Monday, December 13, 2010

Phyllis Diller on Acid

My faithful readers will recall a less than favorable account of a workshop production of Hansel and Gretel in early October, entitled It's Hansel Season Again, or Hansel and Regretel. In truth, my complaints there were not with the singing, but rather with the presenting organization. That is not the case with Opera Manhattan's Hansel and Gretel, which I was happy to see one and a half times on Sunday.

The popularity of this production is no mystery. This is the second year Opera Manhattan has presented Hansel and Gretel, and it has tremendous appeal for young audiences. By which I mean audiences young enough loll on the floor enjoying candy canes while shrieking in terror at the witch. (No, among opera fans, that doesn't quite narrow it down enough. The Hanna Montana set? No, that still brings to mind forty-something single men in standing room at the Met, groaning loudly at every vocal offense, real or imagined, much worse than any how-many-sopranos-does-it-take joke. Um, do I mean prepubescent opera fans? I guess that's good enough.) While any small opera company faces budget constraints, none of the choices made in this production seemed to limit it terribly. The simple black-box theater (little more than a room with all black walls) was transformed by the many off-white curtains and the clever use of projections, along with simple Christmas decorations. Director Heidi Lauren Duke created some very clever transitions between scenes, with the aid of the projections, and her choreography was charming. The dream sequence softened this reporter's bitter old heart and brought tears to his eyes.

Photo by Ken Howard
The true star of any Hansel and Gretel is, of course, the witch, and in this case, that was true in spades. I was told I must see this cast to see the witch, who was described as "Phyllis Diller on acid--but not over the top!" I don't know what over the top would be, but countertenor Tyler Wayne Smith came pretty near the top in my book! In pink cotton-candy wig and red and white striped hoop skirt (well, there was a hoop in it) he was the witch of any opera queen's reviewer's dreams! He gave a very physical performance, at times using his bedazzled broom like a rocker would a guitar, at other times shaking his booty to allow his skirt to swirl and display his colorful bloomers. His was not the typical caricature of a witch, but rather had truly human moments of trying to figure out how to get these stubborn children into the oven, for example (a spoiler--she doesn't), or campy bits like growing bored with her aria before it was over and throwing the broom down, ready to chomp on a child. None of this inhibited his very fine singing. (I heartily recommend you click the link to Mr. Smith's web site and listen to the recordings there!)

With 21 performances over three weekends, there are four casts and two music directors to divide the work into manageable chunks. The full performance I saw* was Sunday at 5:00. That performance was under the lively and nuanced musical direction of Wilson Southerland, whose playing of the orchestral reduction on the piano and subtle cuing were quite fine. Amy Maude Helfer and Lianne Gennaco were charming as Hansel and Gretel, quite convincing children alternating between bored and playful and frightened, always with a delightful spirit. Dane Reese was adorably gruff without being blustery as Peter, the children's father, and Anita Lyons coped well with Gertrude, the mother--a role even more thankless than a lady in waiting named Inez, but also more vocally demanding. Mr. Reese's performance in particular had clever touches that made his character endearing, and he dealt with the difficult vocal part well. Honorable mention also goes to the lovely Brigid Berger as the Dew Fairy and Sandman.

The good news: There are seven more performances next weekend, Dec. 17-19. The bad news: Tyler Wayne Smith will be in none of them. I would still highly recommend seeing one of these performances if you can. If only for the candy canes.

*I was present for part of the 2:00 performance as well, but I don't feel comfortable reporting on that performance as a whole. I will say the Hansel and Gretel from that performance, Sarah Nelson Craft and Megan Candio, were true standouts, which is as it should be. Eve Orenstein, as the witch, also was a delight.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Those wacky Twits!

Over on Twitter, the hashtag of the day has been #operacarols. I present for your enjoyment a subjective collection of some of the best. (I note they're not all carols--tirade about the proper use of that word to follow.)

* Gesu Bambino Caro
* You're a Mean One, Mr. Grimes
* Carol of the Bellinis
* A Spotless Rosenkavalier
* Angels from the Realms of Gloriana
* I Saw Mimì Kissing Santa Claus
* Ba-Lulu-low
* Frosty the Snow-Manon
* Faust-y the Snowman
* Freischütz the Snowman
* Good King Gudunov
* Here We Come A-Walküring
* Venite Toreadoramus
* Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Papagena (also Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Arabella)
* We Three Kings of Orpheus Are
* Una Voce Poco Fa-la-la-la-la
* Chestnuts Roasting in the Underworld
* Idomeneo Look A Lot Like Christmas
* The Sleigh Ride of the Valkyries
* Rodolfo the Rednosed Reindeer
* God Rest Ye Merry, Wives of Windsor

And mixed in with the lot were some new operas:

* Yule Trovatore
* Cosi fan Fruttecake
* The Magic Fruitcake
* Frost-staff
* I Puritanenbaum
* The Cunning Little Blitzen

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Si, mi chiamano Parpignol

Regular readers will recall that your intrepid reporter has reviewed several performances presented by Opera Manhattan, and might wonder why he has been silent on their recent production of La Boheme. After all, it was picked up elsewhere in the Blogosphere. Opera Insider did a very complimentary review ("We are grateful to Opera Manhattan not only for entertaining us so well but also for giving performance opportunities to emerging artists."), and Barihunks did a feature about the unusual factor of Colline and Schaunard being in a relationship, since both singers are, in fact, barihunks. (Just look at Robert Maril's eyes! **ZOMG swoon**)

In an updated, current urban Bohemian kind of production (minus the dreadlocks on privileged white kids), to me the gay element worked. I was told it didn't arise out of the idea that intimate quarters lead to sexual contact--it's not an English boys school, as I said to someone--but rather from the fact that everyone else was coupled. My debate partner thought that was porn-director thinking. Chacun à son goût. In fact, the other Colline and Schaunard pair chose not to play their characters as gay.

See? I can't resist that kind of analysis and discussion, and I love to write about it, but I can't do a review. Why, you ask? Because I was in it! I started out in the chorus--very important in Act II, you will recall--and covering Parpignol, but the other Parpignols (Parpignoli?) dropped out and I sang it at every rehearsal. After much debate, consideration of the effects of such a step on the world economy and climate change, consultation with numerous psychics, business leaders, and religious authorities (including Tammy Faye Baker from beyond the grave), the decision was made to allow me to bark out "Ecco i giacattoli di Parpignol!" on a high G backstage for eight shows. The results were not too disastrous. Seattle, I'm sorry about the snow.

So what can I write about? The trip from writer to singer, or maybe from singer to writer to singer? Boring. The fact that the last time I did Boheme chorus/Parpignol was before the young fellow who played the customs guard was born? Interesting, but in noticeable disagreement with any claims I might make that I'm 35 "in opera years".

Did I have my favorites among the singers? Of course I did. Am I going to divulge them publicly? Not on your nelly! For you see, gentle reader (and the rest of you lot), these singers have become people I know and care about, and some have become friends. Some were already friends. (We have gone from "Sie" to "du". Someone should write a chorus in some operetta about that, doncha think?) They were all good singers and colleagues and kind to me as the comprimario. I will say that the musical director, Lloyd Arriola, and the stage director, Elspeth Davis, were both a pleasure to work with. Lloyd, especially, was quite supportive of my contributions to the chorus--what little I was able to actually sing before transforming myself into Parpignol.

The children's chorus was great fun. Although there were alternating groups of kids, Sophie Dornbaum was a trouper and sang all eight shows as the little brat who wants a trumpet and a horse. (The English version I did in 1985 a few years ago still sticks in my head!) The Kinderchor ranged in age from about 10 to teeny-bopper range, and because of the alternating groups of kids and the inconsistency with some of them in showing up, it might have seemed sometimes like Parpignol was battling swooning bobby soxers rather than a pack of greedy children. I should mention the lovely Tessa Payne, the chorus member who, as a mean mommy, nearly decks Parpignol and sends him skulking off to the sidelines.

All in all, I think this was a pretty damn good production of La Boheme. I was able to watch Act IV only once, during the last performance, and I must admit I was in tears. OK, I'll admit I was pretty darn close to tears hearing it from backstage. Something about those final chords and Rodolfo's desperate cries of "Mimi! Mimi!" will always simply tear me up. That's probably a good thing.

Anyone want some used toys? Opera Manhattan can't store them, and they're still in the back seat of my car.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Die alten, bösen Lieder

Back in the day--long ago, when I believed I could sing--I used to identify as an English tenor. People would make faces when I'd mention it, perhaps thinking of Peter Pears, and say, "Oh no, you don't sound like that!" (For the record, I think Peter Pears was a fine artist with a somewhat unusual vocal technique.) By English tenor I mean the sort, usually born and bred in "...this sceptred isle...this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England", who have a lighter tone, sometimes prone to hootiness at the top, and who are extremely adept at Bach, Handel, Mozart, Britten (of course), and German Lieder.

English tenors of our generation include John Mark Ainsley, about whom I could write volumes (Have you seen his Munich Idomeneo? I was spellbound, in tears!), Philip Langridge, whom we lost earlier this year, and the thinking man's English tenor, Mark Padmore. It's no secret I'm a big fan. (In fact, I started a Facebook fan page. I am a bit disappointed there aren't more members, and no one seems to post except me.)

Last December my beloved hubby and and I hied us to see and hear Mr. Padmore's concert event of Mr. Schubert's Winterreise (to texts by Mr. Wilhelm Müller), dramatized by Katie Mitchell, presented with actor Stephen Dillane and pianist Andrew Wiest. Between them dramatized the poet's winter journey, the bitter cold, loneliness and despair, by presenting most of the songs as written, declaiming the texts of the few that weren't sung, and including additional material by poet Samuel Beckett (who was a devotee of Winterreise). There were also visual and sound elements. I'd like to have seen it again to absorb it more fully, but on a single viewing, I'm not sure I left the theater enlightened. While Mr. Padmore's beautiful singing and intelligent interpretations did not fail me, perhaps my imagination did as I tried to enjoy what boils down to a radio dramatization of Schubert's most profound song cycle. (Here is another reviewer's take on the same event, presented in London earlier last year.)

On Wednesday evening, however, I left Carnegie's Zankel Hall englighted, delighted, and smiling. Mr. Padmore, with the delightful young pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout on the fortepiano, presented an evening of songs to Heinrich Heine texts, mostly by Mr. Robert Schumann. The program began with Mr. Schumann's Heine Liederkreis, op. 24; continued with five Heine songs by Schubert and Schumann contemporary Franz Lachner; and concluded with Mr. Schumann's beloved Dichterliebe, op. 48. Mr. Padmore's singing was beautiful and lyrical and expressive and powerful and subtle. Mr. Bezuidenhout's playing was fiery and lush and delicate, fully a partner with Mr. Padmore's singing. No, gentle reader, your intrepid reporter has not fallen and hit his head on a dictionary. All of this praise and more is what this duo deserves.

As we learned from the excellent program notes and from Mr. Padmore's introductory words, Heine's Buch der Lieder was immensely popular from its publication in 1820, inspiring over 8,000 song settings, not all by brooding Germans. We did not hear all 8,000 Wednesday night, but rather, some of the most lovely from the pen of Schumann. (Mr. Schumann wrote another Liederkreis, op. 39, to poems by Mr. Eichendorff. Some critics prefer those poems, but we won't speak of such petty differences now.) Mr. Schumann wrote two Liederkreis (literally, Song Cycle) settings, Dichterliebe (Poet's Love), and Frauenliebe und -leben (Woman's Love and Life, to poems of Mr. Chamisso), in 1840, his famed Liederjahr (year of song). Oddly enough, this coincided with the year he and Miss Clara Wieck were married after a long and drama-filled courtship.

The Liederkreis songs, according to program notes*, "trace a vague narrative of love's ardor, despair, and the metamorphosis of love and grief into art." Every generation thinks they invented emo, don't they? Mr. Schumann's delicate musical settings do not leave us in despair, however. They capture Mr. Heine's irony, passion, and bitterness with highly involved piano accompaniments and in some places highly declamatory vocal lines. Mr. Padmore gave us all of the poet's ardent feeling, and was always a joy to watch and listen to. In fact, one hardly wanted to look at the translations included with the program, because one could almost read them in Mr. Padmore's face.

Mr. Padmore joked that composer Franz Lachner might very well be making his Carnegie Hall debut that night. He was a contemporary of Schubert, only six years his younger, and the two became great friends during Schubert's last two years. Great friends. Very highly regarded in his time, Lachner is hardly remembered today. His many song settings include a set of Heine songs called Sängerfahrt. (Yes, Sängerfahrt. What, are you lot 14 or something?) The songs Mr. Padmore sang on Wednesday were not as subtle as Schumann or as profound as Schubert, but were not lacking in appeal. Some of the poems are familiar in settings by Schubert and Schumann, including the first song from Dichterliebe, Im wunderschönen Monat Mai. Of course, in the skillful hands of Messrs. Padmore and Bezuidenhout, every bit of beauty to be found was made available to us.

Dichterliebe. Ah, Dichterliebe. I will confess this is the part of the program I know the best, so it was also the part that transported me completely. I don't have superlatives enough to describe the journey singer, pianist, and cynical blogger took with these songs. This is what art is about. This is magic.

Fortunately, these two gentleman have recorded everything on Wednesday's program on a CD that will be released Nov. 19. Fortunately, it can be ordered from Amazon through the Song, Melodie, Lieder page at the Taminophile Amazon store. (Also fortunately, anything else you order from Amazon wlll help swell the Taminophlie coffers if you use the Taminophile store as your starting point.)

*Wonderful program notes by Susan Youens, copyright 2010 Carnegie Hall.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

It Gets Better

I can't imagine anyone who reads this not having heard of Dan Savage's It Gets Better campaign. Gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/questioning teens are far more likely than the teen population as a whole to attempt suicide. The past months have brought a horrifying number of G/L/B/T teen suicides into the news. The campaign is a gesture to gives kids hope. In my own contribution (not gonna link it) I suggested viewers watch lots of the videos to find people they can identify with and listen to their messages of hope and know that they're not alone.

Lots of the videos have made me cry--most of the videos were quite moving, but a refreshing number were cheerful and funny. After a few weeks, though, I thought I'd cried as much as I was going to over these videos. I was wrong. I can't explain why this video moves me so. Something about how human voices in song are a connection to the soul and to the infinite, and about the spirit of love that is in this performance. (I discovered this at Joe.My.God's blog. He's awesome!)

No, this is not opera, but it's Bach, so shut up. And listen. With a hankie at the ready.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

D'you Remember Alberich?

I wasn't sure whether I would write about seeing the HD simulcast of the Metropolitan Opera's Das Rheingold today. Much has been written in print and online to which I couldn't add much, being far from an expert in things Wagnerian. In fact, as I mentioned when I wrote about Eugene Onegin recently, with the exception of Mr. Verdi's worthy offerings, it often surprises me to learn of music after 1850 that is beautiful. And frankly, this was my first Rheingold ever, and my first HD simulcast. Still, write I must, as it is my calling. Instead of tea and madeleines whilst writing my memoirs, just bring me cookies and Diet Coke while I write pithy commentary.

It is hard to imagine anyone--well, anyone who might have stumbled upon this blog--not having heard about this new production of Das Rheingold. Wagnerphiles are a passionate and demonstrative lot (unlike us dignified, composed Taminophiles), and the blogosophere has been humming with commentary. Any new production of Wagner's Ring, the cycle of which this opera is a bit of a prequel, causes excitement. The greatest notoriety in this production belongs to the remarkable stage machinery. For the one or two of you out there who haven't read about it, I can best explain it by comparing it to about 30 or 40 see-saws side by side, rising and fall independently, in patterns, and in groups, with projections on them. The pivot point for the see-saws moved, as well. Click on the picture to embiggen it and see what I mean.

Mechanically, the set was quite a sight. It was used to quite amazing effect, particularly for the Rheinmaiden scene, when it started out as a blue backdrop with for the three little maids from school, showing bubbles placed precisely by some magic having to do with motion sensors and virgin sacrifice, I'm sure. It morphed, soon showing gravel tumbling at the bottom of of the river (I finally decided it was indeed pebbles and not about five gazillion eggs spewing forth from the maidens), and the lighting eventually changed to highlight the gold hidden within the gravel. From time to time it was a bit of a distraction, however, as when at least one god made an entrance sliding head-first down the incline as on a playground slide. "Really, this is just not a very godly thing to do." writes Mr. Tommasini of The New York Times. The rainbow bridge to Valhalla, after failing on opening night, seemed to function correctly, but after all the press, the anticipation far exceeded the actual event. Your intrepid reporter found himself wondering far too often what the set was going to do next.

As for the costumes, the less said the better. Well, OK, Fricka's and Erda's costumes were lovely, but only because they looked like ball gowns.

The performances. Oh My Gawd Becky, the performances! After the opening one of my Twitter acquaintances posted "Two words: Eric Owens!", and now I can say I know why. The Dallas Morning News says "Eric Owens has a house-filling snarl for Alberich, and aptly shifts from clumsy lout to chilling tyrant" and I couldn't agree more. Stephanie Blythe, the other stand-out from the cast, sang Fricka with a power and beauty I haven't heard in quite some time. This is the first time I've heard her in an entire role, so I must now find more of her singing to listen to.

Published reviews of Richard Croft's Loge have been mixed. Frankly I found his singing just fine--very nice, in fact. I finally realized, however, that the boos and hisses at curtain call were for the character Loge, but this Loge wasn't nearly slimy enough to earn such a response. He seemed to me like Wotan's assistant, with an occasionally useful talent for manipulating people.

Bryn Terfel as Wotan. Well, OK. His singing was mostly solid, he certainly portrayed Wotan's emotions well, but overall I wasn't sure I'd seen magic from him. (I know there will be consequences at home not raving about him, but I really can't.)

There were no cast members whose singing I didn't like, but I am not excited enough to single any more of them out.

Update: After talking with friends who'd seen the show in the house, I can report that Mssrs. Croft and Terfel were both very difficult to hear, and that indeed explains the boos for Mr. Croft. No one would dare boo Mr. Terfel, for he is a Big CD-Selling Artist. There has been criticism of his singing, however.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

It's Hansel Season Again, or Hansel and Regretel

Last night Dear Hubby and I ventured to Symphony Space for a performance of Hansel and Gretel presented by New York Lyric Opera Theatre. We had heavily discounted tickets for the evening, and as DH said, they were worth every penny.

NYLOT's mission, according to its web site, is " bring the beauty & passion of opera by offering low priced & free tickets and many opportunities for performers throughout the New York community." (Really? Writing out "and" is too much trouble?) It is one of the many opera companies in New York where young singers gain experience. The chorus was composed of the quadruple cast of covers who are also entitled to add their cover roles to their resumes. The whole affair seemed poorly organized, from the late start to the apparent need for a plot summary narration instead of distributing inserts. (Who was that woman who read the synopsis to the audience? She didn't introduce herself but she seemed to be running things afterward. During the poorly organized photo shoot.)

Hansel and Gretel ("and" rather than "und" because it was in English, although Ruth and Thomas Martin, creators of the English version, were not credited in the program) is not an opera that easily lends itself to a concert performance. A great deal of interaction is required. The stage setup was awkward, with the large grand piano in effect isolating Hansel and Gretel on one side while all the other characters--Mom and Dad, Witch, Dew Fairy--were on the other side.

Hansel and Gretel, of course, were the finest singers of the lot. Soprano Sarah Beckham and mezzo Melissa Block sang beautifully and convincingly portrayed their characters as well as possible in evening dress with music stands in front of them. Miss Beckham, judging from her bio-blurb, seems to have long suffered from vocal identity confusion, but Gretel is the type of role I hear in her voice. She has a light, silvery sound, and seemed to quite enjoy the role. Miss Block has a young lyric mezzo sound that is quite lovely, and she also seemed to have fun with her role. One sees a bright future as both continue to hone their crafts.

Other vocal highlights included Sharon Neff, who sang the Mother well. One would have preferred to see her closer to her children on stage, however. Catherine Webber as the Sandman and Shanna Spiro as the Dew Fairy did well with their small roles. The Witch was indisposed, so the cover, Laura Smith, went on in her place. Although vocally up to snuff, she was clearly underrehearsed. In fact, the poor level of organization was clear in the inconsistent performance-readiness level of the performers. I will say, however, most of the English lyrics came through, which is no easy feat.

I'd really like for quite a few cast members to consult stylists--or sassy gay friends--before they next venture on stage. Some gowns look lovely up close but on stage, not so much. And some of the hair styles needed work, as well.

Conductor David Rosenmeyer seemed to have a good rapport with the singers and with the 88-key orchestra, and from the audience seemed to be quite good at cuing the singers, as well as preventing over-eager singers from making early entrances. Pianist Pei-wen Chen was the unsung hero of the evening, playing the difficult score beautifully but in such a way that her solid presence was felt clearly but unobtrusively.

The entire audience was composed of family and friends of cast members, and at times this reviewer wanted to point out to them that they were not in their Long Island rumpus rooms, so speaking to each other across the auditorium was not appropriate. But always a gentleman of decorum and taste, I held my tongue. Until afterward, when walking my friend home.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

New feature: Profile of Emmanuel di Villarosa

You might recall my post about Norma at Caramoor in July. I wrote about Emmanuel di Villarosa, who sang Pollione. I deduced he was sick after viewing some YouTube videos of past performances and comparing to his performance the night I heard him. He posted a comment to my entry confirming that he had a terrible sinus infection for both performances of Norma

Here is a video of Mr. di Villarosa in rehearsal, singing Pollione's aria "Meco all'altar di Venere". Much better! In fact, I think it's as good as or better than anything else he has on YouTube.

Since that post--which remains one of the most popular posts on this blog--I've struck up an acquaintance with Mr. di Villarosa's wife, Jill. In an effort to make this blog a little more interesting, I'm going to start to write features about current singers who strike my fancy, who should be better known. I asked Jill to forward some questions to her husband for the first such feature.

What was your background and training?

I began singing around the age of five. I won a talent show at ten and began vocal lessons after my mother attended the show and realized that I had a talent for it. Around the age of eleven I discovered Mario Lanza and wanted to sing like he did which began my operatic journey. During High School I sang two years in a row in the state literary competition in boy's solo. The first year year I placed fourth in the region the second year I won first place in State. I was also accepted to the Governor's Honor's Program for singing and won Best Talent in the state of GA. My award was to sing with the Atlanta Pops Orchestra at Stone Mountain Park. I sang the Flower aria from Carmen to over twenty thousand people, I was seventeen.

After high school I attended Manhattan School of Music on a full scholarship, then studied privately with my vocal teacher, Giovanni Consiglio, whom I found through one of my Metropolitan Opera contacts, Nico Castel. During this time I had auditioned for many apprentice programs but I was never accepted. My teacher and I were befuddled. I decided to skip the apprentice programs and go right to singing principal roles. I then began singing principal roles with small opera houses in and around NYC. Much to our amusement, I couldn't get work as an apprentice, but I could land jobs singing principal roles. I slowly gained a reputation as a solid young tenor and was approached by a small agent in NYC. My first few auditions were a disaster. After I gained my composure during auditions, I began getting jobs. My first was with the NYC Opera touring company as Rodolfo in La Boheme followed by a string of medium to large regional companies. I auditioned for the Met national competition and won the Luciano Pavarotti award. Shortly there after, I was singing and covering roles at the Met.

What was the best and the worst thing about spending several years in Europe?

The best part of living in Europe was getting to know the culture. The Europeans have a very different approach to life than Americans do and it was a pleasure to discover just how different and similar our cultures are. I think the worst part of living in Europe was not speaking the language. I was based first in Austria then Germany and I had no formal training in the language. Once I was able to overcome this obstacle, it made my life much easier.

What's the best lesson you learned in Europe?

Well, before this recession there was plenty of work especially in Europe. The best lesson I learned was how to discipline myself for the 70 on average performances a season I was doing. Learning how to travel light, finding a way to make each hotel room comfortable and in general being able to raise the bar of my performances. I hold a high minimum standard and I learned how to do this in Europe with all the many houses I was singing in.

Do you have any thoughts about the career training American singers have as opposed to the training European singers have?

I find that many of the Europeans are trained equally as well. A great singer is a great singer. Having said that, I find that the European public and opera house administrations tend to admire American singers, while over here it is the opposite.

Talk about your "Music for a Home" project. How did it get started? How is it going?

My wife had this idea last year after I received three phone calls last May canceling 58 out of the 72 performances I had scheduled in my calendar. We had just purchased our home the year before and I had plenty of work lined up. I put all of my savings down on the house knowing I would be able to make it back in a few years.

When the recession started to become global we were faced with a real problem. I was able to put only a little bit of money away from the time I purchased my home until this recession went into full swing. We knew that we were going to fall behind on the house payments, so in order to prevent that and help us survive, my wife had the idea of selling CDs via the internet. We have sold about 350 over the last year. It wasn't what we were hoping for but it helped out quite a bit.

We are hoping to open this idea up to other struggling artists who find themselves in the same boat as we are. Talented musicians who need extra income in order to make ends meet. The idea being, make a professional quality CD and sell it through our site. Unfortunately, we are still in the red. I have no work scheduled for this season and as of right now no income, so I have to concentrate on saving our own necks. We are desperately pushing this CD again with hopes of trying to sell just 500 before the end of Sept. Anyone interested in helping can visit us at

You're over 30. How has your voice changed over the years?

My voice has changed in so many ways, yet it still has much of the same quality it did when I was a younger man. I have been told that my voice has become a little richer and darker now. I still have the same passion that I always had when I sang but now my voice is much more controlled and singing has never been easier for me than it has been these past few years. Singing has always been an essential part of my being. I wanted to sing professionally when I was 11 years old. I was fortunate in life that I had a clear goal and direction from a very young age. I won't say that the road was easy, quite the opposite in fact, but I sacrificed for my career knowing that one day, if I stayed true to it, I would find my definition of success.

Do you work with young singers? What kind of career advice do you give them?

I do work with singers of all ages. For the young ones, I tell them the truth. This is a very difficult career and only those that are willing to sacrifice and discipline themselves need to pursue it. I also try to get them to find their own individuality; to make the music on the page their own, and to try to inspire the listeners. I find that too many singers are afraid to really expose themselves and we are allowing many singer's to sing "safe" and not with risk. Without risk there is no reward.

What's your favorite role to sing? (And don't take the cop-out "Whatever I'm singing next!")

Don Jose in Carmen hands down. I love the music but, more importantly, I love the role for what it allows me to do with my acting; the incredible transformation that Don Jose makes from the beginning of the opera to the end.

My favorite question from "Inside the Actor's Studio": What's your favorite swear word?

When I was on the New York City tour of La Boheme, I was always running late in the mornings. I was always the last one on the bus and always standing when the bus took off. The driver also had a heavy foot and I found myself being tossed around nearly falling on almost every morning. My dear friend, baritone John Packard, was with me on the tour and he told everyone that he believed I could use the word "Fuck" in just about any sentence and in any situation imaginable.

I invite you, my dear readers, to submit more questions for Manny, as well as ideas for future victims subjects!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Opera Manhattan's Eugene Onegin

Opera Manhattan Repertory Theatre has always been a scrappy, ambitious troupe of players. From its beginnings with a single pick-up concert, the group has grown to heights that include acclaimed performances of Schönberg's Erwartung and Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle (you look up the Hungarian--I'm tired!) and a planned production of Susannah in June, 2011, in celebration of Carlisle Floyd's 85th birthday. The upcoming season also includes an anniversary gala, a fully staged La Boheme, a revival of its very popular Hansel and Gretel, and separate festivals of one-act operas and newly-composed operas. Merely typing that list leaves your intrepid reporter breathless!

OMRT's Summer Concert Series began with an Anna Bolena about which I raved two weeks ago, and ended its run this week with an even more stunning Eugene Onegin. I've never made a secret about my extreme fondness--some might call it idolatry, to which I say po-tay-to, po-tah-to--for Mozart and the bel canto boys Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini. I have been known to enjoy later composers, but it always comes as a surprise to me that beautiful music happened after 1850. I had seen Eugene Onegin once before, but to tell the truth, all I remembered was a stunning visual for the opening scene and the very bad wig and iffy singing of Lensky. Imagine my delight when I learned how beautiful and compelling this opera can be.

First and foremost I must once again rave about the leading soprano in Sunday's cast. Anna Noggle sang beautifully and inhabited her role completely, gracefully overcoming the limits of a concert format to show Tatyana's many conflicting emotions. Onegin was mad to turn down her impetuous overtures of love. This beautiful young lady has already accomplished a lot, and one sees a bright future for her.

Lensky was sung quite well by Eric Sampson. An even, stentorian sound, a bigger voice than is usually cast as Lensky, but that is certainly not a criticism in this case. Anna Yelizarova sang the role of Olga quite beautifully, and because of a late cancellation, also sang the nurse Filippyevna's role. (It was a bit confusing, and no announcement was made about this.) A rich, creamy contralto and clear understanding of her roles were her considerable offerings to the party. Special mention goes to John Wasiniak for his charming portrayal the neighbor Triquet. His too-brief song in the party scene delighted the audience.

It's clear that a tremendous amount of preparation went into this concert and into the Anna Bolena of two weeks ago. From all appearances, the concert Die Zauberflöte of last week suffered middle child syndrome. It seemed under-rehearsed, and in context of these other two concerts, such an effect was felt quite distinctly. James Siranovich, who did a fine job as music director of Onegin, seemed in a hurry to get home when he served as pianist for Zauberflöte. Jenny Greene is a good young soprano and will blossom into a very good Pamina indeed. Duncan Hartman was the biggest standout as Sarastro, largely because of his assurance and the very real sense that he knew what he was singing. This reporter had to stifle a murmured "Oh, Daddy!" as Mr. Hartman finished "In diesen heilgen Hallen". Which is a constrast to much of the rest of the cast, which inspired murmurs of "Oh, brother!"

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Beverly Sills on TV

Gentle readers--and the rest of you lot--today I bring to you dear Beverly Sills, specifically some of her television appearances. Bubbles was a frequent guest of The Tonight Show (back when it was watchable), and all of these clips are from appearances there. Wikipedia (see link) states:
Sills popularized opera through her talk show appearances, including Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, David Frost, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, and Dinah Shore. Sills hosted her own talk show, Lifestyles with Beverly Sills, which ran on Sunday mornings on NBC for two years in the late 1970s; it won an Emmy Award. In 1979 she even appeared on The Muppet Show. Down-to-earth and approachable, Sills helped dispel the traditional image of the temperamental opera diva.

"Italian Street Song", 1975

"Son vergin vezzosa" from I Puritani, 1973

"Vilja", 1974

Polish folk song "Mother Dear", 1980, toward the end of her singing career. We know she had a few careers after singing! I believe she liked to end her concerts with this song. I think this arrangement is by her long-time voice teacher and mentor, Estelle Liebling. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

ZOMG! I'm getting noticed!

OK, I'm no Joe.My.God, but then, who is?

Keri Alkema's web site quotes my review of Norma at Caramoor.

Chelsea Opera links to my review of their Amahl and the Night Visitors--the only review linked to that production.

Who knew Henry VIII had his own Facebook page? He very much liked my review of Anna Bolena.

The blog Se Voui Pace seems quite fond of all the clips I like to post. I should do some more of that to keep her happy.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I can't make up a headline more catchy than the opera's title

Today I saw a performance of The Pig, the Farmer, and the Artist, part of the New York Fringe Festival, which I suppose is now called FringeNYC. Music and libretto are by David Chesky. I haven't written about opera by living composers before in this space. In fact, it's not that common for me to write about opera performed by living singers. I was intrigued by this opera, however, because of the catchy title, and because it afforded me another opportunity to hear one of the singers, whom I'd heard sing quite beautifully before in an opera that much better suited my late 18th-century ears.

The story of the opera is as old as time itself. Reformed hooker heifer (heart of gold is an interpretive matter) and her transvestite bull husband escape the abattoir and an amorous farmer by running off to the big city--in this case NYC's East Village--with a hapless artist, and in a cynical maneuver become much more successful in the art world than their artist friend. There is also a pig with what can only be described as a flesh-colored garden hose long enough to jump rope with--literally--growing from his codpiece.

I can hear your sighs: "How many times must I hear that same story retold?!" Your intrepid reporter found himself sighing during the course of the opera himself, but this was accompanied by furtive glances at his watch to see how much longer it would last. I don't mean to say I didn't enjoy the show. I actually did very much. I think I'd have enjoyed it more were it a bit shorter. The opera was very clever in ways both new and derivative (*sighing* "Oh yes, they did that in Urinetown, didn't they?"), but I don't think the story or the writing supported the length of the opera.

All of the cast members worked hard and were fully committed to their characters and story. The biggest standout is the has-been heifer ho. (I can't resist little bons mots like that. Sort of like it seemed the composer/librettist, Mr Chesky, threw in a few too many clever bits.) Mezzo Wendy Buzby showed a beautiful voice and fine musicianship, as well as a platinum bee-hive wig. She was an udder delight. (I'm so sorry!) The farmer, bass-baritone Cory Clines, sang and acted very well the part of the perverted farmer. I hesitate to describe just how perverted for fear of action by PETA. The Greek chorus of Ami Vice, Megan Marino, and Steven Uliana certainly were fit! They adapted to their multiple characters (various farm animals and Manhattan archetypes) with ease and alacrity. Mr. Uliana, in particular, impersonates a chicken very well. Soprano Melanie Long also quite successfully sang and acted her multiple characters.

With many of the roles in this opera, one had the feeling the vocal writing wasn't executed in a way that featured the voices at their best. Having heard Mr. Clines before, I must say that this role didn't give him the opportunity to shine as he can, and I know the same must be true for Ms. Buzby and many of the other singers. In fact, I can make the broad generalization that in nearly every case, the writing for men's voices didn't suit the highly capable men who were singing the roles. James Kryshak as the Harvey the bull and Christopher Preston Thompson as the artist were two pretty darn good talents, delights in their roles, not allowed to shine as singers.

Would I recommend this opera? Certainly. Would I sit through it again? Not on your nelly!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Moar penguins plz!

The divine Joyce di Donato blogs about the divine Idomeneo, and yes, there are penguins involved!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I'm Henry the Eighth, I am, I am!

I've certainly been on a bel canto binge lately, and loving it! Your intrepid reporter braved unspeakable humidity and the fear of actually getting wet in the rain* to hear Mr. Donizetti's lovely Anna Bolena on Sunday, August 15. (Having seen and reviewed the Munich production of Roberto Devereux recently, I lack only Maria Stuarda to make it a "Tudor trilogy" summer. I have no plans to see Maria Stuarda soon, largely because I know of no nearby organization presenting it, so I must make do with my DVD of the scandalous Baby Jane-inspired Berlin production of a few years ago. As soon as the scoundrel who borrowed it returns it to me.) Anna Bolena was presented by Opera Manhattan Repertory Theater as part of their summer series of operas in concert. As founder and General Manager V.W. Smith (a.k.a. barihunk Bryce Smith) explained before the concert began, these are mostly young singers at the beginning stages of their careers. In addition to providing beautiful music for an eager public, these concerts also give the singers valuable experience and credits on their resumes.

Anna Bolena is, of course, the story of Anne Boleyn, one of Henry VIII's wives. The opera tells of the plotting to remove Anne from the throne so that Henry could marry Jane Seymour. (He'd already gotten rid of Catharine of Aragon, wife no. 1, by that time. Inexplicably, Mr. Donizetti didn't write an opera about that story.) Infidelity, blood lust, conspiracy--normal opera stuff. Henry himself was sung by bass David Morrow, who was among the better singers. He has an impressive, blustery bass sound, and understood how to act his role.

The true star of the evening, however, was Michelle Trovato. The lovely Miss Trovato sang with passion, intelligence, commitment, and most importantly, a beautiful, rich, even tone. She convincingly portrayed the wronged queen's many emotions, from conflicted fear and joy at seeing her former flame Percy returned to England (it's all part of a plot, of course) to the the obligatory near-mad scene finale. Speaking of that finale, I've never enjoyed not breathing more! From "Piangete voi?" to the final chords of "Coppia iniqua!", Miss Trovato held the entire room in her sway. Rarely does your reporter leap to his feet and shout "Brava!"--who are we kidding? he never leaps to his feet to do anything except get to dinner--but in this case his emotions got the better of him! As we say in journalistic parlance, Woo-hoo!

The music director and accompanist for this extravaganza was the lovely Susan Morton, known around town as a very fine coach and accompanist of singers, as well as an Italian language coach for singers. One could detect her skillful hand in the quality of Italian diction in the singers, and the general level of preparation.

Opera Manhattan has two more of these concert opera productions. They will perform Die Zauberflöte on August 21 and 22, and Eugene Onegin on August 27 and 29. I highly recommend them.

*Actually, having hied me on foot from Grand Central to the performance space on West 54th St., I found myself mysteriously moist anyway. It was like my body was crying! What's that about?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

In a blatant attempt to increase readership

According to, the keywords and phrases that send the most readers to this blog from search engines are as follows:
  • Maria di Rohan(as it should be, since that was my latest review)
  • "Pavol Breslik is gay" (which I never suggested, cute as he is--it can only be explained by the fact that my Don Giovanni review appears on the same page as the review in which I suggested Norma needed a sassy gay friend)
  • Pedro Lavirgen (!) and
  • Emmanuel di Villarosa
Well, then.

In order to quench the thirst of my public, here we have:

The amazing Virginia Zeani, whom I've featured before, singing "Havvi un dio" from Maria di Rohan:

The amazing (and sexay!) Pavol Breslik singing Lucrezia Borgia with Edita Gruberova:

Another Breslik video, because I can. He's singing Idamante in Idomeneo:

A link to my long-ago post about Pedro Lavirgen: Click here

And several videos of Emmanual di Villarosa singing really beautifully (my obligation to share, since I kicked him while he down in the recent Norma review):



Oh, and y'all--would you click my advert links, and rank me at the Blog Catalogue links below? And I moved the link to the bottom because it was just in the way, but i still want you to click that as well! Thanks!

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Wagner Enigma

Adorable composer and Director of U. Colorado Boulder's Entrepreneurship Center for Music Jeffrey Nytch (a personal friend of yours truly!) talks about Wagner here.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Speak softer--Mother will hear!

No, that is not what dear hubby tells hangers-on when your intrepid report has a sick headache! The two of us trekked up to Caramoor again on Saturday evening to hear more bel canto opera. The opera in question is Mr. Donizetti's rarely performed Maria di Rohan, which I had been confusing all week with Mr. Rossini's rarely performed Matilde di Shabran. (Considering my voice teacher told me yesterday that, with my voice, I should be writing reviews professionally, I'd better up my scholarship a little bit! ) It was a very hot evening, but fortunately the program was a very good fan.

The program also had other uses. The Wikipedia link above for Maria di Rohan is practically useless, so we must thank the Lawd God Margarettm for the program notes (here) of amazing musicologist Philip Gossett and Caramoor opera director Will Crutchfield. The plot has some similarities to Roberto Devereux, the Munich production of which I recently reviewed here. Maria married the Duke of Chevreuse (baritone) secretly, although she still loved former main squeeze Count of Chalais (tenor, of course). Political intrigue ensues. Chevreuse learns of Maria's and Chalais's former relationship, thinks it's still going on, throws Chalais to the political wolves through his inaction when he could have saved him, and basically prepares Maria to live in misery the rest of her life at his sadistic hands and words.

The star of the evening was the lovely Photo of Jennifer Rowley by Devon Cass.  Courtesy jenniferrowley.comJennifer Rowley, Caramoor young artist and cover for the role of Maria, who stepped in when the original star Takesha Meshé Kizart (self-indulgent article here) cancelled due to illness on Friday. (Acres of snark here.) The role of Maria is demanding and far-reaching, a typical bel canto lead soprano role. Extremes of range, dramatic impact, and coloratura are expected. Although in her first aria and cabaletta Miss Rowley seemed the slightest bit tentative--wouldn't you be, with only one rehearsal?--once she got her feet under her she was balls-to-the-wall (or whatever the soprano equivalent is) the entire evening. Miss Rowley has a beautiful vocal color, an even scale, and technique for days. She portrayed the multi-faceted role of Maria convincingly and with complete commitment. I hope that this high-profile surprise debut launches a far-reaching and successful career.

And her dress was beautiful and completely appropriate.

Photo by Rob Moore; Courtesy imgartists.comI'd been quite looking forward to hearing Luciano Botelho, a handsome young Brazilian tenor whose star is rising. I must say when he stepped onstage I had another reason to fan myself! Mr. Botelho has a beautiful, light, lyric voice. He has some perfectly beautiful audio and video clips on YouTube. I think Mr. Botelho sang well, but I also think he was miscast in this role. His sound is sweet and lyrical, and the role of Chalais requires a little more of a stentorian sound. I fear Mr. Botelho might do himself a mischief if he continues with roles a little too big like this. The lighter bel canto roles are perfect for him, as is anything Mozart. That said, he did an admirable job, and certainly acted the role well.

And he needs his mommy to shorten his coat sleeves.

The Duke of Chevreuse was played by baritone Scott Bearden. I found his singing a little uneven in Act I, but it seemed like he warmed up as the evening wore on. He certainly was convincing as the wronged husband. Oh my, yes! I don't want to meet him in a dark alley! (I must say I do have friends who would want to meet Mr. Bearden in a dark alley, and would take delight in his name: bear den. It suits him.)

Hearing the amazing music and seeing the riveting drama of this opera, I will state without hesitation that this is one rarely-performed opera that does not deserve to languish in obscurity. I often forget to credit a librettist, but in this case Mr. Cammarano deserves great praise. There are terrific arias, but the ensembles are simply amazing. The scenes between Maria, Chalais, and Chevreuse are rife with pain and drama. The scene in which Chevreuse urges Chalais to hurry to an arranged duel (snarky pants mezzo Gondi had cast aspersions on Maria's character, so Chalais demanded satisfaction) or risk dishonor contains at least three meanings for different instances of the exhortation "Speak softer--Mother will hear!" Very clever indeed!

A note about the acoustics of this venue. I found the sound in the cheap seats for Norma two weeks ago quite different from the sound I later heard on YouTube. My opinions of various singers held up, but the sound was quite different. The sound Saturday evening different still, possibly having to do with the sound system. I eagerly await the YouTube clips that you know will pop up.

Another delightful night at the opera. I don't expect to attend any more outdoor performances this summer, which is a good thing. I will, however, keep you, my loyal public, up to date with my comings and goings.

Shout-out to PostSecret

Click the pic to go to PostSecret.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Christina Deutekom--new post!

Yes, there's a soprano I haven't posted about yet--the simply amazing Christina Deutekom! Her range vocally extended from Queen of the Night to Turandot! (Keep in mind, in Europe they often cast dramatic coloraturas in roles Americans would give to spintos.) She is still with us, but is retired from public life.

Now let's see some videos!

Queen of the Night, 1971:

Norma, 1972:

"Tu che le vanita" from Don Carlo (studio recording, no date given):

A TV show appearnance in which she shows that opera is serious business! (It's Donna Elvira from Don Giovanni.)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Wanted: One Sassy Gay Friend

Hubby and I are home from our European vacation, and ventured up to Katonah, NY, last night for yet another opera performance--a semi-staged concert performance of Mr. Bellini's Norma at Caramoor. I've always been crazy about Norma, and now Mikey understands why. Norma is an incredibly demanding role, requiring a very high level of technical and declamatory skill. It's no wonder when we find a successful Norma--Callas, Caballe, Sutherland--she sings it everywhere.

After bearing two children to the chief of the occupying Romans and then losing him to one of her novice priestesses, Druid priestess Norma seriously needs a sassy gay friend. "What are you doing? Look at yourself! Look at your choices! Your boyfriend--who, by the way, is an enemy of your people--leaves you and you're going to kill your children? For a Roman? A Roman?!!!!"

Mikey was excited because Angela Meade, one of the featured singers in the documentary The Audition, was singing the title role, and I was quite looking forward to hearing her myself. We were not disappointed in the lovely Miss Meade. She sang beautifully, with an even tone throughout, clear coloratura, and a beautiful line, and she very clearly conveyed Norma's conflicting emotions. Although she sings big Verdi roles, I'm not convinced her voice is as big as she thinks it is. Overall, however, I have almost no criticisms of her performance. (Her dress, however, is another matter. She needed a sassy gay friend to advise her to use a brooch to keep the accompanying shawl in place. Much more flattering that way.)

Norma's beloved, the Roman proconsul Pollione, was sung by Emmanuel di Villarosa. In researching this review, I found YouTube videos in which Mr. di Villarosa sang much better than I heard him last night. If he was under the weather, no announcement was made. If it was a matter of warming up, it is unfortunate that Pollione's most demanding music is his first scene, with the aria "Meco all'altar di Venere". Having seen the YouTube videos (such as this one), I am convinced the man can sing, but there was something wrong last night. In addition, another sassy gay friend was needed to inform Mr. di Villarosa that his suit did not flatter him, and in fact accentuated his shortish, stoutish stature. (A little advice on his bio-blurb and his web site, where he hasn't quite found the right way to feature his accomplishments without sounding like he's writing fluff, would also be beneficial. He's got the goods and doesn't need to write fluff.)

The other principals were quite fine. Keri Alkema, who sang Adalgisa, is a mezzo who is transitioning to soprano, according to her bio. She has a beautiful mezzo sound, which complemented Miss Meade's soprano quite beautifully in their duets. Based on what I heard last night, I believe she could see a great deal of success as a mezzo. Her duets with Miss Meade require more than one mention, so beautiful were they. The two women faced each other and sang perfectly timed parallel vocal lines with precision and care. A joy to hear.

Bass Daniel Mobbs was a very fine Oroveso. One wanted to hear more of of the exceedingly handsome Mr. Mobbs. One subsequently found YouTube videos and web site and was satisfied.

Sharin Apostolou, whom this reviewer has seen sing quite beautifully before, was very good with the thankless role of Clotilde.

The conductor was Will Crutchfield, and the orchestra was the Orchestra of St. Luke's. With a few exceptions, the orchestra played quite beautifully and details in Bellini's music were brought out clearly. Once or twice there seemed to be differences of opinion where rubato was concerned. Mr. Crutchfield brought some interesting new ornaments into play, which made for a few surprises to those of us who have listened to Sutherland, Callas, and other famous Normas from the mid-20th century repeatedly.

One last thing. Mention must be made of the provincial manners of the northern Westchester County audience. Considering the wealth of the area, one hoped for an audience that knew what to expect and how to behave at a concert. One knows the audience that arrives uniformly on time is not to be found anywhere, but one did hope for an audience that would wait until the last act was over before making a mad dash for the parking lot. One hoped for an audience that recognized the sad irony when Norma asked Adalgisa which one of the temple youths had won her love, rather than laughing. (Mr. di Villarosa played into this unfortunate situation with his "What?" gesture when he entered immediately thereafter, which this reviewer found unprofressional.) One especially resented the gaggle of women of a certain age sitting in front of one, who clucked and laughed at every sign that Pollione was yet another lying, cheating, typical man. Having the performance under a tent does not make this the same as if this were a performance in the park. Perhaps the potential presence of mosquitoes confused them. Although far from ruining a perfectly satisfactory performance, the audience did detract considerably.

Update: The New York Times also loved Misses Meade and Alkema and Mr. Mobbs. For some strange reason they were kinder to Mr. di Villarosa than I was. The New Yorker also praised the performance, but with a few very small reservations. They agreed with my assessment of Mr. di Villarosa. Also Mainichi News (I haven't heard of it either). Most other reviews I've found via Google are retreads of these three.

Further update: Read an interview with Emmanual di Villarosa.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dear Lord, not another concept Don Giovanni!

That's what I said to myself on July 6 when we went to the Bavarian State Opera again. I adore Don Giovanni, and it's difficult to ruin it for me. (You can compare my thoughts on a very low-budget semi-professional production as compared to a production at the Met here and here.) This was a production from last year, revived for the Opernfestspiel. Here (scathing) and here (scathinger) are reviews from the premiere. There is also a long list of reviews in German that I have neither the time nor the inclination to translate.

It turns out I've seen bits of this production online. Here is a mention at Barihunks, complete with video showing Erwin Schrott as Don Giovanni, Alex Esposito as Leporello and Maija Kovalevska as Donna Elvira. (Mariusz Kwiecen originated the role in this travesty production, and sang it the at the performance I witnessed.)

Let me say this: I loved all the singing. I would have fallen for Mariusz Kwiecen's "La ci darem la mano" in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, and his singing throughout was quite beautiful. Alex Esposito was terrific as Leporello, and I want to have Anja Harteros's baby. I've never heard a better sung "Non mi dir", and she sang the ball-buster role of Donna Anna beautifully throughout. (You want a real thrill? Check out her Elettra arias on YouTube.) As Zerlina, Laura Tatalescu was much, much more than the "adequate" one of the reviews I link above gave her, and as Masetto, Levente Molnár was charmingly blustery but good hearted, and his singing, too, was beautiful. There wasn't a dud in the bunch.

I discussed my feelings on updated or "concept" settings of traditional operas in my review or Roberto Devereux a few days ago. There has to be a clear rationale for it to work, and I could make out none in this production. For operas of this sort, class distinctions or a power structure have to be clear, and I saw none. Why Leporello remained a hanger-on to Don Giovanni in this production is a mystery only his shrink or his NA sponsor can divine. Given the setting of a railyard, with rail cars/storage containers moving hither and yon as scenery, opening to show this room or that, the only social system I can think of with any kind of corresponding power structure might be a gang, but that didn't seem to be the case. At least in the production of Roberto Devereux, one knew what the production team was trying to accomplish. Here, that was simply not so. It all seemed so arbitrary.

Following is a list of things I don't ever wish to see again in an opera:
  • Penguins
  • People doing modern-day dance moves to common practice era opera tunes (It was true of the break dancers I saw in Faust in 1996 in Berlin and it's certainly true of the go-go girls in this production.)
  • Any kind of literal representation of the concept we're all born naked and alone and will die that way that includes someone naked and alone
  • Hiking boots
  • Did I mention the penguins?

Edit 7/17: I feel horrible that I failed to mention the very fine Don Ottavio, Pavol Breslik. I don't know why I would completely block from my memory a handsome, young, highly skilled opera singer who is enjoying great success throughout Europe singing Mozart and bel canto tenor roles. What's that about? In any case, you will find many examples of his fine singing on YouTube, and here is another look at the beautiful Herr Breslik.

Monday, July 5, 2010

More Like a CEO Than a Queen

That's what my beloved husband Mikey said at halftime about Edita Gruberová at the Bayerische Staatsoper's (Bavarian State Opera, Munich) Münchner Opernfestspiele production of Donizetti's Roberto Devereux on July 4. (Yes, I'm in Germany on vacay, and you're not, so there! ) This is a production first seen in 2005, revived in March of this year, and repeated at the Opernfestspiele. Although I didn't like the production, or a lot of the singing, I quite loved the performance.

The production is by Chistopher Loy, and is updated to modern-day England. I'd seen YouTube clips of excerpts, and didn't care for the production much. This review from last March's revival discusses many of my reservations to updating operas better than I can here. In a nutshell, if the purpose is to clarify dramatic detail by placing it in a more familiar time period, updated opera productions usually fail because one is impacted by the dramatic power of the music in spite of the production, rather than because of it.

Plus it looks goofy. The chorus men all looked fine as modern-day Members of Parliament, in drab gray, black and blue business suits, but the women didn't. They looked uniformly ridiculous with their ill-fitting suits and bad wigs. A chorus of Orthodox Jewish flight attendants. And the chorus number that opens Act II has been re-interpreted as a chorus of servants, but to me their costumes made them look as if they belonged in another opera--or operetta.

Let us talk about the singing. I've never been a big fan of Edita Gruberová, who sang Elisabeth the first (or second? who knows with this production). I'm still not a fan, but having now seen her perform live I quite understand the passion her fans feel. The lady has been singing opera professionally for 42 years, and this reviewer can't help but mention her age is showing vocally. Even at her peak, I found her a bit shrill. I was, however, completely won over by her use of the 64-year old voice's flaws for dramatic effect. And I can't deny that whenever she was on stage I was riveted. I couldn't breathe during the last-act finale-cum-mad scene, when Elisabeth is overcome with grief after having Devereux executed.

I'm also not a fan of José Bros, who sang the role of Roberto Devereux, the queen's former love. Based on the YouTube clips I've seen, I've never cared for him vocally, and frankly, I don't know why his career has risen to the level it has. I found his singing unattractive and his high voice particularly weak. It was a poor voice that sounded tired. He had charisma on stage, but to me that is all he had.

Paolo Gavanelli and Sonia Ganassi gave fine performances as the Duke and Duchess of Nottingham. Ms. Ganassi especially was a treat to hear vocally. Her performance of Sara, Devereux's former love, who married Nottingham only because Devereux himself was Mr. Unavailable, was completely committed vocally and dramatically. She was the only singer I wanted to hear more of upon leaving the theater. Paolo Gavanelli sang the complex role of Nottingham, Devereux's friend who defends him against a Parliament full of scheming Mad Men look-alikes (once again, the production is more distraction than asset), even while Devereux is meeting with Sara. His anger when he believes Sara has betrayed him (she hasn't) is palpable. Of his singing, I will say that, once he was warmed up, the lyrical passages were quite beautiful, but the blustery passages were overly blustery. While overall a very successful performance, not really the level of singing I expect at a theater on the professional level of the Met and Covent Garden.

This is a rare instance of being moved in spite of many factors that would normally cause me to give a thumbs-down, not least much of the singing. Your intrepid reporter left the theater bouyed by Ms. Gruberová's amazing performance. Indeed, a story had been told, and told well.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A challenge to my readers!

All three of you.

Let's do a collaborative post about looksism in opera! I want you to post videos in the comments of performances by people who are very attractive but simply not up to the part. These must be productions on a professional level, at least at the regional opera company level--not student or community productions, where one expects to hear singers who are still learning.

The purpose of this exercise is not to mock or belittle anyone. We are not mouse-potato experts on YouTube. This is about how vocal excellence has been sacrificed for looks in the age of television.

If you can't find a video clip of such an unfortunate casting--and that's understandable, because who would want to post something mediocre?--then tell us a story. Tell me about an attractive singer who didn't do the job.

More Leyla Gencer--because I can

I've posted about the divine Leyla Gencer before. I think she deserves another post, and this one will be all Norma!

Inorite! What could be better?!

While you're fanning yourselves I'll just start copying vids (OK, mostly photo montages with audio tracks, but what audio tracks!):

Casta diva, Losanna (Lausanne), 1966:

Oh no! It's truncated!

Well, let's move on to this, the ensuing cabaletta, the same performance (how odd that a photo from Albert Herring, which must have been simply amazing, is the one that displays):

O rimenbranza with Giulietta Simionato, La Scala, 1965:

In mia man alfin tu sei, La Scala, 1965, with Bruno Prevedi:

Norma requires a true diva of the sort we lack in the world today. A soprano who can handle the coloratura, high notes, and the really dramatic passages. And she must be able to show vulnerability as well as pride. We seem to have to choose one or the other nowadays. (I could go on and on about the homogenized tastes we seem to have nowadays, and about the insistence on wide-screen reality in casting that sacrifices vocal qualities, but that's another post. Actually, I should do a post about looksism gone awry in opera casting!)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lest you think I'm a Wagner-/Puccini-phile

I'm not only into big ol' honkin' voices. I'm a big ol' bel canto slut, too!

Elina Garança, 2009, the Met:

I saw this production (thanks to the generosity of a friend with an extra ticket) and loved it. It was the first time I heard the wonder that is Lawrence Brownlee, and the first time I heard Elina Garança live. I might have made a few choices other than those the director made, but overall it was amazing.

I suppose there's no avoiding Cecilia bartoli on a post like this. Here she is in the same production at the Met, 1997:

If you really want something fun, turn the sound off to watch her!

The incomparable Frederica von Stade, in a 1981 movie by Jean-Pierre Ponelle:

(If I were marrying Francisco Araiza, I'd be singing 32nd notes of joy, too!)

I adore Francisco Araiza, so I'll give you his aria from the same movie:

**sigh** Isn't he dreamy?

Because I am here to educate as well as entertain, here is a performance of Henri Herz's (1803-1888) Variations on "Non piu mesta", played by Earl Wild:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dich, teure Halle!

Hubby is obsessed with this aria. It's pretty damn cool, although you must admit out of context the translation is a bit silly:

Dear hall, I greet thee once again,
joyfully I greet thee, beloved place!
In thee his songs awake
and waken me from gloomy dreams.
When he departed from thee,
how desolate thou didst appear to me!
Peace forsook me,
joy took leave of thee.
How strongly now my heart is leaping;
to me now thou dost appear exalted and sublime.
He who thus revives both me and thee,
tarries afar no more.
I greet thee!
I greet thee!
Thou precious hall,
receive my greeting!

Girl, wedding banquet hall, blah blah woof woof....

Dame Gwyneth Jones, live at Bayreuth, 1978:

Here is the amazing Deborah Voigt in concert, 1996, the Met:

Leonie Rysanek in concert, 1979, Vienna:

(As an aside, I once sang for a masterclass with the conductor, Horst Stein. He said my voice was on its way. He didn't say where.)

The incomparable Birgit Nilsson, from a 1964 telecast (unattributed TV network):

(Crazy about the dress!)

Kirsten Flagstad live, 1939.

Now for a surprise, Montserrat Caballe, 1970, BBC:

Saturday, May 29, 2010

RIP Anneliese Rothenberger

Dear Anneliese Rothenberger left us this week. She was just the sort of mid-century singer this blog is meant to highlight, it is to my shame that I must admit I haven't featured her before. [Pause while I hang my head in shame.] Here are a few videos, some of which have been featured by other bloggers in their own memorial posts. Most of my fellow bloggers have included clips of the famed, amazing Der Rosenkavalier with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, so I will not include any of those. I urge you to look for those yourselves if you haven't seen them!

A televised Enführung aus dem Serial in 1963. Amazing singing, poor video quality (it was 1963, people--theaters were lit by candlelight!):

A televised Arabella (or possibly a clip from her TV show, Anneliese Rothenberger stellt vor), date not given by the YouTube poster, but you can guess the period by the makeup, the hair, and the age of Hermann Prey.

This clip does come from her TV show, according to the YouTube poster. About 1978, with Jose Carreras:

I need to find out whether those TV shows are available on DVD, the same way Bell Telephone Hour and similar early TV shows from the US are.

Another charming clip from her TV show:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I'll bet you thought he only did opera and Lieder!

Fritz Wunderlich singing the two arias from Bach's St. Matthew Passion! Quite beautifully, of course. (Alas, not videos, but rather audio recordings with pretty pictures.)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ulrica sing-off!

Martha Mödl, whom I've featured here before, 1965, German TV, auf deutsch:

The under-appreciated Florence Quivar, 1990, the Met:

Marlene Lichtenberg--posted to YouTube just yesterday, but date and location of performance aren't given:

Ida Kirilovaof, Slovak National Theater, ca. 1990:

The amazing Mariana Pentcheva and the twins, La Scala, 2001.