Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Robert Tear, Tenor 1939-2011

Tenor Robert Tear Dies at 71

Robert Tear's recording was my first hearing of the Britten Serenade.

That very recording is here and here on YouTube.

His Wikipedia bio-blurb is here.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Che più cercando io vo?

Monday was not a good day. An early start that wasn't early enough, hit in the eye with a rain drop as soon as I walked out the door, spilled coffee all over myself before getting it from car to desk. And then it went down hill. Imagine my delight when, shortly before I was set to commit atrocities better imagined than described, I got a text message from dear Erika, who had an extra ticket to Tuesday's opening of L'Elisir d'Amore at City Opera. I hate to think of what I might have been capable of had she not intervened!

When I was young and foolish instead of old and tired, I thought that Nemorino and Tamino were two roles I was born to sing. I can act silly and lovelorn, and all my friends will tell you I can act ridiculously dignified and earnest. They're both great tenor roles, with glorious (and hard!) music to sing, and both L'Elisir and Die Zauberflöte are amazing operas in their own ways.

We all know the story: Nerd boy falls for popular girl, who only realizes she cares for him when he feigns indifference. Junior high school never really ends. This production is a revival of a Jonathan Miller production from 2006 at English National Opera. The story is updated (ho-hum) to take place in a diner in an American southwest town instead of a town square in rural Italy. Made me think of the movie Baghdad Cafe. Adina is the cafe's owner and Nemorino is a grease monkey. I've written before about my feelings on updating opera: In a nutshell, far too often it fails in its purpose of illuminating the universality story by its attention (or worse, inattention) to detail of the new period. In other words, it gets in the way. I would say in this case it doesn't get in the way much. I thought I saw a few dance moves from Grease here or there, and wondered when Olivia Newton John would come on, but I also laughed out loud at some of those touches. The costumes (by Isabella Bywater) and hair and makeup were delightful. The late 50s/early 60s were a great time for women's fashion.

Monday, March 21, 2011

PONY Express

Several years ago, when dear hubby and I hadn't been together that long (it will be six years next month), he took me to some sort of popular entertainment, at the end of which I turned to him and said, "You owe me so many Baroque operas now!" Well, a few weeks ago we saw the Metropolitan Opera's HD broadcast of Iphigénie en Tauride*, and today we saw Pocket Opera New York's production of Mr. Handel's Alcina. Hubby's debt is paid in full.

This is not to suggest that either experience was a chore for him. The moment has passed to write anything about Iph, but I'll state without hesitation that Susan Graham and Placido Domingo can both sing over colds and sound like nothing is wrong. And that there are web sites devoted to the kind of close friendship with large age differential that the Pylade and Oreste of Paul Groves and Placido Domingo shared.

The focus of this weekend was Baroque, with Pocket Opera NY's performances of Alcina on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, March 17-20, an a concert on Friday, March 18, called "A Baroque Evening". We enjoyed the Sunday performance of Alcina, after having heard the Baroque evening on Friday.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Featured Singer: Daniel Mobbs

I first saw handsome bass Daniel Mobbs last summer at Caramoor, where he sang Oroveso in the Norma that I liked so much.  We became acquaintances online, and recently he agreed to a profile in these humble pages.  Daniel's own web site says:
Daniel Mobbs has enjoyed a long and successful relationship with the Caramoor International Music Festival, and most recently appeared as Oroveso in their summer 2010 production of Bellini's Norma. Other recent performances include Dandini in Rossini's La Cenerentola (Washington Concert Opera, May 2010), Ormonte in Handel's Partenope (New York City Opera, April 2010), and Leporello in Mozart's Don Giovanni (Virginia Opera, February/March 2010), as well as several role debuts — Alidoro in Rossini's La Cenerentola (Minnesota Opera, November 2010), Capulet in Gounod's Romeo and Juliet (Opera Company of Philadelphia, February 2011), and Don Pedro in Meyerbeer's L'Africaine (Opera Orchestra of New York, March 2011).  Upcoming engagements include roles with Knoxville Opera (Giorgio in Bellini's I Puritani, April 2011), Opera Company of Philadelphia (Angelotti in Puccini's Tosca, April/May 2011, and Geronte in Massenet's Manon Lescaut, April 2012), and Portland Opera (Figaro in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, November 2011).
I've adapted the following from his replies to my questions:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

And yet he fled.....

While much of the rest of the musical world--at least that in NYC--was at Carnegie Hall hearing dear Joyce DiDonato sing her heart out on Sunday, your intrepid reporter was in deepest, darkest Brooklyn, seeing Regina Opera give an energetic and charming performance of The Mikado.

Church-hall opera companies are notoriously uneven in quality, both among and within. The last opera I had seen at Regina was a production with eager young singers and tired, pedestrian conducting. I left at intermission, which occurred about the time the opera should have been over. With Sunday afternoon's Mikado we again had eager young singers, but we at least had attempts at tempi that might get us home before curfew. I say attempts, because there were far too many times when the orchestra and conductor, José Alejandro Guzmán, had widely varying views on the matter. I'd tempted to say the superannuated violin section had a mind of its own, but there wasn't a lot of unanimity within the section, aside from its determination to spurn the conductor's attempts to creating ensemble. I'd mention tuning, particularly in unison/octave passages, but then again, I'd better not.

I'm very fond of The Mikado, and it's hard to ruin it for me. As I say, overall I found the production charming. (I will spare you a synopsis of the typically convoluted plot.) I am not particularly well versed in traditional D'Oyly Carte Gilbert & Sullivan style, or in traditional Japanese style, but I came away satisfied with what I saw. The design featured "many a vase and jar, many a screen and fan", as well as hair, makeup, and costuming that all looked church-hall-theatrical-authentic-enough, and the direction by Linda Lehr featured enough Japanese-style gesture and movement to consistently suggest the town of Titipu wasn't another Brooklyn neighborhood, without being overwhelming. My opera-going companion was a Japanese native, and she approved heartily of the production.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Featured Singer: Sharin Apostolou

In September of last year I began what was intended to be a series of articles about wonderful singers who are not media superstars. Well, I'm finally getting around to the second featured singer.

Last January I responded to a desperate plea for help--Opera Manhattan was doing Dido and Aeneas and the chorus was down to one tenor--who was also singing the Sailor. (Yes, gentle readers, desperation is almost always involved somehow when I am engaged to sing.) Of course I agreed to join the chorus. Imagine my delight, at the first rehearsal I attended, upon watching Sharin Apostolou rehearsing Belinda. Here was a lovely young woman, singing beautifully, acting as though goading Dido into admitting she has a crush on that hunky sailor Aeneas were part of her daily routine. Since that Dido production we've kept in touch, and it was only natural I should ask her to allow me write a profile about her. I submitted some questions to Sharin and she was quite loquacious in her replies.

What is your background and training? I grew up in New Jersey, right outside of NYC. My public school had a really strong arts program and almost everyone was involved in either Choir or Band. I switched to private school for high school and the music department would take us to the dress rehearsals at the Metropolitan Opera. That’s when I fell in love with it and decided to try to a career in Music. I went to Carnegie Mellon for undergrad and then straight to Manhattan School of Music for my Masters.

Many singers have overcome bad training or other obstacles to have a career. Have you had any kind of roadblocks to success? I feel like a big sloppy cliché when I say this, but my only roadblock is myself. I’m very hard on myself. I’ve always been a vicious overachiever and perfectionist, which was great when I was in academia. Sadly, there isn’t perfection when it comes to something as subjective as art.

How much time every year do you spend away from home? What are the best and worst parts of singing in so many different places? Oof. The travel is my favorite and least favorite part of the job, all at the same time. I love seeing new places and meeting different kinds of people. This business affords me the luxury of really experiencing different parts of the country and world in a way that as a tourist I never could.

I spent just over 100 days away from home in 2010. Mind you, I was lucky enough that three of my gigs were in New York City (Caramoor Festival and two sets of concerts with the National Chorale,) so I got to spend 10 weeks working from home. If by some unfortunate incident I don’t add any other travel to my calendar for 2011, I’ll be gone about 170 days. That’s two weeks shy of half a year, for all those playing along at home.

Loneliness is the hardest part of the travel. Thankfully, the cast and crew of a show often become fast friends in production. I think we naturally do this to help cope with the loneliness. You eat, sleep, breathe, and experience everything almost as a family. The industry is pretty small. I find that we very rarely go to an Opera gig where we don’t know a single other person there.

Talk about singing Belinda in China. China is by far the most exotic place I’ve ever sung. I sang Belinda in Dido and Aeneas as part of the Macao International Music Festival. The group we had for the show (American cast, Australian conductor, Italian director, costume and lighting designers; Hair and makeup from mainland China and a production crew from Hong Kong) was spectacular and made the experience even more crazy and special.

Have you sung elsewhere outside the US? I’ve actually sung quite a bit over seas. 2010 was a marathon for my passport. In March, I joined the European tour of the The Opera Show (its hard to explain what exactly it is, so just click on the link.) I did the last week in Barcelona and the two weeks in Lisbon and now have a deep love for Vinho Verde. I was able to do the first round of the Competizione dell’Opera in New York, which subsequently sent me to Dresden and Bremen, Germany. I was a finalist and spent two weeks performing in a series of concerts with the Bremen Philharmoniker, which included the finals of the competition on the stage of the Semperoper in Dresden. I was glad we got a sound check, because stepping onto that stage took my breath away. Ten days after I returned home from Germany, I was on a plane to Hong Kong.

How do you handle having a relationship with extended periods apart? I won’t lie--it’s not easy. It takes a lot of time, understanding and patience to spend most of a relationship in different time zones. Skype and other forms of video chat are incredibly useful. It really makes a difference being able to see the other person with whom you’re talking. We try not to go more than six weeks without a visit. Any more than six and I get very cranky. We have a cell phone plans with lots of minutes and text messages. We use various forms of social media (mostly twitter and foursquare) to keep in touch throughout the day and we chat whenever we get the time. I think the main thing is you really need to want to make it work. I would rather be in a relationship with him away all the time, than with anyone else who would be around more. ☺ He also does a killer Donald Duck voice.

How old are you? [optional, of course] How has your voice changed over the years? I just turned 29! I’m not sure how much my voice is changing based on age (and hormones, lets call a spade a spade here) or my figuring out how to use it properly. My voice seems to be getting higher. I have the ability to finesse notes I never thought possible. How much of that is age and how much of that is actually moving my air and not supporting with my neck, I’m not sure. My voice teacher and I have short-term goals (“I need to sing this in 3 weeks. Help me not sound like a chicken being plucked alive,”) and we have long term goals. We’ll see where my body takes me.

Are there roles you'd love to sing that are outside of your fach? Are there roles within your fach you don't want to ever sing [again]? I’ve always wanted to be a Queen of the Night. Magic Flute was the first opera I ever went to and the reason I crossed over to the dark side. Sadly, even with my ever-ascending voce, it most likely will never fit. I’d love to sing a Turandot or a Salome. I think I’d perish even attempting it with a piano. What a way to go though, right?

My favorite question from "Inside the Actor's Studio": What's your favorite swear word? I’m from New Jersey- I only get one? F***********ck. It’s usually drawn out with an air of exasperation.