Saturday, March 6, 2021

You ripped my heart out and stomped that sucker flat!

 You just sorta stepped on my aorta......

I quote a song popular in my youth.  (When they played music on the theorbo and viola da gamba.)  I say it because a good performance of La Traviata leaves me with exactly that feeling. I did have that feeling at the end of the La Traviata I viewed Friday evening.

Socially distanced La Traviata
Photo:  Teatro Réal
I write about a recorded performance of La Traviata I viewed on, one of my favorite opera web sites.  This came from Madrid's Teatro Réal, recorded in July, 2020.  It was a semi-staged concert performance. This seemed to be awkward at first, but in the end the performances transcended the limited performance format.  

The setting suggested La Traviata sets, with the belle epoque (if that is the correct term) furniture pieces down stage and opera chorus on platforms upstage.  The lighting design made clear the currently necessary social distancing of six feet (two meters), with stark red lines outlining squares in which each chorus member was allowed to exist. No principals touched each other. (In fact, when a footman brings a note to Alfredo in Act I, Scene II, no actual note changed hands.)  This took some getting used to.  I do, however, credit the creative team at Teatro Réal, including Director Leo Castaldi and Lighting Designer Carlos Torrijos, with creating a very effective performance that was both safe for all involved and remarkably moving for the audience.

Michael Fabiano and Marina Rebeka
Photo:  Teatro Réal
I have learned over time that when I am focused on vocal technique, I am not terribly involved emotionally.  All of the cast were fine singers, but I had the feeling that the semi-staged setting felt awkward at the start. In Act I I had thoughts like, "Oh, I've heard him sing better!" or, "She didn't take that optional high note!"  In Act III I was sobbing.  Everyone came alive vocally and dramatically as the opera grew and flowered.  Soprano Marina Rebeka, whom I did not know, grew into an amazing Violetta.  A beautiful woman with a beautiful voice, this singing actress moved me to tears more times than I can count in Acts II and III.  In the Act II party scene, after Alfredo has insulted her to the core and she is on the floor in shame and grief, Ms. Rebeka gave us a meltingly beautiful and heartbreaking appeal that touched the heart visually, vocally, and dramatically.  Michael Fabiano as Alfredo also warmed up vocally and dramatically as the evening progressed. In the party scene I mention, his regret and shame over his actions is heartbreaking, as well.  I had seen him sing Alfredo before (see this link) and I won't say this was the best singing I've heard from him, but he still had me in tears.  This is what matters.  

Baritone Artur Rucinski was a fine Germont vocally.  Of course, because of social distancing, he could not embrace Violetta as a daughter, which left one with an even stronger longing for him to do so.  I've often written that I am not of one mind about Germont as a character. Is he a controlling jackass, manipulating Violetta into leaving Alfredo and then pretending remorse (with predictable "Look how sorry I am!" comments) in the last act?  Does he develop a true affection for Violetta?  I'm not entirely sure I want complete answers to these questions, because it is questions and not answers that make compelling drama.  And God knows I loves me some drama!

The chorus and orchestra of Teatro Réal (I sort of want to continue showing off my ability to do an accent aigu on my Mac keyboard)  were of course wonderful.  Conductor Nicola Luisotti is worthy of great praise. I highly recommend watching this production.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

This might turn into another attempt at Ten Days, Ten Verdi Requiems

You Tube, in its wisdom, keeps pointing me toward ever more Verdi Requiem performances. Being part of Google, it knows that I've been watching several and writing about them. It probably knows what I had for breakfast and what my next crochet project will be.

Not a bad thing. I've seen some fine performances recently, such as the 1980 performance I wrote of. Now I shall write of two more I discovered Google found for me last night.

1989. Unnamed ensemble; Cond: Lamberto Gardelli; Kincses Veronika, soprano; Hamari Júlia, mezzo; Daróczi Tamás, tenor; Polgár László, bass.  Very fine chorus and orchestra.  Some tempi were a bit spritely, which occasionally led to what seemed to be confusion between chorus, soloists, and orchestra, but when it worked it was good to have those moments highly spirited.  Still, I prefer being able to take time to savor some moments that often are glossed over when tempi are quick. Having said that, however, I will confirm that I would choose to hear this performance again.

The soprano had a good sound but sometimes was a bit flat on top notes. This mostly went away over time, and in fact her part in Lacrymosa was quite graceful, but often she looked as if she was in pain as she reached for those top notes.  I'm sorry to report that the slow Requiem aeternam section of Libera me did not live up to expectations. The last pleading line from the soprano in Libera me was spoken, with great urgency--an interesting choice from the conductor.

The mezzo showed a fine blend between pure head voce and voix mixe in Liber scriptus and Lux aeterna. A beautiful, sensitive performance overall, but must she weave about so when she sings? The tenor (as you can tell, I'm afraid to venture these eastern European names again!)  sang with a very free, beautiful sound and a solid presence. The test piece for any tenor, Ingemisco, was quite fine.  But why was he married to his score? Isn't this music in his blood since his student days?  The bass might have been the best soloist of all, if I were forced to choose. A very good, solid Mors stupebit, superb freedom, beauty of sound and musically sensitive performance. Very well done!

Tamara Wilson

Another fine performance chosen for me by the great Google (hail be to thee, O Google!) was a 2016 BBC Proms performance by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Proms Youth(!) Choir under Marin Alsop. I like the conductor and the orchestra every much, for they gave a very fine performance, but I question the use of a youth choir, even one of such great numbers. One needs more depth and life experience in the sound. (One also needs more consistent pronunciation of church Latin.) I did occasionally espy a face that must surely have been an over-18 ringer, but overall the sound was a bit young for me.

Soloists were Tamara Wilson, soprano; Alisa Kolosolva, mezzo; Dimitri Pittas, tenor; Morris Robinson, bass.  All were very fine singers!  And I have seldom seen a quartet so fully committed, so involved in the ancient Latin text of this concert work. I once saw a review where the writer said there came a time when he had to put his pencil down and just listen--this was my experience, except that I had to stay at the YouTube tab on my browser and wait to write something in my Taminophile tab!

Morris Robinson is how I imagine a vengeful God to sound. Mors stupebit was truly terrifying!  Confutatis was a wonder.  More than the beauty of his sound, one was impressed by his unity of sound throughout his voice. Even in the highest parts, one felt this was part of one complete voice. And of course his interpretation was amazing.

Tamara Wilson. Another force of nature. A huge voice, equally unified throughout, capable of great volume and great subtlety. Huic ergo in the Lacrymosa was heavenly. And the Libera me!  Oh. My. Gawd! The same power and subtlety that had so impressed throughout displayed to the nth degree!

I consider Dimitri Pittas a friend, having met and interviewed him for a profile in Classical Singer magazine. I think it was published earlier this year. (I never got any copies of that issue. Classical Singer, step up to the plate!) I've even crocheted baby clothes for his newborn (as of Dec., 2019). A nicer fellow you will never meet, and I've always thought highly of his singing. I consider his voice a little light for this work (earlier the same year I had written that Nemorino fits him like a glove vocally), but he has that sunny, italianate sound that makes me swoon can sing anything. And indeed, his performance here is quite good.

Alisa Kolosolva is a very fine singer, but as is often the lot of the mezzo, other fine singers diverted attention she was due. She is no less a singer and musician than the other soloists, and in every passage we heard beauty and evenness of tone. (Are you beginning to see what gets me?  Beauty of sound, evenness and uniformity of tone, and interpretation. Is that so much to ask?) Her Liber scriptus and her Lux aeterna were both beautiful and showed that smooth transition between head voice and voix mixte that we wish to hear.

I have watched this video three times in the past 24 hours. I shall keep it in my play list.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Another Verdi Requiem worth mentioning

I've written before that beauty is my connection to the Divine--beauty in music, in visual arts, in words, even in people and people's hearts.  Definitely in puppies! I am forever grateful to the spiritual counselor who told me of the quote of dear St. Francis: "God, you are beauty!" 

I recall once seeing a performance of La Boheme that left me sobbing at the end. At the curtain call I cried even harder, for there was Mimi, not dead at all, but taking a bow! A great performance of the Verdi Requiem takes my breath away in the same way. This is my experience of the Verdi Requiem performance that inspired my attempt a few years ago at Ten Days, Ten Verdi Requiems. That was also my experience with the performance linked below. 

This was the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta, with Montserrat Caballé, Bianca Berini, Placido Domingo, Paul Plishka, and the Westminster Choir, in 1980. I saw this performance on Live From Lincoln Center during my first semester of college (please don't do the math!), at the home of my college choir director. I am grateful to him for exposing me to an amazing world of music that was new to me. At the tender age of 17 I didn't know the Verdi Requiem or any of the soloists. Boy howdy, what an introduction!

Regardless of what you yourself believe, you must always acknowledge the beliefs of composers and lyricists and their skills in illustrating those beliefs. Great scholarly works have been written about this. Is there a moment in music that gives comfort like "Salva me"?  This is one of those moments that brings to mind the blood of Christ flowing to save the world. The floated B-flat at the end of the slow section of "Libera me" feels so freeing, so liberating, in fact! And who better to float a B-flat that Montserrat Caballé?!  The fear in "Mors stupebit" is explicit, regardless of what key bass actually winds up in. (I've reached the point where it sounds wrong to me when a bass ends that section in tune! I believe Paul Plishka did OK in this challenge!) I've often said that "Liber scriptus" (in effect, "Y'all gonna be judged in the book of life!") should part your hair, and Biana Berini didn't fail in this! A good "Lacrymosa" reminds one of tears, and of course this performance was remarkable. 

I could write for days about special moments in this work and how beautifully the soloists, chorus, and orchestra performed them, but instead I have linked the video below. (That's also my excuse for not searching the web for hours to find pictures to steal borrow for this post.)

I highly recommend giving this video a view. You won't regret it.