Sunday, August 21, 2016

RIP Daniela Dessì

The opera world is reeling from the unexpected death of soprano Daniela Dessì at age 59. I regret that Ms. Dessì did not receive much coverage in the pages of Taminophile. To partially rectify that grave error, I offer a few stunning videos here.

As Norma, 2011, Bologna--absolutely amazing:

As Fiordiligi at La Scala, 1989, under Riccardo Muti:

Interesting performance of "Summertime" in concert, 2015:

Monday, August 15, 2016

La Traviata at dell'Arte Opera Ensemble

Taminophile has returned from his illness-induced hiatus (much better, thank you, but I still get worn out very easily) to witness live opera and report about it again. I hope this fills your heart with joy. It does mine. Who better as my first victim feature out of the gate than dear dell'Arte Opera Ensemble? I've often written of my great passion for opera production at this level--young professionals just breaking into the opera world--and I've written about dell'Arte's great work in training and producing opera that never fails to engage, even on a shoe-string budget. dell'Arte usually has a theme in programming a season, and this season it is "Violetta and Her Sisters", a look at the demimonde of 19th-century Paris. The first offering was La Traviata.

Jeremy Brauner as Alfredo and
Margaret Newcomb as Violetta
Photo: Mark Brown for dell'Arte Opera Ensemble
I was delighted to see a performance of this grand work on Sunday. As it was the second performance, I saw Cast B. It hurts me that expediency often demands such labels. I can assure you, this cast could not possibly be the poor relation to any Cast A. I heard good things from every singer, and was impressed by the commitment of the entire cast to the story.

If I see and hear a performance of La Traviata and I'm not gushing about the Violetta, I don't call it a successful production. Consider this production very successful, then, because I was crazy about the Violetta of Margaret Newcomb. Miss Newcomb is beautiful in face and figure, and has a very strong stage presence. Most importantly, she can sing this fiendishly difficult role and make it seem like it's easy. Her high notes seemed free, her coloratura unforced, her middle voice rich and beautiful. I hope I'll hear a lot from this singer in coming seasons.

Paul Khoury and Margaret Newcomb
Photo: Mark Brown for dell'Arte Opera Ensemble
Jeremy Brauner is transitioning from baritone to tenor, and Alfredo in this production is his first tenor engagement. I think that's a good thing, for the role seems to fit his voice, and he certainly inhabited the role of Alfredo well. He even took the high C at the end of the cabaletta "O mio rimorso" (definitely not among Verdi's best cabalettas, in my humble opinion). I look forward to seeing and hearing more good things from him. Like Mr. Brauner, Paul Khoury as the elder Germont seemed to require a bit of time onstage to warm up vocally and dramatically. He never did seem fully warmed up, however, which proved a distraction.

Smaller roles were populated by eager and able younger dell'Arte artists, many of whom I'd love to hear again in the future, especially Nick Webb (Dr. Grenvil), Magda Gartner (Flora), and Natasha Nelson (Annina).

The technical and creative team deserve kudos for the beautiful production--especially Stage Director Kyle Pfortmillr, Scenic Designer James Fluhr, and Lighting Designer Mary Ellen Stebbins. Many a truly striking visual image was struck with a very simple set and lighting that seemed not terribly elaborate but truly effective. One of my favorite visual touches was a vase on a small table that remained on stage through every scene. It began the show with several camellias, but Violetta drew one camellia for each scene as a token of her love, leaving the vase (and Violetta?) empty at the end.

John Spencer led a small orchestra, and they usually played very well. One suspected more rehearsal might have done a lot of good.

There are more performances next weekend, and I highly recommend you see one if you can! dell'Arte also presents Massanet's Manon as part of its summer festival, as well as several concerts.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

RIP Patrice Munsel

We've lost another mid 20th-century opera great.  Reports are circulating that Patrice Munsel died last week, although the Wikipedia article I link above does not reflect that as of this writing, and other news outlets' web sites do not confirm this.

In any case, allow me to celebrate the wonder of Patrice Munsel's singing and stage presence below:

Italian Street Song on Milton Berle, 1951

Adele's Laughing Song, possibly from the same 1951 television appearance

A 1958 appearance singing "I'll be loving you always", possibly from her own television show, which was broadcast 1957-58

Monday, June 27, 2016

Taminophile on hiatus. Sort of.

Many of you who know Taminophile personally know that I have become very ill. I am on the mend , but can't predict how soon complete recovery will be at. hand. My opera schedule this summer might be  cut back, but how much has not been determined yet.  Stay tuned.    

Friday, June 3, 2016

Understanding Italian Opera: Guest Reviewer Kristen Seikaly has been at it again!

The Lost Language of Opera:
Tim Carter's Discussion of Librettos 

By Kristen Seikaly

If we were to judge a book by its cover, it would be easy to think that Tim Carter’s Understanding Italian Opera is simply another introduction to the beautiful art form. Look a little deeper though, and it becomes apparent that this book is instead an analysis of one of the most overlooked aspects of Italian opera today: the text. Although sleek in size, this book is essentially a textbook that has much to offer when it comes to studying the librettos of Italian opera. The book begins with a discussion of Italian opera at large. It is worth taking the time to consider this introduction, as it sets up Carter’s thought process for the rest of the book. Then, five famous Italian operas are discussed at length and in chronological order. Each chapter can stand on its own, and each has the same basic outline. First, a picture is offered of the composer, along with a brief description. Then, the roles in the opera are listed along with their voice types, and a synopsis is given. Afterwards, he gives a biography for the composer, focusing on the creation of the opera at hand. This historical review often details the musical tastes of the time period as well. Finally, the librettist is introduced and Carter launches into the textual mechanics for each opera. He usually divides this discussion even further into musical numbers such as arias, ensembles, or recitatives. At the end, further reading is recommended. The main idea that Carter focuses on in terms of setting texts to opera is that of balance. For example, for Le nozze di Figaro, he discusses the balance the composer and librettist sought to find between the original text they were working with, and how they can appropriately adapt that into an opera. Furthermore, the concept of “verisimilitude”, or the appearance of stories being real, is brought up over and over again in each section. This is with good reason, as the issue of believability is a constant struggle for opera as an art form.

In terms of enjoying this book, it is best read in a number of ways by a certain set of readers. While those who are merely curious about opera would find this overwhelming, serious students or professionals of Italian opera have much to gain from this book. Simply reading it through may still prove difficult though, as it is far too easy to miss a nuanced yet important detail.

This reviewer would recommend reading this book in one of three ways. First, one could read this with study materials in hand such as a notebook, a highlighter, and a recording of each opera. Although Carter goes into great detail regarding the relationship between text and music, it will always be easier to process this discussion while actually listening to the music.

Second, this book could simply serve as a reference to be opened up as needed. If, for example, someone was doing research on Italian recitative, or aria forms, or a particular period in Italian opera, they could simply flip to the appropriate chapter, or find the subject in the index.

Finally, this book would serve its reader best as a companion to a course or a group discussion on Italian opera. Since there is so much useful knowledge in this book, it would be easiest to digest it all through the structure of a course. It would also be worth using as a tool to discuss the role text and history plays in modern operatic productions.

There are numerous books available on the study of Italian opera. This one, however, offers great consideration to what has ironically become the lost language of opera: the language itself. In Tim Carter’s biography, it notes that he teaches numerous lectures and workshops on the subject. Since we can’t all be so lucky as to attend one of those, he has been kind enough to offer us his specific and unique knowledge in a well-organized and readily available manner.

Kristen Seikaly
Materials for this review were provided by the publisher. The views and opinions expressed here are completely those of the reviewer.

Kristen Seikaly is a freelance writer, singer, and voice teacher in the Philadelphia area. Additionally, she runs Operaversity, a website geared towards providing resources on opera for artists and audiences.

She tweets at @KristenSeikaly.

Readers! Don't forget you can get an attractive discount buying the book at the publisher web site using this code: AAFLYG6.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Rigoletto at Amore Opera

On Sunday afternoon I was very pleased to see the final performance of Amore Opera's Rigoletto--Amore's final performance of the season. In these pages I have often sung the praises of performance organizations like Amore, whose purpose is to produce enjoyable opera using young professionals.  I hope how much I enjoyed Amore's L'Elisir d'Amore and Poliuto in March came through in my posts about those operas.

Allow me to talk first about the singers I liked the most. Gennadiy Vyotskiy as Sparafucile and Kathleen Shelton as his sultry sister/partner in crime Maddalena were my two favorites. Mr. Vyotskiy had the wonderful masculine bearing of a hired assassin while singing the low and demanding role of Sparafucile quite beautifully. I hope he achieves great things with that powerful voice of his. Ms. Shelton satisfied in the same way as Maddalena. She was sexy and seductive, and a pleasure to hear.

The orchestra was pretty ragged. In fact, my biggest complaint is that the whole show seemed ragged. Perhaps it is because it was a matinee, which I know some singers simply loathe, or perhaps it was because it was the last performance of the run, perhaps it was mistakes in casting, but I can't really say every performer I witnessed was completely committed to his or her character, or that all were suited their roles by vocal quality or maturity. Without slamming anyone individually, which I don't do with singers at this level, I'll just say I heard singing that sounded tired, or not technically ready for the role, or as if the individual had one voice for high notes and another for everything else. None of them are bad singers, and some are quite effective actors, so I hope I'll hear them again under better circumstances. Direction, however, was difficult to detect, and there was a lot of stand-and-sing positioning. Costumes were a hodge-podge of eras and styles. Choreography was cute, however, and it was a pleasure having the small group of dancers on stage.

While I don't regret going to see this performance, it does pain me very much to report on it in this way

Friday, May 20, 2016

Coming soon on TLC: Real Courtesans of Paris

No, not really, but below we have an excellent review by guest blogger Kristen Seikaly about the new book from Oxford University Press, The Real Traviata: The Song of Marie Duplessis, by Rene Weis:

When asked to name operas based on historical figures, a long list would naturally appear before La traviata. René Weis strives to change this perception though through his book The Real Traviata: The Song of Marie Duplessis. This biography examines the life of one of the most famous courtesans in 19th century France. She also inspired the novel and play La Dame aux camélias, which subsequently led to Verdi’s La traviata.

Told primarily in chronological order, this well-researched account gives a wealth of information about Marie Duplessis--arguably too much. The author takes his readers through Duplessis’ life from birth to death, and leaves out no gruesome detail. Starting with her impoverished childhood, Weis delicately lays the foundation of Duplessis’ tragic life. Although she began life with a different name, Duplessis began to use her body as her livelihood from an incredibly young age. Others shamed her for this while also taking advantage, including her own family.

As Duplessis grew older and into the courtesan immortalized by Verdi, she began to refine her skills. Her charm became just as valuable as her body, if not more so. This led to a higher class of client and more notoriety in Parisian society. Still, it only took her so far before she died of consumption (now known as tuberculosis) just shortly after she turned 23.

Weis then takes time to discuss the works that were inspired by the courtesan’s story. First, he discusses La Dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas fils, who knew her intimately and was a main character throughout this biography. Then, a considerable amount of time is spent discussing Verdi, La traviata, and the opera’s initial reception.

At times this book is wonderfully narrative. When telling this sad story, the author often resembles a sort of historical tour guide. In these moments, the reader is able to explore the information given, and consider more deeply the effect the heroine’s life had on others (such as Liszt, who is confirmed as one of Duplessis’ lovers in the book). Other times, however, the biography gets bogged down by the weight of its own information. The author will find himself stuck in particular dates, factual inconsistencies, or side stories that have little to do with the heroine. As a result, the narrative flow is halted and it can be difficult to press on.

Still, it is refreshing to read a biography of someone who affected so much culture, yet is largely lost to the contemporary mind. It is also a pleasure to be invited into Weis’ passion for the subject matter at hand, even if it is not always easy for the reader to follow him on his quests for truth.

Readers who are preparing either to perform or to see La traviata as an audience member would enjoy this book. Furthermore, those who wish to study Ms. Duplessis, La traviata, French history, or any subject relating to this cultural figure would be well served by the history this book has to offer. As a work of research, The Real Traviata is second to none.

Ultimately, through this book, Weis strives to bring humanity and empathy back to the characters of opera through one heroine in particular. Far too many modern audiences feel that opera is too separate from life today. Perhaps modern audiences, reminded that some of the most famous operas are based on real people, can connect to operas in the same way they would movies or television programs. This possibility alone makes The Real Traviata a worthwhile read above all else.

Kristen Seikaly
Materials for this review were provided by the publisher. The views and opinions expressed here are completely those of the reviewer.

Kristen Seikaly is a freelance writer, singer, and voice teacher in the Philadelphia area. Additionally, she runs Operaversity, a website geared towards providing resources on opera for artists and audiences.

She tweets at @KristenSeikaly.

Readers! Don't forget you can get an attractive discount buying the book at the publisher web site using this code: AAFLYG6.