Monday, January 31, 2011

RIP Margaret Price

Dame Margaret Price left us on Friday at the young age of 69. I am very sad. Dame Margaret was a superb interpreter of Mozart and Strauss heroines. An amazingly beautiful voice and a sensitive musician.

This is my absolute favorite video:

Go the wonderful Opera Depot for a free (for a while) download her recording of Otello with Messrs. Domingo and Bacquier.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Waistcoats on Parade

On Friday, January 21, Chelsea Opera
presented a program entitled Girls Will Be Boys at dear Christ & St. Stephens Church on Manhattan's Upper West Side, an honorable venue for music making. An entire evening of arias and other opera excerpts featuring female singers as male characters. In the hands of someone like Joyce DiDonato, who herself has a CD entitled Diva Divo that is to be released this very day, on which CD she sings arias by male and female characters from the same operas, one would expect this to be a joyful experience.* In the hands of singers on an "emerging artist" professional level, one would expect exactly what was presented Friday night--a program with a little bit of student-level singing, a lot of pretty good singing, and a few standouts who inspired excitement.

The programming had some surprises, most of them pleasant. In addition to the expected "Che faro senza Euridice" and "Non so piu", etc., we were also treated to less predictable fare like the duet "Pur ti miro" from L'Incoronazione di Poppea (with a mezzo as Nerone) and Smeton's aria from Anna Bolena. One wondered, however, whether all of these women have these arias in their current repertoire, ready to be asked to do a pants-role concert, or whether they were curiosities from the past that the singers no longer use but were able to resurrect in order to perform something, anything, in front of a paying public. In a few cases, one hoped it was the latter.

The singer who left the biggest impression on me was soprano Elizabeth Beers-Kataria, who sang "Abscheulischer, wo eilst du hin?" from Mr. Beethoven's Fidelio. The scene is sung by Leonore, disguised as a man to rescue her husband, a political prisoner. Ms. Beers-Kataria sang beautifully and certainly kept the audience riveted with her performance. Hers is a beautiful voice, but I don't believe she's a Leonore. Her voice is much too lyric for Leonore, which requires a bigger, weightier sound.

I quite liked Erika Person, who was featured prominently. She sang two arias and a duet during the evening, and I think it was a happy accident of programming that the order showed more and more of her high voice as the night wore on. The last aria she sang was from Mr. Handel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto, and on hearing the interpolated high notes in the da capo, I thought "Ah! We finally hear this woman's real voice!" Ms. Person is a soprano who sings beautifully, and in fact, should have sung Ilia in the Ilia-Idamante duet she sang with soprano Kember Lattimer, not Idamante. (Ms. Lattimer sang Ilia well, although her voice is light for the role.)

Kirsten Allegri was exciting to watch, and sang beautifully, if occasionally a bit throatily. (Is "throatily" a word?) She sang an aria from Mitridate, re di Ponte and the aforementioned Smeton aria. Kimberly Sogioka gave us fine Composer's aria from Ariadne auf Naxos.

I would like to have heard more of very fine mezzo Erika Hennings (who is a personal friend, so I won't gush) and soprano Sarah Hoeppner, both of whom seemed under-utilized in this concert.

I was chatting recently with a coach/conductor friend who has spent a lot of time in German-speaking opera houses. He told me how frequently young singers ask him for his opinion of, among other things, their German. His most frequent opinion, he told me, is that it sounds phonetic. Like something learned as an exercise. It sounds like the singers don't have a deep understanding of what they're singing, which can only come from knowing the language. I have to say that I had the same impression a number of times on Friday night with every language.

I am not one who thinks arias and duets should be performed exactly as if they were staged excerpts when presented in concert. Yes, if you're singing "Mira, O Norma", embrace as friends. If you're singing a love duet, you don't want want to ignore your love interest in favor of the conductor, your boyfriend in the fifth row, or the exit sign. But mezzos, I beg of you--it doesn't matter if Franco Zeffirelli, Jonathan Miller, and Charles Gounod himself all tell you to do it--resist the urge to mime picking flowers while singing "Faites-lui mes aveux"!

Is there a guidebook for female opera singers that tells them to wear vests or blazers and to slick back their hair if they're singing arias from pants roles? One wonders sometimes. If there is, stop it. I'm tired of black pants. Even in Manhattan. Don't make me call out my Sassy Gay Friends for this. I've done it before! Congratulations to the girl who wore black pants with a vibrant blue top that left no doubt that she is a beautiful woman!

These few quibbles aside, I will say I quite enjoyed the concert. I hope to hear much more of quite a few of these singers.

Great. Now I can't get "Voi che sapete" out of my head!

*Should Joyce's people be reading and wish to provide me with a copy of her CD, I'll happily write about my impressions, but rest assured I am quite confident it is glorious.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Spaghetti Western Meets Co-op City

I can not think why I haven't been to more Metropolitan Opera HD live broadcasts in movie theaters. Since you lot are still not showering me with tickets to performances (you really need to get on that), this is where I had to go to get my opera and blogging on. Who knew I could drive ten minutes to get to Co-op City in the Bronx and have a much more comfortable seat than in the Family Circle at the Met, for about the price of a Family Circle ticket. No fear of it being sold out, as with the Manhattan theaters.  It is Co-op City, after all. There remain seven more of these broadcasts this season.  You can expect to hear from me about most of them!

Today the Met presented its final performance of the season of La Fanciulla del West. This 1993 Giancarlo del Monaco production was resurrected in observance of the 100th anniversary of the world premiere of Mr. Puccini's opera, based on Mr. Belasco's play (libretto by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini). The premiere was in 1910 at the Metropolitan Opera, with Enrico Caruso, Pasquale Amato, and Emmy Destinn, under Mr. Toscanini's baton.

Your intrepid reporter has only seen Fanciulla once before, with the late, great Ghena Dimitrova as Minnie and Nicola Martinucci as Dick Johnson, in this very same production in the early 90s. Both of them seemed more in love with the conductor or prompter than each other, and I didn't stay to see the end. So it is with some fear and trepidation I approached this performance. I am extremely fond of Deborah Voigt, and it would pain me to no end to have to report she was in a dog of a show. Fortunately that is not the case.

Debs and her Dick, Marcello Giordani, have a great chemistry together.  (This performance from the 2001 Richard Tucker Gala shows they're quite comfortable with each other!) Mr. Tommasini of the New York Times is of the opinion that "[although] Mr. Giordani has the voice of a real Italian tenor, his singing can be wildly uneven", and I'm afraid I have to agree, based on today's performance. His high notes were passionate and soaring, but some of his middle was cloudy and at least once I heard weak low notes. His Dick, however, was ardent (What? Why are you looking at me like that?) and his characterization convincing. I believed his inner conflict over his love for Minnie.

Debs. (We're on first-names basis now.) Of course Debs was amazing. Mr. Tommasini wrote in the same review, "I cannot think of a soprano who could sing any better this demanding role, which requires luscious legato phrasing, a powerful top range and stamina" and "...what wins you over is Ms. Voigt’s deep feeling for the character." I found her singing to be beautiful and passionate and even, and it grew even warmer and richer in Acts II and III than in Act I. Her character had Minnie facets (I blame that one on my husband. He's not here at the moment, but I blame him anyway.) and one could see her individual relationships with all the ragazzi in the mining camp,  her tender heart, and her independence.

Jack Rance. Meh.  Most people seemed to like Lucio Gallo more than I did, although James Jordan of The New York Post writes "As Sheriff Rance, ... dry-voiced baritone Lucio Gallo dared to play the melodrama to the hilt, lurching and snarling like an authentic 1910 stage heavy." It's true. His acting might have worked somewhat in the house, but up close, when his face is eighteen feet tall, not so much. His singing to me seemed overwrought or just plain pushed. I wouldn't go out of my way to hear him again.

Conductor Nicola Luisotti, music director of the San Francisco Opera, has garnered much critical acclaim for his sensitive handling of the score, and I can certainly see why. And I can not praise highly enough the men's chorus and the ensemble of men singing small roles. The Met chorus has long been a wonder. In this show, the beautiful singing of the men, sometimes tender and sweet, sometimes rough and ready, left me in awe, even while they coped with a ridiculous amount of stage business.

In fact, the whole production was overly busy, reminding one of those fussy productions where the production team wanted to put in every detail they could afford. Mr. Jordan writes for another publication, "This Fanciulla arrived at about the peak of the 'bigger is better' naturalistic period at the Met.... Paradoxically, then, by trying so hard to make Fanciulla look real, Del Monaco succeeds only in making it look fake. And now, after 20 years, it looks faker than ever."

I loved tenor Tony Stevenson as Nick, the barkeep at Minnie's Polka Saloon. It's not a major role, but it included some great character work and some fine singing.  Barihunk bass Keith Miller has become a media darling, and he gave a fine performance as Ashby, the Wells Fargo agent.  I wouldn't mind having that fur coat he wore in Act II.  Dwayne Croft, in addition to other charms I tweeted about, offered his usual beautiful singing and deft characterization as Sonora.

Dear Opera Chic has already posted about goofy-grinned Sandra Radvanovsky's debut as high-def hostess, in more glowing terms than I would have used.  I'll just say she's no Debs, but she'll become more comfortable with practice.

I must say the singing and acting this go-around redeemed Fanciulla for me. It doesn't sound like Madama Butterfly with horses at all, and one can almost understand why Mr. Puccini was said to think of Fanciulla as his favorite opera.

Friday, January 7, 2011

In response to my adoring reader

Yeah, just one. Y'all gotta help me find more!

Lucy asked me when I would write another post about a great opera singer from the 20th century. Once again I write about the great Virginia Zeani.

If you go to Opera Depot's web site, you can download a complilation recording of the great Ms. Zeani's hits free.

Since I last wrote about the lovely diva, she has received even more honors. On December 8, 2010, she received a lifetime achievement award from the Marcello Giordani Foundation. In May of 2010, Classical Singer named her Voice Teacher of the Year. More and more of her recordings are turning up on YouTube and other sites.

If you click on the tag you can find other articles I've posted about dear Ms. Zeani.