Sunday, December 16, 2018

È grave il sacrifizio

I had the delight Saturday of seeing the Metropolitan Opera's new production of La Traviata, which opened on December 4, in a cinema in Wilmington, NC. I'll be the first to agree that these HD simulcasts are very far from a live performance in the house, but those of us who are not near NYC appreciate them. And when I was near NYC, I often preferred paying less for a seat in the cinema with great comfort and visibility than I would for a seat in the nosebleed section in the actual house. I've written several reports of operas I've seen in these opera simulcasts.

Diana Damrau and Juan-Diego Florez
Photo:  Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
This is a new production of La Traviata by Broadway veteran Michael Mayer (I believe he was also responsible for the Met's Las Vegas Rigoletto of recent infamy), as well as amazing designers Christine Jones (sets) and Susan Hilferty (costumes). The work of Lighting Designer Kevin Adams was quite beautiful as well. I thought the entire production was beautiful, and was very much delighted by the touches of all of the production team I mention. The costumes for all--principals, chorus, and dancing boys--were quite beautiful, showing the stated intention of reflecting the seasons of the year in each successive scene. I especially liked how Violetta's costumes, dazzling as they were when dazzling was appropriate, were plain in relation to everyone else. This reflected another stated intention of showing all the action as a memory of Violetta on her death bed. (I usually think that is rather trite and overdone, but it didn't really interfere here. I was also a bit annoyed at the thought of the unit set, with the bed in the middle for every scene. I thought it could have a very crude effect, but it didn't. I was even prepared to say I preferred Willy Decker's big clock, but I didn't.) And I would be remiss if I did not mention the choreography of Lorin Latarro. The gypsy dance in the party scene was especially bacchanal-like, with very slightly costumed dancing boys. (Yeah, I guess there were dancing girls there, too, if you like that sort of thing.)

Quinn Kelsey and Juan-Diego Florez
Photo:  Metropolitan Opera
Now is the time to list some of the touches I found especially effective. I loved the moment in the Germont-Violetta duet when Germont took Violetta's hands and she seemed surprised. I also adored how it seemed clear that the elder Germont's argument for leaving Alfredo that actually had the most effect was the suggestion that their union could never be blessed by Heaven. I loved how the Alfredo moments of "Sempre libera" seemed to suggest memories, not Alfredo outside the window, as I'd always assumed. I loved the many lighting effects, especially in Act III, when some of the lights appeared to outline the arches of church windows. The appearance of Alfredo's young sister caused me to gasp in Act II, but I understood her to be almost an angel of death figure in Act III.

I really, really loved Diana Damrau as Violetta. Her singing was beautiful and nuanced, and her acting was beyond compare. Director Michael Mayer is said to have called Ms Damrau the Meryl Streep of opera, and it was easy to see why. The many individual moments, the thought processes, were quite beautiful. On the other hand, while most of her singing was quite beautiful, I can't say all of it was. I loved the desperation of "Sempre libera", which I often think is missing from the performances of other Violettas, but not all of the high notes. On the other hand, it seemed as if she were giving too much vocally to "Addio del passato".

I've written before about baritone Quinn Kelsey, and his portrayal of the elder Germont made me murmur "Daddy" more than once! I've praised Mr. Kelsey's singing and acting before, and I must say I was certainly not disappointed. I am usually not of one opinion about Germont, but this was a sympathetic Germont. He can sometimes seem like a manipulating bastard, but not so this time. He believed Violetta's protestations of love, and seemed conflicted when insisting she leave Alfredo anyway.

Yannick Néget-Séguin takes a bow
Photo:  Jonathan Tichler/Metropolitan Opera via AP
Juan-Diego Florez. I love him with all my heart. I really do. But I'm not sure I'd have cast him as Alfredo. I love his performances of bel canto roles, but rumor has it he would like to do bigger roles. He has essayed the Duke of Mantua on numerous occasions. I don't wish to appear cynical. OK, no more cynical than I usually am, which is pretty damned cynical. I really did love his performance of Alfredo. The man can act, and we believed all of Alfredo's sentiments. I was especially impressed with the cabaletta to his aria--both acting and singing. It goes without saying he can sing the high C at the end in his sleep, but he sang all of the rest of it with great valor and beautiful sound.

Now is the time when I gush about Yannick Nézet-Séguin. True, he is easy on the eyes and quite charming. True, I did post on Instagram that I think he's the cutest conductor in the history of the world. But I can not neglect his enormous talent and the amazing performance today. Not only did he have the always fine Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra in hand and lead them to fine performances, but he also gave this performance many nuances, many fine points of interpretation. In the short documentary about rehearsing this production, he rhapsodized about the joy of taking a new look at old warhorses, and that was just the effect we had. (I also thought it was adorable when he accidentally tossed his baton aside just before beginning Act II.)

Although the cast will change as time goes on, there are still quite a number of performances of this production to see. I highly recommend it!

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Being a nobleman's daughter can really suck.

Just imagine.  In the first place, is "noblewoman" a word?  In the second place, much more than the daughters of commoners and of that annoying middle class merchant and tradesman lot, you are considered property. You are traded off like a piece of jewelry for money, for commercial and political connections, possibly to ensure the peace of your homeland.

Elisabetta comforts Don Carlo at his death
Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Consider the story of poor Elisabetta di Valois in Mr. Verdi's Don Carlo. She accepts her role as goods and chattel, a tool in political negotiations. She accepts her promised marriage to Don Carlo, son of the king of a foreign land, in exchange for a promise of peace. She actually meets the prince to whom she is promised and finds he's a nice fellow, and sort of easy on the eyes. Then she finds those in power have changed their minds, and she is now promised to Don Carlo's father, King Philip. She must accept for the sake of her homeland.

That's just the beginning of Mr. Verdi's revered Don Carlo, considered by many to be his finest opera. (I sort of think choosing Verdi's finest opera is like trying to choose the best flavor of Ben & Jerry's ice cream--not really possible, and in the end, who the heck cares? They're all amazing!)  There is further political and romantic intrigue, pageantry, and some of the best music you will ever hear. Of that I am sure.

Simon Keenlyside and the amazing Feruccio Furlanetto
Photo: Ken Howard/The Metropolitan Opera
Mr. Enrico Caruso is said to have opined that all you needed for a production of Il Trovatore is the four finest singers in the world. That is also true of Don Carlo, but you need six of them! In the Metropolitan Opera's 2010 production that is available to watch on the Metropolitan Opera On Demand streaming channel, there are a great number of amazing singers. Don Carlo himself is portrayed by Roberto Alagna, and his chum Don Rodrigo is sung by the amazing Simon Keenlyside. Elisabetta is sung by Marina Poplavskaya, and King Philip is sung and acted with a ridiculous amount of skill and artistry by Feruccio Furlanetto. Conductor was Yannick Nézet-Séguin and director was Nicholas Hytner, both of whom deserve accolades unending. 

I've reviewed a 2015 revival of this 2010 production before (hyperlink). But I never tire of Verdi, and I need something to write about, so there you are. On the Metropolitan Opera's excellent On Demand streaming service is a performance from the original 2010 production.  The primary differences between this performance and the one I reviewed are Roberto Alagna, the original Don Carlo; Marina Poplavskaya, the original Elisabetta; and Anna Smirnova, the original Eboli.  So, in effect, it is the same production I saw but with a substantially different cast.

I have no complaints about this cast.  Although I'm not always sure of the roles Mr. Alagna essays, he is fully equal to Don Carlo. He is passionate, sounds glorious, and is believable with all of Don Carlo's tumultuous emotions. Ms. Poplavskaya is a lovely and conflicted Elisabetta. And we are quite in favor of Ms. Smirnova as Eboli, who must appear faithful, vengeful, and full of regret at different points in the opera. (Just as Mr. Verdi's Aida was originally to have been named for Amneris, we think some of his other dramatic mezzo roles deserve much more attention than they get!)

Photo:  Ken Howard/The Metropolitan Opera

Those who have access to Metropolitan Opera On Demand, I say watch this video!  Those who don't, I say seek out any live or video performance of Don Carlo you can find!  You won't be sorry. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

I should toot my own horn more.

Here is the introductory paragraph of an email I just wrote to an arts organization in Wilmington, my new city.  I sound pretty grand, don't I?

I've just moved to Wilmington, and I'd like to introduce myself.  As a former singer, I found myself writing, producing, and taking part in other ways behind the scenes with musical organizations run by friends when I was in the NYC area.  Here (hypertext link) is a link to a profile written about me during my brief run as General Manager of a now-defunct small opera group in NYC. As an amateur blogger and occasional writer for other sites and for publication, I've been granted access to wonderful performances by organizations at every professional level, from opera groups featuring young professionals--one of my favorites--to the Glimmerglass Festival, Opera Philadelphia, and even the Metropolitan Opera.  I've written in the same terms about performances I paid to see and performances for which I was given complimentary tickets as a writer.  I've profiled Lawrence Brownlee, Ian Bostridge, and Talise Trevigne, among others, for Classical Singer magazine.  There is a link below to my blog, and the sidebar links there will direct you to other sites I've written for.

Some would say I'm far too modest. Some would say this isn't an impressive list of accomplishments at all. What do you say?

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A Taminogasm of opera and Anglophilia

I am a huge fan of Lucy Worsley, presenter of many a BBC historical documentary. 

I have just discovered these two documentaries about opera and how it reflects history and society, and I am just spent.  I can't even think of anything to compare it to--even hyperbole seems insufficient.  Please, please, please watch!


You may thank me at your leisure.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Hard Bargain: Music, Medicine, and My Father
A review from Kristen Seikaly

For better or for worse, tabloids obsess over the lives of celebrities. The obsession does not stop there, though, as publications will often pay just as much (if not more) for information on and photographs of a celebrity’s children. What’s it like to have a famous parent? This question presses on the minds of many, but the question is not a new one.

Richard Tucker as the Duke of Mantua
Photo:  Metropolitan Opera
Dr. David Tucker, the middle son of the esteemed operatic tenor Richard Tucker, gives as much of an answer to this question as possible through his memoir, The Hard Bargain: Music, Medicine, and My Father (Richard Tucker, Opera Legend). Coauthored with historian Burton Spivak, the title eludes to the younger Tucker’s own ambitions to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an operatic legend, a dream which Richard Tucker did not share for his son.

The title refers to an agreement father and son came to in Dr. Tucker’s college years: he agreed to study medicine if his father would arrange and pay for voice lessons. Each entered into the agreement with the belief that the other will ultimately concede to their own dream.

The reader discovers throughout the book not only how Richard Tucker’s dream for his son won out, but also how Dr. Tucker himself came to accept this dream as his own. Along the way, Dr. Tucker shares intimate details about his father and his relationship with him. Additionally, the authors offer unique insights into opera, ophthalmology, and the life of a Jewish American family in the 20th century.

As is true for most fathers and sons who attempt to understand their relationship, Dr. Tucker reflects on how his father made him the man he became without arriving at a clear answer. He seems to agree that his father’s dreams for him were for the best, but he also readily points out conflicts they had along the way. It is also clear that Dr. Tucker loves opera. The pain he felt every time his father rejected his operatic dreams can be felt, despite his best attempts to downplay it.

In other words, while on the surface Dr. Tucker writes with confidence about his life, his choices, and his relationship to the great Richard Tucker, the syntax and tone suggest otherwise. Readers may enjoy this book on either level.

In this way, this book will appeal to more than simply opera fans or fans of Richard Tucker. Those interested in medicine will also find a wealth of information and history, particularly in the second half of the book. The insights into a Jewish American family and how the Holocaust affected both Richard Tucker’s career and his personal life are given considerable attention throughout, as well. This viewpoint is one of the book’s greatest strengths.

While this memoir may read more like history than news to modern audiences, readers may gain an understanding about their own loved ones through it, for better or for worse. In this way, Richard Tucker’s legacy and his dreams for his son have gone far beyond anything the legendary singer could have hoped.

Materials for this review were provided by the publisher. The views and opinions expressed here are completely those of the reviewer.

Kristen Seikaly is a freelance writer, singer, and voice teacher in the Philadelphia area. Additionally, she runs Operaversity, a website geared towards providing resources on opera for artists and audiences.

She tweets at @KristenSeikaly.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Medea at Teatro Nuovo

Jennifer Rowley
Photo:  Fay Fox
On Sunday I ventured to Purchase College to see Teatro Nuovo's Bel Canto Festival present Medea in Corinto, a neglected opera by equally neglected composer Giovanni Simone Mayr.  Mayr's works were a great influence on the compositions of Rossini.  Rossini admired Medea in Corinto, and is said to have claimed it is "...always dramatic, always sings, and is always melodic...."  I quite like it myself, and think it might have a place in today's opera houses.  And I found Sunday's performance to be a treat, both musically and theatrically. The performance was semi-staged, and there were many moments of gripping drama.

Of course I was there to hear the lovely Jennifer Rowley as Medea. All of the reasons we love Ms Rowley's singing were there in abundance--beautiful, rich sound, dazzling and sensitive artistry, and absolute commitment to her character. I could not take my eyes off of her whenever she was on stage. Her solo scenes left me breathless--especially the Act II monologue when she considers killing the children she shares with Giasone (Jason) as an act of vengeance.  Every conflicting and terrifying and agonizing emotion was clear.

Teresa Castillo
Photo:  Kaleigh Rae Photography
I liked all of the other singers, too.  Teresa Castillo, as Creusa, the woman Giasone marries, has a beautiful sound throughout and is a very expressive singer.  She lists some impressive achievements in her brief bio, and I hope I'll hear her again soon.  Tenor Derrek Stark was a proud and manly Giasone, with a very nice sound and ringing high notes.  I liked baritone William Lee Bryan as Creonte, King of Corinth and father to Creusa, and I also liked Mingjie Lei as Egeo, King of Athens, to whom Creusa had been promised before Giasone came along.

The highly skilled Teatro Nuovo Orchestra played under Jonathan Brandani, maestro al cembalo, and Jakob Lehmann, primo violino e capo d'orchestra. The two took it in turns guiding the orchestra, but the ensemble seemed to play so intuitively together that a conductor in the modern sense would have been superfluous.  I never sensed a moment when the orchestra wasn't playing as one, and I never sensed a moment when orchestra and stage were not in sync. 

I hope this opera is performed more often.  It has more merits than some other neglected operas, and the story from Euripides, in this case adapted by librettist Felice Romani, never fails to capture our imaginations.  We are fortunate that there is another performance at the Bel Canto Festival on August 4.  I would encourage one and all to see it.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

All is not well in Syracuse

I was delighted to see a concert (sort of) performance of Mr. Rossini's Tancredi Saturday night at the new home of Will Crutchfield's Bel Canto [no longer] at Caramoor--the new Bel Canto Festival presented by Teatro Nuovo at Purchase College.  Although a long opera, it was full of delights. (I must admit that Tancredi is one of those operas everyone has heard of, but I had not yet seen.)

Tamara Mumford
Photo:  Dario Acosta
The singing was stellar across the board--not a dud in the bunch.  The star of the show was Tamara Mumford as Tancredi himself, who of course loves the daughter of a family that is sworn enemies of his own.  It is opera, after all.  (To complicate matters, a letter from the young lady to Tancredi is intercepted, and her loving words are perceived to be directed toward the leader of a rival clan.  You know how opera works.  After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, there is usually a happy ending.  Unless the soprano dies.)  Getting back to the many talents of Ms. Mumford, we were thrilled with her free and beautiful sound, her even tone throughout her voice, her agility, and her characterization.  We have seen Ms. Mumford in a few things at the Metropolitan Opera, where she was a member of the Lindemann Young Artist program, and we hope to see a lot more of her in the future.

Amanda Woodbury
Amanda Woodbury was Amenaide, the maiden I mention above.  We first saw Ms. Woodbury at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2014, when she was selected as one of the winners.  We loved her singing then, and we love it now.  I believe the role of Amenaide is a little bit schizophrenic.  Or perhaps bipolar.  Much of it smacks of Donna Elvira, but there are some crazy moments of Konstanze in there just for spice, as well as a hint of the Queen of the Night. Ms. Woodbury was equal to all of the vocal demands, and gave a perfectly beautiful performance of this demanding role. Another artist I hope to see often in the future.

We've seen Santiago Ballerini before, as well, as Fernand in the production of Le Favorite (La Favorita) presented by Bel Canto at Caramoor in 2015.  We still admire his singing.  Everybody say it with me--freedom of tone, evenness of scale, ease and agility.  All of the technical things we like to hear, while also enjoying artistry and beauty of interpretation.  (It's not that hard to please me--just get all of those things right, and you're golden.)

As I say all the singing was good.  And I was pleased with the orchestra, under the direction of Mr. Crutchfield.  Again, I'm not that hard to please--give me phrasing, clarity, artistry, and playing at the highest technical level.  How hard is that?

But.  I think Mr. Crutchfield's organization is still becoming accustomed to the beautiful Performing Arts Center at Purchase College.  The entrances and exits, mostly of the chorus but occasionally of the principals, seemed a little awkward.  I found the presentation long.  Although most of the singers acted their roles admirably, there wasn't much of a feeling that this wasn't simply a concert.  I'd almost rather have had risers and chairs to make it truly a concert performance.  If they called this semi-staged, that was a bit of a stretch.

A few thoughts:

  • I counted no fewer than three man-buns in the chorus.  What are these young people thinking?!
  • Gentlemen--please make sure you have the coat sleeves of your tux fitted.  If you're getting hired as a principal, you can afford a seamstress.
  • Ladies--I like a beautiful dress as much as the next opera blogger (shut up!), but I do believe the lady in the primary role should have the flashiest dress.
  • While usually not a big fan of deadpan park-and-bark singing, I would advise at least one principal in this production to flail about less and stand still more as she is singing. It presents a much stronger image and is also likely a good thing vocally.  
Obviously, if I can't find more to complain about than the mezzo sidekick's dress upstaging the prima donna's completely tasteful and appropriate black dress, then it was a very fine performance.  

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Credit where credit is due: A quick profile of Renata Scotto

You know me. You know I love great ladies of the stage, and I love to write about them. That is why it pains me to realize I have never given an artist of such universal acclaim as Renata Scotto very many words in this blog. I'd hang my head in shame if it were possible to do that and type at the same time.  Her list of accomplishments is very long indeed, including performances on stage, audio and video recordings, and work as a stage director and as a coach. I've met quite a few singers who are currently very active performing who state that Ms. Scotto is a wonderful and knowledgeable coach in Italian operatic repertore, and a very great lady indeed.

Rather than go on and on about her accomplishments, I'll treat you to some delicious performance clips:

One of my very favorites--from Elisir, 1967

As Lucia, also 1967

A terrific interview

I could go on and on.  The internet is rife with clips that show Ms. Scotto's artistry and humor.  I hope you'll avail yourselves of them!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Artist Profile: Lisette Oropesa

Anyone familiar with these pages, or with today's opera world at all, should know of the lovely Lisette Oropesa. She was member of the Met's Lindemann Young Artist Program at 21, is a veteran of over 100 Metropolitan Opera performances in the not-very-many years since, including appearances in eight HD broadcasts, and is now an international star appearing in leading opera houses all over the world.

She is currently killing as Lucia at the Teatro Real in Madrid (see what I did there?). Fernando Remiro wrote in, " was Lisette Oropesa who brought the house down with her candidness on stage and her total match with the production’s concept."  

I myself wrote of two live performances I was fortunate to see:

Lisette Oropesa's Sophie was adorable, her singing completely beautiful and her characterization of the bubbly young girl believable. (Werther, Metropolitan Opera, 2014)

I was surprised to learn Lisette Oropesa, who sings delicious Nanettas and Susannas and Maries (Fille du Regiment) all over the world, would sing Violetta. But I was delighted with the result....Best of all, we believed her as a young woman who knows her days are numbered and makes choices with that in mind. (La Traviata, Opera Philadelphia, 2015)

Lisette and I recently had a delightful chat on Skype, and following are a few excerpts.

On repertoire, her early association with high and light roles:

When I was doing Nannetta and Sophie in Werther, I was fresh out of the [Lindemann] Young Artist Program.  I was young, and they wanted to take care of me.  Those roles were huge opportunities, and performing those roles led to other opportunities. 

As Violetta at Opera Philadelphia
Photo:  Steven Harris
At the same time I was performing Nannetta and Sophie, I was coaching Lucia and Violetta, the types of roles that I would sing in a few years—but not necessarily at the Met.  I think the Met can be hard on singers, because of the size of the house.  People aren’t heard the same way, and larger voice types are generally preferable.  Singers might come across differently in a house the size of the Met than they do in other houses.  

I did La Traviata in Philly when I was 32.  I hemmed and hawed with the decision when it was offered to me. I didn’t know if I was ready. I had coached the role with Renata Scotto, along with many others, and she asked me why I would wait. She said the role calls for an interpreter, and she thought I would do it well.  It doesn’t matter if you’re on the dramatic side or the coloratura side—every singer has a stake in the role.  Violetta is for a singer who knows how to interpret a role.  The tragedy of La Traviata is that Violetta dies too young. I did it in Philly, and it went very well.  I’m doing it again this fall.  I will do it again a few times in the coming years.  I want to keep growing into it. 

Photo:  Steven Harris
It’s certainly not an easy role.  I can't sing the high notes in Sempre libera the way I sing them in Ah, non guinge or Caro nome or any of the lighter coloratura roles.  Because of what the aria is about:  First there's Ah, fors'é lui, which in my opinion requires a different color altogether.  Even the coloratura in Sempre libera is musically dramatic--accented high notes, powerful scales, and tons of emotion, and it comes at the end of the demanding first act.  So it isn’t just a floaty, dream-like aria, it’s the first moment of authenticity for the character.  For me the first act is the hardest because it's when you establish who Violetta is.  Then by the time I get to the third act, it feels easier to just let go.

I love the roles I’m singing now. I’m not ready to leave this rep.  There are still roles I haven’t performed.  I haven’t done I Puritani, and there are French roles I haven’t done—including some things that I have coming up that I’m very excited about.  I’m hoping my voice doesn’t plateau on me, doesn’t stop growing and changing.  I don’t want to age out of some roles before I have had a chance to sing them.

[Here is Lisette’s schedule, full of the sort of roles she is speaking of.]

On challenges along the path:

I started the Lindemann Young Artist Program straight out of college, so I didn’t get a transition period—no programs at smaller opera companies, no graduate school.  I was only 21 when I came to New York, and had never lived anywhere outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  It was all new and overwhelming. I had to sink or swim and start doing what I needed to do very early.  I was singing more and studying a lot more rep, and my voice began to change. It took a while to find the right teacher in New York.  At first it was a little bit difficult. 

There’s always a new challenge.  Every time I sing a new engagement, every time I go to a new city.  It feels like even after a dozen years in “the circuit” I think I know what to expect, but even then my body is always changing, my voice is always changing.

On running:

Lucia at Teatro Real
Photo:  Javier del Real
Losing weight was a big thing for me.  When I was in the Young Artist Program, I thought, here I am in New York, in this prestigious program. They’re paying me to be here, investing time and money in my future. I’m not going to mess this up now, I’ve got to make the most of this opportunity.  The time was right to take action.  Overall I lost about 75 pounds, but it took about five years.  I did it the slow, careful, painful way. Running became a part of that, and now it’s become a part of my life.  It’s become part of who I am.  I’ve done half marathons and full marathons, although I haven’t done any in a long time because my schedule has been so full with engagements I haven’t been able to devote the time to training.  But I still run 5 days a week!  (Lisette loves the Yonkers Half Marathon.  Funny how Yonkers comes up in every discussion.  Yonkers or Norma.  Ideally both.)

Is there a role that will never fit you that you want to sing, possibly in the bathtub?

Tosca.  Many years from now, if it becomes fashionable to do a light lyric Tosca, I might perform it.  I just love listening to Tosca and thinking about getting to kill a baritone.  (As a tenor, I had to agree.) 

Any roles from your fach you don’t want to sing, or to sing again?

In the past I’ve been offered the role of Despina, but I am not interested in it.   I don’t really care for the role, and even though the opera has some sublime moments, I just don’t love it, so I have never agreed to do it. 

As Susanna opposite Zachary Nelson
Santa Fe Opera
Photo:  Ken Howard
But I do love Nozze and have had nothing but joy as Susanna.  My calendar has been filling up with other things, though, and I don’t have any more planned.  I probably won’t do it any more. I might sing the Countess one day, but I’m not flying toward lyric-land.  Another Mozart role I would love to sing is Ilia.  I’m singing the aria in a concert this summer.  I would love for someone to hear it and cast me as Ilia. 

I have been offered Blonde before and I have turned it down because it sits too high for me.  Same goes for several other higher roles like Zerbinetta and Lakmé.  I just don’t have a solid high E.  My voice is more suited to Konstanze; I’ve done it several times, and will continue to keep singing it, fortunately.  It’s one of my most performed roles and I think the opera is a total masterpiece.

In your Q&A videos on YouTube, you speak so eloquently and clearly about vocal technique.  Do you teach?

Thank you!  My mom is a music teacher, and she has always had voice students.  She was a tremendous influence on me, so I kind of have the bug. From my mom I learned how to talk to people about singing, and I learned from figuring out a few technical things on my own.  I’ve also gotten some great tips from coaches. So many coaches have known the one thing to say in the moment that made a huge difference in my singing. My technique has become very solid.  I feel like I know what I’m doing.  I have given masterclasses and private lessons and coachings, but I don’t have a private studio.  However I think eventually I will. 

I enjoy listening to other singers because I can hear what they’re doing, and can talk to them about it. Although you can’t teach every student the same way; the dialogue has to vary.  Some need to know which muscles are moving and when.  Some need musical ideas more than technical advice.  I don’t tend to use pedagogy or technical terms when teaching because I have found that even though we learn all of that in school, in practice all of those muscles are involuntary.  You can’t control them.  In fact there’s very little you can control, such as the tongue, but even that works independently sometimes.  I instead try to focus on breath, vowels, placement, and where it “feels” like the air is going.

On reviews:

People ask me whether I read reviews.  I do.  I’ve gotten some wonderful reviews, and sometimes I get negative ones too.  Most often negative comments have to do with my voice being light or the reviewer preferring a bigger voice in the role being reviewed.  That’s fine, to me that’s a matter of taste. 

I think most singers do read reviews.  It’s only natural that we want to know what is being said about our work.  And bad ones are hard to swallow.  I am still trying to learn how to put them into context, or how to let them go.  The trouble is, I put equal weight on the negative and the positive.  If I dismiss that one nasty review or that one comment, then I have to dismiss the positive reviews, I have to dismiss the people who tell me I moved them. 

However I don’t let reviews affect my performances.  I try to sing every performance like it is my last one.  With every performance, I try to be authentic, to sing honestly, organically, because in the end, I can go home knowing I gave it my all.

On social media and her public persona:

I’m usually a very open person.  I maintain a very personal connection with my friends  and fans, although I’m not sure I like the word fans—puts too much distance between me others. I’ve been working on my presence in social media. For a long time I resisted hiring publicity agents--people to arrange interviews and public appearances and get my name in the news--and I still don’t have publicity agents in the US.  I thought it would all happen organically, but I learned it doesn’t.  My husband is a web developer, and he does my web site and handles most of the publicity, like a “post of the day” or sharing photos or news about a performance on social media. I do all the personal interaction with people on social media.  When people write to me, they are writing to me. 

On the sad fact that she has so few performances in the US on her calendar in the coming years:

I don’t have as much coming up in the US as I do in Europe.  I’m not at the Met this season, but I will be there the season after, and the following seasons.  I’m doing Santa Fe next summer.  I have something in Houston a few years down the road, plus I have some concerts. 

For me it’s just naturally happened that I have most of my engagements here in Europe, which has made me very happy, because these theatres and audiences are wonderful.

My husband travels with me—he can work wherever he is.  We have a lot of flexibility.  We’re very happy, very fortunate. 

Photo at the top:  Steven Harris

Monday, June 18, 2018

Taminophile profiles The Shirtless Violinist!

OK, I usually profile singers, but I was so interested in how Matthew Olshefski, aka The Shirtless Violinist (just look at him!  **swoon**), has attracted people to classical music that I reached out to ask a few questions.  He has a presence on all sorts of social media, and the links are below.  

To start, some videos:

Is there anything in your background that is not easily found in your public web sites that you'd like people to know?

I don’t often get the chance to talk about the teachers I’ve had the opportunity to study under as I was growing up and learning to play the violin. Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week (as he was writing the answers--some time has passed), so I would love to mention how grateful I am for the time I spent with my teachers, including Almita and Roland Vamos, Ruggiero Ricci, Benny Kim, Zakhar Brohn, and Dorothy DeLay.  You asked about overcoming problematic teaching, and I can easily say I've had great teachers from the start.

You and your adorable boyfriend make your relationship very public.  Any concerns or regrets about that?  Benefits vs. costs of various kinds?

No regrets at all! Paul and I are happy to represent the LGBT community as a loving couple in a healthy relationship. The more opportunities we have, as a community, to portray gay relationships in a real way - the better! This has become an important aspect of what we do. The beauty of social media is that we control it; we keep certain things private, and choose to share others. 

Since you've become known as The Shirtless Violinist, how has life changed?  

I get to record music regularly, interact with fans around the world, and plan these exciting music video projects. All of that is new to me - and I absolutely love it. But when you get right down to the day-to-day of life, not much has changed at all! I go the gym; spend quality time with my boyfriend; run errands; watch Netflix; and I still have my day job as a violin teacher. I’m the same person, just with a few new things thrown into the mix!

I've talked to singers and other artists about marketing and brand.  What is the most important thing about your brand?

The answer is an evolving one! In the beginning I would have said it’s all about the music and the beauty of the violin. My body and physique have always just been an added bit of fun, it’s not the driving force behind what I’m doing. But as the platform has grown and the videos have found a new audience, I have discovered that the brand is about representing the LGBTQ community and portraying gay relationships in a positive and relatable way. Although the brand will always remain music-focused, Paul and I have both been delighted to become part of LGBTQ visibility on a global scale.

Of course you get a lot of notoriety about your looks.  I've talked with male singers who often sing shirtless about this--do you think it detracts from your brand, or becomes your brand?  (I recognize this is how you first achieved widespread publicity, so that will affect how you answer this question.)

When I decided to start performing shirtless, I did so knowing that it would invite a new audience. I wanted to reach people who had never considered sitting down and listening to the violin before. I can say with certainty that I’ve accomplished that goal - because that’s what people tell me every single day! I think that’s very cool, and it’s something I’m proud of. On the flip side of the coin, there are probably people out there who look away because of the shirtlessness. To them, I say “close your eyes and just enjoy the music!”

I talk with singers often about whether they have had any kinds of hurdles  to overcome.  Have you experienced that?

In terms of technical hurdles, I have come a long way as a recording artist. As many people know, recording studio time is expensive! And, when this project first began, I couldn’t afford to get in a studio so I recorded all of my music directly into my laptop. In order to produce a better quality sound, I built a blanket fort in my living room and recorded songs underneath it. My boyfriend has home video footage of me doing this, and it’s very amusing because my bow kept hitting the blanket and messing me up! Thankfully, as my audience grew, so did my budget and I have been recording with a professional sound engineer for the past year and a half. 

Have you worked with singers?  On my graduate recital I did two Bach arias with violin obbligato with a friend--do you do that sort of thing?  

One of my early videos is a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” which I performed with a vocal quartet called The Sound Four. And I am now recording a song with another singer this very week! I am collaborating with an LA-based singer named Tom Goss and we are performing a duet of Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect”. It’s something I’m very excited about, and hope to do more of soon!

If you're performing with a symphony orchestra, do you perform shirtless?  Do you do whatever the organizer asks?  Do you insist on formal wear?

I have never performed shirtless with a symphony orchestra. I’ve been playing in orchestras for many years, but always in a suit and tails. I still think a fully shirtless orchestra would be a really fun thing, and I want to make it happen one day. 

My favorite question from Inside the Actors' Studio:  What is your favorite swear word?

Shit. It does the job without being too offensive - just like me!

Another favorite question from Inside the Actors' Studio (paraphrased):  Assuming there is a God, what do you want Him to tell you when you meet Him?

“Great abs!”

P.S.  Any of you barihunks out there whom I haven't approached for a profile--it's OK to volunteer.  I won't think it forward of you.