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.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Falstaff at Opera Delaware

Yesterday I wrote about Opera Delaware's intense and beautiful production of Amleto, and today is my time to write about their perfectly delightful production of Falstaff. Although it is unknown whether the two operas were chosen for this reason, Opera Delaware has made a lot of the fact that these are Arrigo Boito's first and last completed opera libretti. All I know is they're both great operas.

Sean Anderson as Ford and Steven Copley as Falstaff
Photo:  Moonloop Photography
One goes to a Falstaff performance expecting to be delighted by comedy high jinx and amazed by great singing and acting. Opera Delaware's production did not disappoint. In Steven Condy, we had a Sir John Falstaff who was appropriately blustery and self absorbed, while remaining likable and vulnerable. His skillful singing was certainly plain to all, and his solo passages were quite memorable.  By the end one was more sympathetic toward an old fool than bitter toward an old would-be Lothario, so that we were all on board for the final, rousing chorus.

Equally well sung and acted was the Ford of Sean Anderson. Just as proud and full of bluster as Falstaff--probably more, since the times and his own hard work have granted him close to equal social position--Ford is another baritone full of pride and bluster and, in the end, not all that bright.

Maariana Vikse as Meg Page, Sharin Apostolou as Nanetta,
Ann McMahon Quintero as Mistress Quickly and
Victoria Cannizzo as Alice Ford
Photo: Moonloop Photography
Alice Ford, as sung by Victoria Cannizzo, was also a delight, full of spunk and charm and great vocal skill. Her pals, Maariana Vikse as Meg Page and Ann McMahon Quintero as Mistress Quickly, were another treat to see and hear.  Ms. Quintero was especially endearing as the flirtatiously matronly Quickly. Real-life couple Ryan McPherson and Sharin Apostolou as Fenton and Nanetta were simply adorable. Both are highly accomplished singers and actors, so of course one enjoyed every moment they were on stage.

One of my favorite parts of Falstaff is Verdi's remarkably skilled writing in the large ensembles, where the male characters usually sing together, with music of one character and texture. The female characters have similar independence, with a melodic and rhythmic passages that are their own and might seem to collide with, but actually coincide with those of the men. Fenton and Nanetta observe and sing their own melodic line that transcends all the others. Sidekicks Matthew Curran as Pistola and Jeremy Blossey as Bardolfo completed a quite fine cast of principals.

Jeremy Blossey as Bardolfo, Ryan MacPhereson as Fenton,
Sharin Apostolou as Nannetta, Matthew Curran as Bardolfo
Photo: Moonloop Photography
I rather think conductor Giovanni Reggioli handled all of this chaos successfully. There might have been one or two moments that were a tiny bit ragged, but in a score of this size and complexity, that's quite an accolade! Also successful were stage director Dean Anthony, set designer Peter Tupitza, and all of the rest of the technical team.

Falstaff will be performed again next weekend in Wilmington. I hope you'll go see it!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Essere o non essere - questo è il problema

On Saturday evening, Opera Delaware opened its 2016 Opera Festival with a much-anticipated production of Franco Faccio's Amleto (Hamlet) and a very happy return to Wilmington's Grand Opera House. One almost doesn't know what to report first--the beautiful production, the extremely fine performances, the opera itself, or Opera Delaware's tremendous achievement of returning to financial stability and growth after a few somewhat uncertain years. (Opera Delaware's comeback story has been well documented elsewhere, and will have to be a separate article in these pages.)

Joshua Kohl as Amleto, with friend
Photo:  Moonloop Photography
The opera itself is the primary news item, having been rescued from obscurity only recently. A collaboration between Faccio (1840-1891) and librettist Arrigo Boito (1842-1918), Amleto was a success at its 1865 premiere in Genoa. The autograph had been in the Ricordi archives since 1871, however--never performed after a much less successful La Scala debut. Conductor and composer Anthony Barrese began reconstructing the work in 2003 from images of faded and marked up autograph pages. It was first performed on these shores in productions by Baltimore Concert Opera and Opera Southwest in 2014.

As usual my focus is primarily on the performances, and I was happy with every singer on stage. First and foremost I must report that tenor Joshua Kohl was a tremendous Amleto (Hamlet). Beautiful singing throughout, powerful stage presence, gripping characterization are just some of the accolades I could shower on this gifted young singer. The aria after the ghost of his father implores Amleto to avenge his murder was a wonder.

Joshua Kohl as Amleto
Lara Tillotson as Geltrude
Photo: Moonloop Photography
Ofelia (Ophelia) was sung by Sarah Asmar, whom we were told might be coming down with a cold. We heard no evidence of illness in her beautiful tone, and like her stage lover, she gripped the audience every moment she was on stage.

Geltrude (Gertrude) was sung just as beautifully by Lara Tillotson, and Claudio (Claudius) was sung and acted with great skill by Timothy Mix. The ghost of Hamlet's father was sung by commanding and sonorous bass Ben Wager, with great authority and commitment.

Mr. Barrese led the Opera Delaware Orchestra with a skilled hand, and the chorus, prepared by Jeffrey Miller, deserves applause, as well. The dancers, members of the First State Ballet Theater, were a delight.

The production was spare but beautiful. Although costumed as a traditional production of Hamlet, the set was constructed of various platforms on scaffolding, and made skillful use of projections. (Sets by Peter Tupitza, costumes by Howard Tsui Kaplan for Malabar Ltd.) It worked well for this production, and was easily morphed into the set for the concurrently running Falstaff.

Amleto will be performed again next weekend. I hope anyone who can will be there to see it!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Profile: Keith Chambers and New Amsterdam Opera

Keith Chambers
Founder and Artistic Director
New Amsterdam Opera
What goes into creating a new opera company? There's no single answer to that question--each company has its own story, its own goals, its own people driving it. I had the opportunity to discuss this at length with Keith Chambers, Founder and Artistic Director of New Amsterdam Opera, recently. The group will present its first performance, a concert production of Fidelio with orchestra, on June 9. In Keith's case, there were several driving factors--having his own ideas about forming a group, having some great ideas for potential performance projects, having the right people suggest and/or encourage the idea at the right time, and seeing a need in both the singing and opera-going communities for what he can offer. While the group is still young and some strategies and specific plans are still in the formative stages, the bottom line is that New Amsterdam Opera plans to offer a high-quality role preparation and performance experience to singers and a satisfying audience experience to opera goers.

Kirsten Chambers
sings Leonore
Keith already has an active conducting and coaching career. He has conducted for The Dallas Opera, Amarillo Opera, Asheville Lyric Opera, American Lyric Theater, and American Opera Projects. He has also been assistant conductor under noted conductors Emmanuel Villaume, Patrick Summers, and Riccardo Frizza, among others. With credits like these, it's no wonder he has already assembled an Artistic Advisory Board with names like Frederica von Stade, Richard Cross, Anthony Roth Costanzo, and Willie Anthony Waters. It's also no wonder he has been able to attract a promising cast of young professionals and veterans for Fidelio. The cast includes Kirsten Chambers as Leonore, Brent Reilly Turner as Florestan, Kevin Langan as Rocco, and Richard Cross, narrator. The narration is intended to substitute for dialogue usually used in staged performances. The Fidelio concert takes place on June 9 at WestPark Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Click here for ticket information. (Please note the venue change.)

Brent Reilly Turner
sings Florestan
And what of the future? What does life after Fidelio hold? Although many of these details are in the formative stages, Keith's eyes lit up when I asked whether he envisioned performing other operas for singers with large, dramatic voices. He agrees there are not enough opportunities for young singers with large voices and works like Fidelio are not performed often enough. Although he wouldn't make specific statements about such plans, on some points he was very firm and determined:
  • Singers would gain valuable, valid experience from New Amsterdam Opera productions. 
  • A New Amsterdam Opera credit on a singer's resume would be respected.
  • Audience members would enjoy high-level performances of great operatic repertoire. 
  • Each production, whether concert or fully staged, would have orchestra.
  • Every singer, every production or technical worker, every orchestra member would be paid for their work.

For now, I'm looking forward to seeing and hearing Fidelio on June 9, and on reporting any other news I learn about plans for New Amsterdam Opera.