Monday, September 30, 2013

Caro elisir!

Sharin Apostolou
I had the delight of seeing Baltimore Concert Opera's semi-staged concert version of Mr. Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore on September 29. Baltimore Concert Opera is one of several opera groups that sought to fill the void left when the venerable Baltimore Opera Company folded in 2009. This article tells how Brendan Cooke, co-founder and Artistic Director of Baltimore Concert Opera, worked tirelessly to keep opera alive in Baltimore. When Mr. Cooke was named General Director of Opera Delaware in 2012, a relationship between Baltimore Concert Opera and Opera Delaware was initiated that now includes productions jointly planned and funded by the two companies. Local opera afficionados say the biggest difference this association has meant for Baltimore is a higher professional level of the singers engaged for principal roles.

And a very fine cast it was indeed. Headed by the Adina of Sharin Apostolou, the cast also included William Davenport as Nemorino, Trevor Scheunemann as Belcore and Stephen Eisenhard as Dulcamara. Ms. Apostolou and Mr. Scheunemann were the two standouts in the cast. I've raved written before of Ms. Apostolou's gleaming soprano and involved, realistic acting, and I was not disappointed on Sunday. Prendi, per me sei libero is my absolute favorite passage in this opera, I must confess that a furtive tear did roll down my cheek as Ms. Apostolou sang it. Mr. Scheunemann's bio lists the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Washington National Opera among his credits. This is not a surprise. His Belcore was a beautifully sung combination of swagger and fun. To my mind, a successful performance of Belcore shows the signor sargente has enough sense not to take his own braggadocio seriously--women and war, he sings, are both great games--and Mr. Scheunemann very often gave us such moments of clarity.

Trevor Scheunemann
Courtesy Columbia Artists Mgt.
Tenor William Davenport gave us an ardent Nemorino. His bio-blurb lists Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, Gustavo in Un ballo in maschera, and the Duke in Rigoletto. Those roles would fit Mr. Davenport's beautiful voice perfectly, but it pains me to say I think Nemorino doesn't. Nemorino requires a lighter voice, while Mr. Davenport's voice is quite stentorian. This is not a complaint about his singing, for he sang the role well, and received well-deserved (if annoyingly premature) shouts of "Bravo" at the conclusion of Una furtiva lagrima.

Stephen Eisenhard has the goods as a basso buffo, handling Dulcamara's rapid-fire patter with ease and showing a comic flair.  Kimberly Christie shows great promise in her debut role as Gianetta.

It sometimes seemed as if the cast were eager to do more with their roles, but felt limited. The same cast performs L'Elisir, fully staged, at Opera Delaware on October 11 and 13, and I was not surprised to learn they had been in staging rehearsals in Wilmington all week. Alternating between the Baltimore version and the Wilmington version--surely as a concert performance, Baltimore had cuts Wilmington doesn't--could explain the occasional ragged feel in terms of cues and continuity.

Complaints? One or two. When the chorus sang, it was hard to distinguish the soloists' vocal lines, which is not surprising considering physical placement of the chorus. Occasionally the 88-key orchestra (overall very well done by James Harp--especially his commentary on the love potion of Queen Isolde) overpowered the singers, too. Along with difficult to read supertitles, these are mere quibbles. I call this a fine performance, and I look forward to seeing the staged production at Opera Delaware. I recommend you do the same.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

In praise of second fiddle, part 2

I wrote before of two notable mezzo-sopranos who were featured quite often beside Dame Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballé,and other great sopranos of the 60s and 70s--Huguette Tourangeau and Josephine Veasey.  They are both fine singers and accomplished great things on their own, but frankly, I probably wouldn't have known of them myself had they not both sung Adalgisa.

In the previous post I featured Huguette Tourangeau.  This time it's Josephine Veasey's turn.

First, because there is no avoiding Norma, here she is with Jon Vickers in the famous 1974 production at Thèatre Antique d'Orange:

(By the by, I have that entire show on DVD, if anyone cares to come to Yonkers to watch it with me.  All I insist on is food.  And in some cases cuddles.)

O don fatale (Mr. Verdi's Don Carlo, of course), Wiener Stadtsoer, 1976, cond. Miguel-Ángel Gómez-Martínez

Lux aeterna from Mr. Verdi's amazing Requiem, 1970, cond. Bernstein, with Messrs. Domingo and Ghiaurov singing sharp:

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In praise of second fiddle, part 1

Huguette Tourangeau in Esclarmonde
Opera News archives
Notice: If you are wearing your adult incontinence brief and ready for a real shocker, scroll down to the end to watch that video excerpt first!

We are now inclined to post about two notable mezzo-sopranos who were featured quite often beside Dame Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballé,and other great sopranos of the 60s and 70s--Huguette Tourangeau and Josephine Veasey.  They are both fine singers and accomplished great things on their own, but frankly, I probably wouldn't have known of them myself had they not both sung Adalgisa.

While it is tempting to post numerous videos of Mira, o Norma--and I might do it after all--it might be more informative to post videos of both ladies without those pesky sopranos horning in on the action.

Today we focus on Huguette Tourangeau.   Here she is as Ulrica in Ballo, Vancouver, 1977 (conductor, other singers uncredited):

And singing Kaled's aria from M. Massenet's Le Roi de Lahore (1977, no further details available):

Mr. Verdi's Oberto, Contessa Leonora's cabaletta (no other information given):

With Dame Joan in Lakmé, 1968, Philadelphia, cond. Bonynge:

And in tonight's ZOMG moment, if you don't find yourself going "Oh no she di-int!" at 7:07 of this Maria Stuarda confrontation scene (1977, no other information given), then I don't think I want to know you:

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Great Singer of the Week: Marjorie Lawrence

Today, boys and girls, we feature the late, great Marjorie Lawrence.  Miss Lawrence was cut down from a mighty career by polio, but after a time in retirement returned to the stage to sing roles in operas that were staged around her inability to move around, and also did concerts.

I might not have known of Marjorie Lawrence had not my high school chorus teacher studied with her. The story goes that, in her early years teaching, my teacher had taken a gaggle of students with her to a concert Miss Lawrence performed in Charlotte, NC. She took the students backstage to meet the diva, and the students raved about their own teacher. This led to a personal audition with Miss Lawrence and an offer to study with her at Tulane University.

And now the clips!

Ho-jo-to-ho, live, 1935

Let us not forget Marjorie Lawrence was Australian.  Here she is singing for her Australian boys during WWII::

Götterdämmerung, 1936:

Almost 10 minutes of Australian anthems to piano accompaniment on Collumbia, :

Award-winning 10-minute 2011 (?) documentary by 12-y.o. Isabel LeVan.  It made me cry. 

Dammit, all these videos are making me cry! This is from the movie Interrupted Melody, with Eleanor Parker as Miss Lawrence, and Eileen Farrell singing:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Norma comparo!

Giulia Grisi as Norma
You all know me as a bel canto bear in a verismo (or worse, post-romantic!) world.  I can't get enough of the bel canto masters, and some operas in particular.  This post began as a search for images of the Caballe relaxed and low jaw I especially hope to emulate as I sing.  (Yes, I'm still taking lessons at 50. Maybe one day I'll be good enough for people to hear me.)

So I can't resist sharing this bit of Norma-philia.  It's Montserrat Caballe and Tatiana Troyano in 1977 at La Scala, under Sr. Gavazzini:

This is from the recent, puzzling CD release by Cecilia Bartoli, with the lady herself as Norma and Sumi Jo as Adalgisa:

One of my favorite videos from the popular variety shows of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  This is from 1970, and I don't have to tell you who, but no other credit is given on YouTube:

This is what we are told are shining examples from our own age.  I with hold judgement on this statement:

More for historic interest than real charm--which is unusual for the two principals.

This is fascinating on so many levels!  Marilyn Horne and Leontyne Price, 1982.

...and because you can't do a Norma post without Callas:

There are quite a few i spared you.  You may thank me at your leisure.