Thursday, February 26, 2009

Is Opera All About Death?

Chelsea, in her blog a fish out of water (lower case intentional), recently raised the issue of the abundance of morbidity in opera. She was incited to this by a comment made by a woman after seeing Georges Bizet's Les Pecheurs de Perles in which she stated that it was a good opera because Zurga, the head fisherman, is killed. I beg to differ with the woman who maintains that an opera is good when someone dies. There are plenty of operas that are wonderful that do not have any death: Strauss's Capriccio, Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, Mozart's Die Entfurhung aus dem Serail, and the list goes on and on. That woman's statement is similar to saying that all movies are good if they are dramas, or if they are limited to one specific genre, and that is precisely what makes opera or any other performing art so great, that they can inhabit any genre they wish. I think I can speak for many people, however, when I say that we as a public like the operas that do have death in them.

This creates another interesting question, also; what if the characters in operas did not die, or what if there were no death in opera? For one thing Leonora, the Count di Luna, and Manrico would be happier souls if they had a happy ending in Verdi's Il Trovatore, and Mimi and Violetta in Puccini's La Boheme and Verdi's La traviata, respectively, would probably marry Rodolfo and Alfredo. On the other side of the equation, however, Scarpia in Tosca would still haunt the heroine of that opera, we might still be reeling from Carmen's seduction of Don Jose, and we might even be deprived of Orfeo's journey through the underworld to rescue his beloved Euridice. Then, on the one side, Tristan und Isolde might have had a happy ending... This could be an endless list of pros and cons; perhaps opera is best just the way it is.

I am glad you all read this post, and mat God bless you with all of the desires of you heart.


P.S. By the way, you can access many of the scores for the operas I have mentioned and many others besides at IMSLP.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Just When You Thought You Had Opera Figured Out...

If you are new to the world of opera, then this post will educate you on a little known fact that even some life-long opera aficionados do not even know and that I only came by quite recently; if, however, you have been an admirer of the art form for some time, you may be surprised to learn that some of the things you thought that you knew are subject to change depending upon what people are really conversing. If you belong to this elite latter group, or even if you belong to the former one and you have shown diligence in applying yourself to learning everything about opera that you can, you were probably just getting the hang of knowing precisely what someone means when they give you an Italian word such as appoggiatura, legato, vibrato, or crescendo, and you have probably been confident in your knowledge of what someone is saying when they refer to a 'florid vocal passage,' an 'extended line,' or an 'interpretation,' which is something everyone is supposed to understand, critique, and automatically dislike when a performer is not around, and I would wager you have even began to apply this knowledge of opera to what you see and hear, so you naturally know most of the composers for the major works of the repertoire, right? For instance, if I were to inquire of you who the composer of Manon Lescaut was, you would automatically be able to give me the right answer, but if that right answer is going to be Puccini, you could be sadly mistaken.

I recently learned that there was another version of Manon Lescaut, and it was composed by one Daniel Auber. It turns out that this version, which is even more remote from the novel by Abbe Prevost than Puccini's version, is written for a coloratura soprano, and it has many high F's. Here we find something interesting; why do works such as this, which are replete with vocal fireworks according to Wikipedia and to my limited hearing of the work, go out of fashion? There are other more frequent examples of this sort of thing especially among the Baroque composers, but I wonder exactly how many operas have the same title and are by different composers? Does anyone have any to mention?

Thank you all for reading, and thank you, Kim, for following my blog. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy writing it! I look forward to reading your posts enthusiastically.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Opera, Here I Come... well, maybe.

To all of you who read that little post I wrote earlier where I explain that I am going to sever my link to opera insofar as my own development as a singer, I have good news for all of you who wagered that I would rescind that self proclaimed edict; I did. Now go and collect all of that money, and thanks for pushing me onward toward personal enrichment; for all of you who did not root for me with your capital, all I can say is... you missed out on the most lucrative business deal of the decade.

As I told you in another previous entry, I promised that I would ask about performing opera at my local community theatre. Today at lunch with the Executive Director, and my close friend, Jay, who shall remain devoid of surname for now, I inquired as to the aforementioned possibilty. He informed me that he could see them doing an operetta, such as The Mikado or something else in English (Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus sounds like a universal choice. It is in German, but numerous translations abound for the inquisitive performer or benefactor who wants to mount the production.), but before they stage a full-length opera, they would have to guage the support they would receive for such a production. I mentioned Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (I am reading Virgil's The Aeneid at the moment for those of you who are interested in my literary perusals.) naturally since it is relatively short and in English, which are two sides of the triangle to be decided before we could do something like this, and my friend did not dismiss the suggestion, so I am going to try and mange more of the equation to give the theatre a push in the desired direction. I shall keep my readers posted as to the developments as they happen.

In other matters, namely the Metropolitan Opera's upcoming season, I am anxious to see what performers will fill out the remaining casts that have principals yet to be announced. Concerning their current season, for all of you who go to the Met, you can go to the final dress rehearsal of Vincenzio Bellini's La Sonnambula starring Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez on February 27th for free. Tickets are required, however, and these can be obtained at no cost from the Met's box office starting on the 22nd. This is a new production, and it will be broadcast over the radio and into cinemas worldwide on March 21st, 2009. I would really like to see that in theaters, so I hope to see you all there.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, Renee! And Happy Valentine's Day To All!

On the minute chance that Renee Fleming is reading my blog, I would like to wish her a happy birthday. I hope that it is a joyous occasion of much merriment and celebratory of her marvelous life thus far. May God continue to bless her throughout the year, and may she have a marvelous time doing whatever it is that famous opera singers do on their birthdays.

While we are on the subject of Renee's birthday, my local classical music radio station plays pieces throughout the day either composed or performed by artists whose birthday it is on whatever day, but for the past two years I have yet to hear them acknowledge Renee's birthday once. Each year, I look forward to a pleasant day of hearing the majority of selections played being sung by Renee, but each year I am disappointed that I hear nothing by her. What do they play today? I should not complain so much about it since I love the Baroque repertoire, but they are airing the second act of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas because a local university is performing the work this week.

As you have read, I have been listening to the radio today. Naturally, I heard the Met's broadcast of Peter Illych Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, and I quite enjoyed hearing Karita Mattila in the role of Tatiana. Thomas Hampson portrayed the title character exceptionally well vocally, and Piotr Beclaza is a fine tenor. Just this week, he has been in Rigoletto, Eugene Onegin, and Lucia di Lammermoor. We may just have the next Pavarotti on our hands.

I am anxious to hear Placido Domingo in Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvrer, which Rudolph Bing did not like, next week broadcast from the Met. It will be a look into the past of sorts, and I am excited.

Thank you all for reading, and God bless you.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The New Met Season And Free Downloadable Met Broadcasts

The title of this post is rather suggestive as to the content of this post, is it not? Well, to lessen the suspense, allow me to begin with the latter part of my subject.

About the free Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, and I really mean absolutely free, non-pirated, non DRM protected media, I have recently found a blog on Wordpress called Musica Lirica. It has links to RapidShare files of complete operas available to download for free. Almost all of the great singers of the 50's and 60's are there, but if you are new to opera and have not experienced these luminaries from the golden age of opera and radio, they still have some newer performers, though you will find them lacking in performances with artists such as Susan Graham, Elina Garanca, Diana Damrau, Sarah Coburn, Cecilia Bartoli, Joyce DiDonato (sorry, Joyce), and several other notable singers. Lest you despair, they still have a few performances by Renee Fleming, including a 2007 engagement in Paris in Jules Massenet's Thais with Gerald Finley, and a 2003 performance live from the Met of Vincenzio Bellini's Il Pirata, some with Natalie Dessay, included among those the Met's Lucia and the La Fille from last season, and they possess plenty of broadcasts by Angela Gheorghiu.

There is another such site for those of us who entertain the idea regularly that the Met is the world's greatest opera house (It really is, by the way, and you will not argue the point when I tell you some of the highlights that the next season shall present for our pleasure.); it offers only Met performances from 2007 until the present with more being added as we progress. If there is a particular cast that you wanted to hear in a performance, such as if you wished to compare Anna Netrebko's interpretation of Lucia last Saturday to Diana Damrau's earlier this season, which is something I shall do soon, you can because the site offers two and three individual broadcasts for download for some performances, and some of these have alternate casts. Cast listings are provided for each performance, so you will know who is singing what. With all of this new opera material available to us, we had all better purchase bigger hard drives for our computers, so we can hold every performance we ever wished to hear.

As for the Met's upcoming season, with the exception of the retirement of the Zeffirelli production of Puccini's Tosca, it promises to be an exciting one, perhaps even more so than this season, if such a thing can be possible for the audience who adores Renee Fleming as much as I do. Since I have mentioned her so early relating her to this subject, let me say that she is scheduled to perform in Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier with Susan Graham as Oktavian, the only performance she makes next season, I believe, and Fleming also offers those of us who would enjoy seeing her return to the Italian repertoire a chance to rejoice over a performance as Gioacchino Rossini's Armida. Speaking of Rossini, Joyce DiDonato and Diana Damrau both are scheduled to sing the role of Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, a set of performances to which I am much looking forward to see whether Diana will sing Una voce poco fa higher that Joyce does, as is usual for a soprano, or if Joyce is capable of singing it as if she were a soprano. I cannot wait, but let us hope that no performers cancel their engagements. In the Met's Live in HD series, I find three jewels to which I gaze forward in much anticipation, these being both of Fleming's performances and a performance by Natalie Dessay in Hamlet. I have not heard much of the latter work, but the title itself makes it sound like this opera was created for Dessay. to view the full scheduled season, visit SarahB's blog at Adventures in the Endless Pursuit of Entertainment, and be sure to exhibit your gratitude to her for painstakingly researching and posting all of the information she provides.

I am almost finished reading Luciano Pavarotti's book entitled Luciano Pavarotti: My Own Story, and I must say that I have thus far found it to be quite an engrossing portrait of the legendary tenor in his own words. Interspersed throughout his chapters of instruction and memoirs, regrettably more of the latter than the former for those of us who are still students, are reminisces of Pavarotti offered by such luminaries as Richard Bonynge and Joan Sutherland together in an interview and a section written by Mirella Freni on their life together when they were young in Modena, Italy. Pictures make certain parts of the narrative visual to the reader, and a candid aspect to the story make it seem all the more real, or just as preposterous in some cases. Pavarotti's all too short instruction on singing closely resembles Renee Fleming's in her autobiography The Inner Voice, something I was glad to learn since she gives the inquisitive reader of her book some warnings to adhere to religiously when we are confronted by those who would tell us how to sing. I am ecstatic to find these two exceptional singers agreeing in their method of instruction to young singers. For any who were worried about my future as an opera singer, this book has definitely made me take a close second look at the possibility of me becoming an opera singer, but I am still waiting on God for His counsel and guidance.

That is all I have to report for the nonce, but be assured that with God's help I shall write more soon. As always, may the Lord bless and keep you all until His glorious return to this earth.


Monday, February 9, 2009

The Met Facing Bleak Future Under Gelb?

Dear raeders, I have recently found out that the Met is facing just as much of a loss with its funding as many other institutions and companies are across our great nation. Peter Gelb, the company's General Manager, has been quoted by the New York Times as saying:

"The economic crisis has had an effect on all cultural institutions, and the Met is no exception. It's affected our endowment, it's affected our cash flow, it's affected our revenue streams. What we don't want is for it to affect our artistic productivity."

Hopefully it will not lessen the standards of opera being produced there, but sacrifices must inevitably be made somewhere. As of the time of the article on the subject, Gelb was attempting to discuss with the Met's principal singers the possibility of taking a cut in performance fees. Let us hope they follow the examples of singers during the Great Depression who cut their fees drastically. If one is interested they can read more on the situation here at Opera News

Saturday, February 7, 2009

I Think I Am Ready To Move In New Directions

I have been doing quite an amount of thinking lately in my leisure time not allocated to study or pleasure. Here am I, graduated from high school for almost a whole year now, and I have yet to decide whether to go to college or to pursue some other, more practical means of employing the next few years of my life. This decision has been delayed because of certain happenings in my life, but I think it is time that I began to look at alternatives to a singing career. Listening faithfully to the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, I finally realize that it is highly unlikely that I shall ever become an opera singer. Does this mean that I will cease to explore options to pursue my dream? I am not so easily daunted as that, but I must also be responsible enough to understand the difference between fantasy and reality. My circumstances have been thus: I have not had what one would term formal employment, I do not drive, and there is little chance that I shall ever attend an university. The main point is that I have waited for a year hoping that God would send me some sign that this is the direction He intended for my life, but I have seen little evidence for that. Nevertheless, I remain hopeful because an acquaintance once told me never to be sure that God does not wish for us to do something just because we cannot see the way to do it since the desire to do it may just as well have come from God in the first place. Did I express the sentiment clearly enough? Just read through it two or three times. Basically, I am going to continue singing as an amateur, but I shall abandon any practice of furthering my career, though I shall audition for every musical I can. Unless someone begs me to accept a role in an opera, I get an audition with an opera company, or I receive a full scholarship to an university, I am going to allow time to take its course.

Now, if I can just start driving, find employment and save my amassed capital to buy a residence, I will be satisfied with myself.

Since it is Saturday, I just finished listening to the Met's broadcast of Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. It starred Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beclaza, Mariusz Kweicien, and Ildar Abdrazakov. I quite enjoy this opera; indeed I adore bel canto repertoire. I realized today how much of this opera I actually recognized from last season. Netrebko's Lucia was excellent, but I prefer Natalie Dessay's performance of it last season to this one. I shoud have liked to hear Diana Damrau's interpretation of it last year, but I was occupied when it was streamed over the Met's website. On YouTube as I watched one of Dessay's performances, I noticed a comment from a viewer who said that Diana Damrau is offered every role only after Natalie Dessay gets it. I did not really believe it then, but I have since experienced the veracity of the statement. Last year Dessay starred in Lucia di Lammermoor and La Fille du Regiment and Diana starred as Lucia this season and she is scheduled to perform as Marie in La Fille du Regiment in a couple of seasons at the Met. How strange!

Moving to another topic, since I have some readers who are undoubtedly music majors in their pursuit of higher education, and since these are invariably looking for free resources at every turn, for who does not do so in their attempt to save money, I have found a lovely way to save money on the ever increasing cost of sheet music. IMSLP is an Internet library of public-domain classical music. With a collection of over TWENTY THOUSAND INDIVIDUAL SCORES WITH MORE BEING ADDED DAILY, it offers music in almost every genre and period imaginable, even complete scores of operas! I have availed myself of this marvelous resource, and I hope that it can help some of you with the pieces you want. Generally, it is best to stay conservative with your searches since they feature nothing from the past fifty years since that would be copyright infringement, but search for anything because even I have been surprised at the rarities they have to offer. I would definitely use this far more often than I do if I had a printer and a piano was more accesible to me.

Finally, may God continue to bless all of you.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

What Are Some Recordings To Buy?

My dear readers, I intend to purchase some opera, or else clasically vocal, recordings very soon. I shall probably buy from since they offer purveyors of their merchandise the option of buying particular items used at a reduced price. Although I have an idea about what recordings to buy, I would like some advice from my readers as to what they think I could use to enhance my collection. I have a good amount of albums of opera and related material, but I am forever looking to add to my library. I would like to at least get one full-length opera recording, so feel free to give me recommendations as to recital discs and complete works. When I make my final decision, I will devote a post to the subject giving reasons for the choices I make.

I am looking forward to quite an amount of advice on this. Thank you all for reading.