Saturday, July 22, 2017
In the two weeks since it appeared Patrick Clement James’s fascinating inquiry into the cult of diva worship via James McCourt’s Mawrdew Czgowchwz has been much on my mind. By serendipity this week’s “Trove Thursday” (scheduled before Patrick’s piece was published) offers Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice, an opera also concerned with the quest for an aesthetic–and erotic–divine and featuring Anthony Rolfe Johnson, one of my very favorite divos. Being drawn to 17th and 18th century operas perhaps steered me away from the fiercer forms of diva idolatry satirized in McCourt’s novel. But La Cieca’s kind invitation two years ago to curate this podcast has allowed me to ponder my enthusiasm for works off-the-beaten-track and singers who bewitch me. I’ve never had my “Maria Callas revelation” and at this point probably never will, but I have encountered earthly transcendence with some less expected objects of adoration: Janet Baker, Anna Caterina Antonacci, Ann Hallenberg…and Rolfe Johnson among many. The explosion of HIP recordings that began in the late 1970s neatly coincided with my thirst to discover as much Handel as I could handle and put Rolfe Johnson front and center in my consciousness. His large discography suggests that no modern tenor before or since has sung and recorded so much music by “il caro Sassone.” I immediately responded to his mellow and endearing suavity; his wonderfully clear and unfussy diction; his easy agility. My first encounter must have been via John Eliot Gardiner’s Acis and Galatea in which Norma Burrowes and Rolfe Johnson form an exquisite pair. Soon enough I was grabbing up the inescapable tenor in Belshazzar, Semele, Athalia, Solomon, Hercules, Samson, Alexander’s Feast, and Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day (twice!). While some may dismiss Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s uneven Saul, I find Rolfe Johnson’s occasionally stressed Jonathan extraordinarily moving proclaiming in Handel’s enraptured melismas that David is “thou darling of my soul.” //www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZf3yZlIqL0 But of course Rolfe Johnson’s 18th century repertoire contained more than just Handel. His wonderfully communicative Evangelists enliven both of Gardiner’s Bach Passions, and it’s no wonder Felicity Palmer’s sorceress fell for his seductive Renaud in Gluck’s Armide. Tamino shines in Roger Norrington’s otherwise problematic Die Zauberflöte while his temperamental Roman dictator animates the often cardboard title figure in Patrice Chéreau’s stunning version of Lucio Silla—the hard-to-find video is worth seeking out; an out-of-print CD release drawn from live performances in Brussels is a bit easier to find. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGJjxhu8m2M As many English tenors have done, he eventually tackled works written by Britten for Peter Pears. Having heard (and not much liked) Pears in that repertoire I found Rolfe Johnson more than others could make that music sound really beautiful. Peter Grimes and Captain Vere in Billy Budd are available on CD but his Aschenbach comes to us only from a Met broadcast and this late Amsterdam concert. I scheduled a trip to New York in 1988 to hear him in his Met debut role as Pelléas, but he canceled and I guessed he just might never appear there. But when Luciano Pavarotti dropped out of a revival of Idomeneo the opening week of the 1991-92 season, Rolfe Johnson was brought in. I remember being in the crowded downstairs standing room for that matinee thrilled by him as well as by Anne-Sofie von Otter and Cheryl Studer as Idamante and Elettra; only Hei-Kyung Hong’s small-scale Ilia let down the team. Gardiner’s recordings done the year before preserve both his noble yet tender Cretan king, //www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwHoTXsJ0nA and his Tito, the role of his final Met appearances in 1997 again with von Otter and a fire-breathing Carol Vaness as Vitellia. Opera-going can occasion bitter regret as often as it does ecstatic memory. Despite having relished Rolfe Johnson in the 1994 premiere of the Met’s second production of Death in Venice, I still kick myself for missing the Peter Grimes there later that year. Alas, based on the broadcast, he and the young Renée Fleming as Ellen were quite wonderful, but I had caught his sterling Ulisse when the Netherlands Opera brought Pierre Audi’s production of Monteverdi’s moving opera to BAM the year before. However my first live encounter with the tenor was the most memorable—I was planning to visit Chicago in November 1988 to see Don Giovanni and Falstaff at Lyric when I discovered that during that same weekend Music of the Baroque was doing Handel’s Jephtha. In the title role Rolfe Johnson ripped through the florid challenges of “His mighty arm” with thrilling ease while his hushed “Waft her, angels” was truly heaven sent. In that church on a Sunday afternoon I absolutely experienced the exaltation that Patrick so elegantly examines. How many passionate “Mawrdolators” are aware that McCourt’s fictional diva’s lover Jacob Beltane is in part based on Rolfe Johnson’s contemporary, the countertenor James Bowman? Tomorrow is the seventh anniversary of Rolfe Johnson’s death following a long sad struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. The Voice of Apollo in this performance is sung by American countertenor Brian Asawa who also passed away too young in April of last year. Britten: Death in Venice Concertgebouw Amsterdam 17 March 2001 Broadcast Anthony Rolfe Johnson – von Aschenbach David Wilson-Johnson – Traveller, Elderley Fop, Old Gondolier, Hotel Manager, Hotel Barber, Leader of the Players, Voice of Dionysus Brian Asawa – Voice of Apollo Radio Kamerorkest & Groot Omroepkoor Kenneth Montgomery – conductor Death in Venice can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory. More than 80 “Trove Thursday” podcasts remain available from iTunes , or via any RSS reader .
While she has appointed rapper/producer Q-Tip, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and opera singer Renée Fleming as artistic advisers, more than a dozen senior executives and artistic leaders have resigned or been let go.
Will Crutchfield’s Bel Canto at Caramoor program of concert operas concluded with a bang on Saturday with Bellini’s first success, Il Pirata, capping 20 years of concert opera on lazy summer evenings after afternoons of musical hors d’oeuvres, songs, scenes, lectures and so forth. Bel Canto at Caramoor has defied many a sultry day (and a couple of stormy ones) to give pleasure to fans of obscure opera (Ciro in Babilonia, La fille d’un exilé, Maria di Rohan, Aureliano in Palmira) and alternative versions of some less obscure ones (La forza del destino, Les Vêpres Siciliennes, La favorite). The program has also boosted the careers of such young singers as Viveca Genaux and Michael Spyres, besides offering unusual vehicles to veterans like Ewa Podles and Hei-kyung Hong. One singer who has enjoyed particular success here is Angela Meade, whose first Norma and Semiramide were Caramoor occasions. This time, Il Pirata featured Ms. Meade in her first Imogene, a role associated with Callas, Caballé and Renée Fleming. With Il Pirata (The Pirate), in 1827, Bellini’s name was first heard outside of Italy. It was also the first opera Bellini set to a text by the learned classicist Felice Romani. Bellini claimed that Romani’s rich vocabulary inspired his melodies, and Maestro Crutchfield, in prefatory remarks, suggested that Romani appealed to a psychologically intense, otherworldly strain in the composer, though one wonders why his libretti for Donizetti and Mercadante did not inspire similar creations on their part. This is the only Bellini opera set in his native Sicily, but the story is internationally romanticist, the tale (derived from an Irish play) of a Byronic self-tormented, self-destructive hero, the very essence of early romanticism. The pirate, Gualtiero, has been separated from his true love, Imogene, by the (endless) wars of the Sicilian Succession, and in his ten years’ absence, she has been forced to marry his archenemy, Ernesto, by whom she has had a son. Then Gualtiero turns up, shipwrecked. Imogene’s emotions are divided, and she spends far too long trying to keep the men from figuring the situation out. When they know, as she fears, they fight a duel. Ernesto loses. The local soldiery, who work for him, naturally want Gualtiero dead, too. Imogene goes mad. Why not? No romantic heroines had yet chosen this way out of a predicament, but the coloratura mad scene soon became as popular as sliced pizza. It is the female equivalent of Byron’s heroes’ usual suicide. In Romani’s original libretto, by the way, the finale went, as expected, to the title character, Gualtiero the Pirate, who, after an appropriately ornamental cabaletta, killed himself to escape execution. Bellini set this brief scene but authorities differ on whether or not it was ever performed—according to Herbert Weinstock’s biography, the music was probably used, at least at the premiere. And all this came after Imogene went mad. This seems absurd to us, but Donizetti used just such a conclusion for his Lucia a few years down the road, mad scene of soprano followed by tenor suicide, and though there has been grumbling by soprano fans eager to cheer and go home, Lucia has held the stage securely for nearly two hundred years. It may not work, but it works. In any case, for the premiere or not long after it, someone (very likely the first Imogene, Henriette Méric-Lalande, a lady able to stare down any composer) persuaded Bellini to conclude the opera with an extended Mad Scene and allow Gualtiero to languish, condemned, offstage. Don’t ask why Giovanni Battista Rubini, the very first Italian superstar tenor, put up with that—perhaps he was exhausted after a long night. (Critics say he had a small voice, even for that day and age.) The change proved to be Pirata’s blessing and curse—the Mad Scene, recorded by a dozen divas, is by far the best-known part of the score. Angela Meade, returning to Caramoor, where she has often triumphed, remains a puzzle. The many beauties of which her voice is capable have made bel canto fans hopeful, but the flaws in the both the instrument and her technique have proved intractable, if indeed she has recognized and addressed them. It is difficult, at times, to tell if she is a high coloratura with an unstable mid-voice and an untameably wide vibrato (such that pitch is often indefinite or simply flat) or if she possesses a very beautiful and well-grounded spinto with a detached head voice that never seems to bridge the gap. When she is good, she can be very good indeed; when she’s bad, she’s all over the place. Her dramatic instincts are sometimes excellent—there were declamatory passages in Il Pirata of startling beauty and effect—while at other times she drifts in her sleep. We never know which Meade we’re going to get. Her opening scene and aria in Il Pirata last Saturday were a case in point: indefinite pitch, awkward phrases, lofty lines that were very pretty but might have been floating in from the next room. But the entrance of Imogene’s brutal Ernesto (Harold Wilson, a virile, growling bass with energy and flavor) seemed to set her back up, to make her angry. Anger suits Meade better than languor. When she fought back, her voice was bright, clear and on pitch, and her acting made us all sit up. The concertato that concludes Act I evinced splendid work from everybody. The tenor was Santiago Ballerini, an Argentine last heard here in La favorite, where he was no match for Clémentine Margaine’s throbbing Léonore. The voice still seems a size too small but it is such a pretty instrument, so smooth and clear in Bellini’s grateful lines, with a not-uncreditable attempt at an E-flat in head voice (a Rubini specialty), that Caramoor was very happy with him, even when Meade or Wilson swamped him in duet. His second aria, too, included highly attractive if not quite star-quality fioritura. The Mad Scene was Meade’s great moment. All of us with other divas in our ears—my first Imogene was gutsy Marie Traficante, a performance that burned the stage—anyone else remember her? Meade was undaunted, uneven but riveting, with some spread in the notes. Her leaps to the sky did not seem freakish, as they have done in the past; they seemed part of the unstable mind she was portraying. It was a satisfying conclusion, far more in character than, say, Fleming’s swoopy efforts at the Met or even Olga Makarina’s better one. Among the able supporting cast, I was especially impressed by every phrase sung by Robyn Marie Lamp as Imogene’s confidante. The voice is robust, easily produced, golden but warm rather than metallic. I’d love to hear how she’d surge through a bel canto cavatina, but her next role is Ariadne. Keep your ears peeled. The chorus and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s were led by Maestro Crutchfield with a lively, swift-paced hand that brought the evening’s preposterous catastrophes too soon to worry how little sense they made. The performance effaced memories of the tedium of the Met production under a dramatically challenged Bruno Campanella. The afternoon’s pre-event appetizers were choice. Except that so much of it is comparison of recordings and piano illustrations, I’d wish Crutchfield would put his superb explanation of Bellini’s influence on Chopin, Verdi and, above all, Wagner on paper or tape. I hope he will create a podcast to be replayed, memorized, spread far and wide as it deserves. (One friend claimed he heard echoes of Wagner throughout Il Pirata, which can’t have been the maestro’s intent.) After one final concert of the program, Rossini’s Petite Messe Solenelle on July 23, the maestro and his caboodle move next year to Purchase, just down the road, with Mayr’s Medea in Corinto.
“Gods are hard for mortals to see”—Homer (trans. Gregory Nagy), Hymn to Demeter In his book Literature and the Gods, Roberto Calasso bemoans a dearth of the divine in modernity. “There was a time,” he sighs, “when the gods were not just a literary cliché, but an event, a sudden apparition…” It’s worth unpacking this claim for its presupposed nostalgia for the ancient past, where magic and mortality apparently coexisted within the material world. But are things really quite so different today? What have we lost in these end times? Personally, Calasso’s statement resonates with me; I feel anemic, yet inundated with information—text, sound, image. One rarely has a chance to linger over beauty, to champion it, to surrender to a god, to enter the cult. Calasso cites reading as our touchstone to the divine. Nevertheless, he (somewhat condescendingly) suggests that this activity is, in fact, not an invocation of the gods at all, but a parody of them. That being said, a part of me still identifies with Calasso; I understand his search for the divine. It is heaven (literally!) to brush up against a god, to enter into its cult, to worship. However, it’s also worth looking further (and perhaps beyond) Calasso’s assertion in order to break it down, to refuse his claim for its bleak, modernist notion that the gods have long been consigned to the pages of literature. Are the gods located truly and solely on paper, as flattened imitations of themselves, acting out in parody? Or, are there other channels through which one might encounter the divine. My hope is that Calasso is being a bit shortsighted. My hope is that there are ways to bear witness to gods and goddesses outside acts of reading, beyond parody. Which is to say: let us put our faith in a different liturgy. Words and music still bring the congregation together in ceaseless adoration. Published in 1975, James McCourt’s novel Mawrdew Czgowchwz is engaged with a similar longing for the divine. And it is, perhaps, a welcomed antidote (or complication) to Calasso’s claim that the gods have retreated solely to the modalities of literature. A rambunctious, difficult book, the novel charts the apotheosis of an opera singer known as Mawrdew Czgowchwz, an artist in possession of a voluminous talent. With a threadbare plot, the narrative traces her rise, fall, and resurrection as both an artist and persona, all the while cataloguing the praise, condemnations, and exhortations hurled at the diva by her public. Overflowing with language—argots and slang—the novel offers one a vision into the sub-culture of opera fandom. As Wayne Koestenbaum writes in an introduction for the novel, “The weird drag persona of Mawrdew Czgowchwz, like Myra Breckinridge, gives voice—and, almost a body—to artistic preoccupation, or to the sensibility of men, and women, too, who, in the 1960s and earlier, put their considerable mental resources into connoisseurship, aesthetic partisanship, and standing on the line [at the old Metropolitan Opera]” This is the language of a highly coded and highly ritualized milieu. It is hyperbolic, fraught, magical—hexes even appear within the novel, a plot point that both suggests the power of faith and language, within the verbal ecologies of fandom, and hearkens back to the supernaturalism of Calasso’s antiquity. Verbose, linguistically dilated, and rooted in pre-Stonewall aesthetics, McCourt’s artistic preoccupation, beyond the practice of diva-worship, is primarily language. Sentences unspool as unruly and uncontainable as a virus. Nothing in the novel is particular gay, but the text itself serves as a significant contribution to a strange and alien queer literacy, a lost art in our sanitized queerness (McCourt would take up these concerns again in his later, non-fiction work Queer Street). Certain signifiers, difficult to recount due to the ontology of cruising, reverberate beneath the surface of the text, conjuring a different time, a different age, a different scene; these signs prove legible only to a select few—the elect, as McCourt would undoubtedly put it. This term—elect—is deployed by McCourt to describe those opera fans pulled into the orbit of the main character, diva Mawrdew Czgowchwz. With its connotations of ritual, theology, and soteriology, the elect is a frustrating notion—especially if one has not been summoned into the cult to practice “Mawrdolatry,” as McCourt articulates it. Ah! To be marked out at some prior vetting, one’s soul determined fit enough for the task at hand! It is a stance that looks from the inside out, from a vantage point of aesthetic privilege. Superiority attends those who count themselves as members. They smugly consider the unenlightened: the walking dead, mindless as zombies, blind to the glories brandished by their god. In McCourt’s novel this generates a system of camps, allegiances and alliances. For example, the novel opens with a description of the cult of Morgana Neri (I Neriani), a WWII era diva on the decline: Neri’s opinions on everything and everyone in music were recited in antiphon over tables littered with clippings, reviews, vile coffee, and majestically autographed glossies of the diva, in black and white and in sepia (none of a later vintage than the last year before the war). Neri was considered ageless, her voice deemed eternal. The elders, who could actually speak of the Neri debut, were revered by intimates as prior saints. Wire recordings of Neri broadcast performances passed like transcripts of the Orphic mysteries from fool to fool. But, as the novel details in a filigree of gossip and wit, Neri’s reign will come to an end beneath the shadow of the novel’s eponymous heroine, “whence the Neriad [takes] a turn for the tragic.” Mawrdew will unseat the diva with her art: “She wedded music to mimicry to create ‘musicry.’ She was the definitive diva, she still is.” And so the culture of Neri disintegrates (notwithstanding a few malicious stabs at retribution), and the cult of Czgowchwz ascends. As Koestenbaum suggests, Mawrdew Czgowchwz is based on a composite of Maria Callas and Victoria de los Ángeles: “Partly Callas, partly de los Ángeles,” Koestenbaum writes, “Ms. Czgowchwz is an amalgam of every great singer.” McCourt’s personal devotion to de los Ángeles colors his writing with a delicious, pink cloud of nostalgia and affection. And the influence of Maria Callas, regarding the character’s elegance and glamour, is undeniable. Mawrdew, like Callas, manages to evince both a public persona, as well as indicate toward a more private, mysterious interiority. For as much as Callas suffered and lived for her art (Vissi d’arte!), her public persona was consumed by it, and so she remained surprisingly private in other ways. One thinks of the famous photographs of Callas in recital. Dazzling, draped like a Grecian goddess (a Greek-American, resident of Athens—namesake of Pallas Athena), she bewitches through contradiction. She pours out her art, beckoning the spectator (one feels like a moth drawn to the flame), and yet she eschews our approach. She is formidable, yet alluring. Similarly, much of Mawrdew’s thoughts, within the novel’s promiscuous angles of vision, go unrecorded, serenely opaque. She drifts through Gotham, lovely and withholding—except, perhaps, through the generosity of her voice. Like the gods on Olympus, one wonders: what is going on up there in her head? What does it feel like to possess such earth-shaking talent? Never mind. We don’t need to know; rather, it is better to bask in the delicious, inviolable mystery of her talent, the esoteric practices of the artist’s inner sanctum. Is there a current correlative? Who is central to our cult these days, or have the gods—as Calasso suggests—slipped into the abyss of history? In these dreadful times, we pursue our devotion. We long to love, to adore, to worship. Where is our goddess? It seems like the very concept is the vestige of a long, lost past. As Alex Ross wrote in The New Yorker last week, regarding the state of fandom at the Met: The days are over when the crowd [at the Metropolitan Opera] was filled with voice geeks who could identify transpositions, cuts, and optional high notes. Such people still exist, but their numbers have dwindled, not least because rising ticket prices have made habitual attendance harder. You hear less informed buzz around you; you see more people sneaking looks at their phones. And much of McCourt’s novel circles around the standing line at the old Metropolitan Opera, where hymns of praise and curses abound. The novel is valuable in that it feels like dipping into that long forgotten pool, bathing in a language that dried up through the days of HIV/AIDS and, more recently, the mainstreaming (hetero-washing?) of legalized gay marriage. It’s bittersweet. I am happy gays can get married. But what happened to the notion of being elected? Where is the glitz, the glamour, of Mawrdew? It’s not just a question of the voice. There are a number of fine singers strutting across the stage. For example, Elina Garanca is a surefooted vocalist. Nina Stemme is an extremely capable musician and singer, especially in light of her repertoire. There are Angela Meade, Sonya Yoncheva, Latonia Moore, Jamie Barton, Marina Rebeka, Nadine Sierra, Anja Harteros, Tamara Wilson, Isabel Leonard, Tamara Mumford, Anita Hartig and etcetera. But each of them lacks an essential element to catapult them into the stratosphere, to bring about their apotheosis, to provoke worship. Even Renée Fleming, whose instrument is of the highest quality, whose ubiquitous presence is the standard of perfection (though, perhaps, airbrushed within an inch of her life), remains “the people’s diva,” much like her predecessor Bubbles. Nice is fine, but goddesses are not nice. We fear and love the divine. Nobody wants to worship the girl next door. Which brings me to Anna Netrebko. Who else embodies the super-human, scorching star-wattage of this singular Russian soprano? Talk about (to borrow Calasso’s language) the god as event, a sudden apparition! Who else has the gravitas, the vocal chutzpah, the deranged fashion sense, the will and bravado to sing badly and then sing really well—in short: a willingness to put on a show, on and off the stage? Netrebko, whose vocal prowess has recently surmounted her off-stage persona, is a life-affirming performer (“I heard from someone—I can’t remember his name—that she’s studying with a new teacher in Berlin”). Generous, indulgent, voluptuous—a contradiction: both heavenly and earthly. The sexiest thing about her is her voice (and I am well aware of her physical beauty). One can imagine her decked in the armor of Athena, blazing across the battlefield. Her weapon is her singing, like a laser, melting the flesh of her adversaries. So, I think it’s a conversation worth having. What has happened to the elect? Have they dissipated, unbound by the absence of a proper diva? Have our goddesses absconded the stage? Or, am I being a shrill alarmist (a la Calasso), ringing my hands over nothing? As a writer for Parterre, I have thought often of McCourt lately—the work his novel engages with is the work all of us at Parterre engage with. One aches and longs for Mawrdew, or some variant of the diva. As Calasso writes in his book, “The world…has no intention of abandoning enchantment altogether, because even if it could, it would get bored.” There’s nothing I want more, as a critic and operagoer, than to heap lavish praise on a deserving deity. If I could invoke her, whoever she is, I would. But, alas, I’m not a priest of the elect. I wait and search, longing for the goddess to return, the bright flash of her parousia lighting up the stage at Lincoln Center.
A week from Saturday Will Crutchfield’s “Bel Canto at Caramoor” ends a 20-year run with Il Pirata. “Trove Thursday” salutes the finale of this important series with a live performance of the Bellini starring the inevitable Montserrat Caballè and her husband Yusi…oops I mean Bernabé Martí from another outdoor summer venue—the Cincinnati Zoo! The cessation of Crutchfield’s bel canto performances in Katonah comes just weeks after the passing of Philip Gossett who occasionally participated in Caramoor’s pre-concert talks and who was of course a towering figure in music scholarship. His sparkling, fascinating book Divas and Scholars from 2006 remains essential reading for anyone interested in 19th century Italian opera. Although I didn’t attend all that many Caramoor operas, some were especially striking, such as the wonderful and rare opportunity to hear two of Verdi’s French operas sung in their original language. Although I recall a pale Linda di Chamounix and a bland Aureliano in Palmira that I fled at intermission, I prefer to savor memories of an involving Semiramide, a fierce Lucrezia Borgia, an engagingly elegant Il Trovatore (which featured a rare Azucena from Ewa Podle?, an occasional Caramoor visitor) and that surprising oddity–Poulenc’s Les Dialogues des Carmélites–done with incisive power and special for showcasing Deborah Polaski’s riveting operatic farewell as Mme de Croissy. Happily it was recently been announced that Crutchfield is inaugurating a new summer project grandly christened “Teatro Nuovo” and moving with it to another corner of Westchester–the expansive performing arts complex at SUNY Purchase. The first season promises Rossini’s Tancredi and Mayr’s Medea in Corinto. Although I didn’t live that far away, I never had the chance to attend an opera accompanied by—as legend has it—trumpeting elephants and shrieking peacocks before the Cincinnati Opera abandoned the Zoo for Music Hall. Sometime after that move my family visited the Zoo and I connived to walk out onto the now-dilapidated stage: there a star-struck kid looked around imagining the many famous singers who had performed on that spot for more than 50 years. As a budding opera-tot I had only just begun to listen to the Met Saturday broadcasts when Caballè sang her only two opera performances in Cincinnati. Today’s rare “in-zoo” recording isn’t in the best sound but it captures a resplendent Caballè in one of her early signature roles. Back then I pored over my local newspaper for details about her upcoming appearance and later discovered she had had a mishap during rehearsals and sang Imogene leaning on velvet crutches. “What commitment and dedication!” I enthused at the time. Today one might also remember Gossett’s merciless appraisal of the Catalan diva in his brutally forthright book. I look forward to Crutchfield’s Caramoor farewell on July 8th, my first live Pirata. I wasn’t yet in New York for Aprile Millo’s sole Imogene with the (presumably now-defunct) Opera Orchestra of New York in 1989—it seems to have been quite an event. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9EBXGnGe8A I had planned to attend the Met’s 2002 production but as luck would have it my ticket was for of one of Renée Fleming’s rare cancelations and knowing I didn’t want to hear her cover, I just skipped the whole thing. Bellini: Il Pirata Cincinnati Zoo Opera 5 July 1969 In-zoo recording Imogene: Montserrat Caballé Gualtiero: Bernabé Martí Ernesto: Julian Patrick Goffredo: Dimitri Nabokov Conductor: Anton Guadagno To download Pirata, just click on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory. In addition, more than 80 “Trove Thursday” podcasts are available from iTunes –for free, or via any RSS reader .
Nowadays the Met´s productions are sometimes open to harsh criticism but we generally get important singers in great roles. The HD Live performances seen on certain Saturdays at the Teatro El Nacional and presented by the Fundación Beethoven remain very attractive. The final two offered Tchaikovsky´s "Eugen Onegin" and Richard Strauss´ "Der Rosenkavalier" and both had admirable singers. "Onegin" has been seen with some frequency in BA and has also been staged at La Plata. Based on the beautiful Pushkin verse novel, well adapted by the composer and Konstantin Shilovsky, these "lyric scenes", as Tchaikovsky called them, have a lot of wonderful music, particularly Tatiana´s Letter Scene and Lenski´s aria. If in the first two acts we are given the rural ambience of Larin´s estate and the stark duel in which Lenski dies, the Third Act transports us some years later to Saint Petersburg and to Prince Gremin´s great Ball; he has married Tatiana, and now it is Onegin who desires her but is rebuked. The cast had a superstar, Anna Netrebko, and the sensitive baritone Peter Mattei supplanting Dmitri Hvorostovsky, unfortunately very ill, as Onegin. Lenski was a first-rate Russian tenor, Alexey Dolgov, who sung with style and acted very well. I found Stefan Kocan rather gruff as Gremin. Olga, Tatiana´s coquettish sister, was done very attractively by mezzo Elena Maximova. And two artists who were stars twenty years ago, gave style and knowledge to Madame Larina (Elena Zaremba) and Filippyevna, the wet-nurse (Larisa Diadkova). Netrebko may be nowadays a bit too matronly for the part, but her singing and acting was so admirable that it didn´t matter, and her beloved Onegin was interpreted ideally by Mattei. The conductor, Ricardo Ticciati, was a surprise: young and very intense, he proved congenial to Tchaikovsky´s extremely Romantic inspiration. Deborah Warner´s production felt Russian and was often convincing, but Tom Pye´s stage designs were problematic: the unit set for the First Act and the first tableau of the Second didn´t observe the libretto´s specifications, and the columns in the Third Act complicated Kim Brandstrup´s choreography for the Polonaise. Nice costumes and good lighting. This "Rosenkavalier" was essential viewing for it was the goodbye to the stage of Renée Fleming after 250 performances at the Met and the last Octavian of Elina Garança, the greatest interpreter of this marvelous role in recent years. Fleming was still lovely even with small vocal fissures, and Garança was perfect in every sense. Furthermore, we met a valuable Ochs, bass Günther Groissböck, of healthy singing and funny acting, and there was Matthew Polenzani at his best as the Italian Singer. Erin Morley (Sophie) and Markus Brück (Faninal) were good. And Sebastian Weigle mastered the gorgeous score: a conductor to watch. Alas, in a few weeks we will suffer at the Colón with this Robert Carsen production: a sad travesty of a fantastic libretto. Nevertheless, he couldn´t ruin such magical moments as the final minutes of the First Act or the trio of the third: the music and the artists moved me to tears. For Buenos Aires Herald
Renée Fleming (February 14, 1959) is an American soprano specializing in opera and lieder. Fleming has a full lyric soprano voice. Fleming has performed coloratura, lyric, and lighter spinto soprano repertoires. She has sung roles in Italian, German, French, Czech, and Russian, aside from her native English. She also speaks fluent German and French, along with limited Italian. Her signature roles include Countess Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro (Mozart), Desdemona in Otello and Violetta in La traviata (Verdi), the title role in Rusalka (Dvo?ák), the title role in Manon and Thaïs (Massenet), the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier (Richard Strauss), and the title role in Arabella. A Richard Tucker Award winner, she regularly performs in opera houses and concert halls worldwide. In 2008 she was awarded the Swedish Polar Music Prize for her services in music.
Great opera singers