Saturday, December 8, 2018

Being a nobleman's daughter can really suck.

Just imagine.  In the first place, is "noblewoman" a word?  In the second place, much more than the daughters of commoners and of that annoying middle class merchant and tradesman lot, you are considered property. You are traded off like a piece of jewelry for money, for commercial and political connections, possibly to ensure the peace of your homeland.

Elisabetta comforts Don Carlo at his death
Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Consider the story of poor Elisabetta di Valois in Mr. Verdi's Don Carlo. She accepts her role as goods and chattel, a tool in political negotiations. She accepts her promised marriage to Don Carlo, son of the king of a foreign land, in exchange for a promise of peace. She actually meets the prince to whom she is promised and finds he's a nice fellow, and sort of easy on the eyes. Then she finds those in power have changed their minds, and she is now promised to Don Carlo's father, King Philip. She must accept for the sake of her homeland.

That's just the beginning of Mr. Verdi's revered Don Carlo, considered by many to be his finest opera. (I sort of think choosing Verdi's finest opera is like trying to choose the best flavor of Ben & Jerry's ice cream--not really possible, and in the end, who the heck cares? They're all amazing!)  There is further political and romantic intrigue, pageantry, and some of the best music you will ever hear. Of that I am sure.

Simon Keenlyside and the amazing Feruccio Furlanetto
Photo: Ken Howard/The Metropolitan Opera
Mr. Enrico Caruso is said to have opined that all you needed for a production of Il Trovatore is the four finest singers in the world. That is also true of Don Carlo, but you need six of them! In the Metropolitan Opera's 2010 production that is available to watch on the Metropolitan Opera On Demand streaming channel, there are a great number of amazing singers. Don Carlo himself is portrayed by Roberto Alagna, and his chum Don Rodrigo is sung by the amazing Simon Keenlyside. Elisabetta is sung by Marina Poplavskaya, and King Philip is sung and acted with a ridiculous amount of skill and artistry by Feruccio Furlanetto. Conductor was Yannick Nézet-Séguin and director was Nicholas Hytner, both of whom deserve accolades unending. 

I've reviewed a 2015 revival of this 2010 production before (hyperlink). But I never tire of Verdi, and I need something to write about, so there you are. On the Metropolitan Opera's excellent On Demand streaming service is a performance from the original 2010 production.  The primary differences between this performance and the one I reviewed are Roberto Alagna, the original Don Carlo; Marina Poplavskaya, the original Elisabetta; and Anna Smirnova, the original Eboli.  So, in effect, it is the same production I saw but with a substantially different cast.

I have no complaints about this cast.  Although I'm not always sure of the roles Mr. Alagna essays, he is fully equal to Don Carlo. He is passionate, sounds glorious, and is believable with all of Don Carlo's tumultuous emotions. Ms. Poplavskaya is a lovely and conflicted Elisabetta. And we are quite in favor of Ms. Smirnova as Eboli, who must appear faithful, vengeful, and full of regret at different points in the opera. (Just as Mr. Verdi's Aida was originally to have been named for Amneris, we think some of his other dramatic mezzo roles deserve much more attention than they get!)

Photo:  Ken Howard/The Metropolitan Opera

Those who have access to Metropolitan Opera On Demand, I say watch this video!  Those who don't, I say seek out any live or video performance of Don Carlo you can find!  You won't be sorry. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

I should toot my own horn more.

Here is the introductory paragraph of an email I just wrote to an arts organization in Wilmington, my new city.  I sound pretty grand, don't I?

I've just moved to Wilmington, and I'd like to introduce myself.  As a former singer, I found myself writing, producing, and taking part in other ways behind the scenes with musical organizations run by friends when I was in the NYC area.  Here (hypertext link) is a link to a profile written about me during my brief run as General Manager of a now-defunct small opera group in NYC. As an amateur blogger and occasional writer for other sites and for publication, I've been granted access to wonderful performances by organizations at every professional level, from opera groups featuring young professionals--one of my favorites--to the Glimmerglass Festival, Opera Philadelphia, and even the Metropolitan Opera.  I've written in the same terms about performances I paid to see and performances for which I was given complimentary tickets as a writer.  I've profiled Lawrence Brownlee, Ian Bostridge, and Talise Trevigne, among others, for Classical Singer magazine.  There is a link below to my blog, and the sidebar links there will direct you to other sites I've written for.

Some would say I'm far too modest. Some would say this isn't an impressive list of accomplishments at all. What do you say?

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A Taminogasm of opera and Anglophilia

I am a huge fan of Lucy Worsley, presenter of many a BBC historical documentary. 

I have just discovered these two documentaries about opera and how it reflects history and society, and I am just spent.  I can't even think of anything to compare it to--even hyperbole seems insufficient.  Please, please, please watch!


You may thank me at your leisure.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Hard Bargain: Music, Medicine, and My Father
A review from Kristen Seikaly

For better or for worse, tabloids obsess over the lives of celebrities. The obsession does not stop there, though, as publications will often pay just as much (if not more) for information on and photographs of a celebrity’s children. What’s it like to have a famous parent? This question presses on the minds of many, but the question is not a new one.

Richard Tucker as the Duke of Mantua
Photo:  Metropolitan Opera
Dr. David Tucker, the middle son of the esteemed operatic tenor Richard Tucker, gives as much of an answer to this question as possible through his memoir, The Hard Bargain: Music, Medicine, and My Father (Richard Tucker, Opera Legend). Coauthored with historian Burton Spivak, the title eludes to the younger Tucker’s own ambitions to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an operatic legend, a dream which Richard Tucker did not share for his son.

The title refers to an agreement father and son came to in Dr. Tucker’s college years: he agreed to study medicine if his father would arrange and pay for voice lessons. Each entered into the agreement with the belief that the other will ultimately concede to their own dream.

The reader discovers throughout the book not only how Richard Tucker’s dream for his son won out, but also how Dr. Tucker himself came to accept this dream as his own. Along the way, Dr. Tucker shares intimate details about his father and his relationship with him. Additionally, the authors offer unique insights into opera, ophthalmology, and the life of a Jewish American family in the 20th century.

As is true for most fathers and sons who attempt to understand their relationship, Dr. Tucker reflects on how his father made him the man he became without arriving at a clear answer. He seems to agree that his father’s dreams for him were for the best, but he also readily points out conflicts they had along the way. It is also clear that Dr. Tucker loves opera. The pain he felt every time his father rejected his operatic dreams can be felt, despite his best attempts to downplay it.

In other words, while on the surface Dr. Tucker writes with confidence about his life, his choices, and his relationship to the great Richard Tucker, the syntax and tone suggest otherwise. Readers may enjoy this book on either level.

In this way, this book will appeal to more than simply opera fans or fans of Richard Tucker. Those interested in medicine will also find a wealth of information and history, particularly in the second half of the book. The insights into a Jewish American family and how the Holocaust affected both Richard Tucker’s career and his personal life are given considerable attention throughout, as well. This viewpoint is one of the book’s greatest strengths.

While this memoir may read more like history than news to modern audiences, readers may gain an understanding about their own loved ones through it, for better or for worse. In this way, Richard Tucker’s legacy and his dreams for his son have gone far beyond anything the legendary singer could have hoped.

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.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Medea at Teatro Nuovo

Jennifer Rowley
Photo:  Fay Fox
On Sunday I ventured to Purchase College to see Teatro Nuovo's Bel Canto Festival present Medea in Corinto, a neglected opera by equally neglected composer Giovanni Simone Mayr.  Mayr's works were a great influence on the compositions of Rossini.  Rossini admired Medea in Corinto, and is said to have claimed it is "...always dramatic, always sings, and is always melodic...."  I quite like it myself, and think it might have a place in today's opera houses.  And I found Sunday's performance to be a treat, both musically and theatrically. The performance was semi-staged, and there were many moments of gripping drama.

Of course I was there to hear the lovely Jennifer Rowley as Medea. All of the reasons we love Ms Rowley's singing were there in abundance--beautiful, rich sound, dazzling and sensitive artistry, and absolute commitment to her character. I could not take my eyes off of her whenever she was on stage. Her solo scenes left me breathless--especially the Act II monologue when she considers killing the children she shares with Giasone (Jason) as an act of vengeance.  Every conflicting and terrifying and agonizing emotion was clear.

Teresa Castillo
Photo:  Kaleigh Rae Photography
I liked all of the other singers, too.  Teresa Castillo, as Creusa, the woman Giasone marries, has a beautiful sound throughout and is a very expressive singer.  She lists some impressive achievements in her brief bio, and I hope I'll hear her again soon.  Tenor Derrek Stark was a proud and manly Giasone, with a very nice sound and ringing high notes.  I liked baritone William Lee Bryan as Creonte, King of Corinth and father to Creusa, and I also liked Mingjie Lei as Egeo, King of Athens, to whom Creusa had been promised before Giasone came along.

The highly skilled Teatro Nuovo Orchestra played under Jonathan Brandani, maestro al cembalo, and Jakob Lehmann, primo violino e capo d'orchestra. The two took it in turns guiding the orchestra, but the ensemble seemed to play so intuitively together that a conductor in the modern sense would have been superfluous.  I never sensed a moment when the orchestra wasn't playing as one, and I never sensed a moment when orchestra and stage were not in sync. 

I hope this opera is performed more often.  It has more merits than some other neglected operas, and the story from Euripides, in this case adapted by librettist Felice Romani, never fails to capture our imaginations.  We are fortunate that there is another performance at the Bel Canto Festival on August 4.  I would encourage one and all to see it.