Monday, March 31, 2014

Met Stars in the Making

On Sunday, March 30, hubby and I heard the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Grand Finals concert. There were nine singers in this final round of competition, each of whom presented one aria in each half of the concert. I like this plan--one is able to hear them all and form initial impressions, and hear each again to refine those impressions. Then the judges made their collective decision, which was announced immediately.

Tenor Yi Li, soprano Julie Adams, bass Patrick Guetti
soprano Amanda Woodbury, bass-baritone Ao Li
Photo: Rebecca Fay, Metropolitan Opera
I must say I agree whole-heartedly with the judges' choice of five winners. The names of the five were plastered all over the Internet before I got home, so I'll spare you any list aside from the caption to the photo here.

My impressions? Some mighty fine singing, interpretation, and stage presence in these five young singers. From the first notes bass Patrick Guetti sang, I knew this was a winner. In the first half he sang "Il lacerato spirito" from Simon Boccanegra, and his bass sound filled the theater while his presence as the character was impressive. In the second half he sang an amusing "La calunnia" (Il Barbiere di Siviglia), showing he can be more than a park-and-bark solemn bass. Soprano Amanda Woodbury was another favorite from the beginning, giving us a beautiful "Non mi dir" (Don Giovanni) in the first half and an amazing Ophelia mad scene from Hamlet in the second. Bass-baritone Ao Li hammed it up in the first half with an amusing "Madamina" (Don Giovanni), but was completely earnest in the second half with Aleko's cavatina from Aleko (by Mr. Rachmaninoff--I don't know this opera, but perhaps I should). Tenor Yi Li gave us a very good "De' miei bollenti spirit" (La Traviata) in the first half and an impassioned "Pourquoi me reveiller" (Werther) in the second half. Soprano Julie Adams sang a very good Lia's aria from L'Enfant Prodigue in the first half, but I must say I was distracted by my own thoughts about whether L'Enfant Prodigue is opera or oratorio. (In fact, this list calls it a choral/orchestra work with soloists.) In the second half, however, her "Donde lieta usci" (La Boheme) was magic. Magic, I tell you!

The other finalists gave very fine performances, as well, and I rather think all of them will go far. I don't wish to single any of the non-finalists out as very good, because that would also single out the one or two who disappointed me. That's not my style.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Francesca Zambello (whom we adore) shares culinary wisdom

From Francesca's latest newsletter to Glimmerglass supporters:
Francesca Zambello
Photo: Claire McAdams/Glimmerglass Festival
  • FAST FISH. I previously told you how I am getting used to cooking on an AGA cooker. Well I learned a big lesson this week. I was having guests over for dinner, and I planned on serving a roast. When you want your oven on, you normally crank it up 15 minutes before you need it to get up to the required temperature. Well not an AGA; it needs at least an hour to heat up. So when I realized company was arriving and I had mistimed everything, I turned to a faster recipe, “Fish in Parchment.” Not sure about you, but I love fish. I always order it in a restaurant, but at home, I do not want the house to smell from cooking it. So I often use this surefire recipe for delicate, flaky and juicy fish, with no odors left afterward.

    You will need to get parchment paper. The parchment paper forms a barrier around the fish and traps the heat inside the packet, which gently steams the fish. This is a healthy way to cook fish because it requires little fat and it is hands-off. With this technique, you let the steam do all the work and add moisture to the fish so it doesn't dry out. And then the clean-up is easy as well.


    What you need:
  • Fish — can be whole fish or filets. I recommend cod, halibut or monkfish filets. Get thin slices of the filet. Some people use salmon, but I prefer salmon cooked in foil, not paper. I will talk about a whole baked fish soon, once I catch one in Otsego Lake.
  • Olive oil
  • Almost any spice combination depending on the flavors you want:
    - Asian (use soy and lemon grass)
    - Italian (use garlic, thyme and rosemary)
    - French (use lemon, parsley and shallots) 
  • Some liquid: white wine, stock, soy, or just a little water

    How to do it: 
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  • Get a cookie sheet and put out as many pieces of parchment paper as guests and big enough to wrap a fish twice around 
  • Put a little olive oil on your parchment paper 
  • If using filets, place half a filet on the parchment 
  • In the middle make a sandwich-like structure with all your herbs and flavors, then top with the other piece of filet. Pour some liquid over it, white wine, stock, soy, lemon juice, whatever flavor you want… 
  • Wrap it like a present with a fold in it
  • Cook in the oven, usually 20-25 minutes, but you cannot mess this up by over-cooking. (But don’t leave it in all day) 
  • Serve the fish with rice and vegetables (best steamed as well) and white wine

Monday, March 24, 2014

I felt sorry for the horse

On Saturday, March 22, I was delighted to see La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera. It should surprise no one to learn that I went primarily to see my favorite diva, Jennifer Rowley, as Musetta. Her actual debut in the production--and the house--was Wednesday, March 19, but I had chosen her 2nd performance, a Saturday, not knowing my schedule at the time I bought the tickets. (Yes, I bought my tickets. Your intrepid reporter does not get comped everywhere!)

Jennifer Rowley
Photo credit: Arielle Doneson
If I've ever seen the Zefirelli production in the house, the memory is completely erased by the many times I've seen it on video and television. In the house it's completely different! It's huge! It took me an act and a half to become accustomed to the scale of the thing, so that when we see the Act I garret again in Act IV, it seemed almost natural for Schaunard and Colline to take the mock sword fight out onto the roofs of neighboring tenements. Most of Act I, however, seemed like a whole lot of scenery on which two tiny people led their tiny lives in questo popoloso deserto che appellano Parigi. Perhaps that was Mr. Zefirelli's point, in a Brueghel/Icarus way? This was really brought home in Act II, when I confess I couldn't even find the principals among all the people and animals onstage at first. (Better lighting might have helped with this.) When the market stalls disappeared and Cafe Momus became the focus, then we saw the principals center stage.

It must have appeared quite chaotic for the poor horse drawing the carriage for Musetta's entrance, for a perfectly charming and dazzling entrance turned into a slightly frightening one when the horse refused to go on further and in fact backed off stage. The amazing Musetta for the evening didn't miss a beat and easily made it back onstage for her first sung entrance, and was of course the focus for the remainder of the act. Resplendent in red velvet, amply sharing her rich, soaring voice, Miss Rowley left no doubt as to her mastery of this and so many other roles requiring beautiful singing from a beautiful woman. Her Act II Musetta was childish and impulsive, like Veruca Salt, reminding us just how young and vulnerable these Bohemians really were. By Act IV, sorrow had made a more mature woman out of Musetta, so that the noble gesture of selling her jewelry to buy medicine for Mimi is no surprise.

Anita Hartig at ROH Covent Garden
photo: Bill Cooper
Anita Hartig, who made her company debut alongside Miss Rowley on Wednesday night, was a fine Mimi. Quite warm and secure in voice and demure in presentation, her Mimi was all one could ask for. Massimo Cavalletti as Marcelo, Patrick Carfizzi as Schaunard, and Nicolas Testé as Colline are all fine singers, and were a pleasure to see and hear. Vittorio Grigolo is not my favorite Rodolfo vocally, but he certainly was ardent.

As always the Metropolitan Opera Chorus and the Met Children's Chorus were excellent. Although the orchestra is always just as excellent, in this case it seemed the conductor, Stefano Ranzani, wasn't always with his singers.

La Boheme continues at the Met through April 18. Miss Rowley alternates with Susanna Phillips as Musetta.

La Boheme Act II
Metropolitan Opera photo from a previous season

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Peace and she are strangers grown

I had the pleasure Saturday evening of seeing Columbia University Bach Society's semi-staged presentation of dear Mr. Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, in Columbia's beautiful St. Paul's Chapel. Dido is a typical sailor temporary love story, except the sailor is a prince and ship's captain and the wronged maiden is a queen.

Devon Mehring
Since its founding in 1999, the Bach Society has been a student-led orchestra and chorus, and has presented some ambitious programs, published recordings, and made concert tours. This is the first performance by the group I have seen. Because it is a student-conducted, student-directed production and all the singers are very young, one can forgive ragged patches, errant intonation in singers and orchestra, and balance issues.

It is easy to forgive these flaws largely because of the amazingly fresh, young talent in most of these singers. First and foremost I must mention the beautiful Devon Mehring, who sang Dido. In vocal tone and polish, in commitment to her character, and in stage demeanor, she was head and shoulders above her cast mates. Her final aria "When I am laid in earth", the moment for which anyone who knows Dido and Aeneas waits, was riveting. Young Miss Mehring's bio-blurb lists some impressive accomplishments for a college junior--actually, for any young singer!--and I do hope we will see a lot of her in operatic circles in years to come!

Isaac Assor
Also a very strong performer, also easy on the eyes, was Isaac Assor, the evening's Aeneas. Although much of the role doesn't fit his voice, those sections where he used his high voice were glorious. As with most of the cast, I believe his performance would have been even better with a stronger director.

Another standout performer was Christine Rosenblatt as the First Witch, who dons the disguise of Mercury to lure Aeneas back out to sea. Her singing was quite good, and her commitment to her limited character was quite visible. Another young lady for whom I foresee great things.

It is not a coincidence that the three I mention as standouts had the most experience prior to this show, but I don't wish to suggest by omission that any cast member lacked promise. Casting on the whole was uneven, which is typical for any student or young professional level endeavor, and it was very clear how young these singers are. Other quibbles? Of course, but again, for a student-led production, I believe it was quite good. I did enjoy being there.

Aside from a brief acknowledgement to two faculty members in the program, there was no mention of faculty involvement in program or web site. One does not wish to disparage the great accomplishment of this production, but one still wonders whether more faculty involvement, if only on an advisory level, wouldn't be a good thing.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Breaking News: The Glimmerglass Festival Appoints Eric Owens Artistic Advisory Board Chairman

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – The Glimmerglass Festival, the Central New York hub for lovers of opera and musical theater, has appointed bass-baritone Eric Owens as chairman of The Glimmerglass Festival Artistic Advisory Board, making him an ex-officio member of the company’s Board of Trustees.

Eric Owens
Paul Sirochman Photography
The Artistic Advisory Board is a group of artists and opera professionals, appointed by Artistic & General Director Francesca Zambello, that can be called upon as a sounding board for the company. Zambello formed the group in 2011, prior to her first summer season.
Owens served as the 2012 Artist in Residence at Glimmerglass, starring in new productions of Verdi’s Aida and Kurt Weill’s Lost in the Stars. Last summer, he returned to Glimmerglass to perform in concert with members of the Young Artists Program, the apprentice program for young singers. Upcoming, on April 10, he will serve as master of ceremonies at GL!MMERATA, the company’s spring gala and largest fundraiser of the year held at the prestigious Metropolitan Club in New York City.

“We are honored to have Eric so deeply involved with Glimmerglass,” Zambello said. “Eric is a brilliant performer, and his passion for opera and theater continues when he steps off stage. His enthusiasm for Glimmerglass is palpable, and he has been a wonderful ambassador for the summer festival.”

The Artistic Advisory Board also includes Bill Burden, Amy Burton, Joyce Castle, Beth Clayton, Sarah Coburn, Dwayne Croft, David Daniels, Michelle DeYoung, Rod Gilfry, Christine Goerke, Anthony Dean Griffey, Julie and Nathan Gunn, Joe Kaiser, Michael Kaiser, Mark Lamos, Patricia Racette, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Deborah Voigt and Joe Volpe.

The 2014 Glimmerglass Festival focuses on 100 years of music and features four new productions of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, Strauss’ Ariadne in Naxos and Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy. The productions run in repertory July 11 through August 24. More information can be found at Your Taminophile will be there to report on his findings!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Rossini Romp in Midtown East

Cabiria Jacobsen
Dear Mr. Rossini had 40 or more operas performed in his lifetime, so it's no suprise to learn of yet another little gem previously unknown to me. Little Opera Theatre of NY is bringing to life an early example, Opportunity Makes the Thief (L'occasione fa il ladro), first produced in 1812, before any of the more famous Rossini operas. (L'italiana in Algieri, the first of Rossini's operas still commonly performed, came a year later, in 1813. Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Mr. Rossini's most famous work, came along in 1816.) Typically for the time and type of opera, the story involves assumed identities, thwarted romance that is put right in the end, and coincidence. You don't really need to know more than that.

Julie-Anne Hamula
As I've stated before, I'm a big supporter of opera at this professional level, using eager young talent and making opera performances available at more reasonable ticket prices than most tickets at the Metropolitan Opera. And talent was in abundance at the performance on Friday, February 28! Some of the singers I'd heard before and written about in glowing terms in these pages, and some were new to me. I expect to hear great things about all of them in the future. As I've also said before, I'd love to hear most of these voices with another year or two of training and experience.

The two young female leads, soprano Julie-Anne Hamula and mezzo Cabiria Jacobsen, were a delight to see and hear. Ms. Hamula is a lovely young soprano who, judging by the wide range of roles in her credits, is still finding the best repertoire for her beautiful voice. While I think she will wind up singing meatier roles than the ingenue Berenice, she sang the role quite capably on Friday night, coping with the vocal challenges in range, tessitura, and fioritura, and throwing herself into the silliness of the storyline and her character. I first saw Ms. Jacobsen in Bronx Opera's The Poisoned Kiss, and I thought she was among the best of a very capable cast. I say the same about her Ernestina Friday night. Seizing many comic opportunities and singing with great ease and comfort, she was a highlight of the evening.

Eric McKeever
Baritone Eric McKeever was the male star of the evening, with a solid tone, ringing high notes, and a magnetic stage personality. As Parmenione, the rakish deceiver, he was charming and likeable. Adelmo Guidarelli was equally charming as Parmenione's Schleporello-like valet, Martino. A veteran comedy performer, with his own operatic cabaret/comedy show due to premiere at Lincoln Center in April, Mr. Guidarelli stole nearly every scene he was in.

I fear tenor Nicholas Simpson was miscast in the role of Alberto, the ardent young lover. His program bio and his web site both list much bigger roles than Alberto, and based on what I heard Friday night, I think those roles suit him better vocally. I also hear a young sound in need of further polish. Not to complain about his performance on Friday night, which in many ways was quite good, but I would quite like to hear him after another year or two of study.

The show sparkled with clever directorial touches. I liked having conductor James Bagwell interact with the audience and the singers, at one point pouring himself a strong drink. One of my favorite parts was Ms. Jacobsen's moment of mock self indulgence, bemoaning the fact her role had no aria, begging Mr. Bagwell to let her insert one from another Rossini opera at that point. [Sorry for that spoiler.] Mr. Bagwell and his very small orchestra played admirably, and it seemed communication between pit and singers was very clear.

Alas, there are only two more performances of this show, and I do believe both are sold out, so my recommendation to see it would be moot. But recommend it I do, for the show is great fun.