Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dramatic Dignity

"Mr. Domingo brought vocal charisma, dramatic dignity and a lifetime of experience to his portrayal."

Anthony Tommasini, 'Simon Boccanegra' For Verdi, Masquerading as a Baritone, New York Times Music Review, January 19, 2010

(bathroom at the Metropolitan Opera)

Standing ovation for three curtain calls! Wow.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Simon Boccanegra

Last night I saw Simon Boccanegra at the Met with Meridita.

I had been very intimidated by this opera, as the synopsis was so complicated I was nervous I wouldn't be able to follow the plot. Plus, the story involves a lot of political intrigue, and I was scared this would not engage me.

I couldn't have been more wrong. It was very easy to follow, and very interesting dramatically. But what was most amazing for me was that the way the music combined with the libretto to create a tremendously intense drama. I had the same feeling with Der Rosenkavalier, like the story alone wouldn't have been enough for me, nor the music, but you combine them and something marvelous happens.

We were very fortunate to see Placido Domingo in the lead role. Although he is a tenor and the role is a baritone, he wanted to do it, and it was the first time in his professional career that he sang in that range. He was fantastic! The house went crazy for him at the end, the applause was stupendous, and it was thrilling to be in that audience.

The entire cast was superb. The soprano was sung by Adrianne Pieczonka, whose voice was strong and clear throughout, although her acting was kind of not there. Marcello Giordani played the lover, and although he seemed to fub a note or two, he belted out some beautiful, beautiful arias. He is the performer who played Pinkerton in the Mme. Butterfly we saw in HD at Lincoln Center, and he was also the Calaf in Turandot who brought the house down with his Nessum Dorma.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Caballe Beyond Music

Wow! This woman has an incredibly beautiful voice. Almost freakishly beautiful. It's just otherworldly.

Caballe Beyond Music is a documentary about the operatic soprano Montserrat Caballe who was born in Spain to a very poor family. The documentary chronicles her career and includes much footage of her singing exquisite arias.

I was very moved by her singing, as well as by her person. Although some people made comments about her being a bit diva-ish, it was pretty clear that she is a warm, happy, loving woman. (On the other hand, she deposited her children with her parents for them to raise so she and her husband could pursue their careers; not the *most* loving things to do. But whatev.)

This is the best opera documentary I've seen yet. I really loved it. Now to amazon to buy some Caballe CDs!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Hysteria of the Night

“The musical drama may, in fact, have drawn into action innocent spectators who might otherwise have remained aloof from the hysteria of the night.” Slatin, Opera and Revolution

Plotkin talks about Musical Theater as the continuation of the operatic tradition. (I am sorry not to be able to provide a quote on this. I only have the audio book and one big down side is the inability to reference the text.)

Diana and I went to see South Pacific at Lincoln Center on Thursday night, then to Pirates of Penzance at City Center on Friday night. I’ve been thinking about these productions in comparison to all of the opera we’ve seen and, well, I think I may have fallen in love with the opera!

I grew up back stage. I am familiar with musical theater. Even still, I was surprised to find I know every song in South Pacific. Some Enchanted Evening as sung by Paulo Szot is a showstopper. But measuring many of the singers up to the operatic standards they seemed pedestrian. The female cast was particularly lack luster and without sex appeal. That said, we had a great time and I loved the painted cloud back drop!

Pirates of Penzance had stronger singers, but more than that, the audience made it a joyous experience. The French granny sitting next to me sang along (quite well), there were whoops and hollers and full out belly laughs throughout the performance. I really enjoyed the smart broad comedy. I left thinking I need to put Topsy Turvey on my Netflix list!

Pirates of Penzance

Last night Meridita took me to see The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players' production of The Pirates of Penzance at City Center.

It was wonderful! Completely joyous and exuberant. Witty and smart, but silly and irreverent. The singing was wonderful (although I thought the soprano had trouble with a couple of the high notes).

The audience was amazing too, thoroughly there with the players, ready to laugh, practically singing along.

I had actually seen this play before, in 1980 at the Delacorte Theater with Linda Ronstadt. But I don't remember a thing about it.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Der Rosenkavalier (Live HD screening at BAM)

Jenn and I found an agitated Diana sitting in the lobby at BAM. “I tried to save us seats. We’ll be craning our necks but I did the best I could do. It’s packed. Oh, and by the way, we are by far the youngest people here.“

Thank goodness for Diana’s early arrival and seat saving. It got ugly – a near brawl erupted right behind us over seats just as the curtains were about to open.

Couple 1 (in the isle): “What do you mean you had no idea we were sitting there?"
Couple 2 (in the seats behind us): “Well, there was no one here.”
Couple 1: “Why do you think we left our things on the chair? We were in the restroom.”
Couple 2: “We didn’t know.”
Couple 1 (with increasing volume and agitation): “Just give us our coats…”
Down parkas handed down the isle.
Couple 1 (louder): “And hats.”
“And gloves…”
“And purse…”
“And scarf.”
Man beside couple 2 (with deep disgust): “You aught to be ashamed.”
Couple 2: “We didn’t know.”
Man beside: “Well, you do NOW.”

Yeah, and so does everyone else!

And now -- Der Rosenkavalier (Composer: Richard Strauss
Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal)

I was more than a bit hesitant about a 5 hour German opera experience. And while this production has done nothing to increase my appreciation of the sound of German, I really loved this opera! The story was complex, relevant and deeply moving.

Renée Fleming was superb. Her singing is elegant and powerful, but what most compelled me was her evocative and complex acting. The rest of the cast was top notch but for me it was all about Ms. Fleming.

Fleming, who is renowned for her interpretations of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, elaborates on the role: “She’s endlessly fascinating. And I think I’m performing it now with more strength, less sentimentality, and I think that enables the audience to feel more.”

A really great part of the HD experience is that during intermission they film back stage. Watching the sets go up, interviews with the stars and staff as well as a tour and interview in the set/props department (my favorite part) really deepens ones appreciation for the level of the production and craft at The Metropolitan Opera.

Der Rosenkavalier (Live HD at BAM)

OMG, yesterday I saw the live HD screening of Der Rosenkavalier at BAM and it was fucking awesome.

I was blown away.

I was pretty wary of it after watching the DVD with Te Kanawa a couple of weeks ago. There were parts of it I liked okay, but basically I thought it was "tough" and I was worried about sitting through four hours and forty five minutes of it again. Yes, I said FOUR HOURS AND FORTY FIVE MINUTES.

That's a lot.

But it didn't matter. This Met Opera production with Renee Fleming and Susan Graham pretty much flew by. I was completely engrossed the whole time and deeply, deeply moved by Renee Fleming's portrayal of the Marchaline. She had a lovely and subtle emotional range that just brought tears to my eyes practically every time she opened her mouth. She also had the best words of the opera, all the dramatic depth came from her character. After the opera I had my ladies poker group and I ended up quoting her a few times. She says at one point that you live oblivious to time and then suddenly it's everywhere and all you think about. She is hands down my favorite character in opera so far.

Kristinn Sigmundsson played Baron Ochs with a wonderful maniacal intensity.

I can't remember the soprano who played Sophie, but her performance was the least compelling.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sacrificium (Decca, 2009)

Roman born mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli, specializes in bringing notice to the neglected composers and forgotten repertoires. I discovered her thanks to my recommendation list at Amazon.

Sacrificium is Bertoli’s most recent album, in collaboration with the Orchestra Il Giardino Armonico, conducted by Giovanni Antonini. It is a compellation of arias written for Castrati drawn from the works of Nicola Porpora (1686-1768), Antonio Caldara (c. 1670-1736), Francesco Araia (1709-1770), Carl Heinrich Graun (c. 1703-1759), Leonardo Leo (1694-1744), Leonardo Vinci (1696-1730), Riccardo Brosc hi (c. 1658-1756) and Geminiano Giacomello (c. 1692- 1740).

The singing is haunting, and often sad but also light and energetic. To my ear it is acrobatically sung with lots of feeling!

"The age of the castratos was one of the most dazzling and remarkable in European music history. Seldom has there ever been such a complete fusion of sensuousness and splendor, form and content, poetry and music, and, above all, such a perfection of vocal virtuosity, as was achieved in the glory days of the Baroque era. The legendary art of the castratos continues to exert its fascination even today, and despite the great human sacrifice it exacted, a new assessment of this extraordinary period is surely justified."
- Cecilia Bartoli

Cecilia Bartoli has been endowed with the Italian Knighthood and is an "Accademico effettivo" of Santa Cecilia, Rome, a French "Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres" and an "Honorary Member" of the Royal Academy of Music, London.

There is an interesting short video on Amazon of Bartoli talking about the album. It is worth watching. I hope to be able to see her in person some time and will definitely give her other records a listen soon!