Tuesday, March 31, 2009

OperaTV, Would It Work?

I have been thinking that there ought to be a cable or satellite channel devoted specifically to opera audio and video performances and recitals. It sounds crazy, does it not? Remember Viva La Voce.com? They did an internet radio station on the same principles, and it lasted for three or four years; I believe one of the reasons they had to discontinue their operation was the availability of new media sources such as Rhapsody and others (more on that later). Would it not be great if this theoretical station aired the Met's Live in HD series shortly after they were simulcast into cinemas? This would eliminate the need for PBS to air them on all but the local affiliate stations, and this would allow more viewers to see them since the local PBS stations do little advertising of their showings of such performances. Their airing rights would not end there, however; moreover, the station could feature video performances from around the world and commercial video airings of performances, thus providing far more exposure to the little-known DVD titles in some recording company's catalog than they could ever have received otherwise. The possibilities are endless! Imagine it: 24-hour-a-day programming with break in spots for commentaries or interviews and relatively commercial-free. I am liking this idea more and more as I write about it...

About Rhapsody: we all already know that they offer music track for all of the other cheaper MP3 players that are not iPods, but they also offer free internet radio! There is a variety of classically themed stations from which one may choose (Right now I am listening to a Renaissance themed one to satisfy my thirst for that sub-genre.), and they do not take up your Rhapsody plays, either! Music for free? Sure, I will take all I can get!

As for Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music, there is absolutely no better place to become acquainted with it than to listen to the radio program Harmonia. Hosted by Angela Mariani, it is a valuable show to gain insight into "ancient" music. Lately, they have departed somewhat from their roots by playing Beethoven arrangements, though on a harpsichord, nevertheless, but I like their showcases of vocal ensembles singing Medieval music best. Check out their website.

As for news from the Met, Renee Fleming's "vocally sumptuous and unabashedly show-stealing Thais" (See, the New York Times thought she stole the show,too.) is now available to view on MetPlayer in its original HD quality and splendor. Is there anyone who subscribes to this service? Well, if there is, they can watch it for a pretty reasonable price after they pay their $14.99 monthly rate for the privilege to watch and hear broadcasts on the platform in the first place. If one asks me, it sound very close to charging a person twice for the service, but that is only my opinion. People will invariably say that this is no different from cable's On-Demand viewing option, but before they do, I never said that I thought that they entertained good business practices either.

Everything Over The Weekend

I have been madly preoccupied of late, which explains why I have not been able to either read the blogs of others or post a new title to my own. Nevertheless, I am delivering another post to the inquiring minds of my followers.

I have recently gotten a position of weekly employment at Poteet Theatre, my local theatrical "home." Jay, after he could cull no one from the ranks of his regular employees, asked me to do some work for him at the theatre. It has since become our task to purge the theatre of anything that is not needed anymore and to organize what remains. The theatre is located in a grand church near downtown Oklahoma City, which has a tall bell-tower adjacent to its sanctuary. It was my duty to clear out one of the five or six floors of this before we could begin the other things we wanted to accomplish, and I was able to complete this within a day. In my next post, I shall provide pictures of our performance space and the sweeping view from the tower and other things in which I think you shall have some interest in seeing for your enjoyment. Anyway, I am to work to this end that I have heretofore briefly described for four more weeks, and then if Jay can find a donor to furnish my wages for the remainder of the year, I am to remain there coming once a week to ensure the maintenance of the theatre. This occupation profits me well and it is pleasant to work where I have so many friends and acquaintances constantly coming and going to and from wherever they will.

On Saturday I did not audition, nor did I listen to the Met's broadcast of Richard Wagner's Das Rheingold. I was unable to audition because neither of my parents would take me to auditions since there was about an inch of snow on the ground. Of all of the weekends for it to snow, this was definitely not the one I should have chosen. It is more incredible to believe when one knows that just the weekend prior, we had temperatures in the 70's across our state! Oklahoma weather can be most enjoyable, but it can also be just as detrimental to one's plans. I was rather disappointed at this since there was no ice upon the roads and my parents went out later in the day, but I am glad that I may still be allowed to work at Poteet as often as I do. As for the Met's broadcast, I missed it for the simple reason that the batteries in my little portable radio went dead. Had I been determined to hear the broadcast, and I was eager to hear Waltraud Meier sing Sieglinde, I could have comandeered someone else's radio from them, but I do not think that God should have looked kindly upon such an action. Besides, there is a good chance that it will be available for download on the Uploads From the Metropolitan Opera website. I am elated at the prospect of hearing the rest of the Met's Ring cycle.

On Sunday, which, may I remind my readers, is supposed to be a day of rest and reflection upon God, my family and I worked on some renovations to our house. These took the larger portion of the day to complete, pro tempore, and we finally sat down to other activities and dinner at around nine o'clock. This practice is not condusive to one's continued well-being, and I do not recommend it, but it was invigorating to make the progress we created.

As for opera, which I have not mentioned in a good while, I have a little to relate. On April 2nd Natalie Dessay will be in the Met Opera Shop from 12:30 - 2:30 P.M. to sign copies of her CD's. Rolando Villazon will be there on April 16th from 2-4 P.M., and Placido Domingo will visit on April 23rd from 2:30 - 5:30 P.M. Renee Fleming was the first to greet customers in the renovated retail space, and here is a picture of her there:

Rolando Villazon has dropped out of the cast of Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore, and Massimo Giordano has steeped in for him to sing opposite Angela Gheorghiu for tonight's performance. He has cancelled both of his runs at the Met this season, and it leaves one wondering why he has done so. Last year, if I am not mistaken, he took a sabbatical, and it was allegedly because his voice was not at its best. One wonders if he is losing his instrument, perhaps? His voice does seem rather light on his Opera Recital CD, and perhaps all of these La Boheme performances with Anna Netrebko have taken a toll upon his voice. I hope that we shall hear him on Saturday as Donzetti's "country bumpkin." We still have one more Live in HD event scheduled for this year, and that is Rossini's La Cenerentola. We are promised a grand stroke of luck with the casting of "the other prominent Rossini tenor" Lawrence Brownlee and mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca as Cinderella. Maybe I will go see that since I cannot listen to it over the radio.

As much as Wagner's Ring cycle needs to be heard, think of the three or four broadcasts we might have heard without it expending so many broadcasts! First, we could start with La Cenerentola. Then, there would be Don Giovanni with the excellent cast of Barbara Fritolli, Soile Isokoski, Isabel Bayrakdarian, Samuel Ramey, and Peter Mattei. For our third selection we should be allowed to hear the Cav/Pag double bill with Jose Cura and Nuccia Focile. All for Wagner...

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Being A Tenor

There are many things one does not realize when they first decide they want to become an opera singer. One of these is that you cannot ever sing anywhere whenever you want to do so, for someone, particularly someone in your family, will tell you that you are annoying them. This would probably be an indication to anyone else that God had other plans for them, but not me. I simply cannot take a hint.

Here is a typical situation at home, where I do most of my operatic singing. The setting is in my room (Did you get that? MY room, which I share with my little brother who is 15, and I am in there first when all of this happens.), and I will burst into the opening phrases of Che gelida manina (Who could hear that and not simply love it? I do not think I sing that badly.). He or someone else instantly responds by telling me to stop without any other explanation than that I am annoying someone. To escape the confines of my house, I must go outside, but if I practice there, my mother claims that I am trying to draw attention to myself. This is definitely untrue; in fact everyone who knows me will immediately say that I am quite modest in all things. I cannot win for losing.

I am given some leniency at theatre since they are used to people singing at the top of their lungs, not that I participate in this questionable practice, but still my genre of singing is considered extreme. I need to enter a studio program at an opera company. Really. It would be nice to go somewhere close to home, but when there is no opera company around for 100 miles, I shall have to wait. Pray for me all!

Thank you all for reading, and may God continue to bless you.

Did You Know?

This is to be a short post. If my readers like the concept, I may turn it into a serial, adding to its archives every week or some other predetermined time. Now for the body of this post:

Did you know that George Frederick Handel's eyesight began to fail in 1751 after having surgery performed on his eyes by the same man who operated on Bach's eyes, I believe to remove cataracts? I begin to think that this occulist, whose name is now lost to history did not like music or something. Composers, check references before you ask for surgery on your eyes.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Auditions On Saturday! I think I Am Ready!

I plan to audition Saturday for a musical revue at Poteet Theatre. Most of the directors who are directing revues of shows are people with whom I have worked in previous shows, and I am friends with most of them. With all of the buzzing on posts about spring recitals and similar things, I am rather jealous of that aspect of college life, but if I had to abandon performing in my usual surroundings for musical theatre, I do not think life would be nearly as fun for me. The audition itself shall not be difficult for me since I know most of these directors as friends, and I know that most of them think well of my talents. I would like to sing Con te partiro for my selection, but I do not know how well that would sit with the directors, but we shall see. I think that, even if they did not like my audition piece, if my voice sounds like I have worked and trained it to sound, then it will overcome any shortfalls I may have created with the judges. Let us hope so. Do not worry, though; I shall be prepared with another Broadway song if they ask me for another song to sing. Just pray for my dancing. Even though I took lessons, I am a terrible dancer! By the way, the director of Fiddler on the Roof is still looking for more men to round out her cast, so I might still do that show over the summer.

As for opera, I could only dream of auditioning with Che gelida manina from Puccini's La Boheme, which I probably could get by with any way I sung it since they have most likely never heard it, but this might be a little much for my first audition with a song in foreign language. I heard Bellini's La Sonnambula live from the Met on Saturday with Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez, and it was excellent! I could not think of a better performance, except perhaps for the exquisite pairing of Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti, which I think is on disc through London (Decca). Florez held the few lines he had in Ah, non credea mirarti... for a little longer than I have heard them sung by others, but they did provide a nice twist to the aria I have frequently heard. Natalie Dessay proved her stardom again as Amina, and she made us believe her character. I am not sure that I enjoy this new production's subplot, but the rest of it was innovative. Mary Zimmerman originally was going to put the story in a traditional setting of a Swiss village, but Dessay said that she did not want to do it that way. When Zimmerman realized this, she figured that she would just resign from the production, but then she had the idea of putting it in a rehearsal space instead, making the story much more relevant to today's audiences. I missed the Live in HD screening, giving me a record 0 for, what, 18 now, but I am not sure that it is not better that I just heard the music. Perhaps the "rest" of the story might have distracted me; despite this, I still would have liked to have seen Dessay and Florez singing while spinning on a bed! Was that not exciting? The radio audience never had a clue they were moving!

I cannot wait for Wagner's Ring cycle to begin next Saturday! It promises to be one of the great casts assembled for our generation. I long to hear Waltraud Meier and Christine Brewer and all of the rest of the grest artists singing this epic of operatic literature. When I first was exposed to opera, I thought Brunnhilde was the climax of every soprano's career, and if they could not sing it, they were not true sopranos. I know better now, but I cannot wait to hear all of this!

Thank you for continuing to read my posts. I hope they are as relevant and engrossing as they were when you began to peruse my musings.


Friday, March 20, 2009

SwagBucks: The Digital Dollar, or Make Some "Money" Searching For Things Online!

At the bottom of my page, you will find a link to a website called SwagBucks. This website is bascally a search engine through which you may profit just by searching for things online; I will explain more about that in a moment. Its search engine is powered by Google, so it is trustworthy and thorough.

Here is what is in it for you: when you create an account by clicking on the link you see at the end of this sentence, you get something called SwagBucks. As the title of this post indicates, they are more or less digital dollars; you can use them to buy things online through the SwagBucks website. However, let us say that you want to buy something on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, or get a cup of coffee (or whatever you like) at Starbucks; you can trade in your SwagBucks to get gift cards to these places and others. You can get a $5 Amazon.com gift card for forty-five SwagBucks, and it works similarly for other gift cards. One can get other items for their SwagBucks, but the gift card option is my favorite.

Here is what is in it for me: if you join by clicking the links that are in this post, I (well, actually my mother gets) get a SwagBuck every time you do, up to your first hundred SwagBucks! There are other ways of getting SwagBucks, too; for example, you could trade them old cell phones or video games, and these give you SwagBucks as well, and sometimes quite a few of them. There are still other ways of getting them, which you can learn by visiting their website. If you do not want to have to go to a different search engine other than your Google (or Yahoo or AOL or MSN Live Search or whatever search engine you use) home page, you can download a toolbar from them that gives you a search box, so you can earn SwagBucks without even trying!

Thanks for reading, and God Bless all of you!


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Over The Summer...

I thought that I might inform my readers of what I shall do, or rather wish to be doing, over the summer because I know they are thoroughly interested (not!). Nevertheless, I am telling you anyway!

Rehearsals begin in June, but I intend to perform in Fiddler on the Roof at Poteet this summer. If I do it, this will be my fifth show in four years. I also plan to audition for a musical revue that Poteet is doing sometime after Fiddler, but I do not know if I could be cast in that; it will depend on how many guys audition for it, and I am not going to do it if all they want to give me is a chorus part because they are looking for older guys. In the productions of the regular Poteet season, I am content with a chorus part because I know that there are other, better actors and singers vying for leads and supporting roles, but since revues primarily draw teens and young adults to the auditions, I think that I deserve better than that. You may label me ungrateful, but that is just how it is. There is a relatively new theatre in town, and they are very good at casting younger people in lead roles because they are a children's/young adult's venue, so perhaps I shall audition there soon. The only factor that I do not really like is that they do straight plays over the summer! I have never known a theatre to offer a straight play over the summer; they always offer large-cast musicals because the larger cast draws in more revenue.

I shall remain studious in my areas of academic deficiency and interest. Right now I am immersing myself in the Middle Ages. I read source materials mostly, but I also read old textbooks from before World War II. My favorite one of these is entitled Medieval and Modern History, which was written shortly after World War I by one Dr. Hutton Webster. One of the features of this book that I ardently appreciate is the mostly line drawing illustrations of things discussed in the text. One of these illustrations is a simply beautiful painting of Elizabeth I, Regina Britannica, when she was a princess. It hangs, or used to hang in a castle in England, but I forget the name of it. Many other Medieval paintings grace and adorn the informative pages, and I think that this aspect of the volume adds a special contemporary feeling to the events depicted therein. Another tome to which I trust my education on this period, the Middle Ages, is Dorothy Mills' The Middle Ages. Her book is far more replete with actual contemporary accounts of the events she describes. When she comes to the Hundred Years' War, for example, she relies heavily upon The Chronicles of Froissart to relay the information relevant to our understanding of the individual battles. I immensely enjoy both of these books, and I regularly refer back to them whenever I feel like reading.

As for mathematics, a subject at which I am not particularly adept, but one which I enjoy without question, I am now concentrating on reading Euclid's The Elements of Geometry and some of Archimedes' writings. I long to read these in their Ancient Greek, but for now English translations must suffice. I am really going to read these tomes, and they are tomes in the truest senses of the word, all the way through this time, and I am going to understand them! I only wish that I had more Ancient Greek literature to read.

Speaking of Ancient Greek literature, have my readers ever wished that they might not be the continuing victims of the fire that consumed the great library at Alexandria? Works that we do not even know exist were destroyed there, and they have been erased from the minds of men forever. Besides this, recall the nine volumes of Sappho's poetry; of all of that wealth of material, we have only one complete song written by the poet known as the Tenth Muse. Is that not truly a cause of sorrow? I thought so after reading two translations of all of the fragments of her works that still exist. It is rumored that Sappho also invented the plectra, a simple thing used to pluck the strings of the lyre, but I cannot corroborate that with any other knowledge of mine.

As for opera, for I must devote something of this post to that, I would also like to attend a summer outdoor festival. I think I should skip the OK Mozart Festival since they are not offering anything opera related besides Kristen Chenoweth; however, I should like to go to Opera Theatre of St. Louis and see Kelly Kaduce perform in an opera because of the favorable reviews in Opera News that I have read of her.

Thank you for perusing my ramblings.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Food For Thought...

If the Met finds itself in a situation of lack of funds, how does this affect us? Surely they will try to maintain their current level of performances and their standard of artistry, but how would this affect us? I have been thinking, and one possible scenario is almost impossible to imagine. Since their Saturday afternoon broadcasts are offered to a broad radio audience for free, and remember this important detail, it seems to me that any advisor would counsel them to abolish this practice of offering free performances to a public that does not contribute to the budget of the company. It would be a sore economic practice to do otherwise if they intend to keep all of their other initiatives operating.

Hopefully, this never has to happen because this would spell doom for me since I cannot merely attend a Metropolitan Opera performance any time I wish, nor can I support them every time they release another Live in HD simulcast to cinemas. There is a Save the Met Broadcasts campaaign currently underway, but one wonders how effective this fund would be to preserve our beloved source of opera which Congress has deemed a national treasure, or for how long it could support the broadcasts.


This Was Renee Fleming Weekend!

The weekend of March 15-16th was, exactly as the title indicates, Renee Fleming. No, this was not an officially sanctioned holiday, but with all of the performances I was able to see and hear with her in them, it might as well have been!

To begin, then, on Saturday the 14th, I was able to hear Antonin Dvorak's Rusalka live from the Met over the radio. The orchestration was lush and simply ethereal. The music was completely reminiscent of a "fairytale in three acts," as Dvorak himself described it. I love Rusalka's theme; it reminds one of Wagner's motifs he used to great effect to herald a specific character. Renee's performance of the Song to the Moon (I would print the Czech, but I cannot recall it at the moment.) was exquisite, as is customary of her. Aleksandrs Antonenko's tenor sounded often like a baritone, which confused me rather often throughout the broadcast, but his high notes were all there. I find that I do not like it all that well. Christine Georke sounded well in her role of the Foreign Princess, and I hope that we may hear her in some other more demanding role next season. Stephanie Blythe, as usual, sounded in excellent form as Jezibaba. Finally, I loved Margaret Juntwait's announcement of the broadcast. She can tell a most interesting story.

That evening, quite unexpected, too, I must add, on one of my local PBS affiliate's digital channels, I got to watch most of the Met's Opening Night Gala starring -you guessed it- Renee Fleming from earlier this season. Sadly, when my parents returned home, my father changed the channel before I was finished watching it, but I was able to see the entire La Traviata set and most of the Manon excerpts. I was ecstatic; I will be thinking of the experience for days. I understand that my local PBS station airs Met performances on one of their digital channels rather more frequently than I thought, but I do not get listings for their three digital channels, so I have to check my on-screen cable listings on days they are likely to show them, which are Wednesdays and Saturdays. Speaking of watching this event, I have another reason for being so happy to see it because our family just purchased a 50" Samsung plasma screen television with full HD resolution, so I got to watch it in HD! I do not mean to boast, but our former television, a 32" Sony bubblescreen model at least eight years old, was in such a state of disrepair that the screen blinked intermittently during the whole time the unit was on, not to mention the fact that we had to wait some ten minutes to see a picture at all. Despite the fact that I did not get to see all of it, I was pleased to see it.

As if this was not enough, the Met celebrated their 125th anniversary on Sunday with a splendid four and a half hour gala performance. Guess who hosted the event? Renee Fleming! I recorded the whole thing, but I have not yet listened to it. I still have to edit it to get all of the glitches out of it, but I am going to put it on CD-R's and listen to them in my portable CD player.

One more thing to hope for, though, is that I get to see Renee's recital in Tennessee. The tickets are reasonable, and I am coming into a sum of money adequate to get me there and back, so I might get to go if my parents allow me. It would be nice to meet Renee, although I expect that this sounds rather unusual coming from a young man. If I go and get a picture with her, I shall post it, and it just might turn into my new profile photo.

Thanks for reading, and God bless all of you!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Short Performance History of Bellini's "La Sonnambula"

Here it is, finally. I hope this post answers some questions about La Sonnambula for some of my readers. There will undoubtedly be some of you who shall scoff and say that my post is incomplete in many details. I will be the first to say that this may be true, but first I ask the reader to consider that this is a blog post and not a critical reference. If I wished to publish a book on the subject, I would probably refrain from doing it for that very reason. Enjoy it, and feel free to provide commentation on it.

To begin, we must start from the beginning, which is with Vincenzio Bellini. Bellini, by the time he had composed La Sonnambula, was already a distinguished opera composer. He had composed to great success five operas, among these Il Pirata, which the Met introduced into its repertoire in the 2002-2003 season (I have a recording of their broadcast with Renee Fleming and Marcello Giordani.). In his time he was considered the greatest composer of the Bel Canto period, and even today he is highly revered.

When he composed La Sonnambula, Bellini labeled it an opera semiseria, or a "semi-serious work," which we shall assume to mean that it is three parts reality with one part of fiction. The opera premiered in 1831, and the audience loved it. In the role of Amina was Giuditta Pasta, whom we shall regard as a mezzo-soprano because of her range, and the great tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini sang Elvino; indeed Rubini was regarded as the greatest tenor of his generation. Bellini wrote three other operas for him, the aforementioned Il Pirata, I Puritani, and Bianca e Fernando.

As time went on, La Sonnambula was still performed, but it gradually became what is known as a vehicle for the female lead. I hesitate to categorize this part as a soprano since both Pasta and Maria Malibran, who are both considered mezzo-sopranos, sang the role of Amina several times. Adelina Patti, who would later become the most famous opera singer in her prime because of her enormous fees and her diva image, sang this role in her teens at Covent Garden in 1861, but, as Cecilia Bartoli would have us beleive the role of Amina was gradually pushed higher and higher by sopranos eager to show off their technique or to add cadenzas of high tessitura, until today the soprano who sings it must possess a high coloratura voice.

The story is mocked by many as unrealistic, but I think the plot is, for the most part, plausible. For this reason, the story and the music are often cut. The Met was no exception to the rule. In 1964 they mounted a production that was wounded by cuts in everyone's arias except Amina's, who was portrayed by Joan Sutherland. Everyone else was limited to one verse of their arias, and Lise's second aria was not even included; what they offered might have been a concert version with a set, but they may be forgiven since it was the weekend of the World's Fair, and they wanted to profit from all of the tourists who did not usually visit the city. This was not a bad concept, and the only concessions were in the interest of the public, so it appears that nothing was awry except for the production itself. The production is described by Opera News contributor Steven Blier as "...the look of a high-school musical in a very wealthy suburb." The universal hero(ine) of this production was the Amina of Joan Sutherland; it was not designed to showcase anyone else really, which is why I cannot understand how everyone can criticize it for not being dramatically sound. It fulfilled its purpose, for everyone unanimously agrees that Sutherland was superb in her role. This opera did get a broadcast date in 1968, but Paul Jackson gives no account of it in his book Start-Up At The New Met to my recollection.

Eight years later Renata Scotto took up the role at the Met. The production, according to contemporaries, looked even worse than it had before. Still, everyone says that Scotto sang the role just as well as Sutherland, and that her characterization was excellent. Scotto had gotten her start in this role in the '50's as an understudy behind Maria Callas in Scotland. Callas left the run early, and Scotto got her break. In 1972 Scotto gave memorable performances

Today, however, expectations for La Sonnambula are rather higher. I dissent from the remarks made by many critics that we expect it to be more reasonable; if that were true, then it could be said by these same critics that people would never go see a performance of anything by Wagner because none of his operas are even remotely considered real. All of them are based on some epic or legend which many scholars will debate are fictional. This is not the place to express my informed opinion on the subject, but you can definitely see the effects of that argument. Half of our repertoire might suffer from lack of veracity and lack of audience that way. What I expect of the story is that it flows well, that it has continuity, and this plot has that.

This opera is set in a Swiss village. Amina is engaged to Elvino, and the chorus is supposed to be the villagers. These people are remote, at least they could be, and it is often said that they do not believe that a thing such as sleepwalking could exist; however, if they are a remote village as I have chosen to believe, we might say that they do not know that sleepwalking exists. Because of this, they could well be reluctant to put faith in this theory of Amina's actions. Amina, it turns out is a sleepwalker, or a sonnambulist, and she is found in the most deprecating position when she is found by her fiance Elvino in the room of a nobleman at their local inn, asleep. He believes her to be unfaithful, and there starts Amina's troubles. When Rodolfo, the nobleman collaborates Terese's story of Amina's innocenceof the crime of infidelity, Elvino does not believe him until Amina, in the view of all the village, sleepwalks upon the bridge of the mill right over the mill wheel and reenacts the scene of Elvino disowning her as his prospective bride. It comes out that the woman Elvino chose to marry after refusing Amina, Lisa, has been unfaithful, pehaps many times, and then Elvino trusts Amina again at the words of the Count, Rodolfo.

The music of La Sonnambula, most of which I have never heard, is, if the music accompanying Ah, non credea mirarti is to be of any indication, quite beautiful. The two elements of music and acting should more than compensate for any inconsistencies the plot might contain compared to our modern world. One must remember that this was composed in 1831; ideas were quite different then. One interesting note is that it turns out that Baroque composers, who were notorious for using pieces of music that audiences liked again and again in other works, were not the only ones to copy themselves. If one listens carefully to Bellini's Il Pirata, one shall undoubtedly hear strains of the music of Ah, non credea mirarti in the second act of that opera. If an audience likes it once, they probably will not mind hearing it again, I suppose.

Finally, I cannot wait to hear Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez create vocal magic and opulence as the principal roles of Bellini's masterpiece. I have every confidence that we shall not be disappointed with what we hear, though I think this production could be better from what I have seen and heard of it. The Met is presenting this as part of their Live in HD series and as a broadcast on March 21st.

Thank you for reading, and I hope this was both entertaining and informational. As I said at the outset of this little essay, this is by no means meant to be complete in any respect; it only serves as an informal treatise to educate others about La Sonnambula.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fantasy Opera Casting League, or Sorry Sports Fans

With baseball season just around the corner (I am sort of a Yankees fan, though I do not really like sports very much.), I thought it would be a novel idea if we opera lovers stole some of the fun from the sports fans and made our own lists of "fantasy" opera casts. Pretty neat idea, I thought. The only problem is that our seasons (no pun intended) are already anounced a year in advance, so the only way that our dreams would translate into reality would be for us to pray fr a singer to fall ill or something, and I am just not that callous of a person. Nevertheless, sports fans are guilty of making some rather unrealistic team rosters up themselves, so why can we not participate in the fun?

  1. My opera house would have to be the Met. Not only do you have the marvelous history of the company behind you, but it is also one of the largest houses in the world. More seats equal more money to keep my opera franchise going.
  2. My orchestra would consist of an all-star roster of Gil Shaham as concert master, with Itzhak Perleman, Anne-Sophie Mutter, and Nicola Benedetti among the violinists; The 5 Browns would add a new element to our orchestral sound with their five pianos (I would definitely make a new rule about adding pianos to most of the opera scores), Yo-Yo Ma would be our principal cellist, Allison Balsom and Chris Botti would be the forefront of our trumpet section, and James Galway would provide our solo flute passages. Now that tells you how little I know of the orchestral virtuosic music scene around the world today, so before you all comment on my putting Gil Shaham as concert master of the Met, remember that this is all my imagination anyway, and that I probably would not be in business very long like this.
  3. I would like to get Franco Zeffirelli to design another production for me. I would probably give him something Italian to do because he excels in those Puccini/Verdi locales. I might have him do Verdi's Giovanna d'Arco or something. I would probably ask him to reconceive Tosca since everyone at the Met is expecting a new production already, and I would give Renee Fleming the title role (She did say recently that she was going to sing Tosca soon.).
  4. Since we are doing Tosca, I shall just list the cast for that opera. Renee would be Tosca, Placido Domingo or Roberto Alagna would be Cavaraodossi, and James Morris would be Scarpia. I would have Valery Gergiev conduct it.

Now I think you can all see why I am not employed in the administrative field of opera. Does anyone have any suggestions for the remainder of the season?


Sunday, March 8, 2009

On The Street Where I Live

In this post, readers, I thought that I mght tell you some varied things about Oklahoma City, things you might not hear about my great city from other sources. Allow me to begin with the street on which I live.

On my street, some few houses down from mine across the thoroughfare, there lives a man who is ninety-five years of age. In his lifetime he has seen much; to put it into perspective, he has been a contemporary of almost every major historical event of the twentieth century. I began to mow his lawn about three years since, and I have since developed quite an interest and admiration for this wonderful man. His family emigrated from Czechoslovakia not very long before he was born, and they came to live in one of the rural townships of Oklahoma. When he was still quite young, he learned to speak the native language of his ancestors, Czech, before he could speak English. His family lived in Enid for a long time, but he eventually came here to Oklahoma City University to study for a degree in teaching. He told me that at that time candidates for teachers' positions only had to get their teaching certificates, but he did not know that, so he earned a bachelor's degree. He also studied piano at the university for some time and received some sort of degree in that also. Because of rising costs for his education, which he paid for himself, he moved to a university in Enid, and he received another Bachelor's degree from there. It was then that he began to study the Spanish language. He learned it form a native woman who had recently migrated to the United States form Mexico, and when had learned all he could from her, he went to a commuinity college here in Oklahoma City, and he earned a diploma for his completion of the course.

By this time, World War II had come along, and he enlisted in the Army. After being turned down a few times in Texas, he came to Fort Sill in Oklahoma, where the recruiter asked him if his flat feet hurt. He said that he knew enough by this time to tell him no, and it was here that he was recruited. He was sent to Texas for a week of training, and it was here that served his only duty on KP. He was a scholarly sort of person and an excellent typist, so he served in a secretarial position. After a little while in various camps in America, he was shipped to England. The boat on which he sailed was taking double its standard capacity, so the conditions were less than enjoyable for him. It was in England that he remained for the duration of the war. They landed in Wales, he told me, and they were transported to a camp somewhere in England itself. Their camp did not have plumbing, so if one wanted water it had to be gotten from a well or from some similar outlet. For the toiletry facilities, pipes ran from each individual station to a main pipe which simply flowed out into a cistern or pit, but it was all they had. He said that England was about fifty years behind the times in many respects; their fashions were about fifty years behind ours, they were still wearing rimless spectacles over there, and their populace did not have many automobiles.

He and a friend of his, who was also filling a clerical position, were the first to receive furloughs in their camp. I think he said it had something to do with their positions, which makes me wonder if they did not fix it that way being in their posts. They were eligible for two weeks every year, and they decided to visit the ancient, famous city of London. They spent their first day visiting various tourist sights, some of which he was able to document in photographs, and they lodged in a hotel five blocks from Buckingham Palace. At this time the Germans were still bombing London at night, and they were instructed that they could either descend to the safety and confines of the cellar or to stay in their rooms when the sirens sounded they elected to stay in their rooms with the curtains drawn because one could be extaordinarily fined for showing any light for the enemy to target, and while the Germans bombed the city, they waited for the end of it in total darkness. That night, one of the bombs landed five blocks away, on the Queen's lawn at Buckinham Palace! They decided that it was not safe to remain in London, so the next day, after visiting some more attractions, on the advice of an acquaintance, they travelled to Scotland. In Scotland they were surprised that there were no cars, not even for cabs. They spent their time there with an hospitable family who offered them a place to rest, and they visited some of the castles and places thereabouts; he was rather vague in his description of Scotland.

While he was on another furlough, he went to Oxford University, where he was allowed to study anything that he could for free during his furlough. In the dormitories then there was no running water because, as he said, "all of the buildings were erected in the 1400's," but you were brought a bucket of hot water every morning so that you could shave and wash your face. Showering facilities were located somewhere on the campus, but he never could learn where these were during his stays there. He studied English literature mostly during this first time at Oxford, for he did attend again during another furlough period, and I cannot think of a more ideal place to learn and apply yourself to that subject than there. He also told me that if you left you boots by the door of your room, the watchman would shine them for you. How nice that is; I would wager that they do not perform that service anymore.

While he was in England, he took many photographs, and he said that these were very good. Another of his company, the camp's censor, I believe it was, also took pictures, and he traded some tot the censor, but he said that censor's never were as good as his. He also took the opportunity to learn French while in England (Are you counting how many languages he knows fluently? So far we are at four!), and he still corresponds with a friend from the war who lives in France in French to this day! He initially learned French so that the censor, whom I perceived did not like him very much, could not edit his letters.

At the end of the war, he had the opportunity to visit the continent of Europe, and he had many friends that did, but he knew that he had been gone for too long from home, so he returned thence, and he took up teaching again. After the war, he had wanted to attend auniversity again to further supplement his knowledge, but the costs of tuition, which he said had been non-existent at state universities before the war, had risen too much for him to go. He also gave piano lessons for fifty cents an hour to various people who wanted to learn, and he taught many people to play the piano. He still has an upright piano in his living room today, and, although it is much out of tune, he would still play sometimes if it were not. He offered me some advice about my playing, which he has heard before and highly complimented, and that was that I should try to develop both hands evenly. He said that most books and courses focus mainly on the right hand (I would agree with him there.); therefore, many students finish the courses not being able to play things because the left hand has had little practice at playing. This is indeed true, at least in my case, but I am trying to reverse it. I think I am progressing.

Let me tell of some other things. Kristen Chenoweth, who is probably best known for either her role on ABC's show Pushing Daisies or else as Glinda from Broadway's original cast of Stephen Schwartz's Wicked, studied at Oklahoma City University. Kelly O'Hara, who is currently starring in Bartlett Sher's production of South Pacific is from Oklahoma. It has been said, whether truthfully or not, that she used to sing in the choir at the church where my younger sister and I perform live community theatre. Here I should say that my local newspaper is the world's worst when it comes to claiming celebrities with ties to our state. Brad Pitt was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, so every time he is in a movie or nominated for an award, they say "Oklahoma native Brad Pitt." I think that this practice is rather out of taste.

Finally, a few things about the classical music happenings that have taken place in our state. We have an outdoor summer festival calles the Oklahoma Mozart Festival. It takes place in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, every year, and this year we have several virtuosi scheduled to attend, one of which is violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. Kristin Chenoweth is also scheduled to perform. Last year, more to my operatic tastes, mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade performed there, but I did not attend what must have been a marvelous performance (Frederica von Stade performing Mozart? What could be better?) because I was in Tulsa seeing the touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera at the time. Some of the artists who have graced our fair city with their music are Andre Watts, Luciano Pavarotti (who sold out both of his performances here in a record time of three hours, and donated the proceeds minus his fee from the performances to a hospital wing.), Sarah Coburn, whom I was able to meet, Jean Yves Thibaudet, whom our orchestra contracted to purchase them a piano for future artists to play, which, after playing it, Andre Watts wanted to buy, Renee Fleming, whom I actually missed a couple of years ago(!), and a host of other stars whose names escape me.

Thanks for reading once again.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Madama Butterfly, Part 2

The Met's broadcast has ended some thirty minutes since, and I am still cataloging this performance of Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly among the greatest broadcasts I have heard. Patricia Racette did an excellent portrayal of Cio Cio San. I thought it was vocally moving. Act II was splendid and simply astonishing. I did not cry, but then I am not very emotional over performances, either; nevertheless, I loved every minute of this broadcast. SarahB, I now admit, and I stand gladly corrected, that Patricia Racette is the definitive portrayor of Butterfly of her generation. This opera does seem to be rather light in its demands upon the tenor since he sings so rarely compared to the soprano. Marcello Giordani was vocally sound throughout this performance today. As I said earlier, he is an all-purpose tenor, able to sing almost anything.

Natalie Dessay hosted the Opera Quiz, which, besides the performance, is my favorite thing about the Met broadcast season. For those of you who watched the Live in HD presentation, which Renee Fleming hosted, you missed it. Although she was not quite as charismatic a host of the feature as Rolando Villazon was some weeks ago, she did an admirable job, and the usual antics prevailed, one in particular being when the panelists kept using their bells to be recognized during the musical identification portion of the quiz when William Berger, the scorekeeper of sorts, incessantly asked them not to do so. Everyone, me included among this lot of people, who listened to the broadcast of Verdi's Il Trovatore knew the answer to a question concerning last lines of operas. The words "E vivo encore!" were given by Ms. Dessay to the panelists, and they could not think of what the opera was that this line completed or who said it, so I finally knew one they had forgotten! Perhaps I missed it, but I did not notice them asking the radio listeners a question this week. Next week during the broadcast of Antonin Dvorak's Rusalka, Ben Heppner, who, if you ask me, should be singing the role of the Prince opposite Renee Fleming as in the recording they made for Decca, will host the Opera Quiz.

Speaking of Rusalka, I cannot wait until next week to hear it. I cannot help wondering if this broadcast will surpass the recording. What do you think? If the working rehearsal that SarahB attended recently is to be of any indication, I think it shall. This performance and the entire Ring cycle should have been part of the Live in HD series this season seeing as how this is the final season for the production of the Ring, which I think is the best visual production of it ever staged, and how this production of Rusalka much surpasses in my opinion the almost contemporary vision of Robert Carsen's Paris production on DVD. The Met is getting a new production of the Ring cycle in 2010 by David McVicar, I believe, but I am almost scared to see it looking at the new production of the Ring at Los Angeles Opera. I hope the Met's new production stays close to the mythical, heroic, epic, Nordic tradition of the work, for if it is separated from that, then it is my belief that the story has little meaning.

Thank you all for reading, and God bless you.


Madama Butterfly Live From the Met

This very moment I am listening to the opening music of the second act of Puccini's Madama Butterfly, and it has been performed well thus far. If I were to be a harsh critic, I might say that Patricia Racette, who is singing Cio Cio San for an ill Cristina Gallardo-Domas, lets some of the sixteenth notes run together, but I do not like to be that overbearing and critical for an opera performance. If you read a few chapters of Paul Jackson's book Start-Up at the New Met, a critical history of the Met broadcasts from 1966 to '76, you will invariably hear opera performances in whole new light. One wonders how he could have actually listened to the broadcasts without missing the most important arias because he is so critical of performers, the orchestra, and the chorus. It is an excellent resource for people to learn about how opera ideally sounds, but I would rather enjoy my broadcasts than to spend all of my time comparing it to a "perfect" performance; we have recordings for that sort of thing, and, besides, opera should be more about how each individual likes to hear it sung rather than if it was done perfectly.

Patricia just sang Un bel di to magnificent applause. It was indeed quite beautiful (should I elaborate, SarahB?):the tone was a little lighter than I am used to hearing, but then I have only heard Renee Fleming's recording of the aria and Cristina Gallardo-Domas in a past broadcast, which I unfortunately do not recall at the moment. As I understand it, Renee's lyric voice is not really suited to this role (I do not care. I like her recording anyway.), and I enjoyed Racette's phrasing; it allowed me to hear the aria in a new way, and it was pleasing. For the first act, I marvelled at how all of the singers did not deviate from the score. I shall have to listen to Gheorghiu's new recording of this opera to see how she sings Cio Cio San.

Marcello Giordani, who, it seems, sings any role at the Met, has sung well today also. He and Racette paced each other well in the first act. Usually one will hear the soprano or the tenor going on without the other or cutting off before the other, but Racette and Giordani seem to be in perfect rapport with each other, and that is nice to have in a broadcast performance.

As for the acting, which means so much when comparing performers or guaging a production, I can say nothing since I did not attend the Live in HD event today.

Well, I hope you all like my review of this broadcast of Madama Butterfly. Unless anything like a sudden coughing fit overcomes the soloists or the set falls down on top of them, you all should be abreast of how the remainder of the afternoon will go.


Friday, March 6, 2009

I Have Finally Found A Suitable Photo For My Profile...

..., so you can match a face to a name. I cannot promise that it is anything glamorous at which to point your gaze (You have better things to do, anyway!), but you had better accustom yourselves to it because now it is going to adorn every comment I give to anyone's posts. Here are a few things I thought you might like to know before you saw it:

  1. First, yes, I already know that I have a crooked smile, and that it looks fake, insincere, and ingenuine, but it still means the same thing that someone with a perfect smile means.
  2. Second, I also realize that I have a lazy eye, and that one of my eyes squint when I smile. This latter part probably has something to do with the fact that I have a crooked smile. I am imperfect, what can I say?
  3. Yes, when you look at the picture full-sized, you will no doubt see that I have the most unhealthy teeth you have ever seen. However, let me set your minds at rest; I brush my teeth at least twice a day. The reason my teeth have a coat of plaque on them is that I have no more enamel on my teeth, which could be attributed to the fact that I eat way too many apples and oranges (I love fruit, just so you know.), and the acid these fruits contain can destroy the teeth's enamel over time, I am told. I also have a cavity in my left front tooth, but, again, that is not because I neglect oral hygienic practices; I was hit there one time by a two-by-four, or something similar, on accident, and I developed the impurity some short time after that.
  4. Finally, you should know that I wear glasses daily, for all of my waking hours, and I have worn them since I have been four years of age. My unaided eyes are terrible, but I hear that bilberries, which, it is rumored, were used by the United States to improve the night vision of Air Force pilots during World War II, could possibly reverse my condition. The reason I have such poor eyesight is probably because I was born premature. Doctors told my mother that I probably would not develop like normal children, but aside from my coordination being rather less than I should like, I think that I am pretty normal, if there can be such a thing where the human race is concerned, for we are all created uniquely in the image of God. But all of that is a story for another perhaps another time.

I hope you like what you see, and thank you for reading.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Remember Those Recordings I Was Going To Buy? Well...

...I ordered them yesterday! As I promised in a recent entry, I finally bought some recordings to enliven my already brimming collection of opera CD's and MP3's. Before I spread this good cheer, let me taint it with a speck of ill news: I did not purchase a single full-length recording. Oh, well, maybe next time.

Here is what I dreamed about getting: Renee Fleming's latest Four Last Songs, Daphne, which was $5.oo when I last checked before today, Sacred Songs DVD, Susan Graham's Un Frisson Francais, Natalie Dessay's Bach Cantatas, Lamenti, Italian Opera Arias, Delirio, and Lakme, Juan Diego Florez's Bel Canto Spectacular, Cecilia Bartoli's La Sonnambula and limited edition Maria, Diana Damrau's Arie di Bravura and Mozart Donnas amidst several others, but I think that gives my readers an adequate display in my taste in music. Things that were not opera related but were still within the realm of classical vocal music were anything (not a title) by Anonymous 4, something by Chanticleer, and the Five Browns' Browns in Blue recording. However, after checking updated prices on the items available used, I did not get anything listed here.

Here is what I ordered: Renee Fleming's Bel Canto and Handel, which I have wanted since it was released some four years ago (Has it really been that long, Renee?), Susan Graham's version of Berlioz's Les nuits d'ete, Cecilia Bartoli's Opera Proibita, and The 5 Browns' Browns In Blue, which has the most beautiful, relaxing, mesmerizing... you get the general idea, recording of Sergei Rachmaninoff's 18th Variation of a Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini I have ever heard.

How I made my choices: this was not quite so hard as it might seem. I had intended to get Strauss's Daphne, but when I saw that it had doubled in price from the unbelievable price it was, I decided to forego getting a complete opera, for I did not have time to scan other complete recordings to check their prices because my mother was ordering all of this and some things for her, so I made some hasty decisions. Cost can be a great determining factor in these types of decisions, too. For instance, I was going to get Natalie Dessay's Delirio, which I had dreamed of getting ever since I saw dozens of donated copies of it at my library sytem's annual sale (AND they were for sale for the paltry sum of fifty cents each; well, I did not know very much about opera, nor had I heard of Natalie Dessay, so I passed them by without so much as a second glance.), but when I saw that it was going to cost me ten dollars with shipping and everything, I did a quick search, and I exchanged it for Renee Fleming's Bel Canto, which many critics and audiences did not really enjoy, but I like it anyway, and I got it for about four dollars including shipping, which I would be inclined to say is a good deal.

As for Cecilia Bartoli's Maria, I was this close to buying it, but my mother walked into the room and brought me to my frugal senses when she said "Are you sure you want that? It's $12.34!" As soon as she said that, I did not care what the review said about how great of an album this was; I said no without the least bit of regret. I decided to go with her Opera Proibita recording instead since I had read favorable reviews for it in Opera News some years before. As an aside, it was welcomed warmly opposite criticism of Renee Fleming's Haunted Heart, for which I did not especially care very much; however, I do not think that Renee should not be able to sing jazz music if she wants to do so. I just will not be listening for very long because I do not really like jazz and blues music styles.

I really, really wanted Bartoli's recent recording of La Sonnambula, but when I saw the price of seventeen dollars, I easily overlooked it. I hope it goes down in price soon, however. This recording of La Sonnambula appears to be an excellent foray of artistry into interpretative liberty or loyalty to the composer's original intent, whichever you care to believe. I shall devote a future post to a performance history of Bellini's gem of vocal beauty.

As for The 5 Browns' CD, aside from the track I previously mentioned, there are so many other piano compositions played with such beauty and elegance on it that I could not have given it up at the reasonable price for which I purchased it. Browns in Blue is their most recent recording, and some think it is their best so far. On their website I have a profile which has seen much inactivity, but if you are ever in need of people who have some moderate expertise in piano playing to offer you tips for your playing, I would say that you may as well get advice from one of their forums as from anywhere else. Had I known that their book, Life Between the Keys, had been released, I would have paid the twelve dollars and cents to peruse it.

As For Renee Fleming's Handel, that was easy. I had wanted it since it was released. Just so you know, the cover of the CD sold it for me! The picture on the front is the very epitomy of elegance. I cannot wait to hear it, and at the price of $3.85 plus shipping, I do not care if I only listen to Ombra mai fu from Serse.

As for Suasan Graham's recording of Hector Berlioz's Les nuits d'ete, I decided that her latest offering, Un frisson Francais, was too expensive for me. When I finally was allowed to watch the Spectacle program featuring Renee Fleming, I heard Rufus Wainright sing L'abscence from the cycle, and it sounded terrible; however, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt when he said it was beautiful, and I could not think of any artist who could better display its beauty than Susan Graham. Besides, it was cheap enough for me.

When all of these jewels arrive, I shall offer reviews of each CD for the benefit of my readers.

Did anyone know that Saturday, February 28th, was Geraldine Farrar's birthday? My classical radio station, with whom I am both delighted and disappointed, played some selections of hers for us to hear that day. I enjoyed them, but the recordings were of less quality than what we are expectant today, so they were garbled in some instances. For all of the Gerryflappers out there, happy birthday, Geraldine. It is worth mentioning that she was one of the star sopranos at the Met in the teens and twenties of the previous century. Be that as it may, Puccini, who was still alive when she was performing, did not like her interpretation of Cio Cio San, and when he composed La Fanciulla Del West for the Met, Emmy Destinn sang opposite Enrico Caruso for its world premiere. Farrar was devestated that she would not be allowed to sing the heroine, and this began years of strenuous relations with the Met; in fact, Arturo Toscaninni, who was the music director at the time did not like her very much either. I am sure that the management would have fired her numerous times if she had not been a box office draw. Nevertheless, she was on hand to host the Met's radio broadcast intermissions at their inception or shortly thereafter, so relations must not have been too strained.

Thank you all for reading, and may God continue to bless you.

Learn a Language Fluently In 4 Months? No Way, Right?

My readers will think me joking when I say that you can learn a foreign language in as little as four months. Already you have stopped reading; I must be making a sales pitch or something. You can do it without any course of instruction, but I highly recommend a couple of them. Now you must be thinking I am out of my mind. Heinrich Schliemann, the man who is credited with the discovery of ancient Troy as portrayed in Homer's Iliad and who is known as the father of modern archaeology, two accolades I support, learned six languages (Yes, I said six.), those being Spanish, Dutch, English, French, Italian, and Portuguese. When he died, he knew thirteen languages including his native German, Russian, Greek, Arabic, Latin, Turkish, and Swedish. Those first six, however, he learned in the space of two years' time. Mr. Schliemann, whose life's story is really remarkable if you want to read it, wrote,

"In order to acquire quickly the Greek vocabulary, I procured a modern Greek translation of "Paul et Virginie", and read it through, comparing every word with its equivalent in the French original. When I had finished this task I knew at least one half the Greek words the book contained; and after repeating the operation I knew them all, or nearly so, without having lost a single minute by being obliged to use a dictionary. Of the Greek grammar I learned only the declensions and the verbs, and never lost my precious time in studying its rules; for as I saw that boys, after being troubled and tormented for eight years and more in school with the tedious rules of grammar, can nevertheless none of them write a letter in ancient Greek without making hundreds of atrocious blunders, I thought the method pursued by the schoolmasters must be altogether wrong... I learned ancient Greek as I would have learned a living language."

It is this approach that he employed throughout his life to acquire any language that he wanted to learn. I use it to great success, though not quite so much of it as Mr. Schliemann had with it, and I must say that it is highly effective. I can get the gist of pretty much any conversational document in Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and I am working on German in addition to improving my knowledge of the languages in which I have some small understanding. I would desperately like to acquire ancient Greek so that I may read literature from the golden age of Greek thought to see what liberties are taken by the translators in their editions. I hope this post might inspire others to learn languages.

God bless all of you, and thank you all for reading!