Monday, January 30, 2012

RIP Camilla Williams

Dear Camilla Williams left his world for the next on January 29. What a charming, classy, warm lady she was!

I was fortunate to meet Ms. Williams during my unfortunate time as a student at Indiana University. Some friends of mine were students of hers. I don't have many warm memories of my time at IU, but Ms. Williams' kindness is one of them.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

RIP Rita Gorr

Belgian mezzo-soprano Rita Gorr (b. 1926) left us on January 22. I am sad I never featured her on these pages. Here is her Wikipedia bio.

There aren't many video clips available. Here is excellent audio from 1962:

This is from the Aida recording with Leontyne Price and John Vickers (1988, cond. Solti):

1991 appearance on French TV (pretty damned good for 65 years of age):

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sorcery is Pungent Business

Your intrepid reporter braved the ice and snow of Yonkers and Manhattan on Saturday, Jan. 21, to witness more opera and to report on it.  (OK, so it was only 3 inches.  A lot can be made of 3 inches. Shut up.)  What he saw was a production of The Poisoned Kiss by Mr. Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), an opera that has long languished in obscurity.  The production was by the Bronx Opera, performed at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College.  (Which is not in the Bronx, if you're keeping score.)

According to the program notes by Michael Spierman, Artistic Director of Bronx Opera, The Poisoned Kiss was first performed in 1936, but did not see any other productions until Mr. Vaughan Williams completed a revised version in 1957.  It fell back into obscurity until Mr. Spierman, along with his son, stage director Ben Spierman, revived it for this production. With any luck it will return to obscurity.  The story of the opera comes from a short story by Richard Garnett, which was in turn based on Nathaniel Hawthorne's story "Rappaccini's Daughter."  In a (typically convoluted) nutshell, Dipsacus, a magician, has brought up his daughter Tormentilla to unwittingly kill Amaryllus, the son of the Empress Persicaria, with their first shared kiss, knowing the two would meet and fall in love as young adults--a scheme of vengeance because his own love for the Empress back in the day had been thwarted by her family.  It all ends happily, however.  The story and many of the musical numbers reminded me of 1930s movie musicals, so I wasn't surprised to read in the notes that Mr. Vaughan Williams "conceived the opera as a romantic extravaganza, an amalgam of genres combining the Mozartean singspiel of The Magic Flute, the English operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, and musical comedy."
Soprano Hanna Rosenbaum

There is a lot to like in this opera.  Of course, the music of Mr. Vaughan Williams is beautiful.  It will appeal to those who are only familiar with his "Fantasia on Greensleeves" or "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis", but also to those like me, who are  big ol' church music queens afficionados of Anglican church music and know his choral and organ music.  I must confess I'd never seen one of his operas before, although Bronx Opera has produced both Sir John in Love and Hugh the Drover twice.  (Although only one of those four performances took place after I came to NYC in 1991.)

Vocally, there was not a dud in the bunch.  The four main characters comprised a sort of Belmonte / Pedrillo / Konstanze / Blondchen quartet. The servant pair, Gallanthus and Angelica, were played by handsome baritone Jeremy J. Moore (Barihunks, are you paying attention?) and charming mezzo Cabiria Jacobsen.  Both sang beautifully and acted with great spirit and verve.  Ms. Jacobsen's Scottish accent was best accent in the whole cast.  (That's one of several missteps by director Ben Spierman.  The accents were not necessary, in my opinion.)  Amaryllus was portrayed with earnest beauty by tenor Kirk Doughterty, and his lover Tormentilla (whose name makes me want Mexican food) was played by Hannah Rosenbaum, who really needs to get a web site like her peers have, to showcase her beautiful singing and commendable accomplishments.

Bass-baritone Richard Bozic sang with beauty of tone and august authority as Dipsacus.  His three henchmen, sort of a magical Larry, Moe, and Curly (actually Hob, Gob, and Lob), were played with enthusiasm by tenor Gilad Paz, baritone Nicholas Provenzale and bass Robert C. Joubert (two more for Barihunks to watch for).  I would not have been surprised if the trio had suddenly broken into "Brush Up Your Shakespeare".  In true 1930s British movie musical form, Empress Persicaria was played quite imperiously by Leslie Swanson.  One could almost imagine the role having been written for Dame Clara Butt or Margaret Dumont.

The orchestra, led by Mr. Spierman the elder, played inoffensively, and the chorus, well prepared by Michael Haigler, sang its thankless music while enduring a lot of stage business I might not have included.  The sets by Meganne George, the lighting by Jim Elliott, and the projections by Eamonn Farrell were quite lovely, as were the costumes by Meg Zeder.  (One wonders, however, why a great amount of money was spent on sets and costumes, and yet the female lead appears to have been wearing the same dress for days on end.)

I'm actually quite glad I saw this production.  I'm happy to have heard the beautiful singing.  The opera itself?  Let's let it rest on the shelf for another 50 years or so.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Chaos! Confusion! Madness! Delusion!

David Daniels
Your intrepid reporter was delighted to be gifted with tickets to see The Enchanted Island at the Metropolitan Opera on Tuesday evening.  This performance piece is a pastiche comprised of arias and ensembles from a large number of works from various great composers of the Baroque.   This was a common way for 17th- and 18th-century composers to reuse their own music.  Often the works of several composers were combined into parody pastiches.  (Think of the music-hall scene in Amadeus.)  If that had been true of The Enchanted Island, we would all have slept better, but no.  Although the intention was apparently to compile a comedy--reports to this effect being really the strongest evidence that this was true--this was no parody.  This was in earnest.  The entire list of pieces stolen borrowed for this mess pastiche is at this link.

Elliot Madore
Courtesy CAMI
Let me say here and now that all the singing was perfectly beautiful.  However, I was not convinced that many of the men had music that particularly suited them vocally. Perhaps it was the acoustics of where I was sitting. Much of it seemed a little low in tessitura.  That is, until barihunk Elliot Madore swaggered on stage as Lysander.  Upon hearing him sing, my thought was "At last!  A good match of voice to material!"  His singing was resonant, and his coloratura singing--fast passages--was clear, and his high voice was in tip-top shape.  I was also very fond of tenor Paul Appleby's light tenor.  His character was a bit of a fop--in other words, a typical lyric tenor character.  Mr. Appleby sang with ease and threw himself into the funny business he was tasked with, as his character Demetrius chased hopelessly after Miranda.  Countertenor David Daniels, who is reported to have been ill and to have cancelled some performances recently, sounded reasonably healthy and in good voice.

Luca Pisaroni with soprano Layla Claire
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
 I am a fan of bass of Luca Pisaroni.  I follow his Tweets and I think he follows mine, although I'm not completely sure.  I wish his handsome face had not been obscured by the monster makeup.  It made him look like a 1950s sitcom version of a "savage", or aboriginal person.  Considering he was supposed to be the love child of David Daniels' Prospero and Joyce DiDonato's Sycorax, both appearing reasonably normal, I don't really get that. I did like his singing, of course, although as I say the role lay a little low for him.  And he was effective in the "Beauty and the Beast"-type story with the fair Miranda, daughter of Prospero.

Speaking of Joyce DiDonato....  Well, what can one say?  We have come to expect an amazing level of vocal beauty and finesse and artistry, and we are rarely disappointed.  Just as expected, Ms. DiDonato gave us beautiful sounds, vocal fireworks and nuanced legatos.  She was hampered only by the completely dreadful words she was forced to sing.

Joyce DiDonato, Placido Domingo, David Daniels
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Yes, gentle reader, it is time to discuss my major complaint about this show--the libretto by Jeremy Sams.  The story itself was harmless enough, combining bits of The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream in a frothy attempt at a comedy of mistaken identities and love potions, but the writing wasn't merely bad, it was monumentally bad. The rhymes were facile and inane--"Men are fickle, dearest sister; tears that trickle, tears that blister"--and the overall literary tone of the libretto was nowhere near the level of the music.  We were asked to believe Prospero and his companions spoke as if they'd just walked off the set of the TV show "Friends".  The story was far too long for modern audiences, and the structure was simply very poor.  I was left wondering why the Met hadn't simply produced one of Mr. Handel's--or Mr. Vivaldi's or Mr. Rameau's--excellent operas instead of subjecting its audience to this drivel, but then I realized this drivel gets a lot more press than a Handel opera. 

Neptune was brought into the action as a Deus ex machina (actually Deum de ligno, but who's keeping score) to save the day in the last act.  Placido Domingo was simply adorable as the cranky god Neptune, and the transition to his Act I underwater scene that led to the chorus singing "Zadok the Priest" with new, inane words and what surely must have been recycled Rhinemaidens floating overhead was the best part of the evening. 

I can't neglect to mention the beautiful music making of William Christie, known for early music, who  conducted this mess.  The Met's orchestra and chorus were of course lovely.  Continuo by Bradley Brookshire, harpsichord, and David Heiss, cello.  It's hard to name a vocal standout.  Lisette Oropesa, Layla Claire, Elizabeth DeShon and Anthony Roth Costanzo certainly deserve mention, but everyone sang beautifully. I wish that were enough.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Another shameless bit of self-promotion

Opera Manhattan Presents Women on the Verge

January 12, 2012
 -- Opera Manhattan presents a special Valentine’s Day production, Women on the Verge, all about women and love. The centerpiece of the production will be Poulenc’s one-act monodrama for soprano, La Voix Humaine, which hasn’t been presented in New York City since 1993. If the opera isn’t familiar, the story is–a woman abandoned by her lover over the telephone. The 1930s version of a text-message breakup.
Roza Tulyaganova, soprano
The production also includes two monodramas by contemporary composer Thomas Pasatieri. Lady Macbeth is based on five speeches from the Shakespeare play we dare not name, and Before Breakfast is based on the Eugene O’Neill play.
"This is exciting music, and New York's opera-going audience will clamor for the opportunity to hear it sung beautifully" enthuses Music Director Lloyd Arriola. The cast includes sopranos Roza Tulyaganova singing La Voix Humaine, Jayne Skoog singing Before Breakfast, and Melinda Griswold singing Lady Macbeth.

Jayne Skoog, soprano
Melinda Griswold, soprano

Performance dates and times:
Friday, Feb. 10, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 11, 4:00 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 11, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 12, 7:30 p.m.
All performances are held at Shetler Studios, 244 W. 54th St., 12th floor, penthouse 1, in Manhattan.
Tickets are available for $25 each at