atonalists chose. The characters of Der Ferne Klang (The Distant Sound) do not find redemption, salvation or—at the last—even each other. They succumb to delusions and distractions, they connect only to be alienated anew. Love is a missed chance, art a deception.

Der Ferne Klang recalls the grander Italian operas of its day (premiere, 1912) in setting its awkward love story on a stage teaming with minor characters. But where other composers let the crowds fall away and bring the love story, happy or sad, to the fore, in Der Ferne Klang the distractions grow ever louder and more insistent and the love story cannot free itself from them. Franz, the ambitious composer, abandons his truelove, Grete, to seek the “distant sound” that inspires his art. By the time he encounters her again—joyously—in Act II, she has become the main attraction in a classy Venetian brothel. His memories win her back, but then he rejects her on when he understands her present situation. In Act III, Franz’s opera fails on its first night—in part because a strange woman has screamed in the balcony. It is Grete, of course, now a streetwalker, the one person deeply moved by Franz’s music. Franz repents his follies in an ecstatic duet with her that climaxes in his collapse. Only then does the real Grete enter to discover his body.

The blighting of all hope—love and art—God, of course, no longer enters the question—is the message of many Schreker operas. The musical texture is thick, polyphonic, late romantic with its own style of melodic flourish, occasionally savoring of Strauss or Mahler at their most neurotic. The orchestral forces required are large and their music complicated, the messages difficult to interpret as every motif hides behind conflicted souls and a pervasive unreality. Perhaps Schreker’s hopelessness, his scorn of dreamy ideals, had more than a little real connection with the era he lived in. When the Nazis came to power they resented his contempt for illusory ideals and resurrected his paternal Jewish ancestry—Schreker, a lifelong Catholic, had forgotten all about it—to expel his works from the stage, himself from his academic position. Broken, he died in 1936—sparing himself, perhaps , a more ghastly fate down the line.

Leon Botstein, champion of so many forgotten late romantic opera composers (Zemlinsky, Janacek, Dukas, Smyth, d’Indy …), has done a real service to American opera-lovers in giving us our first Der Ferne Klang, in concert in New York three years ago, and our first staged one at Bard College this summer. Much that was mysterious about the story in the concert performance became clear in the thrilling staging at Bard—in a theater it is far easier to grasp that what seemed disjointed and haphazard is intentional, the composer’s technique for telling the story he wants to tell and not the simpler fable we may anticipate.

In the cast at Bard, interesting singers were not always able to manage Schreker’s soaring lines over the hefty orchestra, deployed not only in the pit but in various strategic pockets of the stage. On the opening night performance, Yamina Maamar, who sings Kundry, Salome and Aida in Germany, took a while to warm to her tasks as Grete’s three avatars—her voice often failed to cut clearly through the orchestra. Only in her concluding ecstatic duet with Fritz did she seem a major voice with a voluptuous dramatic soprano tone color. Her acting was affecting throughout the performance.

Matthias Schulz struck lyrical notes in the higher reaches of Fritz’s music as if the top of his range was the distant sound he was after all along, but was less successful in his middle voice. He ably played a fish-out-of-water, an idealist in a society full of people with practical concerns. Veteran character baritone Marc Embree sang a persuasively ruminative Dr. Vigelius; Susan Marie Pierson an alluring/threatening Madam (partly behind the scrim of a silent movie); and the rest of an enthusiastic cast were at once alarming or funny doubling many roles. As with Les Huguenots last summer, Botstein seems to have little trouble casting operas that require a great many effective young singers.

Thaddeus Strassberger, whose staging of Les Huguenots last summer was inventive if not entirely convincing, contributed tremendously to audience excitement. His use of projections, filming shadows half-seen over half-curtains, mirrors, subtle lighting effects and (by the by) Aaron Blicks’s lighting and Mattie Ulrich’s splendid costumes held the attention of listeners who might have been bewildered by the multilayered score and the intricate story. An able young ensemble of chorus and dancers made the most of the fantasies recalling Weimar (and pre-Weimar) decadence.

Der Ferne Klang (and its sister opera, Schreker’s Der Gezeichneten) seems destined for a considerably wider showing in this country where, based on the response of the Bard audience, it demonstrates tremendous appeal to the same audiences who enjoy the operas of Strauss and Alban Berg. Botstein has done a great service in bringing it twice to our attention. Though there was a certain lack of coordination at the opening of Act II, Botstein’s forces (including a small band of balalaika players to accompany the cabaret in Act II) remained in good order all night and played many of the subtler touches audible in the opera’s quiet moments with particular grace.

John Yohalem

image= image_description=Franz Schreker (1912) product=yes product_title=Franz Schreker: Der Ferne Klang (The Distant Sound) product_by=Grete/Greta/Tini: Yamina Maamar; Fritz: Mathias Schulz; An Old Woman/Madam/Waitress: Susan Marie Pierson; Dr. Vigelius: Marc Embree; Count/Rudolf: Corey McKern; Dubious Character: Jud Perry; Hack Actor: Peter Van Derick. Production by Thaddeus Strassberger. Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College. American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein. Performance of July 30. product_id=Above: Franz Schreker (1912)
Posted by Gary at 4:57 PM

The Rake's Progress: when Hockney met Hogarth

By Nicholas Wroe [The Guardian, 2 August 2010]

The long, oak-panelled walls of the Old Green Room at Glyndebourne are decorated with images from historic productions. Sketches of costume designs and sets, photographs of famous singers and conductors, great moments going back to the birth of the festival in 1934. David Hockney is inspecting details from the 1975 production of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, revived this year. His eye catches a fragment of a poster, distinctively illustrated in his own hand, that reads "décor by David Hockney, assited [sic] by Mo McDermott".

Posted by Gary at 10:21 AM

Dionysos, Haus für Mozart, Salzburg

By Andrew Clark [Financial Times, 2 August 2010]

Poor Nietzsche. He fell out with Wagner, pronounced God dead and was posthumously reviled because of his championing by Nazi ideologists. Today, when talking about the man and his contribution to philosophy, we tend to focus on Nietzsche’s Übermensch concept while forgetting the tragedy of his life. Nietzsche never managed to form a lasting personal relationship. He went insane, remaining silent for his final 10 years. And he wrote poetry that, however picturesque in its fragmentary images, sometimes reads like the ramblings of a madman.

Posted by Gary at 10:16 AM

August 1, 2010

Maria di Rohan at Caramoor

Donizetti completed one more French grand opera, Dom Sébastien, before syphilitic madness ended one of the busiest of all composing careers at the age of 48. Maria was a success but not an enduring hit—the opera suffers from plot confusion, too many offstage events and far too many incriminating letters and devious proclamations (I lost count). Composed as a soprano vehicle, it was long kept alive by Titta Ruffo, who enjoyed the emotional range of the baritone’s part. Maria has plenty of Donizetti’s gracious melodies and the more forceful integration of musical number and dramatic form that make his later works so fascinating, so clearly foreshadowing his young friend Verdi, who learned a great deal from them, but its elaborate intrigues do not draw us in.

In history, Marie de Rohan was the notorious Duchesse de Chevreuse, an indefatigable troublemaker at the court of Louis XIII. In the opera, however, she is an anguished heroine, torn between love and duty and … more love. It’s not her fault that every man in the cast, including the one played by a woman, is crazy about her and that she can only be married to one of them at a time. (She could, of course, be the lover of more than one, and in real life, she was—but stage morals had to be stricter than life: “Una la volta, per carità!”) “You will live in infamy,” snarls her vengeful husband (that baritone), having just disposed of her lover (the tenor), as the final curtain falls. And so she did. Her reputation lingered like the scandals of bygone movie stars: everyone remembered that woman, but—what exactly did she do?

In an earlier day, Donizetti would have ended the piece with a strident cabaletta for the prima donna protesting her unjust fate (as he had ended Anna Bolena, Lucrezia Borgia and Roberto Devereux), and he did indeed write such a piece—but a new, tighter dramatic spirit was in the air, and he cut the number out. (It exists, though, and was performed at Caramoor in a concert of omitted music from other editions of the score before the main event. This is the sort of addendum that makes a Will Crutchfield concert opera such a delight for the bel canto enthusiast.) The opera now ends with that baritone snarl and an orchestral crash, leaving us (perhaps) stunned by Maria’s wordless anguish—the way Verdi and Puccini, afterwards, would stun audiences at the final curtain with a single cry. This is abrupt and thrilling—but I’d have liked to hear that cabaletta. Donizetti perceived that music-drama was changing, but Maria di Rohan is not Traviata or Tosca—its stately sort of drama seems to demand that full final statement.

Not that the prima donna’s role seemed abbreviated—she must lie to her lover, lie to her husband, plead (offstage) to saturnine Cardinal Richelieu for the lives of both, agonize over her reputation and her bad decisions, sing duets and suffer remorse, all in flowing despair or glittering excitement. Maria is a hefty soprano workout, and the only other woman in the cast is the trouser role of Gondi, who makes scandalous insinuations about Maria after she rejects him—and Gondi is soon disposed of. Basically, Maria, her husband Chevreuse, and her confused truelove, Chalais, are the only characters—aside from the cardinal, the king, the queen and Chalais’s dying mother, who remain offstage. The chorus part is brief. This is a chamber drama with grand opera forces.

One of the draws of the Caramoor performance was an exciting young soprano from the Crutchfield stable, but she withdrew due to illness three days before the performance. Maestro Crutchfield—like anyone else in the one-performance concert opera business—keeps a clutch of possible replacements on hand anticipating just this sort of fiasco, and his Caramoor Bel Canto Young Artists again proved its usefulness when Jennifer Rowley took on the arduous title role at short notice.

Rowley has a beautiful voice of considerable size, many attractive colors and remarkable evenness over a couple of octaves up to a spectacular D-flat. Her vibrato seems more suited to Germanic than bel canto roles (she sang Konstanze in Newark), but it disappears when long Caballé-style legatos are called for. Her trill is imprecise but not unpleasing, her ornaments stylish, and she was off-book three days after learning she would be going on. She earned a standing ovation and got it.

Luciano Botelho, a Brazilian tenor, sang her lover, Chalais. His voice is sweet and attractive if a little light for the demands of so intense a part—he is more a Nemorino or Ramiro (in Cenerentola) than a Chalais. He seemed at times to be gasping between lines of his opening aria, but his command of line gave great pleasure, and in his passionate final scenes he showed more strength.

Scott Bearden sang the Duc de Chevreuse, the sort of baritone who risks his life to save his tenor best friend—only to discover the fellow is his wife’s lover. He acted this well, remembering to limp when he’d been wounded in an offstage duel, and sang it in a curious way—for his opening aria went rather higher than baritones usually go (higher by some steps than the Ricordi score of the opera, published twenty years after the premier, demands), and though he managed this tessitura admirably, the quality of these notes had neither tenor excitement nor baritone heft. Was this an alternate version of the autograph? (Crutchfield had undoubtedly examined all discoverable versions of the score—he and Philip Gossett discussed their choices at a lecture in the afternoon.) If so, what sort of voice does Bearden have for the rest of the repertory—a low tenor or a high baritone? In later scenes, his voice seemed to possess more juice at the normal baritone range, and when he finally lost his noble temper—another of those letters!—he growled with far more comfort.

Vanessa Cariddi took the trouser role of Maria’s accuser, Gondi, with the right travesty swagger and a pleasing style. The smaller male roles were all handled rewardingly.

Crutchfield’s conducting of these bel canto operas is always subservient to the ease of the singers, sometimes to the detriment of theatricality. With a prima donna understudy, no doubt he was right to do this, but the dramatic arc of the piece as presented lacked excitement. It was pleasant to encounter this tuneful rarity, but nothing about the evening of fine singing proclaimed the opera an overlooked masterpiece.

John Yohalem

image= image_description=Jennifer Rowley as Maria di Rohan [Photo by Gabe Palacio] product=yes product_title=Gaetano Donizetti: Maria di Rohan product_by=Maria di Rohan: Jennifer Rowley; Chalais: Luciano Botelho; Chevreuse: Scott Bearden; Armando di Gondi: Vanessa Cariddi. Orchestra of St. Luke’s, conducted by Will Crutchfield. At the Caramoor Festival, Katonah, NY. July 24 product_id=Above: Jennifer Rowley as Maria di Rohan [Photo by Gabe Palacio]
Posted by Gary at 12:42 AM