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.