Thursday, October 30, 2014

Diana Damrau Dives Into Unfamiliar Territory With Kent Nagano

Chant Japonais: Listen to Diana Damrau's interpretation
 of Japanese songs for children by clicking here and 

purchase the recording here.
"One day, Kent Nagano listened carefully when his wife was singing a children’s song to his daughter. The song told a chapter of Japanese history previously unknown to him: It told of emotion, tenderness, love – and bitterness. The song originates from a period when Japan had to open up to the West. At this time, Japan was suffering from over population, starvation and poverty. “These songs came to me very late. Though of Japanese heritage, my family came to America at the end of the 19th century leaving me three generations away from Japan. I came down one morning to breakfast and found my daughter listening to these songs on a little recording, and my wife was singing along with the songs to try to teach them to my daughter.” His daughter Karin Kei was three years old on the day she inspired one of her father’s most ambitious projects. Kent Nagano was so touched by the lyrics and sounds of the songs that he immediately started researching their source. “After quite a while, I’d say six weeks or two months, after listening every morning to these intriguing and beautiful melodies, it occurred to me that due to my limited Japanese, I had no complete comprehension of what they were about, and so I asked my daughter to explain the texts. Her translation, confirmed by my wife, revealed a complex and profoundly poetic collection of texts. They were at once both intensely moving emotionally and disturbing. Their haunting, mysterious beauty has continued to entice all generations since their creation making them actual and vividly relevant to our modern world.” In Japan, the songs that enchanted Nagano are commonly known as 'Shoka', or school hymns. They are based on famous Japanese poetry, but are composed in the Western musical style. The songs emerged during the era of the Meiji-Restorations in the outgoing 19th and early 20th centuries. It was the time when Japan finally opened itself to the West after close to 250 years of reclusiveness. The backward feudal state transformed into a modern imperial world power. It was in this period of economic and cultural upheaval that the children’s 'Shoka' came into being. Sometimes the lyrics deal with day to day
life, while other songs tell of the strangers coming ashore in Japan. Some tell the stories of Japanese who went overseas to flee the poverty at home. The songs from ancient times have left a deep impression on the American conductor and rekindled his interest in his Japanese roots. Kent Nagano wanted to bring them to public attention by a performance with the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. His friend, Peter Schmidt, a famous designer from Hamburg, created animated short films to support the musical event." [Source] Read more about the recording, and hear four full tracks off the recording, after the jump.

Renée Fleming Presents A Taste Of Winter Wonderland In New Video

With the release of Renée Fleming's new Christmas-themed recording, Decca Classics now releases a video featuring performance clips of selections from the album. "Following her acclaimed performance at Super Bowl XLVIII, America’s favourite soprano Renée Fleming releases her first-ever holiday album, Christmas In New York. The album celebrates the sparkle and sophistication of the beloved Christmas season in New York City, with music conjuring such iconic scenes as the holiday windows lining 5th Avenue, the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center and carriage rides in Central Park. A richly collaborative album, Christmas in New York finds Renée Fleming singing with a relaxed intimacy and freedom distinct from her soaring classical voice. Holiday evergreens and nostalgic favorites are both featured with fresh arrangements, joined by a wish list of guests from jazz, pop and Broadway including Gregory Porter, Chris Botti, Kurt Elling, Kelli O’Hara, Wynton Marsalis, Brad Mehldau, and Rufus Wainwright. Highlights include 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,' 'Silver Bells,' 'Winter Wonderland,' 'Sleigh Ride' and 'Central Park Serenade,' a brand new duet by songwriting legend Diane Warren." [Source] To listen to tracks off the album, including the exclusive bonus track available when you purchase the MP3 album, click here. Watch the promotional video, and find some beautiful new publicity photos of Renée Fleming, after the jump.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Joyce DiDonato Goes Patriotic With National Anthem For World Series

Clad in Kansas City Royals-blue fingernail polish and knee-high black leather books, Joyce DiDonato delivered the National Anthem at the 2014 Worlds Series with quivering and deliberate tone that did the opera world proud. Looking as hip as any pop star, the mezzo-soprano is a Kansas City native and lifelong baseball fan. Watch the performance, and a special news feature about the event, after the jump.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Breast Cancer Awareness Month Dedication To Opera Singers

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Founded in 1985 as a partnership between the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical division of Imperial Chemical Industries, the goal has been to promote mammography as the most effective weapon in the fight against breast cancer. "In 1993 Evelyn Lauder, Senior Corporate Vice President of the Estée Lauder Companies founded The Breast Cancer Research Foundation and established the pink ribbon as its symbol, though this was not the first time the ribbon was used to symbolize breast cancer. In the fall of 1991, the Susan G. Komen Foundation had handed out pink ribbons to participants in its New York City race for breast cancer survivors." For information about early detection procedure, click hereAs we near the final days of the 2014 campaign, let us take a moment to remember the many singers in the opera world who are survivors and those that have fallen to the tragic disease. Check out the list of heroines after the jump with features of their vocal contributions. [Source]
The Sydney Opera House is lit in pink lighting to bring attention to Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

At 66, Kathleen Battle Continues To Float Gorgeous High Notes

A video of soprano Kathleen Battle from last evening's performance in Philadelphia of "Underground Railroad: An Evening of Spirituals" proves she still has plenty to sing about with that famous lyric voice. The project started a couple of years ago, inspired by Peter Gelb when he was still at Sony, and has toured ever since. "Legendary soprano Kathleen Battle's newest program celebrates the roots of African-American music and freedom via the Underground Railroad. Battle's sumptuous voice takes flight in this evening of enchanting music, featuring favorite and meaningful spirituals, hymns, and musical majesty. Although Battle's luminous soprano voice has graced the world's great opera houses and concert halls, there is a special place her heart for the songs and spirituals of the African-American journey. In this moving evening, Battle and acclaimed pianist Cyrus Chestnut explore the music that expressed the suffering and salvation of enslaved Africans as they found their way to freedom." [Source] Read an exclusive interview about the concert here and how Peter Gelb inspired the project here. Watch the soprano sing "Fix Me" after the jump. Below is a video interview and rehearsal footage from local CBS Philadelphia.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mahler Gets Appearance In "Birdman" Scene Featuring Naomi Watts

The new film Birdman, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, has original music composed by Antonio Sanchez playing throughout the film. Additional classical music is added to several scenes including works by Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Rachmaninoff and John Adams. The real standout scene comes when Lesley (Naomi Watts) is emotionally thanking Riggan (Michael Keaton) for the opportunity of making her Broadway debut in his new play. At this point, the character of Riggan is starting to unravel and things seem as though they are imploding. The vocal line that starts under the scene is "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" (I am lost to the world) from Gustav Mahler's Rückert-Lieder. A full translation of the piece can be found here and a performance by Violeta Urmana (the artist used in the film) is after the jump. "Riggan Thomas, once known quite well to movie theater goers as an iconic super hero called 'The Birdman' had recently turned down a third installment of the franchise. Now washed up, he attempts to reinvent himself as a director by staging a new retelling of a classic Broadway dramatic play called What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The events leading up to the Saturday night premiere prove to be one disaster after another as the original lead actor is injured while on set and Riggan scrambles to find a replacement, but the replacement proves to be exactly who he needs - a method actor who takes the job way too seriously. But Riggan has a hard time juggling between the set, his replacement actor, his equally washed up daughter, and a host of other disasters that prevent a proper staging of the play. Meanwhile, a New York Times critic who Riggan has to woo threatens to shut down production of the play before it even starts with a scathing review of the dress rehearsal. Does Riggan have a hit on his hands or will he even make it to opening night?" [Source]

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Berg And Sartre Inspire New Online Horror Film By Existentialist

"A mysterious contagion plagues humanity. Its symptom: lust, confusion, and madness. It spreads like an airborne aphrodisiac crushing any hope for a containment or cure. In Chicago, the newly infected terrorize the streets. Two young women find themselves trapped in an absurd nightmare of violence and chaos. As they escape the two discover other survivors and unlock a secret that may be the key to their very survival...or is it? Inspired by Alban Berg's Lulu and Sartre's No Exit, Scent is a blood-tingling twist on the horror genre that re-defines reality and the experience of the cinema." [Source] Stars of the film include Di Billick, John Byrnes, Elisa Dei and George Ginakakis. The film was released on the internet in the USA on October 1, 2014. Visit the official website here to watch the whole film. A trailer is after the jump.

Aprile Millo Photographed By Herb Ritts At Elizabeth Taylor Wedding

Ms. Millo can be seen on the left of the Herb Ritts
 photo behind hair-dresser José Eber.
In 1991, Aprile Millo sang for the wedding of Elizabeth Taylor and Larry Fortensky. The soprano had just made her debut in Boito's Mefistofele at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. She sang "Ave Maria" at the Neverand Ranch as helicopters swirled overhead during the ceremony. "It was the eighth – and final – trip she would ever make down the aisle. And now, for the first time, the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation has released photos of Elizabeth Taylor and Larry Fortensky's lavish 1991 wedding at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch exclusively to People. This inside look commemorates People's Oct. 21, 1991, cover story on the biggest and most media-saturated wedding in Hollywood history. (Remember, this was in the days before weddings like George and Amal Clooney's and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's.) In the photos, the blushing, bronzed bride is dressed in a pale yellow $25,000 Valentino gown (a gift from the designer). She is seen with her groom – her seventh (she married Richard Burton twice) – and with her close friend, Jackson, who hosted the wedding for 160 high profile guests on his 2,700-acre Santa Ynez Valley, California, estate." [Source]

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Take A Tour Of Spain Based On Birthplaces Of Great Sopranos

Deciding where to travel in a foreign country can become a daunting task with all the landscapes, museums, architecture, restaurants, and concert halls. It seems natural to put an operatic twist on the itinerary when looking for adventure. Why not let the birthplaces of famous sopranos (and some mezzo-sopranos) dictate the destination? Let's start in the country of Spain. With all the flamenco dancing, bullfights, and beaches, this culture is muy caliente! "Spain has an extraordinary artistic heritage. The dominant figures of the Golden Age were the Toledo-based artists El Greco and Diego Velázquez. Francisco de Goya emerged in the 18th century as Spain's most prolific painter and he produced some wonderfully unflattering portraits of royalty. The art world in the early 20th century was influenced by a remarkable group of Spanish artists: Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí, ambassadors of the artistic culture in Spain. Spain's architecture ranges from prehistoric monuments in Minorca in the Balearic Islands, to the Roman ruins of Merida and Tarragona, the decorative Lonja in Seville, Mudéjar buildings, Gothic cathedrals, castles, fantastic modernist monuments and Gaudí's intricate fabulist sculptures in Barcelona. They are all representative of the culture of Spain. Another example of culture in Spain is the invention of the Spanish guitar, which was invented in Andalusia in the 1790's when a sixth string was added to the Moorish lute. It gained its modern shape in the 1870's. Spanish musicians have taken the humble guitar to dizzying heights of virtuosity and none more so than Andrés Segovia (1893-1997), who established classical guitar as a genre. Flamenco, music rooted in the cante jondo (deep song) of the gitanos (gypsies) of Andalusia, is experiencing a revival. Paco de Lucia is the best known flamenco guitarist internationally. His friend Camarón de la Isla was, until his death in 1992, the leading light of contemporary cante jondo. In the 1980s flamenco-rock fusion (a.k.a. 'gypsy rock') was developed by the likes of Pata Negra and Ketama, and in the 1990s Radio Tarifa emerged with a mesmerizing mix of flamenco and medieval sounds. Bakalao, the Spanish contribution to the world of techno, emerged from Valencia." [Source] So why not add opera to the highest cultural contributions in Spain? Time to see the country as the famous opera singers would have experienced it while growing up. The tour begins after the jump.

Oscar De La Renta, Friend Of Opera And Sopranos, Is Dead At 82

Night at the Opera: de la Renta attending 
Anna Bolena at the MET in 2011.
"Óscar Arístides de la Renta Fiallo (July 22, 1932 – October 20, 2014) was a Dominican fashion designer. Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, De la Renta was trained by Cristóbal Balenciaga and Antonio del Castillo, he became internationally known in the 1960s as one of the couturiers to dress Jacqueline Kennedy. An award-winning designer, he worked for Lanvin and Balmain; his eponymous fashion house continues to dress leading figures, from film stars to royalty, into the 2010s. De la Renta is particularly known for his red carpet gowns and evening wear." [Source] The designer was always a fixture at the Metropolitan Opera as an audience member and supporter. Today's most established sopranos in the opera world are often photographed wearing the designer's creations. "'I’m a woman, and I love it so I enjoy dressing up,' says Netrebko, who attends fashion week in New York and Paris, when possible, and was excited about a recent encounter with designer Oscar de la Renta. 'I was very honored to meet him — I’m always shopping at his stores. To me, his clothing is art, which I can’t stop collecting.'" [Source] Other famous sopranos to wear his gowns include Renée Fleming, Ailyn Pérez, and Angela Gheorghiu. Some of these fashionable gowns, as well as some that just seem operatically inspired, can be seen after the jump.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Opera Inspires Chefs on Gordon Ramsay's "Hell's Kitchen" For Fox

The October 15, 2014, episode of Hell's Kitchen on the Fox network had 12 chefs competing in the following challenge: "The teams must create Italian opera-inspired dishes and go head-to-head against a member of the other team.....The team that earns the most points from Chef Ramsay and guest judge Chef Celestino Drago will win a $3,000 shopping trip and VIP dinner at Cecconi’s in West Hollywood, while the losing team will prepare the squid for the next dinner service. Later, during the dinner service, teams will prepare Italian dishes for VIP guests, including members of the Italian Consulate. After nerves in the kitchen lead to two major mistakes and one team is kicked out of the kitchen, both teams will have to present teammates for elimination. Find out who will move on and who will be kicked out for good." Each chef chooses a singer that is holding a scroll with some opera related title on the front (opera titles, characters, arias or songs often sung by opera singers) with a related food item on the back. One
chef selects another to go up against in the kitchen and then that chef chooses the singer to reveal the dish they will be cooking for in the competition. Although it looks more like the singers are performing in a Madrigal Dinner, the entire concept is clever. Watch the full episode by clicking here. [Source, Source]

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Maria Callas Sampled 24 Years Ago In Enigma Electronic Recording

Synthesized Immortal: Maria Callas
"MCMXC a.D. ('1990' in Roman numerals followed by an abbreviation of 'Anno Domini') is the first studio album from the electronic music group Enigma, headed by Michael Cretu. Recorded at A.R.T. Studios in Ibiza, it is one of the first albums to be recorded on a computer's hard disk drive. Released in 1990 on Virgin Records, the album reached number one in 41 countries including the UK. It peaked at number 6 in the United States, and remained on the Billboard 200 for 282 weeks...."[Track 3] 'Callas Went Away' is a tribute to the opera singer, Maria Callas. Chirps from electronic birds at the beginning, mixed with a slow beat and sounds of a piano leads to Sandra's whispers and ends with some samples of Callas singing the aria 'Werther! Qui m'aurait dit /Ces lettres!' from the opera Werther by Massenet." The track was written by Curly M.C. [Source] "Michael Cretu (Romanian: Mihai Crețu pronounced [miˈhaj ˈkret͡su]; born May 18, 1957, Bucharest, Romania) is a Romanian–German musician. He is also known as Curly, MC or Curly M.C. because of his fair curled hair (creț means 'curly' in Romanian). His peak musical activity was with the Enigma project, which was mainly based in Germany. He has collaborated with
Composer Michael Cretu aka Curly M.C.
many musicians along his career, including his ex-wife Sandra Lauer (Sandra Cretu from marriage in 1988), musician Peter Cornelius, guitarists Manfred Thiers and Jens Gad, Frank Peterson, David Fairstein (Fabrice Guitad), D.J. André Tanneberger (from the A.T.B. Music Project), Peter Ries, Bernt Moehrle, singer Ruth-Ann Boyle, and Andru Donalds, who produced the single Mishale in 1995. In 2002, Crocodile-Music, Cretu's management company, stated that 100 million Cretu-produced records had been sold worldwide. By the year 2008, Michael Cretu's Enigma project had sold over 50 million studio albums according to his official site. He owns A.R.T. Studios, a recording studio facility located near the resort on the Balearic Islands, where he lived with his wife and their two teenagers, Nikita and Sebastian. He and Sandra divorced in 2007. Cretu has been reported as living in Germany since that time....Cretu was born to a
Cover art for the 1990 recording by Enigma
Romanian father and an Austrian mother in Bucharest. His uncle, Ion Voicu, a Romanian violin-player and former director of the Bucharest Philarmonic, told Michael's parents that he had talent in music and as such, he studied classical music at Liceul Nr. 2 in Bucharest in 1965 and in Paris, France, in 1968. He later attended the Academy of Music in Frankfurt, Germany, from 1975 to 1978, attaining a degree in music. Cretu was taken on as a keyboard player and producer for Frank Farian." [Source] Watch the Enigma video for "Callas Went Away" and listen to Maria Callas sing the complete 'Letter Scene' from Werther, after the jump.