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):