Friday, November 27, 2009

Who are you calling a ho?

I'm not much of a Wagnerphile, but what could be more fun than a comparison of Hojotohos!

First is Kirsten Flagstad, patron saint of Brünhildes. I wish I could find actual video of her performing this.

Now Hildegard Behrens who recently departed this world for Valhalla:

This is a compilation of Birgit Nilsson, Regine Crespin, Martha Mödl, and Astrid Varnay:

And now Anja Silja, whom I didn't know before today. Hard to believe this woman made her debut at 16 singing Rosina, and went onto sing Zerbinetta and Königin der Nacht! This was the only actual video I could find of this aria. If the date given by the YouTube poster is correct, she was 27 at the time of this performance!

And lo! here is footage of her singing Königin as a very young woman, in the late 50s:

Monday, November 23, 2009

RIP Elisabeth Söderström--new post

The music world lost another beautiful singer last week--Swedish soprano Elisabeth Söderström. Here is the Wikipedia bio-blurb, but the NY Times obit has more information.

I was quite fortunate to hear this lovely singer in concert a few years ago. I was in St. Paul one summer while a Swedish-American festival was happening (I think it runs from July 1-June 30 every year), and Miss Söderström sang in an outdoor concert with the Minnesota Orchestra.

Here she is singing a role for which she was quite well known, Leonora in Fidelio:

She was also much loved as a singer of Lieder and art song:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Virginia Zeani--new post!

Here is my first post about the beautiful Virginia Zeani. It is still one of the chief regrets of my life that I didn't study with this lady when given the opportunity.

This is a lovely clip from I Puritani, my new favorite opera:

This clip, much later in her career, is from Aida:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Review: Really, Mrs. Amahl--what have you done with your son?

My beloved Mikey and I, along with our friend Erika, went to see Mr. Menotti's delightful Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors yesterday afternoon. It was presented by the Chelsea Opera in dear old St. Peter's Chuch on 20th St. in--wait for it--Chelsea.

Mr. Menotti was commissioned by NBC in 1951 to compose Amahl for television, and I believe the first live broadcast was replayed annually during the Christmas season until the late 60s. The story is simple. The three kings of legend are on their way to see the Christ child, and stop at the home of the crippled boy Amahl and his penniless mother. They explain their mission (about an hour later!) and Amahl offers his crutch as a gift for them to take to the child, in case he needs it. In so doing Amahl suddenly finds he can walk, and he joins the kings on their journey to give the child his gift himself.

I confess, this opera always reduces me to a puddle of tears. I don't know why. The quartet "Do you know a child the color of wheat, the color of dawn", the mother's aria, when Amahl attacks the page ("Don't you dare, ugly man, hurt my mother!"), the moment when Amahl first walks--I'm getting misty as I write this! Some would call it sentimental drivel, but I find it very sweet. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that I have sung the role of Kaspar, the dotty old king, several times, and one of my dearest memories of the days when I was performing more is of hearing a child in the audience at a school performance say aloud, "He's funny!" after one of Kaspar's moments.

This production was set in the current time, in a one-room flat perhaps in Hell's Kitchen or the South Bronx, and I think it worked in many ways--in some ways better than the traditional setting. (Well, there's one thing that's never really worked for me in any setting: "Let's go over the story again, Mrs. Amahl--you say three men you didn't know appeared at your door, saying they were following a magic star in the sky to visit a miracle child king, and you gave them your own child to take along? Come on!") The update and the direction were the work of Lynne Hayden-Findlay, and I have to give her kudos. When the neighbors came with their refreshment offerings to the kings--a leftover cake, a bucket of KFC, some Chinese takeout and Dunkin Donuts--it was charming. Their dance, particularly when the women dragged the men into the dance, and the men acted like typical reluctant straight men trying to dance, was also charming. Even the Page, a role almost as thankless as a lady in waiting named Inez, was treated with respect by the director and made a more interesting character than usual. And at the end, after Amahl and the kings had left, the mother went out to what we presume is the fire escape where Amahl had been loitering at the beginning of the act, and she saw the star. It was magic. (This reminds me that Michael Megliola deserves applause for his lighting design as well!)

The two leads, Amahl and his mother, were both very well done. The show is double cast, and the mother I saw was Alexandra LoBianco, a very fine singer indeed. She has a beautiful and powerful sound throughout, but she was able to sing with subtlety and to blend in her duet passages with Amahl. Benjamin Perry, the boy who sang Amahl, has lots of experience in musical theater, and it shows. My only criticism is a slight lack of connection between his high voice and his belty middle voice, and perhaps a few too many stock reactions, but overall, it was a very fine performance. The three kings were all good, although they were often drowned out by ensembles and the orchestra. They were sung by David Kellett, Justin Ryan, and Michael Blake O'Hearn, and the Page was sung by Brian DuBois.

The conductor, Carmine Aufiero, did a respectable job with the pick-up orchestra, one or two moments of non-togetherness between singers and orchestra notwithstanding, and this performance was much more beautiful musically than one is accustomed to in typical church-basement productions of Amahl.

All in all, I call this a very successful production of Amahl and the Night Visitors, and I was very happy Erika suggested we go.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Elinor Ross--new post!

I had never heard of this lady before this week, but I am amazed! I wish I had heard her live! Elinor Ross sang at all the big houses, with lots of big stars. She was buds with Callas. She retired from the stage in 1979, but she's still alive and kicking!

Here is the Wikipedia bio-blurb, but frankly, the Opera News article linked above is more informative.

OK, here's another video from the same 1967 Norma:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Eileen Farrell--new post!

A good old gal from Woonsocket, RI, married to a NYC cop:

Here is the Wikipedia bio-blurb.