Thursday, March 31, 2011

Contact High: Diana Damrau

Europa Riconosciuta - "Ah, lo sento"
Diana Damrau
Riccardo Muti, Milan, 2004
Clip length (0:34)

con·tact high [kon-takt hahy]: when you feel the slight, brief sensation of being high just because you were close to somebody that was definitely high.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Composer Lee Hoiby Dies at 85

Hoiby was born February 17, 1926 in Wisconsin. He began playing the piano as a child and became a child prodigy, studying with notable pianists Gunnar Johansen and Egon Petri. He became influenced by a variety of composers, particularly personalities in the twentieth century avant garde, including the Pro Art quartet led by Rudolf Kolisch, son-in-law of Arnold Schoenberg. During his youth, Hoiby played with Harry Partch’s Dadaist ensembles and studied at Mills College with Darius Milhaud. He then studied at the Curtis Institute of Music with Gian Carlo Menotti, who introduced Hoiby to opera, and involved him in the Broadway productions of The Consul and The Saint of Bleecker Street. Though at first he intended to pursue a career as a concert pianist, he eventually became more interested in composing. Lee Hoiby died March 28, 2011, in New York City. [Source] Read more about the composer in the New York Times obituary.

Soprano Leontyne Price was a great champion of his music and often sang his songs in recital. In 1985 Hoiby wrote Songs for Leontyne, a collection of six works for the soprano. The set includes 1. The Doe (John Fandel) 2. Evening (Wallace Stevens) 3. Autumn (Rainier Maria Rilke) 4. Winter Song (Wilfred Owen) 5. In the Wand of the Wind (John Fandel) 6. The Serpent (Theodore Roethke).

Anna Netrebko: The Queen That Changes Diapers

Anna talks Anna with Peter Jarolin of the Kurier
In a new Kurier interview, Anna Netrebko reveals her thoughts about the title role of Donizetti's Anna Bolena which she will debut in Vienna this Saturday, April 2. Other topics in the interview include new recordings (she hopes the performances will be recorded for CD and DVD), upcoming roles (Manon Lescaut and Il Trovatore), her future plans for singing at the Vienna State Opera with Erwin Schrott (Le Nozze di Figaro and Eugene Onegin) and how her German language skills are coming along (she hopes once son Tiago starts kindergarten that he will help teach
her). When the soprano admits that she has always wanted to play a queen on stage, the interviewer says that she is already the "Königen der Oper" to which she responds that all of that doesn't matter when you're changing your son's diapers.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Happy Birthday: Gloria Davy

"O patria mia" sung in German, 1961
Soprano Gloria Davy was born March 28, 1931, in Brooklyn, New York. The soprano came to international attention when she replaced Leontyne Price in a 1954 performance of Porgy and Bess. She toured as Bess from San Francisco to Cairo, but later stopped singing the role to avoid being type-cast. It was at the Nice Opera House that she undertook to study the title role of Aida. She was the first African-American artist to sing the role of Aida at the Metropolitan Opera on February 12, 1958. The cast included Kurt Baum, Irene Dalis and Leonard Warren. Time magazine wrote, "Davy warmed up as the evening progressed, sang her low tones with a throaty richness, her upper ones with limpid, free-flowing clarity. Her 'O patria mia' was a triumph of yearning beauty...she matched the acting of the veteran cast with a touchingly natural performance. All in all, Soprano Davy proved that the Met is where she belongs." She went on to sing Pamina in Die Zauberflöte, Nedda in Pagliacci and Leonora in Il Trovatore for the New York company.

Kiri Te Kanawa All Leather and Lace

Who Is The Most Capricious of Them All?

As the Metropolitan Opera prepares for the opening night of Strauss's Capriccio this evening, with Renée Fleming taking on the role of Gräfin Madeleine, we look back over the last 69 years since the premiere of the "conversation piece for music" and see who have been favorites to play the leading lady either on the opera stage, in concert performance or in the recording studio. Check out the list after the jump and don't forget to listen to the broadcast of the Capriccio premiere live from the Metropolitan Opera on Sirius XM Radio tonight at 8PM EST.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Italian Soprano Conquers Palm Beach Opera as Tosca

Tosca and Cavaradossi (sung by Riccardo Massi)
"The hefty voice of soprano Chiara Taigi brought an unaccustomed depth and worldliness to the role of the renowned singer Floria Tosca...Fittingly, the role of Tosca was taken by a native of the city of Rome. Chiara Taigi’s rich soprano and subtle acting gave Tosca unusual depth and maturity. Rather than engaging in a succession of over-the-top, jealous diva poses, she gave a realistic – within the bounds of the art form – portrait of a woman of warmth, emotional turmoil and frantic courage. Her singing wasn’t always even or accurate, particularly in the first act, as she berates Cavaradossi about the beautiful blonde woman in his church painting. But her 'Vissi d’arte' was a moving, breathing and emotionally committed performance. Her murder of Scarpia, rather than being a moment for shrieking dramatics, was creepily intimate as she murmured to him to die." [Source]

Renée Fleming Breaks During "Capriccio" For One Night Only

Renée Fleming as Countess Madeleine in Richard Strauss's Capriccio at the MET.
Renée Fleming will be singing seven performances of Strauss's Capriccio at the Metropolitan Opera, two of which fall on April 1 and April 7. But in between those particular dates she will sing an exclusive West Coast concert: "The world-renowned soprano will appear in the concert hall for one night and one performance April 5. The beautiful Fleming has never performed in Orange County and is jetting in, making room in her sold-out concert schedule as a special gift to her friend Henry Segerstrom in honor of his 88th birthday, which also falls on the same day. 'We wanted Renée Fleming to come to California and perform in the concert hall,' Elizabeth Segerstrom said. 'Her schedule is booked, as you can imagine. She wanted to come for Henry and she looked at her calendar telling us she had one night open — April 5. Can you believe it is Henry's birthday? Of course we were thrilled with the coincidence. This is going to be a very special night for Henry and for Orange County. The honor of Fleming's performance aside, the evening will be a gift to Orange County citizens in part because Corey and staff at the Philharmonic Society have created a large block of $25 tickets available to the music-loving public." The full program for the concert is listed after the jump.

Trisha Brown Revives Rameau Opera Through Dance

"The world premiere is Les Yeux et l'âme (The eyes and the soul), a dance suite distilled from her recent evening-length work, Pygmalion. Brown's staging of the 1748 opera by Jean-Philippe Rameau debuted last June in Amsterdam. Les Yeux will be performed to recorded extracts from the opera. In a clip from L'Amour au théâtre (set to sections of another Rameau opera, Hippolyte et Aricie), two couples are clearly engaged in flirty, sensual explorations that, however intricate they get, couldn't be more transparent or intelligible. 'In my operas, in contrast to my choreography, even though I rely on abstract movement, I also respect characterization,' she wrote. 'I proceed with painstaking logic; an expansive embrace of improvisation, spontaneity, as well as a regard for the body's natural capabilities, the natural pathways of its movement.' She adds: 'My movement vocabulary and choreographic structures are imbued with imagery responsive to the libretto and to the emotional content of the libretto and music.'" Trisha Brown Dance Company performs at University of Washington's Meany Hall March 31-April 2, 2011. [Source]

Saturday, March 26, 2011

James Valenti and Laura Claycomb Are Dallas Opera Stars

"Laura Claycomb (Gilda) is a highly acclaimed soprano long overdue on the Dallas stage. An operatic moment that Rigoletto fans look forward to is Gilda’s coloratura trills send high notes flying to Mount Everest heights without the arduous climb. The love song 'Caro Nome (Sweet name)' shows off Claycomb's amazing lyrical vocal abilities with pure high notes effortlessly placed with a light airiness.

 Tenor James Valenti (the Duke of Mantua) is not only a rising international opera star, he is also has striking leading man looks. His Duke of Mantua is a believable scoundrel as exemplified in the famous song 'La donna é mobile.'" [Source]

Photos: Michael L. Haynes

Friday, March 25, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor Laid To Rest With Poetry

"Elizabeth Taylor was laid to rest Thursday at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Calif., in a small, private funeral attended by friends and family that began 15 minutes after schedule – under instructions she left. The one-hour, multi-denominational service officiated by Rabbi Jerry Cutler included a reading by actor Colin Farrell, a friend of Taylor's, of Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem 'The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo.' Taylor's son Michael Wilding, her daughter Liza and her grandson Tarquin Wilding also read selections, and her grandson Rhys Tivey performed a trumpet solo of 'Amazing Grace.'" [Source]

The poem was famously recited by the love of her life, Richard Burton. But it was also set to music by Elizabeth Maconchy in 1978. Listen to a brief clip of soprano Renée Fleming singing the piece while a student at the Eastman School of Music. There is an extended clip on YouTube as well. If you missed the memorial tribute to Elizabeth Taylor and her opera connections, click here.

Sexy Hollywood Stars Celebrate "Le Comte Ory"

Le Comte Ory opened last night at the Metropolitan Opera and the parade of stars included Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen, Claire Danes, Julianna Margulies, Olivia Munn, Emmy Rossum, Claudia Schiffer and Rebecca Hall (daughter of opera singer Maria Ewing and British director Peter Hall). Check out more photos of the event here.

Renée Fleming Beamed to Sydney for YouTube Symphony

The complete YouTube Symphony Concert from Sydney, Australia, has been posted online. The section with Renée Fleming is 41:49-45:11 and features the soprano singing Mozart's canon "Caro bell'idol mio" with the YouTube Symphony Children's Chorus and Michael Tilson Thomas conducting. Click here to launch the video.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Contact High: Montserrat Caballé

Don Carlo - Duet
Montserrat Caballé, Franco Corelli
Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, NYC, 1972
Clip length (0:27)

con·tact high [kon-takt hahy]: when you feel the slight, brief sensation of being high just because you were close to somebody that was definitely high.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor, Friend of Opera, Dies at 79

"Ave Maria" (Mascagni)
performed by Kathleen Battle
According to her publicist, actress Dame Elizabeth Taylor has passed away at age 79 from congestive heart failure. It is said she died peacefully. In 1963, the actress was featured in the film Cleopatra. She used a signature eyeliner many defined as "cat eyes" that inspired opera singer Maria Callas to begin wearing a similar look to add more glamour to her appearance. The relationship between the two women, however, went beyond makeup. In fact, Ms. Taylor became an active member in the opera community. As part of the royal media scene, Ms. Taylor and Richard Burton were members of a social elite that included opera diva Maria Callas and oil tycoon Aristotle Onassis. It may very well have been Madame Callas that introduced
Maria Callas with the actress
Ms. Taylor to Franco Zeffirelli because he had previously directed the opera singer in La Traviata, Norma and Tosca, and the two were close friends. Ms. Taylor and Richard Burton soon appeared together in Franco Zeffirelli's film debut, The Taming of the Shrew, in 1967. Based on the William Shakespeare play, it was an over-the-top Hollywood budget buster with the lead actors sinking $1 million of their own fortunes into the project and waiving their fees for a percentage of the box-office revenues. The collaboration sparked a lifelong friendship between the actress and the director. Zeffirelli was to become one of the preeminent

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Music Bump: "Sans frayeur dans ce bois" H. 467 by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (Gérard Lesne, countertenor)

Charles Alexandre de Calonne, by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

Renée Fleming Highlighted as Sophisticated Lady

"Cassandra Wilson, Diana Krall, Melody Gardot, Norah Jones, Renée Fleming and Ruth Cameron: the lineup of singers performing popular standards and vintage obscurities on “Sophisticated Ladies,” the 25th-anniversary album of Charlie Haden Quartet West, is formidable. The 12-cut CD is the deepest immersion in the quartet’s moody retro film noir style since its 1999 album, “The Art of the Song,” which featured the guest vocalists Shirley Horn and Bill Henderson...The happiest surprise is Ms. Fleming’s voluptuously besotted rendition of 'A Love Like This,' composed by Victor Young as a theme for the 1943 movie 'For Whom the Bell Tolls,' with lyrics by Ned Washington. Ms. Fleming’s rich, gliding voice evokes a woman wallowing in heedless sensual afterglow, her half-choked singing flooded with emotion." [Source]

MET Sirius XM Radio Tonight: "Roméo et Juliette"

Listen to the Metropolitan Opera perform Gounod's Roméo et Juliette live tonight at 8:00 PM EST on Sirius XM radio. Intermission guest: Salvatore Licitra.

"Le Comte Ory" Sneak Preview Videos From the MET

Watch Juan Diego Flórez, Joyce DiDonato and Diana Damrau in videos taken from the dress rehearsal of Rossini's Le Comte Ory that opens this Thursday, March 24 at 8PM EST at the Metropolitan Opera. Videos excerpts include Act I Duet, Act III Trio and more! Click here to view.

Happy Birthday: Mary Jane Johnson

Mary Jane Johnson was born March 22, 1950, in Pampa, Texas. She graduated Pampa High School in 1968 and went on to take voice lessons with Rachel Carmen Johnson at Amarillo College. She eventually graduated from Texas Tech University in 1972 with a B.A. in Music Education. Her first big musical break came in 1986 as the first prize winner of the "Pavarotti Competition" which led to her role as Musetta in La Bohème with the Opera Company of Philadelphia. The Rodolfo for those performances was Luciano
Pavarotti and the opera was telecast on PBS. The Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico is one of the most important companies in the soprano's career. It was here that she sang in J. Strauss's Die Fledermaus (Rosalinde - 1982), R. Strauss's Die liebe der Danae (Xanthe - 1982), Britten's Turn of the Screw (Miss Jessel - 1983), Korngold's Violanta (Violanta - 1984), Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro (Countess Almaviva - 1985), Puccini's La Fanciulla del West (Minnie - 1991 & 1995), Puccini's Tosca (Tosca - 1995), R. Strauss's Salome (Salome - 1995), R. Strauss's Elektra (Elektra - 2000) and Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Berta - 2005). She made her Metropolitan Opera debut singing Minnie in La Fanciulla del West on April 4, 1992. Her only other onstage performance with the company was as Emilia Marty in Janáček's Věc Makropulos on January 27, 1996. Other major roles in her repertoire that she performed include Verdi's

Big, Large and In Charge: Opera Singers With a Football Past

Ta'u Pupu'a letting his tenor out
(Photo: Michael J. Lutch/New York Times)
Back in January this blog did a post on football players trading in the pig skin to sing in the opera world. Now the New York Times has a full-blown article about the people Opera Fresh mentioned and more! "Opera singers with a football past include Ta’u Pupu’a, a lineman drafted by the Cleveland Browns; Keith Miller, a former Arena League fullback who appeared in two bowl games with Colorado; the former Harvard players Ray Hornblower and Noah Van Niel; and Morrison Robinson, who played on the offensive line for the Citadel." Read the whole article by clicking here. In addition to photos of the football players turned
opera divos, the article has a wonderful video that features Noah Van Niel in the locker room being supported by his teammates, who dub him Pavarotti, as he sings "God Bless America" in full tenor voice. Watch the video here. A previous New York Times feature on Noah while he was at Harvard can be found here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Christopher Alden's "Partenope" Brings Händel To New Heights

"One of Handel's lightest and frothiest pieces, this forgotten gem sparkles under the direction of Christopher Alden." The Daily Telegraph

The American director brings his production of Händel's Partenope to Opera Australia with soprano Emma Matthews taking on the title role. The cast also includes Jacqueline Dark, Catherine Carby, Christopher Field, Kanen Breen and Richard Alexander. Christian Curnyn is conducting. Performances will be March 23, 26, 28 and 31.

"As Partenope, soprano Emma Matthews delivered another triumphant performance. Her opening aria was a stunning coloratura showpiece, displaying breathtaking agility and clarity of articulation. Matthews was secure, flexible and controlled across her tessitura, conveying her character's curious mix of teasing superficiality and emotional honesty." The Australian
Watch a video of excerpts from Emma Matthews' CD of arias. Click image to purchase CD
"Emma Matthews makes a triumphant return to baroque repertoire with her role debut as the alluring but wise Partenope. A cascade of blissful arias and ensembles show Handel at his most inventive, exploring voices from bass to contralto to countertenor, while the orchestra conjures up the crash and dazzle of battles in love and war."

Seattle Opera Young Artists Presenting "Don Giovanni"

The Don himself, David Krohn, discusses his big role.
Watch a video about the upcoming performances of Don Giovanni featuring David Krohn in the title role. Peter Kazaras, stage director, narrates the video discussing ideas about the production, talks about the costume designer Candace Frank making her Seattle Opera debut and there is rehearsal footage of all the singers performing their roles along with short interviews with several of them. Maestro Brian Garman conducts. Performances take place April 1, 3, 7 & 9. The full cast listing: Don Giovanni: David Krohn; Donna Anna: Marcy Stonikas; Donna Elvira: Amanda Opuszynski; Don Ottavio: Andrew Stenson*/Eric Neuville†; Leporello: Erik Anstine; Zerlina: Jacqueline Bezek^; Commendatore/Masetto: Adrian Rosas
* On April 1 and 9 only/† On April 3 and 7 only/^ Jacqueline Bezek is a Guest Artist
[Source, Source]

Successful "Salome" in Montreal Features Nicola Beller Carbone

Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin is currently leading Opéra de Montréal in Richard Strauss's Salome with soprano Nicola Beller Carbone taking on the title role and the production is garnering wonderful reviews: "The Montreal Opera has a bona fide hit on its hands with its current production of Richard Strauss’s Salomé. Across the board, the cast is exceptional starting with German soprano Nicola Beller Carbone whose youthful and svelte figure made her perfect for the lead....Dramatically, Beller Carbone was convincing, especially in the ghastly way she handled the head of John the Baptist." [Source]
The soprano rehearsing for Strauss's Salome at Opéra de Montréal
Salome repeats on March 23, 26, 28 and 31. Watch a video from rehearsals and see two production photos of the singer in costume after the jump. There is a lengthy questionnaire about Nicola, discussing everything from her professional to her personal life, that can be found here.

Virgin Classics Renews Joyce DiDonato Recording Contract

(Photo: Mary Umans/Virgin Classics)
At a time when major record labels seem to be dropping artists and recording fewer albums, good news comes from the EMI label Virgin Classics that they will be renewing their exclusive contract with Joyce DiDonato. A relationship that began in 2007, the mezzo-soprano has produced three solo albums for the company: Furore (Händel arias), Colbran, the Muse (Rossini arias) and Diva, Divo (opera arias by various composers). She has also appeared on an ensemble album Lamenti that features Baroque arias by 11 of today's top singers under conductor Emmanuelle Haïm, as well as recording the Vivaldi opera Ercole with Rolando Villazón, Diana Damrau, Vivica Genaux and Philippe Jaroussky. Her most recent release is the Rossini Stabat Mater with another all-star cast including Anna Netrebko, Lawrence Brownlee, Ildebrando d'Arcangelo under the direction of Antonio Pappano on the parent label EMI Classics. The next album to be released is a full opera recording of Händel's Ariodante in May which will also have an accompanying European tour with the star artist. Her next solo album will be released in October 2012, but no word on what the repertoire will be on the disc. Alain Lanceron, President of Virgin Classics, remarked, "I’m very happy with Joyce’s confidence in EMI/Virgin Classics and that the wonderful adventure we embarked upon some years ago will continue with many other remarkable projects." [Source, Source]

Hei-Kyung Hong Has Her Moment in the Sun

The soprano has sung nearly 360 performances at the MET and covered countless other evenings
(Photo: Natalie Kessyar/Wall Street Journal)
A native of Seoul, South Korea, the soprano starting studying at the Juilliard School of Music at age 15. Now a highly successful opera singer of 51, she makes her home in Bayside, New York, with her husband. They have three children: two daughters, 30 and 31, and one son that is now 17. Read the Wall Street Journal article about her decisions to make the Metropolitan Opera the central focus of her career, even if that meant not being front-and-center of fame. She also discusses what helped her find the focus that created the longevity in her singing and why the voice maintains a wonderful gleam. You'll also find out if she is really kissing her Roméo et Juliette co-star Piotr Beczala during the performance! [Source]
Michelle DeYoung as Judith
(Photo: Brian Harkin/The New York Times)
"The centerpiece of Friday’s program at Avery Fisher Hall was a taut, darkly radiant performance of Bartok’s one-act opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. The work is a moody, stylized fairy tale about the duke and his new wife, Judith, who after gradually opening seven locked doors in her husband’s castle finally reveals the three former wives he has murdered. As the opera ends, she takes her place among them...For sheer power few moments in music can compete with the C major blasts at the opening of the fifth door, behind which lies Bluebeard’s expansive kingdom. As the Avery Fisher house lights were suddenly thrown on, the Philharmonic’s brass section shone, and the excellent mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, as Judith, unleashed a thrilling high C." [Source]

"The Turn of the Screw" Gets a Scrubdown For L.A. Opera

Patricia Racette stars in 1950s update
(Photo: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times)
"Michael Kepler Meo, an impressively confident boy soprano with an eloquent musicality and a becoming stage manner, was a vulnerable Miles. Britten's score and Myfanwy Piper’s libretto suggest a boy who is more a threat, but this Miles was the modern innocent abused and wounded, seeking comfort. That played into Racette's Governess, whose hysteria proved compelling theater, if on the all-purpose side. She seemed the sort who could have been done in by just about anything. Both she and Ann Murray (Mrs. Grose) have large voices, and although they enunciated the English text admirably, they also produced a vibrato-rich blend in ensemble passages that undid them. Ashley Emerson was a striking Flora, the little angel who isn’t such a little angel. William Burden was a suave Quint and also sang the prologue with polish if without the curious edge characteristic of Britten tenors. Tamara Wilson's Miss Jessel was more a spook, coming across as having just been dredged from the lake. An odder, angrier, more mysterious Turn of the Screw can leave an audience too shaken to applaud. Saturday was a night to cheer the cleverness of a director and designer and the devotion of singers, a virtuoso instrumental ensemble and Conlon's engaged conducting." [Source]

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Renée Fleming Schmoozes Daniel Radcliffe & Juan Diego Flórez

Opera meets Broadway (Photo: Joseph Marzullo/WENN)
The opera soprano did double-duty on Saturday (March 19). First she hosted the Metropolitan Opera's "Live in HD" series broadcast of Lucia di Lammermoor during the afternoon. One of the highlights during the second intermission was when Fleming was joined by renowned Rossini-specialist Juan Diego Flórez. The tenor appeared in a tight leather jacket and talked about how sexy his upcoming production of Le Comte Ory is going to be, so sexy in fact that at one point Renée started singing "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life." That evening she attended the Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. After the performance she joined Katie Couric and Charles Robbins to visit with the star of the show Daniel Radcliffe. I suspect the backstage event may have been more for the benefit of Fleming and Couric's young teen daughters who also attended. More pictures after the jump. [Source]

Quotidian Dope; Vol. 1, Issue 6

Riccardo Muti snags the $1 million (€720,000) Birgit Nilsson Prize for 2011. The ceremony will take place October 13, 2011, at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. [Birgit Nilsson Prize]

Carmen is not the only one getting shoved at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. A patron goes for some opera glasses and is denied re-entry to the performance. Police show up at intermission to make the arrest. [Chicago Tribune]

Evan R. Luskin, general director of the Lyric Opera of Kansas, announced he will retire at the end of the 2011-12 season after 25 years of service to the art form. [The Kansas City Star]

Wonder powers come together to create Tod Machover's new opera Death and the Powers, including "Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky (librettist), Tony-nominee Diane Paulus (director), Karole Armitage (choreographer) and Hollywood creative director Alex McDowell (designer). [San Francisco Chronicle]

Economists speculate whether opera houses built before the 19th-century are still reaping benefits by having attracted a more educated audience to particular regions. [The Economist] and [The New York Times]

The new director of opera at the Royal Opera House in London will be a great Dane - Kasper Holten. He replaces Elaine Padmore after this season. [The Guardian]

Composer John Zorn and director Michael Counts sit down with the Wall Street Journal to discuss their 11-minute opera La machine l'être that had it's premiere last week at New York City Opera. [Wall Street Journal]

After singing a wildly successful duo concert with Hei-Kyung Hong, tenor Kim Woo-kyung made his long-awaited Korean National Opera debut at Seoul Arts Center in Faust. [The Korea Times]

Lucia Hosts Her Own Super Perigee at the MET Matinee

Moon over Ravenswood
(Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
Yesterday a phenomenon occurred in the evening skies that only comes around once every 18 years: a super perigee. The moon is at its closet point to the earth during its nocturnal orbit giving it an appearance of 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter. But that moon also appeared in Act III of the Metropolitan Opera's matinee performance of Lucia di Lammermoor featuring Natalie Dessay in the title role. The 2007 production, which first premiered with Dessay before hosting Diana Damrau and Anna Netrebko as the mad Scottish lass, is pleasantly surprising in its mid-19th-century updating. A few particulars jumped out of yesterday's performance that shed new light on Donizetti's bel canto masterpiece that many compare to early Verdi. Is it possible in addition to Lucia suffering from traumatic grief and the constant longing for her recently deceased mother, as well as other apparitions of persons she didn't know personally, that she is also the victim of some sort of incestuous abuse? It is not beyond the realm of possibility that she is emotionally constricted due to an inappropriate, and most-likely non-consensual, relationship with her brother. Two glaring points in the libretto suggest something along these lines when in Act I Enrico refers to the situation of Lucia's secret meetings as if he is a jealous lover and in Act III once the stabbing has occurred she begins talking directly to her brother as if he were Edgardo. And certainly this sort of trauma would make her fall in love with Enrico's sworn enemy and would most definitely drive an enraged woman to murder. It's clear her brother has a strong hold over her that goes beyond sibling duty when he demands she marry Arturo in order to save his reputation and fortune. Ludovic Tézier, playing the role of Enrico, definitely upped the smarmy factor on this character, while managing to sing so well you couldn't resist him.

Other musical moments that really stood out during the performance included Deborah Hoffman's exquisite harp playing for the introduction to Act I, Scene ii with Lucia and Alisa at the fountain directly precluding "Regnava nel silenzio." It not only felt like time had stopped during her playing but that this music seemed eerily modern. Thanks should be given to conductor Patrick Summers for allowing this fine artist to make real music out of this stoic moment. Theodora Hanslowe as Alisa was outstanding in sound and appearance. Another standout performance came from the pivotal, albeit brief, role of Arturo played here by tenor Matthew Plenk. Not only did he look like something straight out of a Jane Austen novel, he sang with the ardent and penetrating tone one wants to hear from a lover like Edgardo rather than the passive bridegroom-to-be.

Actress/Model Lily Cole represents
an ideal image of Lucy Ashton
Natalie Dessay has always presented an interesting dilemma for the opera fan. She has a magnificent instrument and immense stage acting abilities, but she tends to overly use glottal attacks and jarring sforzandi. Her voice also lies somewhere between a Lily Pons and Edita Gruberova type of coloratura, but it seems as though she desires something more along the lines of Joan Sutherland or Maria Callas type of sound. Her portrayal is most affecting without going completely melodramatic in the mad scene. The most touching moment of her performance comes when she sings an unaccompanied section of cadenzas during the mad scene. Originally intended to be sung with glass harmonica and later with two flutes, it seems as though the Metropolitan Opera was not willing to grant a request by the singer for the former so she opted to sing it a capella which Ms. Dessay feels, rightly so, that it makes the character seem even more fragile. 
Watch a demonstration of the glass harmonica that did accompany Natalie Dessay's mad scene at the Mariinsky Gala in Russia. There were only two or three moments where the singer's voice faltered due to lack of air flow or vibration of the vocal folds, otherwise it was an excellent performance. And one cosmetic side note about the wig: there is extra layer of exoticism when the title role of Lucia is played as a ravishing redhead, which is not the case in this production. [Source]

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Is Michelle Johnson The Next Great African-American Star?

"Io son l'umile ancella"
Adriana Lecouvreur (Cilea)
"Ms. Johnson seems to have the vocal goods as well as star power," wrote The New York Times about the 28-year old soprano who last week won a $15,000 prize at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Grand Finals concert in New York. Michelle Johnson hails from Pearland, Texas, and has received degrees from New England Conservatory of Music and Boston University. She is a former member of the Young Artist Programs of Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Opera Tampa, as well as participating in the International Institute of Vocal Arts (Chiari, Italy), Tanglewood Music Center and the Music Academy of the West. Winning important competitions since 2006, she is currently a third-year artist resident at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. Her repertoire includes the title role in Suor Angelica, Countess in Capriccio, Leonora in Il Trovatore, Alice Ford in Falstaff, Monisha in Treemonisha, Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni and Countess Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro. She is clearly a singer on the rise destined to have contracts floated her way from companies all around the world, surely it is the moment of a lifetime. Let's hope it is not fleeting.

Looking back at a dozen African-American sopranos over the last three decades that have been in Ms. Johnson's position and were hailed as the new great singer to take up the mantle of the lyric, spinto or dramatic repertoire, somehow they have lacked staying power to reach the heights that Marian Anderson forged the groundwork for 56 years ago and that Leontyne Price cemented as the standard for performance. Ms. Johnson will have to work hard in order to have a career that lasts more than a debut at the Metropolitan Opera and remain a household name. [Source, Source, Source]

Wilhelmenia Fernandez

"Ebben? ne andrò lontana" La Wally (Catalani)
Carmen Balthrop

"Che sento? Oh Dio!" Giulio Cesare (Händel)
Indra Thomas

"Pace, pace mio Dio" La Forza del Destino (Verdi)
Marvis Martin

"Glück das mir verblieb" Die tote Stadt (Korngold)*
Cynthia Haymon

"Signore, ascolta" Turandot (Puccini)
Angela Brown

"Ecco l'orrido campo" Un Ballo in Maschera (Verdi)
Michele Crider

"Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore" Tosca (Puccini)
Cynthia Clarey

"My Man's Gone Now" Porgy & Bess (Gershwin)
Leona Mitchell

"Ernani, involami" Ernani (Verdi)
Faye Robinson

"Quel guardo il cavaliere" Don Pasquale (Donizetti)
Jonita Lattimore

"Canción de amor"
Measha Brueggergosman

"D'Oreste, d'Ajace" Idomeneo (Mozart)
*bonus: second clip will automatically play "Io son l'umile ancella" Adriana Lecouvreur (Cilea)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Compare and Contrast: Maria Ewing

"All the Things You Are"
Very Warm For May (Kern)
"Ah! Ich habe deinen Mund geküsst,
Salome (Strauss)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

From the Vault: Pilar Lorengar Singing Old Spanish Songs (DG)

"From the Vault" is a new series highlighting classical recordings that labels seem to be unaware they own and have not yet reissued on compact disc or even distributed in digital format. Enjoy the first installment:

Altspanische Romanzen und Volkslieder
Pilar Lorengar , soprano; Siegfried Behrend, guitar; Richard Klemm, viola la gambe
1LP-DGG-139155-SLPM (Made in Germany, 1966)

Complete track listing and audio samples are after the jump.