Thursday, April 28, 2011

Oops! Wrong baby!

Through the generosity of a friend who declines to be identified in my blog--not the first to say he's ashamed to be associated with me--I was allowed to see Mr. Verdi's Il Trovatore last night at the Met. A wonderful gift, as I will not be able to see the HD broadcast on Saturday, April 30.  I hadn't seen the current production by Mr. McVicar, which had its premiere in February of 2009.  In truth, it had been quite a long time since I'd seen a full performance of Il Trovatore.

The story is about as typically operatic as possible.  Love triangles, political intrigue, nuns, dead babies--all that's missing is a parade of elephants or a dead person singing through the wall!  "The much-parodied story of the troubadour of the title, his vengeance-obsessed gypsy mother, his devoted lover, and her evil aristocratic pursuer is self-consciously outrageous--that is, it is intended to outrage an audience's sense of order and decorum." states the Met's program notes.  But Mr. McVicar's updating of the story to the Spanish Civil War in the early 19th century doesn't seem to accomplish the purpose of clarifying relationships and power status.  This reporter found the unit set ugly and distracting, and some of the staging was just plain vulgar.  I saw no reason for the huge crucifix and charred bodies on stakes that remained upstage right no matter what unsightly and inadequate view the noisily rotating unit set gave us.  I am in the minority in this opinion, however.  Mr. Tommasini of The New York Times very much liked the production when it premiered at the Met in 2009.

Friday, April 22, 2011

In which your intrepid reporter helps out a friend

That doyenne of the opera world, La Cieca, recently issued a call for help in the overwhelming task she faces with reporting on the innumerable CDs and DVDs she is sent.  We all know how kind La Cieca is, and how eager to give, but her schedule of one glamorous opening after another leaves her little time to serve her cher publique.  I felt it my duty to offer my humble services.  Imagine my delight when, due to La Cieca's kindness, I found a package in my box!

But imagine my confusion when I found inside two CDs--Jane Archibald's recording of Haydn arias on ATMA Classique (with Thomas Rösner conducting the Orchestre Symphonique Bienne), and Julia Lezhneva's recoding of Rossini arias on Naïve (with the Sinfonia Varsovia under Marc Minkowski).  

Cover photo  John Rennison
Miss Archibald is a very fine young soprano.  She has sung at Covent Garden, Wiener Staatsoper, Bavarian State Opera (Munich), Opéra National de Paris, and other world-class houses, with a long list of roles that includes Zerbinetta, Lucia, Konstanze, and Sophie.  She has a clear, bright sound, an impressive range, and dazzling coloratura.  She made her Met debut in May of 2010, on very short notice, singing Ophélie in Hamlet.  The internet is full of her praises.

Alas, I can't say I'm in love with the CD.  You'll recall Papa Haydn's opera audiences were not the sort to hang on every word and delve into twelve layers of meaning, like opera queens afficionados of our age.  Arias were usually not meant to advance the action, but rather to contemplate or remark upon the action.  And, to be honest, to showcase the singers' talents.  Ms. Archibald sings these arias very well, capably conveying contrasting emotions within the arias and accomplishing all the fireworks and lyrical singing required of her, but to my ear, it all seems wasted.  The recording includes ten arias and three overtures from five Haydn operas.  It almost seems as if there were thirteen orchestral pieces, each performed quite well, with Miss Archibald as an extremely agile wind instrument.

The liner notes by Chris Walton make the statement "Commentators have long complained that Haydn, for all his genius, did not posses the same dramatic spark as did his younger contemporary Mozart.  This is hardly fair--after all, who else in music history did?"  Exactly. I love Haydn's music, but I don't hear the drama, the spark, in these arias.  I want magic and I'm not getting it.  For that I don't fault Miss Archibald.

Cover photo: Franck Juery
Julia Lezhneva's recording of Rossini arias presents an interesting question.  She is labeled by one and all as a coloratura soprano, but listening to her beautiful singing, I hear a lyric mezzo.   Or do I?  The arias are from roles sung today by both mezzos and sopranos.  They include "Tanti affetti" from La donna del lago and "Nacqui all'affanno" from La Cenerentola on the mezzo side and "Sombre forêts" from Guillaume Tell and "Bel raggio lusinghier" from Semiramide on the soprano side.  (I've found recordings of "Bel raggio lusingher" by Cecilia Bartoli and Joyce DiDonato, however.)

I have to praise Miss Lezhneva's singing.  She has a beautiful sound some might call dusky, precise coloratura, and an expressive sense of legato and phrasing. Listening to the beautiful line in "Ils s'eloignent enfin...Sombre forêts" and "Assisa a'pie d'un salice" from Mr. Rossini's Otello is a delight.  In fact, although her coloratura passages are extremely well executed, listening to these long, sustained passages is the real joy in this CD.  I had to listen to the Willow Song several times before moving on.  Miss Lezhneva is young, and her biography lists far more concert performances than operatic.  One hopes the opportunity to see her sing some of these Rossini roles on stage will present itself.

I will confess that I listened to the Rossini disc before the Haydn disc, and then again afterward.  Listening to the Haydn made me appreciate the Rossini more.  Both of these young women are fine singers.  One can see a promising future for both of them.  Both of them sang the arias on their CDs very well.  But alas, one CD left me cold.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Singer Profile: Nathan Stark, Bass

I don't recall how I first became aware of bass Nathan Stark.  It might have been Facebook.  When I heard his YouTube clips and saw his handsome mug, however, I knew I'd hear much more of him!  Here is his artist representative's page, where you can read a full biography and click to hear audio tracks.  Here is one of Nathan's YouTube videos, of which there are not nearly enough.

Photo: Paul Sirouchman
What is your background and training?

I grew up in Hughson, California. If you've ever seen the movie Varsity Blues, that's Hughson, California.  I began studying English and drama at a local junior college in my area, which quickly led to an interest in musical theater and, later on, into opera. When it came time to transfer schools I earned a scholarship in voice from California State University, Long Beach where I completed both a bachelors and masters in opera performance. I was also able to study with a fantastic voice teacher there named Shigemi Matsumoto, who had had a long, prominent career as an opera singer. She taught me no only how to sing, but also how to carry myself professionally in this business, which is absolutely imperative.

After working for smaller local opera companies, including two summers studying with Marilyn Horne at the Music Academy of the West,  I decided to do a post-graduate degree at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. I earned an artist diploma, made strong working networks professionally, and found an amazing voice teacher, Kenneth Shaw, who helped shape the final touches in my vocal technique. He continues to be my vocal mechanic when I feel I need a good tune-up. He's wonderful.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Special guest star: David Lomelí, part the second

David Lomeli, from agent's web site
You will recall, gentle reader, that we published part one of my interview with the lovely an talented David Lomeli earlier this week.  Go here to read that part.  We left off with a discussion of how Nemorino was a perfect role for his New York debut.

Do you have any more performances Nemorino in your schedule?

There is talk of a new production in Berlin.  The Deutsche Opera is a second home, like San Francisco Opera here in the US.  The Intendant there gave me my European debut in Basel in 2008 in La Boheme in a new production.  That was the first time I got noticed.  I was even nominated for a Gramophone award.  Jonas Kaufmann beat me, so that's not so bad.  I was from nowhere, and this guy gave me the opportunity to do it in a new production, and that led to Glyndebourne and Lille.  And now he moved to Deutsche Opera, and he offered me things.  He was waiting to see how Elixir went here, and now I think it could actually happen.  

In opera, singers are booked years in advance, and now I have a lot of Rodolfos lined up--that was my first big punch in the opera world.  

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Maiden no more, or "You slept through The Guns of Navarone?!"*

Your intrepid reporter makes no bones about being a bel canto bear in a verismo world.  In order to broaden his horizons and serve you lot his adoring public, he took it upon himself to see Wozzeck at the Metropolitan Opera on Wednesday night.  Your reporter is not completely innocent to the music of Mr. Alban Berg and his contemporaries.  He has been to music school, remember.  (Studying 12-tone rows by candlelight on parchment might seem to present a challenge, but it's not insurmountable.)  However, he still refers to November 29, 1924, as The Day the Music Died.

Waltraud Meier and Alan Held
Having referred to himself as a Wozzeck virgin, your reporter can say that in some ways he wishes he still were, and in some ways he is.  He can't really fully  evaluate the performance he witnessed, largely because it was his first experience with Wozzeck, but also because he was not entirely conscious through the entire performance.  Yes, gentle reader, your humble reporter fell asleep during a performance of Wozzeck.

The tremendous ovation  James Levine received when he ascended to the podium in the pit warmed even the cockles of your reporter's otherwise bitter and frozen heart.  In fact, the New York Times review of the Wozzeck opening is entitled "Cheers for the Hero, Followed by an Opera".  The same review commented on the energy and sweep of the overall performance, as well as the singing and acting of all involved.  Poor Jimmy has suffered terribly with his health in recent years, and it is wonderful to see him conducting music that is dear to him.  It was bittersweet to see him take his bow at the close from the pit rather than the stage.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Special guest star: David Lomelí, part the first

On Sunday I had the thrill of meeting and interviewing tenor David Lomeli, star of New York City Opera's L'Elisir d'Amore.  He made the time to see me even though he was to fly out later that day to France, where he will sing Macduff in Macbeth in Lille.  David was warm and charming and funny and a joy to chat with.  He brought along the lovely Meredith Lustig, who sang Gianetta in L'Elisir.  (I felt very bad for having neglected to mention Miss Lustig's flirty, sassy Gianetta in previous posts.)  I was very sad we could only find an hour to talk.

I skipped the normal questions about background and training, since all of that is in the bio at his managers' web site.  I dove right in with a question that's been weighing on my mind since opening night:  

David Lomeli with some guy off the street
The New York Times reviewer said "It was hard to tell if David Lomelí was laughing or crying at the warm, extended ovation that followed his big aria...."  Which was it?  

It was more tears than laughter.  It was a dream come true to come to NY.  Five years ago I was nowhere, with an engineering degree and singing in a pop band going nowhere.  Placido took me (after winning the Operalia Competition) and got me training and management.  To come here and have that reaction from the public....

I had to smile because there was a great sense of accomplishment.  It was my last big moment in the opera.  I'd had so many different ideas about how it was going to happen. I'd played it in my mind so many ways it would play out, and it was better than I'd expected.

Also, my grandmother was an opera singer, and she just passed in December.  I was in Berlin in the middle of singing Traviata, and things were moving very fast--a different Violetta every night, a different baritone--and I didn't have time to process everything.  It wasn't very easy, and I had to focus on getting through it all.  Now this was the first time I couldn't call her to tell her, "We got it.  We did it right."

It was happy and tears.  It was both.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

I'll have nun of that!

The Twitterverse was buzzing this afternoon as excited opera-goers watched the Metropolitan Opera's HD broadcast of Mr. Rossini's Le Comte Ory in movie theaters all across the world. Some of your intrepid reporter's favorite tweets:
  • Folks, welcome to the new Golden Age of bel canto. (The Top Tweet, whatever that means, from Operaskank)
  • #ComteOry at @MetOpera taught me that no matter how many sexy scenes I've done in operas, I'm still a long way from climaxing. (Ms_LauraD)
  • JDD's singing is amazing! And she looks like Patrick Swayze! (That was me.)
A great side benefit of tweeting these HD performances--always during intermissions, mind you!--is that I get new Twitter followers, who then become new readers of this humble blog.

The biggest news of the day was that dear Juan-Diego Florez and his wife--mostly his wife--had a baby just 35 minutes before curtain.  It was a home birth, which I assume refers to some place closer than Lima. Poor JDF had just a moment to hold the baby, whom he says they will call Leandro, and then dashed to the Met.  During an intermission interview he looked a bit dazed, but he sang beautifully throughout.

My initial crankiness, due to gross incompetence at the movie theater where I saw the broadcast, was soon overcome by the charm of the opera itself.  Mr. Bartlett Sher created a production that was clever but not distracting--a show within a show, with 19th-century stage hands and stage managers.   The story  is typically convoluted French farce--the women-folk are keepin' pure while their men-folk are gone crusadin', but the men left behind want to storm the women's fortresses.  The young rake Ory is particularly interested in Countess Adèle's ramparts and dons disguises as a hermit and a nun to try to rush them.  She's more interested in Isolier, who is not only her own cousin but also Ory's page.  Hilarity ensues.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Coppia iniqua

Here is dear Coloraturafan's video compilation of various artists doing "Coppia iniqua" from Anna Bolena. He has some of the best videos evar!

It includes Nebs in her role debut at the Wiener Staatsoper on April 2, as well as Callas, Sills, Miriciou, Devia, Gruberova, and others. Please, please, please comment. And also click the ads and stuff.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Thoughts on seeing L'Elisir again

I was very fortunate to see opening night of New York City Opera's L'Elisir d'Amore, thanks to the generosity of my friend Erika, and I wrote about it here.  Last night I was again fortunate to see the L'Elisir, thanks to the generosity of my friend Hernan.  I was happy to see it again.  I love the opera, and would see it a third time gladly.  So here are some thoughts on last night:

  • Why, oh why, are there so many tickets available on discount sites?  Why were there so many empty seats?  Why are people not going to see this?  
  • The whole updating, kitschy thing is cuter if you see it only once.  More and more anachronisms were apparent--would Adina have taken a sip out of a plastic cup with plastic lid and plastic straw in 1960?--and some of the things that were cute the first time weren't as cute the second time.  And I've never cared for modern dance moves to 19th century music, even if the setting is updated.  At least there weren't penguins.
  • The New York Times review I linked in my first post was critical of cutie-patootie conductor Brad Cohen. In truth, the first night I overlooked some things, such as frenzied tempos and lack of ensemble in places, because I was enamored with so much of the singing.  Those things were more apparent on second hearing.  But Brad is still a cutie-patootie.  
  • Stefania Dovan seems to have settled vocally into Adina a little better.  Many of the most lyrical passages were mellower than on opening night.  I would still prefer a Blondchen or Despina as Adina, but that's a personal preference.
  • That said, some of last night's singers seemed tired.  I won't say more, because overall I still like all the singers.

I still say go to the final performances of this production if you can.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Featured Singer: Ann Hallenberg

I was introduced to the artistry of the lovely and talented Swedish mezzo Ann Hallenberg through my friend David Glass, who as a Handel fanatic afficionado had become first a fan, then a real-life friend. Here are some recent examples, (apparently) non-professional videos from a recent Ariodante in Moscow:

Here is her bio-blurb at her artist representative's site.  Here is her Facebook fan page.

(FWIW, Taminophile also has a new Facebook fan page, here. He has also added a few opera recordings of Ann's to his Amazon store to the right.  Go.  Browse.  Make all your Amazon purchases there.)

Looking online at Ann's upcoming engagements, I am very sad to report that it doesn't appear that she will perform for us in the US any time soon.

Based on mutual friendship with David, I became Facebook friends with Ann's husband Holger, and subsequently with Ann herself.  Knowing she is not as well known in the US as in Europe, I eagerly sent Ann some questions, hoping to introduce her to you lot my American friends.  After the jump (which I just learned how to do) read her answers:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Miss Price sings Trovatore

I swore I wouldn't feature superstars, but I can't stop listening to this recently posted video on YouTube: Leontyne Price "Tacea la notte...Di tale amor" Il Trovatore SFO 1971

Posted by Onegin65, always a great source of videos featuring wonderful singers.