Saturday, June 26, 2021

I shouldn't have liked that, but I did

Beloved readers, I have not posted here as often as I would like. I could explain the various life dramas I've seen, but explanations are not excuses, so let's move on.

Most who know me know that I identified very strongly with both Tamino and Nemorino back in the day. In fact, this blog might very well have been named Nemorinophile had I not been obsessed with Mr. Mozart's other charms. So L'Elisir d'Amore is a favorite of mine--always has been, always will be.  Friday evening, in my ever-present search of balm for my weary soul, I happened upon a perfectly charming abridged production of L'Elisir d'Amore from Opera Zuid and the Dutch National Touring Opera in The Netherlands. The cast are all members of the  Dutch National Opera Studio.  As usual, the source was  

José Romero as Nemorino and
Julietta Alksanyan as Adina
Photo: Bjorn Frins
Many who know me also know my limited patience with updated productions. This threatened to be one of those production I would decline to write about.  True to my Southern roots, if I don't have anything nice to say, I'll say it in whispers and trust that it will spread around, rather than taking responsibility for my words. I'm just built that way.

But this was charming. In a nutshell, as most of us know, the story is this: boy and girl have been friends since infancy and everybody for miles around knows they are meant for each other, but the girl has an independent streak and won't be told anything. It's only when she sees her bosom buddy would prefer to die as a soldier far away than to live with the torture of unrequited love that the girl realizes she does, in fact, love him.  Happy ending ensues, with lots of beautiful singing.  

In this production, everything took place in the girl's (Adina's) apartment, and she and all the other characters are students and hangers-on of students.  Predictably, Adina's apartment reflects her status as the daughter of a wealthy man. All of the characters, including Nemorino, appear to be Adina's entourage members.  Does it work?  Not completely.  Was I charmed?  Yes.

Vocally, the star of the show was José Romero as Nemorino.  As well it should be. His beautiful and even singing, his skillful portrayal of Nemorino, his portrayal of Nemorino's abject despair and desperation won me over completely.  I quite enjoyed Julietta Aleksanyan as Adina, and only in my bitchiest moments would I mention this is not Covent Garden-level singing.  The others, including Martin Mkhize as Belcore and Sam Carl as Dulcamara, deserve recognition as well.

Updated productions. Ho-hum. But this worked in some ways. I do think Director Marcos Darbyshire and Music Director Enrico Delamboye deserve accolades, as well as the other members of the creative team. I would still prefer to see something inventive with a traditional production, but I would also recommend viewing this production if at all possible.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Those moments......

I've been watching a video over and over lately because it moves me deeply. Many might be surprised. It's a heavy metal arrangement of the 2nd movement of the Brahms Requiem. I am at a complete loss to understand why, but even after having viewed it repeatedly, I can not see it without sobbing. Is it because of my history with that work, and with large scale choral music in general? Is it because I know what the words mean? "Und Schmerz und Seufzen wird weg müßen--And all sorrow and sighing shall flee away"  I don't know. I don't have to know. I just have to come back and cry as often as I need. I will link that video at the end of this post.

Lauren Worsham in Dog Days at
Fort Worth Opera
Photo:  Fort Worth Opera
Of course this got me thinking about other moments in live or recorded performance that have moved me beyond measure. I hope, as people who appreciate music and communication, you have had similar experience. I can only list a few:

  • In 2015 I went to the Fort Worth Opera Festival, and saw an amazing new work called Dog Days by composer David T. Little and librettist Royce Vavrek. The premise was a USA after a war on our own lands, and a family living in poverty and hardship in the aftermath. There was a scene of unimaginable pain where the teenage daughter of the family sings that the hardship and starvation has finally left her feeling beautiful. I can't write of it now without getting very emotional.
  • Everybody and his brother knows of my passion for the opera Norma. When I saw the opera in Washington in 2013, it might have been the first time I fully appreciated Norma's words, "Son io!" in the last act. She admits her guilt, having betrayed her vows as a priestess and borne two children with the enemy Roman consul. She is ready to die alongside her lover. I was wrecked. There are some moments that just do that. (Angela Meade, directed by Francesca Zambello, if you're wondering.)
  • I have always been a big supporter of smaller opera companies that give younger, aspiring singers opportunity. I have worked for some behind the scenes. This happened when I saw the Bronx Opera perform La Boheme in 2013. Even though there were flaws in the production, some of them unforgivable, I was moved beyond measure in the last act. I was in tears when Mimi died. (Sorry if that's a spoiler.) But I was overcome with sobbing when Mimi was present at the curtain call, not dead after all. I honestly had never experienced La Boheme so deeply before.
  • I have also written at length about the Verdi Requiem. A few years ago I started what I intended to be a "Ten Days, Ten Verdi Requiems" series. I couldn't make it to 10 days because it was so overwhelming emotionally. Also, life. You know how annoying that can be. Well this review was the first of the series. Van Karajan at the podium and some of the most stellar singers of the age as soloists, as well as a first-rate chorus and orchestra. I honestly could not move as I watched this performance on DVD. It was simply amazing.
  • In 2011 I saw the New York City Opera (it was a thing back then) debut of the amazing tenor David Lomeli, as Nemorino in L'Elisir d'Amore.  It was magic. There was a moment after that aria known to us all, Una furtiva lagrima, when the applause was thunderous and very long-lasting, and David wrapped his arms around himself in a big self-hug. Even the NY Times reporter couldn't tell whether he was laughing or crying. He later told me it was both! It was his moment of arrival, and I felt lucky to have witnessed it. As with all of these stories, the memory brings tears to my eyes, and I am very fortunate to call David a friend now. (I can not say what names he might call me!)

I have so many stories--I haven't even mentioned the many amazing productions I've seen at Glimmerglass or one or two that I myself produced with a small group in NYC--but what strikes me today is that they are all quite some time ago. I need to fix that. I actually have written in the past year about similar moving experiences. Nowadays, living in coastal NC, most performance that I see is online. That's OK. I just need to do more of it. 

What about you? Do you have similar experiences?

The video that started this whole line of thought:

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Pushing the boat out.......

I am once again reminded why I call myself a bel canto bear. I have never made any secret of the fact that Norma is my favorite opera in all the world, but recently I've been listening to a lot of Donizetti. In addition to the perfectly delightful L'Elisir d'Amore, there are the more dramatic operas, including those those that are erroneously called the Tudor Trilogy: Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, Roberto Devereux. (For the record, there is no evidence that Donizetti conceived of these three operas as a trilogy, so I call them them a nilogy.) 

I bring up bel canto operas because it seems that this extremely difficult repertoire is where singers try to expand their reach. A few years ago there were lots of big-name sopranos who thought they could sing Anna Bolena, but couldn't.  Then the same thing happened with Norma.  On the other hand, I can recall hearing people  in Verdi operas singing much better than expected, and upon further investigation learning they'd sung many bel canto roles. "Of course he sang that so beautifully--look what he's done before!" I can also recall hearing singers I'd considered OK as Verdi singers shine in glorious ways that were totally unexpected when they assayed bel canto roles. Much as I would like to have one very famous soprano as an ally in this blog, I have written herein that she was OK in Verdi but amazing as Norma and Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux. I would also include one whom we might call the world's reigning Amneris and Azucena, upon hearing her as Adalgisa. I was amazed--a new way in which she was fabulous! I can not fail to give credit to a tenor who in recent years has left the lighter bel canto and Mozart roles to attack the heavier bel canto and Mozart roles such as Idomeneo, and to and also another associated with lighter roles who was amazing as Idomeneo. It was a surprise to learn that another singer, whose performances in lighter repertoire at the Met were beyond reproach, heavenly, was also absolutely stunning in larger repertoire at opera houses that were not the size of football fields. 

Let's face it. When it is a struggle to resist metaphors that include having to change my pants, we're talking hot stuff.  

On the other hand. Well. There is a particular sound I detect when a singer, even a singer I admire, is singing something that doesn't fit. The vibrato becomes faster and the timbre takes on a quality I might call brittle. Instead of listening and watching and being involved in the story, one becomes involved in the secondary story of whether the singer can get through the role or make that one difficult passage that is coming up. I don't like that experience, and I resent it when opera productions put me in that situation. Yes, the singer might perform the role beautifully, and with the finest of artistic and dramatic qualities, but to me there is more. Recall in my early days I only thought about beauty of singing, and it came with maturity that I considered other factors that might, on occasion, forgive a less beautiful tone. But really. We always knew Maria Callas, queen of the Less Beautiful Tone, would make it to the end of the opera, but we aren't always so confident with some singers we hear today.

Where do you draw the line? In today's world we have great singers who rely on beauty of sound alone--and that's OK--and singing actors who rely on stage presence to forgive shortcomings in vocal sound. I suppose it's always been that way. I once interviewed a stage director for these pages, and asked a question about the apparent trend toward acting or concept at the expense of vocal technique, and she stated that a singer who is worried about technique is not going to be able to act very well. If you're worried about the next high note, you can't throw yourself into the director's vision. 

My opinion is this:  Start with a beautiful sound. Always start with a beautiful sound. Whether the acting and characterization skills are there to begin with, are gained concurrently, or come afterward, it is still the beautiful sound that is required. That includes vocal technique and artistic production. One singer who is now known for big, Germanic repertoire, told me that every repertoire requires the presence of voice, the line, the breath that are all part of bel canto technique.  It always comes back to bel canto.  As well it should.