Friday, December 17, 2021

The Extra-Large

At this time of year, my thoughts often turn to dear Mr. Menotti, for I have sung quite a few performance of his brilliant Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors. (No, not as Amahl.  No, also not as the Mother.)  However, this time around, I was very pleased, upon perusing the bountiful offerings of, to find that a performance of The Medium from Croatia was on offer.  How could I resist?

Dubravka Šeparović Mušović
as Flora
Photo:  Mara Bratos

Most young people might only know of The Medium from "Monica's Waltz", which it seems every young soprano must sing as a first-year voice major. Let me tell you, there is a depth in this opera that requires years of life experience to understand. I believe it deserves place among those many great operas that we understand in different, and one hopes more perceptive, ways as one enters every new stage of life. In a nutshell, this is the story of a woman who has made a successful business as a pretend medium finding and fearing that there is more to life, more to be answered for. In usual operatic convention, it does not end well.

Allow me to congratulate the Croatian National Theater Zagreb for this production, visually, dramatically, and musically. Usually one sees a young soubrette as Monica, the daughter of the medium Baba, who often assists in the theatrical seances. I don't wish to sound harsh, but in this case, seeing what was clearly intended to appear as the faded beauty of a not-as-young Monica gave a new insight into the role. Additionally, the mute role of Toby was played with a more cynical and knowing edge that we often see.  The Madame Flora/Baba of Dubravka Šeparović Mušović (that's the only name I will cut and paste!) was simply amazing! In the direction, the costuming, the hair & makeup, and the lighting, we were given a Flora that was both detestable and sympathetic, bringing at least one tear to this bitter old eye.

I have seen this opera before. I produced it once as part of a one-act opera festival, with stellar young singers and director.  (My own living room furniture was used for the set!) But never have I seen it with this level of emotional impact.  

Please use the link above to see a cast list and other credits.  It's just after 6 a.m. on a Friday morning, and I've been watching opera and British history videos all night while crocheting. I can't be bothered.  But please do watch this!

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Another Verdi Requiem

I love to write about the Verdi Requiem.  I could do it all day long.  A few years ago I started a project I intended to be Ten Days, Ten Verdi Requiems.  I couldn't complete it, because the work is just so overwhelming at times.  Plus, you know, life and stuff.

Gustavo Dudamel
Photo:  Tristram Kenton for The Guardian
I happened upon this 2013 performance, which I did not know, with great delight.  This was the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel, with the Los Angeles Master Chorale (under Grant Gerson), at the Hollywood Bowl. I can only say that I have found a new performance that ranks high among all of those recorded performances I know.

I have often written that I most often notice a conductor when something has gone amiss. Most of the time I expect a conductor to know what he's doing. In this case, nothing went amiss. I appreciated the final result in the performance. Not every conductor makes the same phrasing choices, but that is sometimes where the interest lies, no? I quite appreciated the stately and reverent tempi Mr. Dudamel chose for some of the contrapuntal sections, as opposed to the frenzied tempi one sometimes hears. I have no complaints with the LA Phil or with Mr. Dudamel, and by golly, I can not find a single reason to complain about the LA Master Chorale. 

The quartet was almost the quartet of dreams. I might hesitate to cast Vittorio Grigolo in the tenor role, but he did indeed give a lovely performance.  Keep in mind the first Verdi Requiem I ever heard boasted Placido Domingo in the tenor role, so I usually appreciate a tenor voice of more size and warmth. Mr. Grigolo, however, allayed all my fears, and gave a fine performance. He even had a trill when required. 

I had seen Michelle De Young in Philadelphia as Eboli. I was told she was ill at the time, so I did not think it kind or professional to assess her vocal accomplishments in that performance, although I did hear pleasing sounds and was impressed by her commitment to the role regardless of vocal state in the moment. In this Verdi Requiem performance, we heard great vocal skill and accomplishment and witnessed great commitment to the Requiem text. I have more than once stated that "Liber scriptus" should part one's hair, and in this case Ms. De Young did not disappoint. She also gave an admirable performance in "Lux aeterna", a section that I have seen cause very highly skilled and accomplished mezzos panic. 

Ildebrando D'Archangelo was the bass of dreams. I have before written that it is so unusual when "Mors stupebit" ends in tune that it sounds wrong when it happens. It happened here, but did not sound wrong. His "Confutatis" was spell-binding, and his ensemble work in trios and quartets was beyond reproach. He might be my favorite soloist in this quartet. Even though he's a bass.

Juliana Di Giacomo was the soprano. I quite loved watching and hearing her. Every soprano is judged by the "Libera me" when she assays the Verdi Requiem, and I must say she did quite well. She had power, she had legato, she had a floating sound in her high voice when required. The "Requiem aeternam" section of "Libera me" was heavenly. In those sections when Ms. Di Giacomo and Ms. De Young sang duets, I was completely entranced. One often approaches "Agnus Dei" wondering whether these soloists are equal to the task, and after a moment, I had no fear.  Their "Recordare" also was amazing.

In sum, I think I must come back to this performance often. I love many performances of Verdi Requiem, and there are some I love less.  As I mention, this will rank high on my list. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Do you believe in magic?

Recently I wrote a blog article about things I have experienced as an opera lover. People I have met, performances I have witnessed.

Today, largely because US Thanksgiving is this week, and I will host a YouTube live stream today with the theme of Thanksgiving, I started thinking of magic. Some people don't like the word magic, associating it with whatever is the opposite of God in their minds. I myself only associate magic with God, or the Divinity, or whatever name you have for what is beyond our own human comprehension. We don't need labels or definitions, but we do need to know those things for which we are thankful. Those things that cause wonder in the moment and in memory.

Here is partial list of those moments of magic I have seen. Not surprisingly, many of them center around vocal music:

  • I was once brought to tears when interviewing an opera company creator upon hearing his vision of fostering complete understanding in young singers, in the way that young singers in the age of Rossini or Verdi would have known the language and the cultural references intimately.
  • I have seen magic in the acts of love from family and friends that I could not begin to number.
  • I was present for Angela Meade's first Norma and for Jennifer Rowley's explosion into the opera world as Maria di Rohan. I later saw Angela Meade perform Norma in another production that brought me to tears.
  • Years ago, just before I was to undergo surgery, I was sitting alone in a wheelchair in a hospital corridor, without my glasses even, and a wonderful woman came along and offered so much reassurance that I think she surely must have been an angel.
  • I saw Talise Trevigne as Bess in Porgy and Bess, one of three productions of Porgy and Bess I have seen.
  • I can not witness the opening of Oklahoma! without crying. (There was a time in my life when I could not cry.)
  • At a retreat talent show, I saw a very lovely and gentle man who must have been 80 if he was a day transform as he performed a speech from The Glass Menagerie on stage.
  • I have a dog, so I know about love. 'Nuff said.
  • I can not count how many performances I have seen of the Verdi Requiem. I don't need to, and there will never be too many.
  • I saw a performance of La Boheme that had me sobbing when Mimi died (sorry if that's a spoiler), and had me sobbing even more when the soprano who sang Mimi appeared in a curtain call, not dead after all! This was a mid-level semi-professional production, with young and passionate singers.
  • I have seen amazing beauty in the yarn work of people I have met and want to meet.
  • I have seen art work that took my breath away in museums and public works around the world.

I could go on and on, but I hope you get the idea. There is magic in the world. There is wonder. There beauty.   

Please remind me of this when I forget it. I have in the past, and I know I will in the future.