Monday, July 10, 2017

Monteverdi Monday (with Haim Hair)

Eyebags pointed out that last week was Haïm Week at France Musique. To ensure that "Haïm Hair" remains a thing, I am posting this Warner Classics promo video for her recording of Monteverdi's Orfeo.

(Incidentally, I finally heard Haim the Band—they're not bad, but they're no Emmauelle!!)


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Frustrating Carmen (Audio Only – That's the Frustration)

I learned today from Michael Fabiano’s Facebook post that the new production of Carmen by Dmitri Tcherniakov at Aix-en-Provence is being broadcast on Arte.tv (but not in the U.S.) and on France Musique radio (via website or phone app* ).

I am listening to it now as I type. I am pleased with the musical performance but perplexed by the production. There is a whole dialog** scene before the overture starts. Tcherniakov (as is his wont) has layered a new concept over the opera, and the visual element (apparently) is not what one usually expects from Carmen.  The point is there is a lot going on that is not music. I want to see what's happening! Hence my Carmen Frustration.

As I listen, I tracked down a few reviews in English, so I now have an idea what I am missing. The idea of enacting Carmen as therapy*** is interesting (though I doubt it would ever catch on over here in the U.S.) and I look forward to seeing the realization. The production also stars a favorite mezzo: Stéphanie d'Oustrac.

I do have a quibble—one that is pointed out by more than one reviewer: apparently Tcherniakov created this new concept because couldn’t really “get into” the traditional bullfighter/gypsy/soldier story. I echo one of the reviewers, wondering why T. accepted the job if he really didn’t “feel” the opera.

All that said, I hope for video access soon, if not online, then via my friendly bootlegger. Meanwhile, here are links to the reviews:

Bachtrack Carmen as therapy: Tcherniakov challenges clichés but is stumped in Aix
Opera Today Carmen at the Aix Festival
New York Times ‘Carmen,’ Boldly Rewritten as Therapy for a Modern Man

My followers in Europe can probably access the Arte broadcast now or later. We all should be able to replay the France Musique radio broadcast for a while at least. 

*I need to do a new Tech Tuesday post about the France Musique app.
** Actually, almost all of the dialog is unfamiliar (I don’t speak French or understand it very well; but I am fairly familiar with the spoken bits of Carmen).
***According to the reviews, the therapy session is not successful.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Madama Butterfly “en Cinema” – so what?

As pop-star Basia (what’s she up to these days?) once sang, “Hello again, it’s me!” (the actual song title is A New Day for You from her Time and Tide album.)


The new production of Madama Butterfly from the Teatro Real in Madrid is wonderfully sung and played. (Some sing better than others, of course.) It happens to be Independence Day here in the U.S.; so, it seems oddly appropriate to watch this “ugly American” tale. In reality, this is the first absolutely free day I’ve had in a while. And it was just broadcast (streamed) live on the Opera Platform (OP) on 30 June.

Sadly, when you click to watch it on demand, you get the following message: “Sorry, this video is no longer available.” However, if you scroll down further, you’ll learn that there were “complications during the live streaming.” So instead of “no longer available,” it’s really only “not available yet.” 

Anyway, Teatro Real also live-streamed it on their Facebook page and you can find that on YouTube (with Spanish subtitles.) It’s a beautiful production, and it's the description on the OP site that tempted me to watch an opera that is low on my “Operas I Love” list:

Director Mario Gas sets his new interpretation of the opera on the stage of Madrid’s Teatro Real in a 1930’s film studio where they are working on a film adaptation of Puccini’s opera. Gas opens the opera’s plot up by adding a film crew, offering two interpretations simultaneously: the acting in front of the camera and the actual film.

What the director actually does is merely capitalize on the current trope of live streaming the opera on screens above the stage (see La Clemenza di Tito from La Monnaie, where it’s a news camera crew doing the filming; and several Don Giovannis in which one or more of the singers use their iPhones to live stream their antics.) In Clemenza and Giovanni the cameras/projections added another dimension to the story.

In this Butterfly, I kept waiting for the “film” layer to add new ideas; maybe showing us the relationship of the singers to one another off camera. However, all the cameras and crew do is get in the way, distancing us from the drama. Maybe that’s what the director intended. I guess I’ve been spoiled by Stefan Herheim. I’ve read about his Butterfly (I wonder if a video exists) in which Puccini has an active role; he had a subplot involving the Statue of Liberty (no, that was his Manon Lescaut); guest appearances by Manon, Mimi, and Tosca; and the concept that neither Puccini or the soprano want her to die; but she does anyway. That’s opera.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Gratuitous Friday – Miah Persson: "Lascia ch'io pianga"

This is from Rene Jacobs' 2003 complete recording of Handel's Rinaldo, with Mia Persson as "a lovely Almirena," and the ever-reliable Freiburger Baroqueorchester. It may be the slowest performances of this aria I've ever heard. Halting, yet always moving forward, and beautifully ornamented in the da capo. Sigh!


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Passion, Rage, Love, Anger (a Master Class on Donna Elvira)


I love it when Joyce DiDonato works with (and on) aspiring Donna Elviras. This is from JDD's Guildhall masterclasses in the spring of 2015. I try not to miss any of her classes, but somehow, I overlooked this one. Thanks to YouTube algorithms, this video popped up in a sidebar yesterday. Watch and learn about the many facets of Donna Elvira, and JDD's ideas and guidance. She gets a little physical, but I think student soprano Francesca Chiejina survived the session—and came away with a lot more insight to the role. I can't wait to see her on stage!


Friday, March 24, 2017

Gratuitous Friday – Werner Güra Sings Mozart Lieder


Werner Güra and Christoph Berner offer a program of Mozart. Mozart is not the first name that comes to mind when we talk about Lieder. But Werner Gura should be one of the first names that comes to mind when talking about Mozart! Here are some excerpts from a lovely program of Lieder (which are thoughtfully  interspersed with a few of Mozart's solo piano works.)




Then there's a Mozart Chanson. Yup, Mozart set some French texts. That crazy kid!




This recital was just reissued by Harmonia Mundi on their budget label. At full price, this is a wonderful program. At budget price (for CD or mp3 download), this recital of relative Mozart rarities is a must have! 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Alice Coote Talks about Fate, Cross-dressing, and Mozart

Alice Coote, mezzo-soprano. (Benjamin Ealovega)
…and whether men or women are better kissers.

I mentioned the new podcast from WQXR: He Sang She Sang in a recent post. Each week they spend about 20 to 40 minutes discussing the upcoming Met radio (and HD, when applicable) opera broadcast. 

This podcast is a great companion to the more scholarly (and sometimes less engaging) pre-opera lectures from the Met Opera Guild (those are good too; but sometimes they can be a bit stuffy).

Although this episode is hosted by just the “insider,” He Sang She Sang usually has two or three hosts, at least one of whom is an opera neophyte. This lightens the discussion considerably, and…well the conversation is less stuffy (and sometimes just a bit irreverent.) They talk about the upcoming opera and play some musical excerpts. Almost every week they interview someone involved with the current production—often, and most interestingly, one of the singers.

This episode focuses on Alice Coote, even more than on Idomeneo—and that’s not a bad thing! She gives us her take on Mozart, Idomeneo, fate, saying goodbye, and dressing up as a man—among other things. We also get to hear a few excerpts from the 1996 Met recording. On the podcast website, there’s also a link to a clip from the current production.

Go. Listen. Enjoy. And check out the other episodes. Even if you already know all about the opera under discussion, I am sure you’ll enjoy the conversations, the music, and—yes—the fun.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Distanced from L’Amour de Loin

It almost seems too late to bother writing about this performance, but I have thoughts and I like to share them; and I rarely let minor things like good timing get in the way. So here goes.

Kaija Saariaho's L’Amour de Loin is an odd opera; difficult to get “into;” almost an oratorio. But in preparation for the Met Live in HD cine-cast, I found an audio recording; and I took some time with both the official Met podcast and the new He Sang, She Sang offering from WQXR—both of which offer great insights into the piece. I also caught some excerpts from the premiere performances in Salzburg (?) as directed by Peter Sellars. I kind of wish he’d directed this one.

Once again, Robert Lepage focuses on his machinery at the expense of his singers. I must concur with [another blogger, whose name I cannot remember at the moment, but I will fill it in and add a link as soon as I can figure out who it was]**, who wished that Mr. Lepage would let his singers get down on the stage and move about. The lights were pretty and expressive, but the machine was ungainly and drew odd attention to itself. Plus, the chorus looked odd (and uncomfortable) popping up in between the rows of lights to sing. I swear I heard people giggle (not sure if it was in the theater or in the opera house) the first few times the heads of the chorus bobbed up from the “sea.”

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Hello, Ragazzi! (Part Four)

I’ve noticed (and no doubt my readers have noticed) that I've been mentioning/referring to Robert Carsen productions frequently in recent posts. This realization made me think. If the Met is going to continue importing some of its “new” productions from other venues (I understand it’s a more economical way to bring in new work than to create every new production from scratch), can we convince them to bring in Robert Carsen’s La Fanciulla del West? Since the Met was the site of Fanciulla’s origin, I think it’s about time we get a new production (or any production for that matter. It’s been 6 years since the last time they presented it.)

Maybe we could cast it with Nina Stemme and Jonas Kaufmann (though I understand he’s travelling outside Europe less due to changes in his domestic life). Alternate tenors: is Brandon Jovanovich ready for this role? He acted a good prince in Rusalka and sang a pretty exciting Florestan in concert a few years ago. How about Anja Kampe or Patricia Racette as Minnie? I am sure there are many other dramatic tenors and sopranos (and barihunks)—who also can act—who could fill out this production. Who would you like to see in a new Fanciulla?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Herheim and Cenerentola – Yes, Please!!

Stefan Herheim's staging of Rossini's La Cenerentola at the Norwegian National Opera. Was it broadcast/streamed? Will it be broadcast/streamed? 

Herr Herheim may not be everyone's cup of tea; but I want to see everything he's touched! He is a director who works from and with the music; and he doesn't have a bad singing voice, either. Fingers crossed that this will appear in some video form (if not already). Meanwhile, let's enjoy this teaser video (as found at The Opera Platform).

Friday, March 10, 2017

Too Many Leaves; Not Enough Sex


Kwiecien and Breslik in Munich- More (implied) sex; fewer leaves.
So, I just chatted with My Uncle (now that Dad has passed on, we'll be hearing more about My Uncle, who is My Dad's younger brother). My Uncle loves opera, choral music, and music in general. He has a beautiful voice, plays piano wonderfully by ear (doesn't read a note of music), and has a rather surreal sense of humor.

He and my cousins saw Eugene Onegin at the Lyric Opera of Chicago last week. Lyric has a pretty stellar cast (Mariusz Kwiecien, Charles Castronovo, Anna Maria Martinez), and the old Met version: Robert Carsen's production with the leaves. My Chicago relatives are not fond of the "new" productions. They prefer rich costuming and scenery to look at as they take in the lovely singing. 

My Uncle's neighbor (a retired music professor) asked how they enjoyed the performance (she happened to attend the same one). 
My Uncle said, "I'd like to see more sets." 
"More sex?!?!" she asked. 
"Well, that too," he added. 
I guess it just depends on which production you see. Hopefully they'll see more sex in Carmen.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Ready for Rusalka

I am prepping for tomorrow’s Live in HD presentation of Dvorak’s Rusalka. I know the story; I know the Song to the Moon; I know the title water nymph is a signature role for both Renee Fleming and Kristine Opolais; and that’s about all I know. This week, I listened to the official Met Podcast (rather yawn-ful) and the new He Sang, She Sang podcast from WQXR—both available at their respective websites or wherever you prefer to download your podcasts. (I need to write more about He Sang, She Sang—a delightful new and somewhat irreverent effort that helps us understand opera without taking it too seriously and being boring—they also give us some nifty singer interviews (e.g., Luca Pisaroni, Diana Damrau, Kristine Opolais)).

Then, I looked to YouTube to find a full performance. The Schenk/Met performance with RF is there, along with the Czech film (probably worth a later look) and the Carsen Paris production. I started with the Met, but the combination of the awkward set (I kept waiting for someone (or creature) to stumble and fall into the pond) and RF’s rather odd acting choices put me off quite early. I love RF; but honestly, I never would rank her among the world’s top acting singers. So, I decided to head for Paris, also with RF but in a much more interesting production.

I had to laugh at one negative Amazon reviewer (of many nay-sayers) who preferred to see a  “realistic” production. How does one do “realistic” witches, water nymphs, and goblins? I think it’s a bit pedantic and disingenuous* to insist on a “realistic” setting for an opera that is a fantasy based on a fairy tale. Contrary to what some might say, most (if not all) fairy tales are allegories. I love an applause-worthy set as much as anyone, but all the glitz and glam and fancy “realistic” and/or traditional sets can’t make up for a dull performance.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Met in HD and Dinner Chat

Holy Moly! Was my last post really in December? Well a few things have happened since then, so I really do need to catch up. 

1. I was really drawn in by L'amour de Loin. I do have a few things to say about it, so I will try to get together and post about that soon.


2.  Nabucco was boring as unbuttered toast from a staging standpoint. But rather well sung. I enjoyed it in spite of myself. And in spite of the obligatory encore [insert eye roll] of the famous chorus. It's pretty but…ditto about posting.


3. I am now a superfan of Diana Damrau, Vittorio Grigolo, and Gounod's Romeo et Juliette...and Elliot Madore. Ahem. (Spoiler alert: they all die.) This is one I will probably have to spring for if/when it appears on DVD.  It's the same production seen in Salzburg a few years ago (the unit set is not as convincing to me in the Feldreisenschule as on the Met stage.) I will try to get around to saying more on that soon, too.  


Meanwhile, tonight at dinner...

My cousin: We saw a Met Eugene Onegin, but I'm not sure who was in it. 
Me: Were there a lot of leaves?
My cousin's wife: Yes!! I remember the leaves!
I guess most of us (whether fans of Robert Carsen (or not)) could name the leads in that performance!

P S. I hope this iPhone-created post looks ok. I tried to add a photo. Safari and Google simply do not play well together! I just didn't want to wait till I get home to put this up. My "fans" (?) already have waited too long to hear from me. 
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