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'√© 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 Lakm√©.  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