Friday, December 21, 2012

You might as well not believe in fairies

I've posted this in other places before, but this reaches a wide audience (I hope!) and I can't resist posting it here:

Editorial Page, New York Sun, 1897

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun: 

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O'Hanlon 

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge. 

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. 

He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished. 

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world. 

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. 

No Santa Claus? Thank God he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood. 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!! 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Some pretty darn good singers on singing!

I was chatting with dear friend Bocca L. Lupo (aka Bucky) and dear Birgit Nilsson came up in conversation, as he was listening to a recording of early excerpts from Nilsson's career.  So I immediately hied me to YouTube to listen to recordings I'd found and loved so many times before, and I found this very interesting episode of Opera News on the Air from 1963.  Nilsson and Joan Sutherland discuss and demonstrate vocal terminology. 

Oh, the quotes from this clip!  "That's very true, Birgit dear..."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

RIP Lisa della Casa

Directly from

Sad news: The most serene soprano that ever lived is no more

The Vienna State Opera has announced the death of Lisa Della Casa, the sweetest voiced singer of a fabulous generation. She was 93.
Swiss born, Lisa was renowned for her performances of Richard Strauss, which began in Zurich with the role of Zdenka in Arabella in 1947. She made a landmark recording of Four Last Songs. In Rosenkavalier she sang all three leading female parts – Marschallin, Octavian, Sophie. Abroad, she was first choice in Mozart, singing 47 Almavivas and 34 Elviras at the Met.
Late on, in 1961, she was a very sexy Salome.

In this clip she sings Mi tradi (Salzburger Festspiele 1954, Wiener Philharmoniker led by Wilhelm Furtwängler.):

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A case for obstructed-view seats

Last Saturday, Nov. 24, I attended a matinee of La Clemenza di Tito, but alas, from my seat I could see almost nothing of the stage. Although the singing was stellar--in addition to the always glorious singing of Elina Garanča as Sesto, there was the equally beautiful singing of Kate Lindsey as Annio and Lucy Crowe as Servilia, and Giuseppe Filianoti surprised one by singing a perfectly lovely Tito--it was as if I were listening to an expensive radio broadcast.

I almost wish that had been the case Friday night, Nov. 30, with Un Ballo in Maschera.

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
I tweeted at the end I had never seen Ballo before, and I still felt like I hadn't. I have written before my feelings about updated or "concept" productions of common practice era operas. In a nutshell, such productions usually aim to make social and political roles and relationships more clear, but rarely do, and more often than not distract from the very details they intend to highlight by their attention--or worse, inattention--to detail. In David Alden's production, Ballo is set in Sweden, as M. Eugène Scribe's original libretto dictated (before the Neapolitan censors got their hands on it in 1859), but in the early 20th century rather than the late 18th century. It could have been Europe between the wars. There were German-style military uniforms. We have seen those grey morning suits and darks suits with bowlers on the gentlemen, cast and chorus, so often in recent years, one wonders if some extremely lucrative deal has been struck between the Met and a formalwear distributor.

A very important part of the confusing scenery was a large painting of Icarus. An uncredited program article about the production compares the fate of Icarus, when the joy of flight caused him to ignore his father's warnings to stay away from the sun, for his wings were made of wax, to Gustavo/Riccardo's hedonistic plight. I'm not buying it. Icarus and his Dad-alus were fleeing Crete, not out for a joy ride. I don't quite understand why Oskar (well sung by Kathleen Kim) is wearing the wings, both at beginning and end. Is he supposed to be a little Gustavo?

As I have said in other reviews, it's really hard to ruin Verdi for me, try as you might. Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi led a quite lovely performance vocally and musically. Ensembles were well paced and tight, and of course the Met orchestra and chorus met their usual high standard.

Marcelo Álvarez -  Picture © Sasha Gusov
Gustavo/Riccardo seems to me to be very similar to the Duke in Rigoletto. He's out for pleasure. He thinks he feels love for some of the women he goes after, but he doesn't really. Gustavo was sung by Marcelo Álvarez, and I must say he sang much more beautifully than I expected. The current crop of Verdi tenors at the Met tends to bark a lot, but perhaps the nature of the role brought out lyricism in Mr. Álvarez I haven't heard before. Reading of his roots in bel canto, one sees the connection. I wrote of his Trovatore Manrico in April of last year that he wasn't terribly subtle but he was effective. In this performance, I heard more subtlety and many beautiful sounds. Although his top is where he sometimes loses the subtlety, he keeps the ring and it's still a beautiful sound. And he did seem to portray a number of Gustavo's many sides, from his passion to his conflicted feelings over betraying his best friend and advisor. Perhaps I blinked, but I didn't see very much of the sense of fun Mr. Alden suggests should be part of Gustavo's character.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky is the reigning Verdi baritone at the Met nowadays. He's quite handsome, he sings well, and he knows his repertoire. But I can't think it's coincidence that it was during his scenes as Renato (I'm sorry, but I am not going to the trouble of typing Angkarström every time) that the weariness of the day found the evening's least resistance from excitement and passion. Having said that, I will say that he, like everyone else in the cast, was on fire in the last act. Renato's Act IV aria "Eri tu" brought my opera-going companion to tears. Considering my friend's wealth of knowledge and experience is easily twice my own, I take that as very high praise indeed of Mr. Hvorostovsky's performance.

Sandra Radvanovsky. I have stated publicly I'm not a big fan of hers, and my opinion hasn't changed. However, having on Friday evening much better seats than I'm accustomed to, I could see some of the passion that thrills audiences so. I still find her singing a little harsh at times, particularly in the upper middle voice. (What I call the Straits of Hell in my own feeble attempts to sing.) I know this is ungentlemanly to say, but to me she doesn't sound like a first-string soprano. I don't consider her the equal of Álvarez and Hvorostovsky. Still, there were moments of beauty, and one believed her as Amelia.

Stephanie Blythe in an earlier, saner production of Ballo
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
The real wonder of the cast was Stephanie Blythe as Ulrica. (Ms. Blythe alternates in the role with Dolora Zajick.) Mr. Alden made it look like Ulrica had set up shop in a train station, but Ms. Blythe nonetheless gave a stellar vocal and dramatic performance, as one always expects from her. The woman's range in acting and vocal styles is simply amazing. (Honestly, have you seen her videos as Isabella in L'Italiana?) While the other singers earned the ovations they were given at curtain, it was only Ms. Blythe who got a "Brava!" from me. (I would also add that traditional curtain calls at the end of every act would have allowed Ms. Blythe to go home a few hours earlier.)

My overall impressions of the evening? Verdi sure knew what he was doing, didn't he?! For any opera to defy the Met's attempts at complete destruction and yet allow me to leave humming its beautiful melodies instead of fuming about the production is remarkable. I left thinking "I should pull out that score and look at it!" rather than "Make it stop! Make it stop!"

Saturday, December 1, 2012

You can never have too much Anna Bolena

You might remember my dear friend Bocca L. Lupo (Bucky to his friends) recently wrote a few thoughts about two Anna Bolena recordings he'd enjoyed on a road trip--one going and one coming back.  He has since penned a few thoughts on even more Anna Bolena recordings in his vast audiophile library:

The earliest recording of the three is a 1958 air check of a RAI Milano performance featuring Leyla Gencer as Anna, Giulietta Simionato as Giovanna, Plinio Clabassi as Enrico, Aldo Bertocci as Percy, and Anna Maria Rota as Smeton. The release I auditioned is on Opera d'Oro. The recorded sound is paper thin, particularly in the opening scene, leading me to think that the tape had been used many times before the off-air recording was made. The quality improves slightly later on, but climaxes are severely congested, and the overall constricted sound makes it difficult fairly to judge the true quality of the singing.  Ms. Gencer is accurate and portrays a charming Anna. It may be the poor recording, but much of her coloratura work has a Lily Pons/Mady Mesple "little girl" quality to the sound. Her Anna comes across as nearing middle age and charming, but I did not hear the fire of a wronged woman or the pain of an abandoned lover. Simionato's Giovanna is a mirror of her 1957 La Scala performance with Callas, which I discussed after my last road trip. In the Act II duet with Anna, she clearly portrays Seymour's trepidation and anguish. Throughout she is in good voice, accurate, and very musical.

Speaking of that great duet between the present and future queen, it is unfortunate that so many small cuts are taken. Donizetti, in this piece, expanded on lessons he had learned from Rossini and Mayr in developing the type of recitative that moves from what is effectively secco (strictly chordal accompaniment) to accompagnato (with melodic flow in the vocal line and orchestra). In this scene, the flow is seamless, and the melodic sections are placed to highlight the emotions of both Anna and Giovanna most effectively.

Plinio Clabassi, the Enrico, is a serviceable bass, and he opens the Act I finale with appropriate regal authority. His part is much cut. Aldo Bertocci, the Percy, is accurate, and his voice, while not all that attractive, is well managed. The Smeton, Anna Maria Rota, is not impressive, but, after the cuts, she has so little to sing it would be difficult to gain an impression. Maestro Gavazzeni conducts a performance similar to the 1957 Scala. There is again no Sinfonia. The RAI Milano chorus and orchestra are quite typical of the time, and it sounds as if there was little rehearsal time: things get rather scrappy from time to time. Recommended as an opportunity to hear Gencer as Anna and for Simionato.

Next is a 1968/69 Decca recording with Elena Suliotis as Anna, Marilyn Horne as Giovanna, Nicolai Ghiaurov as Enrico, John Alexander as Percy, and Janet Coster as Smeton. Silvio Varviso conducts the Vienna State Opera Chorus and the Vienna Opera Orchestra. The recording, made in the Vienna State Opera's Sofiensaal, has the bright, big sound typical of Decca in that era, with the voices forward and the orchestra and chorus slightly recessed. There are small cuts - a measure or two here, a measure there - throughout. Many of these cuts were apparently standard practice, because they appear in the Callas, the Gencer, the Sutherland (which is generally more complete), and this recording.

Ms. Suliotis' characterization of Anna is credible and appropriate. This Anna is feminine, youthful, strong-willed, and truly triumphant in the final scene. Until hearing her Anna, I had known Suliotis only from the (in)famous Decca recording of Verdi's Nabucco released in 1965. Her Abigaille in that recording is legendary.  That she was deserving of her (admittedly short lived) celebrity is borne out by the two recordings. In both she is accurate, the voice generally under excellent control, with seamless transitions between the registers. What is impressive is how different the characters are between the Verdi and the Donizetti. Her Abigaille is a scenery-chewing firebrand: anyone would be cowed by her "Prode guerrier." Yet her Anna is feminine and extremely touching in her trepidation at the end of Act I (for example, her "Giudici? Ad Anna?"). The aria finale is a triumph. Her diction is excellent throughout, and only occasionally does she lose control of what is a large but well-managed voice.

Horne starts out as a very feminine Giovanna, with none of the "butch bark" that affected her singing of lyrical parts in later years. In Act II she reverts to some over use of chest voice when articulating phrases, and the character becomes more stony. Her pleas for forgiveness in the great duet with Anna are affecting and seem to come from Giovanna's heart. As is often the case with Ms. Horne, there are many highly suspect vowels, particularly in and above the passaggio. It is, overall a good portrayal.

Ghiaurov's Enrico is a disappointment. It is beautifully sung in his immediately recognizable tone. His Italian diction is consistent with what I always hear from him: reasonably clear but hardly idiomatic. The performance is most accurate. But there is no Enrico. There is Nicolai signing Donizetti quite well, but there is no character portrayed. Yes, this is often a problem with studio recordings! His disdain for Anna, his lust for Seymour, and his anger at Smeton and Percy all are expressed in the same lovely stream of tone. Most unsatisfactory.

John Alexander is, as he always was in the theater and on record, reliable and accurate. While there is nothing really wrong with his portrayal, there isn't much real characterization, and I have to admit I always found his vocal quality rather utilitarian. Janet Coster, the Smeton, has a good voice and uses it effectively. She portrays the character's fearful excitement in the chamber scene, and the anguish in the confession to Anna is palpable. Varviso was at this time a highly experienced conductor with a wide repertoire. The performance is fleet where appropriate but never seems rushed. The orchestra and chorus are excellent. The Sinfonia is most exciting. Suliotis and Horne bring the performance to life; otherwise, it is clearly a very good studio recording, accurate and almost complete but lacking full dramatic fire.

In 1973, ABC Records recorded Bolena in London with Beverly Sills as Anna, Shirley Verrett as Giovanna, Paul Plishka as Enrico, Stuart Burrows as Percy, and Patricia Kern as Smeton. Julius Rudel conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and chorus. The performance is complete: although I did not check the entire recording against the score, all sections I did check had no cuts.

By 1973, Ms. Sills had thoroughly absorbed the "three queens" to creat technical and artistic excellence. Hers is a thoroughly satisfying portrayal of Anna. The extra fioriture and high notes she interpolates make musical and dramatic sense. The vocal production is amazingly free. Anna emerges as youthful, feminine, strong in her convictions. The finale is touching to the end: you hear Anna's exercise of self control and will power as she rises to the moral triumph of "Coppia iniqua." The finale of Act I is marvelously poignant, with the incredulous terror of "Giudici? Ad Anna?" made palpable by Sills' artistry. Some of the tone is occasionally held back in the mask, but generally the voice is open and free. Good (but not perfect) diction. All in all, I find it the most satisfying, vocally and dramatically, of the five Annas I auditioned. (Six years earlier, I'd had the privilege of singing in the chorus of a production of Les contes d'Hoffmann, starring Ms. Sills as the heroines. Ms. Sills was clearly a star, but she joked with us and approached everyone as colleagues. A true professional and a gracious woman. Oh, and an amazing singer!)

Shirley Verrett is the best of the Giovannas in the five recordings as well. A clear match for Anna, this Seymour is a woman of ambition yet she displays genuine regret and concern in the great duet, given absolutely complete in this recording. Ms. Verrett is in wonderful voice, giving character to every line on that miraculous stream of burnished tone. Excellent diction but with the usual Verrett vowel variations. Her interaction with the other singers is an object lesson in ensemble performance.

Paul Plishka as Enrico sings well, although there is a weakness in the lower register. The notes are there as they should be, the words are generally clear, but Enrico is nowhere to be heard. There is absolutely no difference in vocal performance between the wooing of Giovanna and the rejection of Anna. Again, a role well learned for the studio, but little drama in the performance.
Burrows as Percy sings well, enunciates clearly, and manages the register shifts well. This Percy has character, but the voice isn't Italianate at all. I'm not looking for squillo or slancio, but a bit more tang would be welcome. Nevertheless, this is a very good performance of the role, and burrows' ensemble work is exemplary. Patricia Kern as Smeton emerges as the most satisfying on the five recordings. The voice is creamy, with registers well integrated. She conveys the rash youth quite well, and stands out in the chamber scene as a real protagonist in the action. Her confession to Anna in the finale conveys genuine anguish. Maestro Rudel demonstrates why he was so in demand in the pit throughout his long career. Tempi are always appropriate, with much energy conveyed without rushing. The chorus and orchestra are splendid, if a bit recessed. Overall, an excellent studio recording.

In sum, for a live performance, despite the cuts and limited sound, go with Callas. For a compete version made in the studio, Sills is the clear winner. The ideal cast from the singers on all these recordings would be Sills, Verrett, Ramey, Raimondi, and Coster. Inasmuch as the Sills takes three out of five palms, it is the one I wouldn't be without.

I have not heard the Gruberova. I don't think her voice would be right for the part. [n.b. That never stopped her from singing anything!--Tam.]

Bocca L. Lupo

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Another Great Singer of the Week: Bruno Prevedi

Featuring a baritone in the previous post left such a bad taste in my mouth I had to do another.  Here is Bruno Prevedi, whom I have inexplicably only mentioned once before, when he was Pollione in one of a series of Leyla Gencer Norma clips I posted.  Of course we have his Wikipedia bio-blurb here.  One learns from some of the YouTube commenters who claim to have heard him regularly at the height of his career that the peak didn't last very long.  I found clips of various quality, some of which were not dated.  I present clips that I liked, apparently from his short-lived peak, and I will leave it to you, gentle readers, to judge how he sang.  (That's an invitation to leave comments.  In the comment section below.)

This is a remarkable clip featuring Prevedi, Dame Gwyneth Jones, Giulietta Simionato, and Peter Glossop, in the finale of Il Trovatore (1964, ROH I believe):

From Act III of the same production:

There are many audio-only clips on YouTube, including this La Traviata performance with Virginia Zeani at the Met, 1966:

More from Il Trovatore:  Ah si, ben mio coll'essere--this time from a collection of arias.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Napoli, Napoli, Napoli!

Through the generosity of GPR Records I have once again been afforded the opportunity to preview a CD before its release.  This time it is a delightful recording by handsome rising tenor Charles Castronovo, entitled Dolce Napoli: The Neapolitan Songs.

Courtesy GPR Records
In recent years Mr. Castronovo has risen from obscurity to the ranks of singers at the very best opera houses in the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, Berlin State Opera, Bavarian State Opera, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, and more.  It's no surprise with his beautiful singing and good looks.  I will freely admit that Neapolitan songs are not my area of expertise, but I can say without hesitation that young Charlie, as he insists in the liner notes we call him, sings these songs with consistently beautiful tone and deep feeling.  It is clear songs like these are part of his upbringing, and that he loves the genre and the culture.

What is a Neapolitan song, ask the liner notes by Charlie himself.  Although he references a mid-19th century song contest, one could easily imagine some of these songs predate that time.  These are the folk songs, music hall songs, pop songs of ages ranging from the 1830s through the mid-20th century.  They sing of the same topics as nearly any songs--love won, love lost, jealousy, and even the occasional song that is not about love!  Neapolitan songs have been recorded from the early days by tenors like Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, and Tito Schipa, and have become popular to many for their universally understood stories and their beauty. This CD includes 20 songs with a wide range of character.  I can't describe them all, of course, but will gladly discuss a few favorites.

The most familiar tune on the CD is Santa Lucia, the well known song to, as you might guess, Santa Lucia, sung by the fishermen who enjoyed her patronage.

Malfemmena, about the two sides of love, passion and pain.  The notes state this is among the most recent of the songs, written in 1951, and was instantly made into a hit by Neapolitan singer Totó.

U Sciccareddu is a song of love, dedicated to the poet's donkey!  A bonus track, the only Sicilian song on the CD, this song highlights the Sicilian talent for irony, making a sad song lively and a happy song sound sad.  

Io, ‘na chitarra e ‘a luna! is one of several songs that features English verses by recording producer Glen Roven. The poet sings of how lovely and complete his life is with moonlight and his guitar, and maybe a love, should the heavens send him one.  

O surdato ‘nnammurato is a lively song that describes a WWI soldier away from his love, thankful that she thinks of him alone.  Charlie relates this to his own grandfather, who was a prisoner of war in WWII.  

This is a beautiful CD. I've had it on random repeat play for hours at a time recently while working at home, and never tired of it.  I would recommend it for afficionados of Neapolitan songs and lovers of good singing.  

Don't miss Charlie's shows featuring these songs at 54 Below on Dec. 1, Dec 6, and Dec 8. I'll be at the Dec. 6 show! (Because, well, Dec. 8 is your intrepid reporter's birthday.) Click here.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Joyce DiDonato And Her Amazing Dress

The diva sings a little bit, too.

Your intrepid reporter had the delight of witnessing the Sunday, Nov. 18, Carnegie Hall concert of Joyce DiDonato, amazing mezzo-soprano, with the Amsterdam Baroque orchestra Il Complesso Barocco, under the quirky leadership of violinist Dmitri Sinkovsky. The concert featured music of Miss DiDonato's new CD, Drama Queens (EMI), which showcases arias from Baroque operas sung by mad queens, usually either in a jealous rage or truly theatrical despair.

The event was a treat for the eyes as well as the ears, for the beautiful Miss DiDonato wore an amazing red gown created by Vivenne Westwood especially for the CD and the events. The gown changed forms, each more stunning than the last, so many times one almost expected a Lepage-style (except functional) Deus ex machina effect in a grand finale of truly Baroque proportions, with miraculous revelation and transformation, but the concert did not suffer from the inexplicable lack of such a closing.

Il Complesso Barocco was truly part of this event. Miss DiDonato and the orchestra are very experienced working together, and it was a joy to watch the intense concentration with which each orchestra member was aware of every other member and fully supportive of Miss DiDonato's every breath and phrase. Very different from the pick-up orchestras one sometimes sees thrown together to back up a visiting diva, this group is part of the concert tour. As Miss DiDonato said in her charming remarks at the close of the concert, some of the young orchestra players had never been to the US, and were thrilled to be here now. I, for one, am also thrilled they are here!

Each aria or scena was a gem. The most familiar piece on the concert was Piangerò la sorte mia from Mr. Handel's Giulio Cesare, sung in the original soprano key. Cleopatra laments her current fate, but once death's release comes, she will haunt that bastard tyrant wherever he is! In this and every aria, Miss DiDonato showed the emotional contrast in the words and music, and sang the words as if they truly are thoughts in her own language, in her own time.

Most of the other arias were quite obscure. Miss DiDonato suggested in her closing remarks the music for some had lain gathering dust on library shelves for centuries. One such highlight was Lasciami piangere from Reinhard Keiser's Fredegunda, sung as an encore. Another queen who wants to die from grief because she's been jilted. So spellbinding was the performance of this aria, complete with violin obbligato by Mr. Sinkovsky, that one could hardly breathe.

Some of the arias were grouped together naturally by similar theme. One such pairing was Disprezzata regina (Despised queen), from Mr. Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea, and Sposa son disprezzato (I am a scorned wife), from Geminiano Giacomelli's Merope. This set was preceded by a brief Scarlatti sinfonia, and the set as a whole was quite effective.

While I was afraid a concert of Baroque arias by mad queens might be monotonous, nothing could be further from the truth. I was especially fearful my concert-going companion might find it tiresome, having much less exposure to opera than I've enjoyed, but that was not true either. There was musical and vocal contrast, and one could almost imagine seeing the large-scale Baroque operas on tiny court theater stages. Especially in the second half, when Miss DiDonato's dress was transformed to a Baroque-style confection, complete with hooped underskirts. I could write accolade after accolade about Miss DiDonato's beautiful, free, rich tone quality, her even voice through her wide range, her coloratura, her artistry, but it's all been said. The woman is a goddess.

What follows is the remainder of Miss DiDonato's Drama Queens tour schedule from her own web site. Please see this concert if you can, and do buy the CD. I intend to!

20/11/2012Sonoma, CAUSAGreen Music Center
04/02/2013BrusselsBelgiumPalais des Beaux-Arts
06/02/2013LondonUKBarbican Hall
10/02/2013ParisFranceThéâtre des Champs Elysées

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Another Zeani post!

Great news!  Here are some clips of one of my soprano idols, the amazing Virginia Zeani, in performance!  According to the YouTube poster:
There are very few live videos of the incomparable Virginia Zeani - and even fewer of her in a staged opera. These three clips represent all we have of her - but happily they cover three of her greatest roles over the course of 15 years. All three are from her native Romania and were broadcast on TV, which means there is hope that the complete performances will at some point surface. 
What is included here is:

La Traviata (1965) - her signature role - "Sempre Libera" and a snippet of the Act 4 duet beginning with one of the most heart-wrenching readings of "Prendi, quest'è l'immagine"

Aida (1970) - a brief section of the Aida/Amneris boudoir scene with Elena Cernei

Tosca (1980) - part of the Act 1 duet with Mario (Octavian Naghiu), the last part of the "Vissi d'arte", and the death of Scarpia (Nicolae Herlea)

Fingers crossed there will be more to come...

Here is the clip, including La Traviata (1965), Aida (1970), and Tosca (1980):

Great Singer of the Week: Peter Glossop

This is very unlike me, but here is a baritone for today's featured singer:  Peter Glossop.  I'd known his name and perhaps heard him once or twice before doing today's post, but you can see why he belongs in the Taminophile pantheon of great singers.  Here, of course, is his Wikipedia bio-blurb.

Here is a movie version of his 1964 Salzburg performance of Pagliacci, under von Karajan.  Although the credits suggest it's a La Scala production.

Here is a notable performance as Rigoletto, apparently broadcast on Japanese TV in 1971.  Please forgive the poor video quality.

Undated audio-only recording of Billy Budd, under Charles Mackeras(?):

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Great Singer of the Week: Judith Blegen

I don't know how I've missed doing a post about  Judith Blegen.  (Most of my Singer of the Week posts are about mid-20th century singers, and I think her career, ranging from 1965 to 1991, fits.)  Fresh on the heels of last week's post about The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson, I am delighted to find the amazing Coloraturafan's new post of her on The Tonight Show.  Her synopsis of Rigoletto is interesting!

Here she is in an interesting English-version L'Elisir d'Amore from 1979 (with tenor John Garrison):

By contrast, here she is in a 1981 Metropolitan Opera telecast of L'Elisir with some guy named Pavarotti:

A real treat!  The final trio from Der Rosenkavalier, with Tatiana Troyanos and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, 1982:

Friday, November 2, 2012

Heeeeeere's Johnny!

Image uncredited at
How can you measure the positive impact of television on opera audiences. (Yes, there has been a positive impact!) And how can you measure the impact that The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson had, in bringing to the masses stars like Beverly Sills and Marilyn Horne, and showing everyone these people with amazing voices were regular folks. So this post is dedicated that great man of television, Johnny Carson.

A young whipper-snapper asked me if I thought we would see today's opera singers on TV variety show like this.  I have to say it's probably not possible. The Tonight Show was 90 minutes long when I was a kid, and segments were very leisurely. Some of the singers got to sing two pieces, with an interview in between. While I don't even know if there are television variety shows still living nowadays, I don't see that kind of time given to a single guest, let alone one who might risk advertising dollars as an "elite" guest. I miss the old tonight show.

Here is a clip with Marilyn Horne a little high on cold medicine, and it's hysterical:

Here's Bubbles in 1973.  I wish they'd included the interview.  I know that she was guest host at least once--I'll see if I can find a clip of that as well.

Martina Arroyo in 1977:

Baritone Richard Fredricks:

Carol Neblett--not sure of the date:

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Great Singer of the Week: Victoria de los Angeles

Photo by Allen Warren
The excellent Ken Benson reminded one and all that today would have been the birthday of the sainted Victoria de los Angeles.  I did a Great Singer post about her long ago, which I link here.  (Here is her Wikipedia bio.)   In preparing the post long ago I was struck by the following quote from her New York Sun obituary:

Again and again, de los Angeles's is the voice people celebrate as pure, healing, imbued with integrity, wisdom, even grace. An AIDS worker in the 1980s recalled many of his clients requesting he bring to the hospital CDs or tapes of the singer: hers was often the last voice they wanted to hear. ("I can't listen to Callas on my deathbed, for God's sake," one of them said.)

Now for the clips! This is my all-time favorite, and it makes me cry every time. 68-y.o. Sra. de los Angeles singings for the closing of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. (Start at approximately 0:50 to avoid inane commentary from talking heads.)

By contrast here is a considerably younger Sra. de los Angeles singing Filles de Cadix by Mr. Delibes (recording is uncredited in the YouTube link):

Because I'm in more of a song mood than an aria mood, here is Mr. Martini's Plaisir d'Amour (which many will know from the 1939 movie Love Affair, the Charles Boyer-Irene Dunn version of An Affair to Remember):

Friday, October 19, 2012

Great Singer of the Week: Marilyn Horne

When someone mentioned the great Marilyn Horne to me recently, I confessed Ms. Horne--Jackie to her friends--had been my first operatic idol.  I think I had first seen her on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson back when people cared about more than Jersey Shore and whatever faux competition TV show is popular now, and also on reruns of The Odd Couple, when she had an occasional role as as a shy friend of Oscar Madison.

Here is the Wikipedia bio about her remarkable life and career.

How could I not be enamored with singing like this?

Singing "In si barbara" from Semiramide, in a made-for-TV feature called "Rossini at Versailles", 1985 (apologies for the poor video quality):

And in 1991 under James Conlon (theater uncredited):

Liber sriptus from Mr. Verdi's Requiem, of which, you might recall, I am somewhat fond (Orchestre e Coro de la RAI de Roma. Claudio Abbado conductor. October 10, 1970):

One of her greatest roles, opposite one of her favorite costars, Joan Sutherland, on a 1970 TV show:

An early audio recording--as Beethoven's Leonore!

And as Brünnhilde (Götterdämmerung)!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tamino-fall schedule redux

Lincoln Center at Night, Courtesy The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
Well, boys and girls, your intrepid reporter is returning to New York!  He has a brand new day job that allows him to go back home!  His 40 days and 40 nights of Tex-ile are almost over!

So the fall schedule I posted is now longer valid.  I did see Harvey, and found it quite enjoyable, but missed Laura Claycomb, and I shall be long gone when all the other events take place.

Now would be a good time to shower me with offers of comps to your shows.  Yes, you.  And you too!

Anna Bolena comparo

My dear friend Bocca L. Lupo recently made a road trip, and decided to listen to one Anna Bolena recording going and another coming back.  Here are his comments:

Anna Bolena is always touted as "groundbreaking" and a moving away from talented parody of post-Rossini/Mayr et al. regular practice and general conventions of the time.  Seems to me more of a culmination of Donizetti's absorbing all those influences and  making something of his own out of them.  He shows his genius first and foremost in the melodies themselves, which have so much character and, where appropriate, vigor, as compared to most others of the time and the years immediately preceding 1830 (Do you know the Opera Rara sets "One  Hundred Years of Italian Opera" - 1800-1810, 1810-1820, 1820-1830? Three sets--that's as far as they've gotten.)  The ensembles in Bolena are really creative - the Act I quintet, for example, starting in canon (reminded me of "Mir ist so wunderbar").  And the final scene is really amazing;  for what may well be the first time in Italian opera, the jarring sound of the banda is dramatically appropriate: the premature celebration of Giovanna and Enrico seems even more appalling with the merry noise of the banda intruding on so solemn a scene.  It also helps break the melancholy (the cor anglais solo so appropriate to the drama at hand) and lead into Anna's moral triumph of "Coppia iniqua".  A fine work.

The Callas recording I find most stimulating.  (EMI:  Live recording, Teatro alla Scala, 1957; Gianandrea Gavazzeni, cond.) She and Simionato are just marvelous.  Maria was in quite good voice on April 14, 1957: there are very few squally passages and almost no hooting from the over-covering which she often found necessary.  Most sympathetic in the final scene, and every word is crystal clear.  Gianni Raimondi is quite good, clear in diction, heroic in tone without bellowing.  Simionato excellent, fiery as always but not forcing.  Rossi-Lemeni is adequate but I heard no regal menace.  The cuts are so deep that the rest of the cast haven't much to do.  Carturan, the Smeton, is one of those gargly Italian mezzos never helped by the recording technology of the day.  Gavazzeni is adequate and the La Scala orchestra seems fine from what one is able to hear from the recording.  The sound picture is mostly one-dimensional and boxy, typical live recordings of the time.  I would not want to judge the opera without it, however.

So Dame Joan supposedly said she wanted to do Bolena shortly after her 1959 triumph as Lucia.  If only she had done it back then, live and in the studio.  28 years on she had taken on that martonly sound.  (Decca: Welsh National Opera; Richard Bonynge, cond.)  She sounds far too mature for Anna;  nevertheless, she sings beautifully (although not without some effort).  Her diction is, as ever, rather sketchy, caused mainly by the covering from that projecting upper jaw (this also contributes to the matronliness).  When she opens up or floats the tone in clear head voice, the gleam immediately returns.  The characterization is not as visceral as Maria's, but it is appropriate.  Ramey is in his prime: no wobble, clear diction, spot on coloratura, and dramatic: always cantante, but a great deal of menance comes through, as well as Enrico's immense egotism.  Hadley sings well, although I often find his tone annoying--he tends to the bawling side of things too often.  Mentzer very good in the studio, but I'm not sure how well she would handle such a role in the theater, particularly a large one.  Manca di Nissa as Smeton is really very good: truly lovely bel canto singing and excellent coloratura.  Bonynge and the WNO do a good job, although the overall balance seems slightly off (but I was in the car).  The usual big Decca sound.  Had Joan recorded this 20 years earlier, perhaps even 10, it could be a clear winner. As it is, it's good, but not great.

So I'd want to keep both.  I will listen to Sills soon (perhaps on the next road trip); perhaps I should get the Gruberova or the Gencer.  

Friday, September 28, 2012

Great Singer of the Week: Joseph Schmidt

Somehow hearing the rhetoric of a presidential campaign makes me think of Fascists and Nazis--wonder what that's about?--and then I think of great singers who were silenced by the Second World War. One such singer was Joseph Schmidt. According to the Wikipedia article linked above:
Ironically, Joseph Schmidt enjoyed his greatest successes during the rise of the German Nazis, who subsequently prohibited Jewish artists and writers from working. In 1937, he toured the United States and performed in Carnegie Hall together with other prominent singers such as Grace Moore. The Nazis banned him from performing in Germany and Austria, but he was still very much welcome in the Netherlands and Belgium, where he was immensely popular.

In 1939, he visited his mother in Czernowitz for the last time. When the war broke out that year he was caught in France by the German invasion. He attempted to escape to the United States but, unfortunately, this failed. Making a dash for the Swiss border, he was interned in a Swiss refugee camp in Gyrenbad near Zürich in October 1942. He had been already in frail health. Harsh camp life and lack of medical care brought about a fatal heart attack on November 16, 1942. He was only 38 years old.

Here he sings Una furtiva lagrima.  From an uncredited movie.

Here is Dein ist mein ganzes Herz.  In truth, I had originally planned to do a post with several different tenors singing this ditty, but once I found Joseph Schmidt, I didn't want to look any further.

Let's not forget the artists who fall victim to political rhetoric and warfare, even in our own time.

Yes, I have strong political opinions.  Sue me.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tamino-fall schedule

How exciting does this look as a fall season of opera and concert goin'?  (OK, for the Britten I'm in the chorus, but that's even better!)




Level Ground Theatre, Dallas

Laura Claycomb recital
Dallas Museum of Art

Dallas Opera

Madama Butterfly
UT Austin

L'Italiana in Algieri
Houston Grand Opera

La Boheme
Houston Grand Opera

Britten War Requiem
Dallas Symphony

Romeo et Juliette

*Harvey isn't an opera but it should be!  Hey, composers, hit me up!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Diva on Detour

I’m a fan of Patricia Racette, from the days of old when I was in the chorus of a regional opera company that hired Miss Racette to sing Nedda. I’ve been pleased to see the success she has attained in the years since then. Although I haven’t been able to attend any of her live performances since those days in the opera chorus, I’ve seen quite a number of YouTube videos that leave no doubts about her talent and magnetism.

Courtesy GPR Records
Imagine my delight when the kind folks at GPR Records invited me to Pat’s (we’re on first-names basis now) cabaret performances last spring, which were to be recorded for later release on a CD. Alas, I was forced to decline that invitation—I foolishly chose to fulfill commitments I had made previously. What a dolt I was! When the same kind folks sent me a pre-release copy of the CD based on that show, I could hear that it was an event I would surely have treasured in memory for a long time. Fortunately, a great amount of that feeling comes across in the CD, with Pat’s fine vocal stylings of a program of well-chosen standards and charming patter with the audience. Very fine music director and pianist is Craig Terry.

This is where I might expound upon the folly of crossover albums, because I don’t like so many that are out there. While it’s possible for a singer to do both opera and cabaret/musical theater effectively, far too many don’t bridge that gap very well. I’m happy to say Pat sounds perfectly appropriate stylistically in nearly all instances. She can use a healthy belt and a healthy mix of head and chest voices like one hears from cabaret and musical theater singers. In fact, the only misstep vocally I hear is when she reverts to amore “legit” sound for "La vie en rose", the last song in an otherwise effective Edith Piaf medley. I’m also happy to report one can understand every word she sings—a major accomplishment.

The actual songs? An interesting selection of standards, performed very well by Pat and amazing music director Craig Terry. One of my favorites was the Edit Piaf medley I mention, which included "Milord", "Padam", and "La vie en rose." As an experienced and well-educated opera singer, of course Pat has excellent French, and she performed the songs with a gusto and an understanding of the texts one would expect from an artist of her stature. She imitated just the right amount of Piaf’s vocal mannerisms and cabaret-style French—any more would have been excessive, and any less would have left one wondering what in the world she was doing.

Another favorite was “Here’s That Rainy Day”, which Pat referred to as her shower song. I also quite liked the way Pat contrasted “The Man Who Got Away” with the humorous song “To Keep My Love Alive”, which tells of men who would have been lucky to get away. In her introduction to a set of songs that told a bit of a story, Pat talked about how she always sings about women unhappy in love—throwing themselves off parapets, dying of consumption, running themselves through with swords, and so on. In these songs the effect was a bit more subtle—no quick relief coming from a desperate act. In “You’ve Changed”, the singer wonders why things are not the same as they once were. In “Guess Who I Saw Today”, she sings of having seen her man on a date with another woman, and in “Where Do You Start?” she sings of putting together a newly single life. In “So In Love” she sings of remaining in love after separating. Quite an effective set. 

It was obvious Pat had spent a lot of time living with the lyrics of all these songs, as she portrayed a deep intimacy and urgent emotion in them all.

I won’t describe every song, but I will say this is a recording I enjoyed very much, and I highly recommend it.

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