Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Due to "Potentially Offensive Political Views" Toronto Symphony Cancels Valentina Lisitsa's Performance Days Prior to the Concert



     Ukrainian - American pianist Valentina Lisitsa is the very definition of a virtuoso artist. She plays the repertoire from which most pianists shy. The works of Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and Chopin are among her most sought after performances, and she has developed quite a name for herself on the concert circuit around the world. Almost all of her recordings are available on YouTube from her official channel, and she shares her talent gladly with any who appreciate it. Watching her play Liszt's Sonata in B Minor, for example, gives us a small glimpse into her magnificent technical ability, which I daresay is scarcely equaled anywhere in the world.


     Lisitsa is of Ukrainian birth and lived there for a time. At present Ukraine is torn by civil war with Russia, ever anxious at the expansion of an empire and thirsty for natural resources, backing one side of the fray, those who should like to see Ukraine once again a part of Russia. On the opposite side, there are those who love Ukraine's independence from Russia, yet many of them love independence and crave foreign aid or belonging to a greater entity such as the European Union or NATO. What does this have to do with Lisitsa, you ask? Since the uprisings in 2014, her Twitter account, in addition to promoting her work, has been a voice commentating on the situation in Ukraine, and she has done so prominently for over a year now. Just as an American, Canadian, or British expatriate might do, she has commented on the state of her native land to the world through Twitter.

     It came to light Monday that the Toronto Symphony, possibly Canada's best and most known orchestra, had canceled Valentina Lisitsa's performances of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 for April 8 and 9, 2015. According to Toronto Symphony's president, Jeff Melanson, Ms. Lisitsa's appearance was canceled due to "ongoing accusations of deeply offensive language by Ukrainian media outlets." However, reports of an e-mail to Lisitsa's agent said that original missive was quoted as reading, "the Toronto Symphony Orchestra received some messages from ticket buyers and others expressing concern over pianist Valentina Lisitsa’s public political statements," so it may well prove that offensive language has turned into unpopular political statements. From Slavyngrad.com, a source with which I am highly unfamiliar and not overly likely to believe as of yet, it is also reported that the e-mail went even further to accuse Valentina of publicly inciting hate, which is, apparently, against the law in Canada. It is also alleged that a brief from the Toronto Symphony's counsel with the firm Borden Ladner Gervais, LLP, and copies of her Tweets were attached to this e-mail to her agent as cause for the cancellation.

     In response to this shocking decision from the Toronto Symphony, many at Lisitsa's behest took to social media to argue whether or not she had made statements to the gist of what many had accused her of doing. I have followed her on Twitter for years now. Have I seen some morbid Tweets from her? On occasion, yes, I have seen some Tweets that are distinctly against a certain political presence operating in Ukraine. Much of what she Tweets is repeated from some news outlet, public figure, or general feeling in that part of the world, and is not necessarily indicative of her stance on anything. Insofar as I am aware, Valentina wants only for the Russians to cease trying to reclaim Ukraine through force or election and for these United States and the European Union to cease attempting to use Ukraine as a strategic piece in a political game for whatever end. If that is truly her stance, I can easily respect it. I may not agree with her entirely in how she makes her argument or in her reasoning for it, but it is a position I can respect.

     However, the real issue at hand is not what political affiliation or beliefs one shares with the world. Focus on this portion of this matter is a diversion and distraction from the true issue at hand. Does the Toronto Symphony Orchestra fancy itself to be the judge of correct speech in any capacity? Moreover, does the Toronto Symphony Orchestra believe it holds the key to understanding appropriate political stances and those who may disagree are unwelcome to collaborate with it? If this is the case, is the Toronto Symphony taking a stand to never play the music of Wagner? Shall Valery Gergiev, close friend to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is certainly by no account the most popular man in the world at present, be dismissed from future concerts? Is Anna Netrebko barred from performing with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra due to her support of Putin? Dear readers, this decision from the Toronto Symphony is in direct contradiction to the aims and ideals of the arts, which is to collaborate together, despite political affiliation, despite nationality, despite disagreements, to create something of beauty. Moreover, who is the Toronto Symphony to dictate what a person may or may not say? Is freedom of speech no longer a basic human right? To the Toronto Symphony, I say that I am ashamed of its behavior in this case, and the relative lateness of this action indicates two points to me. To release the decision as close to the performance date as it did, the administrative branch of the orchestra did so to create as little a scene as possible in the public eye so that the episode might go unknown, but they kept Lisitsa on the schedule for as long as possible to attract as many ticket sales as they could at the cost of her immense fame throughout the world. Such behavior is most discourteous and reproachful to both the patrons and the artist.

     In examining the decision to cancel Lisitsa's performance, one final point must be brought to the forefront. Lisitsa was scheduled to visit Toronto for one purpose only, which was to play Rachmaninoff's music. She has hardly any opportunity to speak before the audience within the Toronto Symphony's venue, nor has she made a history of doing so in her previous concerts. The line of separation between whatever her personal views are, views to which she is freely entitled as a member of humanity, and her performances has remained clear in all of her performances. If she wanted to make a statement regarding Ukraine or anything at all, she could and does make it more effectively through her social media following, which has one of the most devoted bases of supporters of diverse backgrounds and composition. To insinuate that Lisitsa might make some political statement during her performance is complete disregard of the facts concerning the matter and a grievous error in logic to the point of inane fallacy on the part of the Toronto Symphony. Let it be known, dear readers, friends, and acquaintances, that the Toronto Symphony Orchestra does not value freedom and fancies itself a better gauge of what is right, appropriate, and good than every other orchestra in the world with which Valentina has played without political outburst or incident. Toronto is shamed by this decision.

     I say, #LetValentinaPlay.

--Tyler.



Sources:
The Globe and Mail
The Toronto Star
Slavyngrad.com

UPDATE:


     Due to the negative reaction to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's disdain for the freedom of speech and its arrogant self-appointed status of political appropriateness, it has canceled the performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 that was to have been paired with Mahler's Fifth Symphony.

UPDATE APRIL 9, 2015:

     Despite the Toronto Symphony's despicable, totalitarian behavior, Valentina Lisitsa shall still perform in Toronto. Tomorrow evening, Friday, April 10, 2015, Lisitsa will give a free concert at Lawrence Park Community Church. According to a conversation on her Twitter account, Lisitsa had secured an alternate venue previously, but she was later barred from performing there, as well, when all of the press began to appear on this subject. This report of her forthcoming performance is confirmed by The Canadian Press. Furthermore, Lisitsa's performance with the Calgary Philharmonic in June is still scheduled. I suppose the Toronto Symphony finds that orchestra morally inferior to itself.


UPDATE APRIL 9, 2015, P.M.

     BREAKING: Apparently, the pastor of the Lake Park Community Church says that Valentina Lisitsa never had authorization to use his church as an alternative venue for a free concert to be given tomorrow. Read the Tweets:

     Is there anyone who will stand and support the right to freedom of speech in Toronto? I do not know who made the error, told an outright lie, or else reversed his or her decision, but I am saddened to see this sort of behavior in Toronto. It greatly affects my desire to ever want to visit its world-class symphony and city.

     As Tweets continue to develop, and the situation unfolds, it appears that Dr. John Suk, who, from his Tweets in response to Lisitsa, claims to be the minister of the Lake Park Community Church, is himself stating that the performance will not be allowed at his church in Toronto. A Tweet he wrote in response to Lisitsa's inquiry of whether or not he had been threatened exhibits a curious bit of detail about this affair. Read for yourself, dear friends and acquaintances:


     As you read in the Tweet, Dr. Suk divulges a bit of odd information, and when one combines it with his initial response to the concert announcement from Lisitsa, an understanding of events gets rather muddled. Prior to his original Tweet, Lisitsa's concert announcement on Twitter came from her personal account approximately three and one-half hours before he responded. Answering Lisitsa's question, he replies that the manager in charge of facilities rental was out when the message was left and that no one ever returned the inquiry for booking. However, by saying it "is not happening," he suggests that he is one in authority to make a decision on whether or not the space is rented to anyone. Professing knowledge of the message, then, why did he choose to publicly confront Lisitsa to tell her the concert was canceled? Presuming the call had to have been made some time prior to the press release from CTV News and The Canadian Press, he simply refused to contact her agent or whatever third party represents her in this matter of finding a venue? Such is an utter lack of professionalism and etiquette at the very least, and, at the worst, it could very well be construed to indicate some ulterior motive or agenda is at work or that he was, indeed, threatened or harassed to deny permission for Lisitsa to perform, which Dr. Suk denies.

     Nevertheless, this Tweet slightly contradicts a statement Dr. Suk is said to have e-mailed to The Canadian Press. From their updated article, CTV News reports that Suk assures them that the concert announcement comes about as a result of someone else renting the sanctuary for Lisitsa's use, which he claims the church will not allow. Now, if the message regarding inquiry of renting the sanctuary went unreturned, and the concert announcement was made without having secured the venue, then how could someone else have rented the sanctuary on Valentina's behalf? He obviously knows there was an inquiry made, for he admits as much, yet he denies permission was given via Twitter, and delivers a press release saying permission was given, but to someone else? Something sounds dishonest here, and I am sorry to say as much regarding a church and its leaders. Dr. Suk has some explaining to do. Thus far, he has declined to comment in response to my inquiries made to him through Twitter.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why #BringKellysKidsHome Should Matter to Every American

Image courtesy of www.instagram.com/kellyrutherford
   For those readers who have steadfastly remained intrigued by my posts since my earliest days of authorship here in my corner of the Internet, you shall know from experience that I rarely deviate from the subject of opera within my humble musings for the purpose of this blog. However, I have been known on occasion to delve into other realms of the entertainment world, and this post counts for another rare foray there. Sometimes there comes an issue so important and so close to my heart that I cannot remain silent upon it, so I must pen some thought about it. For those who are acquainted with me through Twitter, you shall probably know that I customarily reserve my more public thoughts and opinions for its platform, for I revere my blog as a very specialized niche of my authorship, and it should be a disservice to my audience if I was to delve too frequently into other places without the world of opera. Nevertheless, as a matter of principle, I feel I must do so here, and I do hope that all of you shall continue to peruse this post despite this caveat.

     I am the first to admit that the realm of popular culture is rather without the scope of my interests or expertise, but I am occasionally known to follow a popular venture in the form of entertainment, and from this there will stem interest in the artists and performers whose endeavors issue forth a finished product from time to time. Actress Kelly Rutherford became an interest of mine in recent years following her role in television's Gossip Girl. An initial admiration of her performance there soon grew into an appreciation for the kind, gracious person she consistently proves herself to be, and her promotion of haute couture in nearly every aspect of life is a most welcome one to me. A glance at her social media feeds supports this view of her, and I cannot say that I have ever noticed her to have so much as an insulting word to say against anyone. "Is she perfect," I hear the skeptics inquire. No, she is human, and I am certain that such a status begets a series of mistakes and imperfections in any of us, and, no, I am not naïve enough to believe that a considerable portion of what I see from her through the lens of social media is not there for the sole purpose of publicity in a favorable light. Nevertheless, from my limited interactions with her, and from the general knowledge I have, I believe her to be a gracious, genteel woman who presents her best efforts to be thoroughly courteous to all.

     Rutherford married Daniel Giersch in 2006, and the marriage lasted until 2008, when a divorce was sought. The couple had been blessed with a son, Hermés Gustaf Daniel Giersch, and Rutherford was expecting a daughter at the time of the divorce, as well. Daughter Helena was born in June of 2009, and the family, though tensely split between two parents in a custody battle over the children, continued.

     Throughout the custody proceedings, both Rutherford and Giersch made claims that most of us can agree were probably made more for the benefit of the press and publicity of the matter than anything else. Of course, I cannot assuredly say as much, for I am not well enough familiar with either party to make such an absolute claim, but I am not entirely bereft of knowledge pertaining to the effectiveness of the court of public opinion and the persistent reputation of one's image when one lives within the public light. There were assertions from Giersch that Rutherford withheld the information of his daughter's birth from him and that he only learned of it through media reports. Rutherford insists that she feared her children might have been abducted throughout the custody hearings, which is not an entirely unfounded concern in such cases. Other supposed legal minds of the Internet will also remind us of how Rutherford's legal team conveniently informed the State Department of Giersch's allegedly questionable business practices, which led to the revocation of his visa and subsequent deportation from the United States. However, these are red herrings insofar as we as Americans ought to be concerned, for they are of no bearing in the actual case that ought to be made in light of the result of the custody decision from an American court.

     Originally, in 2009, custody was ordered to be jointly shared between both Rutherford and Giersch as a temporary arrangement until 2010. In April of 2012, a full two years following the initially agreed upon end of the temporary custody agreement, Giersch's visa was revoked, and he was deported based upon allegations of illegal business practices. Often, the story of the custody decision is told from this point without any insight into the importance of what this meant for the children, who are American citizens, but I shall not make such a grave error. Because Giersch was no longer permitted to enter the United States, it gave Rutherford de facto custody of the children on the condition they remained here in the United States, and this was the point Rutherford tried to use to ask the court to grant her sole legal and physical custody of the children. However, the Superior Court of the state of California decided this was unfair and ordered that the once temporary custody agreement remain in place. So that Giersch could exercise his joint custody, it was the decision of the court that the children must reside in France and that Rutherford would have to travel there to exercise her joint custody.

     If we look beyond the sole issue of custody, we must soon come to the realization that the Superior Court of the state of California has effectively ruled that two citizens of the United States, citizens who are children, mind you, must be forced to reside without the country and surrender the rights of their native country to satisfy the temporary rights of a man who is not a citizen of the nation its decisions are supposed to represent and who cannot legally enter the country due to a quantity of enough sufficient evidence of illegal activity for the federal government to deny him visitation privileges to destinations within our shores. Therefore, even denouncing every claim Rutherford may have to substantiate her right to the custody of her children, the Superior Court of the state of California released a decision in utter disregard of the rights of the children, citizens to whom it owes the duty of legal representation and preference in its decisions.

     To come at great length to the point of this post, why should this matter to Americans? What bearing does this case have upon any of us? Most of us will not marry a person of foreign descent, so our likelihood of being involved in a similar case is greatly diminished, many will argue. Be that as it may, we are faced here with an injustice against two American citizens and a mother, who is also an American citizen, to the benefit of one who has no right or granted privilege to be found in this nation. If it is not reversed, this decision is now given the benefit and almost unassailable legal credibility of precedent, which can then be applied in a myriad of interesting ways to the cases of today and the future. Will we as Americans stand for the violation of fellow citizens' rights? Let us hope we do not, for we, too, are then made subject to the will of a court with a safeguard for the interests of those who are other than Americans in mind in its decisions, a notion that is quite beyond the authority and scope of the American legal system.

     In addition to the #BringKellysKidsHome campaign, Kelly also has become a staunch advocate of the Children's Justice Campaign. At its root, the Children's Justice Campaign seeks to introduce legislative alterations to the treatment of decisions regarding children in custody hearings in hopes of making the best decision for the child. At its heart, I support the Children's Justice Campaign; however, as one continues to read the research that accompanies this idea and the proposed conclusions we must make from this, which must then affect the legislation introduced, I cannot profess further support, nor do I believe it is the best resource our nation possesses to prevent cases such as this. The law as it presently exists protects the rights of citizens over citizens of foreign countries, and this case merely exhibits absolute disregard for the protection of the rights of citizens of our nation. If the Children's Justice Campaign were more acutely focused on this injustice and travesty, it should receive my full endorsement and support. As it presently exists, I reiterate that I quite agree with the founding principle of the organization, but my support is limited only to that.

     As I conclude this narrative of events and commentary of thoughts, let us all pray for the safe and expedient return of Kelly Rutherford's children to their native country and that their rights as citizens of this great nation shall be preserved and defended by a higher court whose best of intentions are reserved for the people it is its duty to represent and protect. Let the legal behave as it should and side with the rule of law to #BringKellysKidsHome. I pray that all of you are marvelously blessed and that life continues in a state of joy for all of you.

--Tyler.

Source:
ABC News

Monday, March 16, 2015

Lyric Opera of Chicago's 2015-2016 Season

     As spring dawns every year, the world of opera and classical music begin to present the following season's fares for the benefit of audience members who wish to plan their entertainment pursuits for the future. This spring is no exception, and Lyric Opera of Chicago recently made its 2015-2016 season announcement. The new season runs from September 26, 2015, to May 22, 2016, but it is only filled with nine productions. If productions are filled with casting gems and exciting works, this is a winning strategy for audiences who may wish to view a different cast in a production or who loved the production design enough to merit a second viewing. It seems very much an approach that favors quality over quantity, and I must say it has its merits.

     The new season begins with Mozart's classic Le Nozze di Figaro, an adored work by audiences everywhere. Though some will object to the length of the opera, and I respectfully count myself among these astute observers, it provides all of the ingredients a company desires in the possibility of a beloved triumph. All that remains for the company is to give it a stellar cast and a decent production. Since it opens the season, Mozart's comedy receives a new production by Barbara Gaines, and it features a cast anchored by Luca Pisaroni as the wary Count. To my knowledge, at least, here is where the recognition ends, for this production also features the Lyric debuts of two European singers with whom I am unfamiliar, who are Adam Plachetka as Figaro and Christiane Karg as Susanna. Amanda Majeski, plays the steadfast Countess, and Rachel Frenkel, also making her debut with Lyric, portrays the page who is smitten with love, Cherubino. Henrik Nanasi takes the podium.

     Next in the season comes Rossini's La Cenerentola, and this is a run of performances I should not want to miss if I was near Chicago between October 4-30 later this year. Mezzo Isabel Leonard has lately been traveling with this fairytale princess to various houses around the world, and I believe she delivers one of the finest all-around performances of this character. She is joined by tenor Lawrence Brownlee in the role of Prince Ramiro, and this is, surprisingly, his Lyric debut. I have had the pleasure of seeing him perform live, and his voice is exquisite in these Rossini gems. Veteran baritone Alessandro Corbelli rounds out the cast as Don Magnifico, and Sir Andrew Davis leads the orchestra. Let us pause a moment to revel in Leonard's glorious talent.


     Progressing forward, we find Alban Berg's Wozzeck scheduled to open November 1, 2015. Wozzeck was once an opera one could rarely have opportunity to see, but it seems audiences have warmed to it a bit. It features an intense story and very layered characters. For this production Lyric brings German soprano Angela Denoke into the cast as Marie, and this has been a rather frequent role in her career, for she has sung it in Paris, Barcelona, London, and New York. Tomasz Konieczsy makes his Lyric Opera debut as the title character, and Gerhard Siegel also debuts as the Captain, but he and Denoke have performed this opera opposite each other in Barcelona in 2006, I believe. For the difficulty of the music, Wozzeck's tale may more than equate a reason to see this new production by Sir David McVicar. Sir Andrew Davis conducts this, as well.

     Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow makes its opening in the 2015-2016 Lyric Opera season on November 14, 2015. Following very mixed reviews from audiences and a very gentle review from The New York Times for the Metropolitan Opera's New Year's Eve gala slot for it, soprano Renee Fleming takes the role of Hanna to Chicago to see if audiences appreciate it any more there. For those who have been visitors to my blog for a decent amount of time or who are acquainted with me through social media, it comes as no surprise that Renee Fleming remains my favorite soprano. Do I wish that she would cease to sing these operetta roles? No, I do not wish as much entirely. I simply wish that she would add some other role in addition to this relatively easy one to her season. Of course, she is on Broadway at the moment, so I suppose I must be content. As I consider it, is there anything she cannot do if she sets her mind to it? I think not. There are things she ought not to attempt again, but that is beside the point. She is one of the most diverse artists in opera, and she never ceases to impress me with new insights and revisiting previous roles I have long adored in her voice. Joining Fleming in this work are baritone Thomas Hampson, a thoroughly erudite and thoughtful artist, tenor Patrick Carfizzi, and soprano Heidi Stober. Soprano Elizabeth Futral replaces Renee later in the run. Sir Andrew Davis conducts here, as well. It shall be interesting to see how this production deals with the challenges of the Met's new one from Susan Stroman and if the performances garner a greater degree of praise from the public and the press.

     Running from December 7, 2015, to January 17th, 2016, is the world premiere of Jimmy Lopez's Bel Canto, which is based on Ann Patchett's novel of the same title. Set in South America, the story begins during a vice president's birthday party. Famed American opera singer Roxanne Cross is performing for the affair, but terrorists seize the vice president's mansion. Roxanne, a Japanese electronics company chairman, and an interpreter are kept hostage since the president is not in attendance of this celebration, and romance blossoms under captivity. Danielle de Niese stars as the heroine, but do any of my readers share my wish that Renee might have given the premiere of this role? It does make sense since author Patchett, who is a close friend of Renee's in actual life, based Roxanne Cross on Fleming herself. Nevertheless, de Niese provides a marvelous draw to what otherwise might be an overlooked work of the modern canon. Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and mezzo-soprano J'nai Bridges help fill this cast with attraction for at least my interest.

     As he should in any opera season, Verdi also graces the Lyric stage with Nabucco, running from January 23 to February 16, 2016. Celebrated Verdi baritone Zeljko Lucic takes the stage as Nabucco. Soprano Tatiana Serjan, a voice with which I am unacquainted, stars as Abigaille, and mezzo soprano Elizabeth DeShong returns to Chicago as Fenena in this new co-production shared between La Scala, the Royal Opera Covent Garden, and the Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona. Carlo Rizzi leads the orchestra for one of Verdi's perhaps lesser known operas.

     For its penultimate production of the 2015-2016 season, Lyric Opera of Chicago has elected to mount Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, another opera some audiences may find rather too lengthy, but this time I am not among them. Oktavian has become the focus of this opera in recent years, and this is made even more apparent in the fact that this company has booked not one, but two star mezzo sopranos to fill this role. Both Sophie Koch and Alice Coote have been assigned to this beloved trouser role, and Amanda Majeski returns as the Marschallin. Bass Matthew Rose, a rather unknown star to me, sings Baron Ochs while tenor Rene Barbera cameos as the Italian Singer. Soprano Christina Landshamer makes her Lyric Opera debut as Sophie. The cast is led by Edward Gardner at the podium, who also makes his debut as maestro of the Lyric Opera Orchestra.

     In a production that is new to Chicago audiences, Bartlett Sher gives us his interpretation of Charles Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, and this may include the best cast of the season in my opinion. Joseph Calleja sings Romeo, the young man in love with soprano Susanna Phillips's Juliette, a young maiden of a rival family. My first impression is that these two shall make a tenderly affectionate and devoted stage couple about whom the world as they know it falls around them as their mutual attraction and feelings for each other become known. Tenor Eric Cutler will later step into the role of Romeo, which will be a most interesting contrast, I believe. Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn sings Friar Laurence, a role sometimes almost carelessly forgotten, and mezzo soprano Marianne Crebassa makes her Lyric Opera debut as Stephano. Emmanuel Villaume leads the orchestra in this tragic tale of forbidden love.

     Presently, no single tickets are being sold, but, if you reside in the Chicago area, subscriptions for the forthcoming season are available. Student discount tickets are also available for a mere twenty dollars, and Lyric also has a rush ticket program, as well. The 2015-2016 season promises to be a pleasant and perhaps even surprising one in Chicago, and I would urge anyone to try to schedule a visit for a weekend of opera in this glorious city. As ever, my gratitude remains for your continued reading, and I pray that all of you may be continually blessed.

--Tyler.
Henrik NánásiHen
Henrik Nánási
Henrik Nánási
Henrik Nánási

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Renee Fleming to Make Broadway Debut in 2015

(Image Courtesy of broadway.com)
     It was announced yesterday that opera diva, and my personal favorite soprano, Renee Fleming shall make a debut on Broadway in 2015 in a new play. Entitled Living on Love, Fleming plays in a leading role she originated for the play's first performances. It follows the lives of two artists who are married to each other who each fall in love with their assistants, according to The New York Times.

     Written by Tony Award winner Joe DiPietro, Living on Love takes its comedic drama from the tension between an opera star and her husband, a maestro, while the latter has been assigned a young female assistant to assist him in ghostwriting his autobiography. Naturally jealous, as divas tend to be portrayed, the diva hires her own male assistant to ghostwrite her own autobiography, and he is quite the handsome young man to cause her husband to notice their budding relationship.

     Devoted aficionadi of Ms. Fleming's exquisite soprano voice shall be pleased to discover that the play does feature her singing at moments throughout the performance. Performances are scheduled to commence officially on April 20, 2015, but previews start rather earlier on the first of the aforementioned month at the Longacre Theatre, which presently plays host to the revival of You Can't Take it With You, which sees its final performance on February 2, 2015. With this scheduling, it comes just after Renee's starring in Franz Lehar's The Merry Widow, which is a gala production for the new year at the Metropolitan Opera. Of course, any astute observer of her career will note that this transition into assuredly lighter fare than even her last season at the Met undeniably denotes the recession of this glorious soprano's career upon the opera stage. My heart mourns for this product of reality, but I remain immensely grateful that I was blessed to see her perform in a veritable diva role in Gioacchino Rossini's Armida at the Metropolitan Opera in 2010.

     For my part I am delighted to witness this foray into new artistic realms for my most cherished of opera singers who introduced me to this art form that I adore with such ardent passion, and I might even say that I am somewhat excited to see what opportunities this brings to her as the future continues to visit all of us. Hopefully, this shall prove to be a marvelous surprise for all of us who welcome it as a continuation of a favorite diva's continued career.

     As ever, I pray all of my readers continue to remain amply blessed in every facet of life, and I keep all of you in my thoughts. If you are so inclined, feel at liberty to include your thoughts about this latter part of Fleming's career or your expectations for this play in the comments section below, and I wish all of you a merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Post for the End of Time: The Retirement of Anonymous 4.



     It was a sad day a couple of weeks prior to this one when I read that the world's premiere female vocal quartet, and perhaps some shall say even ensemble, have decided that the 2014-15 season shall be their last as a performing group. Comprised of singers Ruth Cunningham, who also writes excellent program notes for the foursome's concerts, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek, and Johanna Maria Rose, the history of the ensemble spans 29 years, and they leave an impressive recorded legacy of more than twenty albums on the Harmonia Mundi label.

      Formed in 1986 as a friendly endeavor one afternoon as the original four (Horner-Kwiatek replaced Cunningham later, who later returned to replace Rose.) gathered to read through some medieval polyphony, they decided to remain a group. They did not want to have a prescribed leader, which has been excellently exhibited in their music making ever after. Hellauer proposed the name for the group, which was initially met with opposition. Nevertheless, it remained, and it has been identified as among the gold standards of medieval music.

     I was immensely blessed to witness this divine ensemble perform in my native city of Oklahoma City last early this year. Performing in a local Episcopalian church, a friend of mine from university and I attended the concert. The audience was not an especially capacious one for the venue, for there may have been 200 people in entirety who came to witness the performance. If memory serves me correctly, the cost of attendance for university students was a mere ten dollars, which I gladly paid, and I can safely say that I received much more than a fair value for such a paltry cost.

     When the four ladies entered the sanctuary, we all applauded. They began the evening with medieval selections, and for the entirety of the first half prior to the intermission, a pin's drop could be heard throughout the place. Not one of us among the audience members dared move for the distraction it might create in opposition to the sublime music to which we were paying the utmost reverent attention. There was no applause, but this was not due to a lack of adulation from all of us; we simply did not wish to break the complementary silence between the chants. A more surreal evening I have never experienced, and the applause at the intermission was most grateful and ardent for the performers.

     The second half included the groups signature, exquisite settings of traditional hymns. We applauded between each set of them, for they were organized in such a manner, and these performances were enough to make me wish that each Sunday was devoted to worship of God in such manner, for I should find it most difficult to discover a purer, more gorgeous form of praise to God than this evening certainly was. Rare are the occasions upon which a recorded artist sounds as perfect in live performance as it does upon its recordings, but I can assure you that there is no difference between the two instances in the case of Anonymous 4, and this concert is perhaps the very best I have ever attended.

     Following the performance, we were all invited to purchase recordings from the ensemble, and who among us could possibly resist following such aural pleasure? I procured their latest at the time, Marie et Marion. I do not believe any of us wanted the evening to end. When we had finished making our selections, the group came forth and autographed everyone's copies, and they were even gracious enough to pose for a photograph with my friend and answered any questions we had during the autograph session. I informed them of my sentiment regarding the concert and my great desire to hear them live before having been blessed with the chance, and they were most gracious in proffering their gratitude to hear my intimations. It was one of those evenings one can only dream of having with a famous artist, yet here it was in reality.

     As the group settles into retirement, I emphatically encourage you to attend a concert by Anonymous 4 if you possibly can. It is not an evening you shall regret, and, even though I should never otherwise advise it, I should even be so bold as to suggest neglecting one's homework for an evening to witness them in performance. You shall not be disappointed. Prior to complete retirement as a group, they are scheduled to release a final album for Harmonia Mundi. It completes an American trilogy from them and shall be entitled 1865. Featured on this release shall be folk songs and parlor songs from the American Civil War era, and master fiddle, guitar, and banjo player and otherwise vocalist Bruce Molsky joins them in the creation and performance of this music.

     I lament Anonymous 4's departure from the world of classical music, but I look forward to a brighter future when such music surrounds us all about God's throne in Heaven. Meanwhile, upon the Earth in the steadfast love of our Father, I leave you and wish all of you a merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Return to My Roots

     Dear readers, as the year of 2014 comes ever closer to its close, I find the desire within me to return to this blogging venture of mine for which I was known in earlier times. My reasons for this shall be explained in due course, but let me commence this post with expanding your knowledge of me a bit in the interim since my last post was published here.

     I continue my pursuit of my university degree, and music continues to be my primary focus there; however, without the hallowed shrine of academia, I have developed other interests and passions, and I have followed these to other exciting opportunities and knowledge as time has progressed. Though it may have been slightly evident ere now, I have gained a keen interest in computer science over the past eight years or so, and it remains among my hobbies I continue to nurture in what precious little leisure time I may be said to possess. My time is principally divided by three obligations during my waking hours. These are either labors, for I am, thankfully, employed, studies in music, or else technology. Of course, I devote some time to entertainment, and I have learned to enjoy photography with my Canon XS DSLR, but these former three pursuits comprise most of my schedule on any given day. As for technology, I have continued to learn much. If you did not have knowledge of it, I am a devoted Linux user. After some continuous frustration with not having adequate software for my media needs and the constant threat of viruses, I distanced myself from Windows 7 a couple of years ago, and I have rarely had cause to use it again thereafter. I migrated to Ubuntu 12.10, a generic, but feature-rich Linux environment that was easy for me to use and integrate into my life. As of now, I have tested at least five other Linux distributions and have used them to varying degrees of frequency for specific purposes. I feel at home in this UNIX-like system, and I do not intend to leave it soon.

     Moving to opera, the very reason for which this blog exists in the first place, I must confess that I have not been so diligent in following it as I have formerly been. University does rather inhibit me, which should seem most illogical when consideration is given to the degree I strive to obtain in the field of vocal performance. However, having said as much, I have made a decent effort at keeping abreast of its developments through Twitter, where you can find me here if you are so inclined. Many of the world's finest singers inhabit that virtual space, as well, and they include both veteran, classic artists with which my generation has grown in adoration in addition to new artists who are only now making their ways onto the world's stages. My list of followed accounts should point you in the right direction, and if you are looking for a broader representation of who I am than that which the limited scope of this blog provides, then you can also find that in my Tweets.

     Arriving at this point in the post, the looming question yet remains. Why have I returned to blogging? My presence on the Internet has come almost full-circle. Twitter, my main outlet of expression and conversation in these times, has become too constrictive for me. It is difficult to say all that I want to intimate, and I should very much like to rearrange my priorities so that opera takes a greater prominence as it once held my attention better than all of my other interests. Furthermore, I hope to connect with my acquired friends and acquaintances on a deeper level and with a more genuine nature than the medium of Twitter affords. Twitter for me was ever supposed to act as a supplement to the content here, but it has taken over as the primary and sole communication method for me, which is quite unfair to my readers and terribly incommodious and often quite ineffective for sharing my thoughts thanks to its limited character allotment for the relation of a sentiment.

     Of course, the main reason I left the blogging world was because of privacy concerns and the data collection activities of large conglomerates such as Google, which hosts my site here, and these concerns have not vanished; indeed, they have only intensified as time has continued. Because of this, I am looking at alternatives to the Blogger platform, the most enticing of which lies in self-hosting my own website.

     There are exciting ventures before me that I hope to share with all of you, and I certainly hope that you shall find joy in learning of them. There may be a bit of maintenance done over the next few days regarding links in the sidebar and the like, but the future of this space appears promising for the nonce, and I am thoroughly overjoyed at using it for its intended purpose again. As Christmas visits us in yet another continued year of life upon this Earth, I pray that all of you are blessed and that God keeps you in the most benevolent of His graces.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Forgoing Mediocrity for a Time: The 2013 Echo Klassik Award Winners

     Awards for achievements in music are plentiful. There are perhaps none so auspicious and yet openly mocked as the Grammy Awards of the United States, an award which still carries tremendous weight with its bestowment upon many an artist. However, it is rather a more difficult task to find music awards devoted exclusively to classical music. One award bearing a decent amount of prestige in at least recent years has been the Classical Brit Awards. This revered establishment saw its own demise when it embraced crossover ensemble Il Divo as its Artist of the Decade in 2010, and its name was swiftly altered to simply the Classic Brits. However, no facade is powerful enough to change the reality that it is a laughing stock among all who follow classical music.

Joyce DiDonato with her Echo Klassik Award (Image courtesy of www.zimbio.com)
     Despite such a depressing situation in England, Germany presents us with the Echo Klassik Awards, which are to many the classical equivalent of the Grammy Awards. While the Grammy Awards do have categories reserved for classical music, these are threatened to be removed at any time if popularity for them should wane; the Echo Klassik Awards, being an offspring of the German Echo Awards for music that has developed into its own association, deal exclusively in classical music. Governing the awards on both accounts is Germany's music recording industry as the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences does here in the United States for the Grammy Awards. The judges are comprised, according to the Echo Klassik Awards themselves, of distinguished politicians, arts and media personalities, and members of the Bundesverband Musikindustrie, the German equivalent of the aforementioned Academy.

Cecilia Bartoli with an Echo Klassik Award in 2008 (Image courtesy www.zimbio.com)
      Begun in 1994, the Echo Klassik Awards, while they have become a standard for excellence, have not been so throughout the entirety of their history. During the turn of the century when the future of classical music seemed to be turning toward the crossover style with new sorts of performers such as Charlotte Church, Sarah Brightman who dabbled in it, and Il Divo, it was the Echo Klassik Awards that also embraced this ambitious, lucrative foray from record companies by awarding their distinguished prize to none other than Filippa Giordano, whose career is probably one of the worst products of this phenomenon. One of her early hits was her debut album she made that included such tracks as O mio babbino caro and Casta diva, and the worst part of it is that she comes from a classical music background. With record sales from Charlotte Church, Sarah Brightman, and Andrea Bocelli soaring, the Echo Klassik Awards bestowed one of its honors upon Giordano and allowed her to perform for the awards show in 2001.




     Lest we should fear that the honor has devolved too far to be considered with any esteem, I am pleased to announce that we are not to be so disappointed, for in recent years the Echo Klassik Awards alumni have included such famed performers as Vittorio Grigolo, Renee Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, Joyce DiDonato, and Danielle de Niese. The award winners for the 2013 Echo Klassik Awards were made known to me today, and the roster is interspersed with many glittering achievements. The list of winners is somewhat lengthy, so I shall include the ones for which I am most excited and proffer the most congratulation. The awards ceremony is scheduled for October 6, 2013, at the Konzerthaus Berlin in Berlin, Germany.

Danielle de Niese with her Echo Klassik Award 2008 (Image courtesy www.zimbio.com)
Female Singer of the Year: Joyce DiDonato -- Drama Queens: One of the previous year's most anticipated releases due in part to DiDonato's performances in Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, this accolade is well deserved, and I am certain she shall be among the nominations for the Grammy Awards, as well, with this disc. Whether you shall believe it or not, I have still yet to hear this CD. All of you may henceforth disown me as an opera aficionado.

Male Singer of the Year: Jonas Kaufmann -- Wagner: In Kaufmann's final release for Decca prior to signing with Sony Classical, which did not seem a shrewd business maneuver for him to my knowledge of Sony's track record with representing and keeping artists, many were enamored with Kaufmann's foray into Wagner. Often praised by critics for his versatility in both the Italian and German repertoire, this award comes as little surprise to those who follow opera.

Instrumentalist of the Year (Violin): Leonidas Kavakos -- Beethoven: The Complete Violin Concertos: In a field as crowded with exceptional talent as that for the violin is, what sets this performer apart is his ambition to record such masterpieces as Beethoven's violin masterpieces. With an endeavor such as this, it is little wonder that Kavakos was voted to receive this award.

Conductor of the Year: Esa-Pekka Salonen -- Lutoslawski: The Symphonies: Salonen is one of the world's most exciting conductors with his attention to new music, his own compositions, and his expert readings of symphonic scores. Turning his baton to Lutoslawki's compositions proves his adventurous nature, and it is well time that these were recorded. Lutoslawski is also having some excellent hearings at the 2013 BBC Proms. If this composer is new to your ear, there has never been a better time than the present in which to acquaint your ear with it.

Newcomer of the Year (Singer): Julia Lehzneva -- Alleluia!: A release featuring sacred music from Mozart, Vivaldi, and Porpora among others, this debut from Lehzneva is promising. Her voice is round with an excellent lower register that gives her a distinct mezzo quality, but her top notes are joyous to hear, as well. This is a singer that is certainly one to follow with interest.

Newcomer of the Year (Trumpet): Tine Thing Helseth -- Tine: Taking the classical music world by storm is Norway's newest prodigy, Tine Thing Helseth. Her elegance and incessant charm look as if they are placing her on the track to following the success of Nicola Benedetti with her violin, and her performances are exquisite. Alison Balsom has a companion now in the stratosphere of trumpeters, and Helseth is an excellent champion of many styles of music for her instrument, which broadens her appeal immensely.

Solo Recording of the Year/Voice (Duets/Opera Arias): Elina Garanca -- Romantique: Garanca is well known for her gorgeous voice, and this repertoire is one of her specialties. As one expects, this release includes music by Debussy, Lalo, Tchaikovsky, Gounod, and Berlioz, but the beginning of the album is a piece from Donizetti, which seems out of place in such a program as this. Garanca's voice is, nevertheless, perfect for this repertoire, and I am elated to see her honored for what she performs best.

Opera Recording of the Year (20th/21st Century Work): Ian Bostridge -- Britten: The Rape of Lucretia: While erudite vocalist Ian Bostridge is equally at home in lieder, art song, Baroque music, or modern work, he excels in the music of Benjamin Britten. His voice is very much praised for its interpretative gifts in modern music, and it is not difficult to imagine why this recording was chosen to receive this honor.

Opera Recording of the Year (19th Century): Mariinsky Orchestra; Valery Gergiev; Nina Stemme -- Die Walkure: In the bicentennial of Wagner's anniversary of birth, it is fitting that one of his works should receive such an accolade as this, and Stemme is one of the foremost Wagnerian sopranos in the world today. She is blessed with an enormous voice, and her prowess as an actress leaves little to be desired. The Mariinsky Orchestra is very capable of producing some of the best readings of opera scores in the world, and Gergiev has proven himself on the podium time and again in Wagner's music. This may not have been a difficult choice for the judges to make, but that makes this recording no less deserving of praise.

World Premiere Recording of the Year: Cecilia Bartoli -- Mision: Ever a performer of exponential levels of excitement and dedication to her work, Bartoli is the reigning champion of world premiere recordings in my opinion. She never allows an opportunity to pass her, and she gives her heart and soul into every recording she creates. Her latest solo release is no exception to this trend, and this album caused quite the stir when it was learned that this world famous mezzo has shaven her head for the album's cover in homage to the fierce adherence that many orders of monks of old held to their beliefs and rites as novitiates of the Catholic church. Her technical skill alone deserves the Echo Klassik honor.

Music Recording DVD of the Year: Bryn Terfel; Jonas Kaufmann; Mojca Erdmann -- Der Ring des Nibelungen: Wagner seems to be sweeping the classical music festivals and awards this season, and here we have another recording to add to the list. This DVD is of the Metropolitan Opera's much heralded production by Robert Lepage. Though it has been fraught with its share of difficulties and cool reception by many critics, it is revolutionary in its concept, and though the cast listed on the announcement as the three performers in the heading are all who appear to be honored, Deborah Voigt, Jay Hunter Morris, Stephanie Blythe, Elizabeth Bishop, and Patricia Bardon made these broadcasts and these recordings superlative in their share of talent.

Chmber Music Recording of the Year (19th Century) Mixed Ensemble: Helene Grimaud; Sol Gabetta -- Duo: Ever since Grimaud parted musical company with maestro Claudio Abbado over cadenze, her musical interest seems to have taken her to more intimate settings insofar as music is concerned, and she teamed with cellist Sol Gabetta to record a new album of collaborative works for cello and piano with music from Debussy, Shostakovich, Brahms, and Schumann. Grimaud is one of the world's best talents at the piano, and Gabetta is honored with another award from the Echo Klassik Awards this year, which speaks volumes to her talent, as well. This is not a recording to be missed if it can be helped.

Chamber Music Recording of the Year (17th/18th Century) Mixed Ensemble: Jordi Savall; Hesperion XXI -- Armenian Spirit: If there was one ensemble to which I could listen for the remainder of my life, this early music consort led by the renowned, esteemed interpreter of the genre, Jordi Savall, should be it. They specialize in early music, and often tailor their programs to specific countries or heritages, and I can say without question that this recording is immensely deserving of this laud.

     As you can veritably witness in this shortlist of mine, the Echo Klassik Awards do their best to maintain a high degree of excellence in electing recipients of their trophies. Yes, there are categories in which better candidates might have been chosen, but the variety of tastes in the world of classical music and opera can hardly all coalesce to produce results that shall please everyone in every respect. These artists all represent the best in their fields of classical music and opera, and I am anxious to see what talent the new generations shall bring to the Echo Klassik Awards as their history expands into the future. I proffer my gratitude to all of you for your continued perusal of my posts concerning the world of opera, and I am honored that you should devote your reading to my humble musings.