Wednesday, August 25, 2021

An operatic bucket list

I watch many YouTube videos, in part because I create them myself and in part because there are videos on so many subjects. Also, I have not seen any reason to watch television lately, since I have no interest in watching people die loudly or overact to very bad writing and even worse music. But I digress. 

I was privileged to meet 
David Lomeli, who had recently
triumphed as Nemorino at NYCO.
Now he is a very successful
opera administrator.

One type of video that has fascinated me much of late has been travel videos. I am fascinating by first-person accounts of extreme luxury airliner trips, overnight train trips that include leisure, luxury, and scenery, and even inconvenient and uncomfortable flights taken in order to reach some obscure location or fly on some obscure aircraft. I have come to understand that travel aficionados, especially aviation geeks (as they happily call themselves), seem to have a lifetime check list in the same way that bird watchers keep lists of birds they have spotted. Although I am not a travel geek, I love learning about these remote destinations and find some of the stories fascinating. (There was one where a British gentleman deliberately placed himself overnight in the city with the least visited airport in Alabama. I don't question his choice in destination, but I do wish the poor dear had been better advised when choosing franchise dining and lodging.) 

All of this made me think.  Do I have an operatic bucket list?  I have had a wide and varied experience in opera:

  • I was in the chorus for the 1987 US premiere of a newly found Rossini opera, Bianca e Falliero.
  • I have seen at least three different productions of Porgy and Bess, when many people have never seen one.
  • I have interviewed some amazing opera personalities for this blog and for other publications--the likes of Lisette Oropesa, Ian Bostridge, Lawrence Brownlee, Angela Meade, Michael Mayes, Christine Goerke, Francesca Zambello, etc.
  • I saw the premiere production of an opera by Jake Heggie that placed Joyce DiDonato and Frederica von Stade side by side.  
  • I also saw Mr. Heggie's monumental Dead Man Walking, the adaptation of the same book by Sister Helen Prejean on which the movie is based. The memory still moves me to tears.
  • I have become friends with some singers based on things I have written, and I have seen my quotes on the web sites of some very impressive singers.
  • I have met and had the opportunity to study with amazing singers from previous generations like James King (bad choice as a voice teacher), Virginia Zeani (bad choice to not study with her), Camilla Williams (teacher of some good friends, and very kind to me), etc.
  • As a student I have seen amazing things. The room where Franz Schubert was born. Actual manuscripts by Mozart. Some instruments used by musical greats.
  • I have witnessed world premieres of operatic works (most of which quickly descended into much-deserved obscurity)
  • I have seen performances in some of the most amazing venues in the world:  the Met (of course), the Felsenreitschule in Salzburg, the Bavarian State Opera, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, etc.
  • I have seen quite a few productions of Norma, another opera that is not often produced, but which any frequent reader will recognize as my favorite opera of all time.
  • I have sung on the stage at Carnegie Hall. (OK, as part of the NYC Gay Mens Chorus, and even then just for a special event, not as a regular member, but boy howdy, didn't it take my breath away to walk on that stage!)
  • I have produced low-budget shows featuring young professionals, and created shows I can reflect upon with pride.  (On a production level. I wasn't good with money.)

What are some regrets, goals I have never met, some experiences I have never had?
  • The amazing Deborah Voigt.
    I saw her solo show
    "Voigt Lessons" at
    I am filled with regret that I have never sung the Verdi Requiem. Chorus or soloist. As much choral gigging as I have done, how is that possible?
  • As a naive 17-year old student with a limited entertainment budget, I once chose a P.D.Q. Bach concert over a Joan Sutherland concert.
  • I have never been to La Scala or Verona or Paris or even Covent Garden. I saw Covent Garden, but never attended a performance there.
  • I never saw Luciano Pavarotti live. Placido Domingo. Leontyne Price. Renatta Scotto. I saw Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills in concert but not on the opera stage.
  • I was never able to meet great opera and opera journalism figures who are long gone now.
In the regrets column, most would expect me to write about my unfulfilled dreams as an opera singer, but a long, long, long life and much reflection have taught me that such a life would have been a horrible fit.  I was taught poor vocal skills and very, very poor life skills, and absolutely no business skills--I'm sure I would have unconsciously engineered an early, very dramatic demise! 

Angela Meade, whom I have 
seen as Norma, Alice Ford,
Elvira in Ernani, and whom
I have interviewed for this 

What goals are still attainable at my age and possible with my budget?  None.  However, if budget were not an issue, I might consider the following:
  • More visits to Salzburg, Vienna, Munich, with the  opportunity to enjoy the full season.
  • Visits to other great opera houses and venues, both those I have seen and those I haven't.
  • The opportunity to renew contact and friendship with some singers I have met along the way, and to establish new friendship with other opera figures.
  • Greater real-life access to public performance. (This pandemic and the isolation of living in a coastal NC city have both taken their tolls on live performance.)

We all have these lists.  Goals met and unexpected achievements and experiences.  Goals unmet.  Goals that might still be met.  I would love to hear yours.

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: