Saturday, January 15, 2011

What Is on My iPod?

Before I address the exact subject of the title of this post, it is first helpful to reveal to my various readers that I am something of an experienced person with technology, which is merely to say that I am usually ultimately successful in getting a computer to do what I want it to do despite its operating system, and I have repaired them with hardware substitutions in my time, so I am considered by many of the people with whom I associate to be rather knowledgeable about technology and electronic devices.

All of that information culminates to reveal that I am one of those people who researches a product before he buys it to ensure that I will be completely pleased with it when I obtain it. An MP3 player was no exception to this rule, and, while many of my friends were buying iPods in various models, which were mostly Nano and Touch variants, I had been looking at an almost unknown little gadget, at least to them, for myself to enhance my collection of opera recordings.

It would seem that I had found the perfect device, for I learned that Sandisk's line of Sansa players, the best of which may have been the E200 series, featured an FM radio recording function, and, naturally my mind began to calculate all of the enjoyment I could receive from listening to broadcast gems from the Metropolitan Opera by recording their performances on Saturday afternoons during their season. However, the E200 series was discontinued and replaced with the View, and, more recently, the Fuze. I had asked the kind employees at Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and other places on numerous occasions whether either of these replacements had the recording feature built into them, but they told me that they did not. I was downcast for a while until I walked into Radio Shack on an afternoon, and the knowledgeable salesman reintroduced me to the Sansa line of products. In his pitch he explained that one of the features it had over, say, the iPod, was that it could record from FM radio. I could not believe my ears, and I asked him if he was absolutely sure, to which he replied that he was, and I quickly bought their tiny, two gigabyte model Clip+ for a rather great amount when you consider that these players are now sold at almost half of what I paid for mine.

I have received much pleasure from this device, and I am most proud to say that it has recorded an appreciable amount of Metropolitan Opera broadcasts for my benefit, but my main qualm with it was its capacity, or, rather, its lack thereof.

Less than a week ago, I found myself in a pawn shop, and I recalled my dilemma with the Met's next broadcast of Verdi's "La Traviata" starring Marina Poplavskaya, Matthew Polenzani, Andrezej Dobber, and conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, so I went to see if there were any bargains to be found in the portable music devices. As I looked, I saw several iPods of various generations, but my eye was drawn to two or three Zunes and a Sansa View. I looked at the View first, and I was pleased to see that it was a thirty-two gigabyte model, which would be a considerable improvement over my current device, but the price was rather more than I was willing to pay for this used and arguably almost obsolete item. I looked at other capacious players, and it seemed that storage came with a price. I was almost ready to give up entirely and settle for what I had when i noticed that the collection of iPods was rather varied and larger than the rest. I began to look, and I saw a white thirty gigabyte model, but it was being sold for more than the Sansa View, and it was certainly not the newest model. I then saw a black one, and, when I analyzed it, I found that it was an eighty gigabyte model iPod Classic, and it was the same price as the white thirty gigabyte one had been. I quickly bought it as it was a very good purchase for the capacious storage that it could support. On my way home after I purchased it, i could not cease thinking about how my operatic recordings would all be able to be consolidated onto this one device, for at present my library consumes about forty gigabytes, and I thought of all of the expanding of my selections I could now afford to accomplish as well.

After some difficulty in transferring my music from a Windows 7 based personal computer to a laptop equipped with Mac OS X, neither of which are terrible machines, I have finally captured some four gigabytes of music onto my new iPod, and I must say that I am most excited to be able to listen to any of my recordings whenever I should have the whim or desire.

Therefore, to disclose the contents of my music library to you as it appears on my device and to treat this post in the proper fashion with the article corresponding to the title in obedience, I shall commence.

  1. La Traviata-Met-2010: Valenti, Gheorghiu, Hampson; Armiliato
  2. Music For A While-Anne Sofie von Otter
  3. Anne Sofie von Otter's Performance at the Verbier Festival 2010; Marc Minkowski
  4. The Legend of St. Nocholas-Anonymous 4
  5. A Little Night Music-Original Broadway Cast Recording
  6. A Little Night Music-Broadway Revival Cast Recording
  7. La Sonnambula-Cecilia Bartoli, Juan Diego Florez, Ildebrando d'Arcangelo; Alessandro Marchi
  8. Celtic Thunder-Celtic Thunder
  9. Anam-Clannad
  10. Sacred Handel Catatas-Emma Kirkby
  11. Ah, mio cor: Handel Arias-Danielle DeNiese
  12. The Mozart Album-Danielle DeNiese
  13. Henryk Gorecki: Symphony No. 3, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs-Dawn Upshaw; David Zinman, London Sinfonietta Orchestra
  14. 2009 Recital, Barcelona, Spain-Diana Damrau
  15. La Fille du Regiment-Met-2010-Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Florez, Kiri Te Kanawa
  16. BBC Prom 74-2010-Dorothea Roschmann; Gianandrea Noseda
  17. Amarantine: Special Christmas Edition-Enya
  18. Odyssey-Hayley Westenra
  19. L'Elisir d'Amore-Toulouse-2007-Inva Mula, Giuseppe Filianotti
  20. 2005 Recital, Paris, France-Magdalena Kozena, David Daniels; Paul Goodwin
  21. Lulu-Met-2010-Marlis Petersen, Anne Sofie von Otter, James Morris
  22. Recital-Leo Nucci, Patrizia Ciofi
  23. 13-Original Broadway Cast Recording
  24. Rosso: Italian Baroque Arias-Patricia Petibon
  25. Recital-Ramon Vargas
  26. A Night of Love-Verbier Festival 2010-Renee Fleming
  27. Lucrezia Borgia-WNO-2009-Renee Fleming, Vittorio Grigolo
  28. Giulio Cesare-Met-2007-Ruth Ann Swenson, David Daniels, Patricia Bardon
  29. The Dawn of Grace-Sixpence None the Richer
  30. The Fatherless and the Widow-Sixpence None the Richer
  31. My Dear Machine EP-Sixpence None the Richer
  32. Into the Woods-Original Broadway Cast Recording
  33. I Capuletti e i Montecchi-Minnesota Opera-2001-Sumi Jo, Vivica Genaux; Will Crutchfield
  34. In the Kingdom-Whitecross
  35. Several Various Singles from Albums
Thank you for your enthusiasm as to what are the contents of my music library, and this is not even the whole of it. Perhaps I should devote a whole page to my music in my possession. I do know that I shall enjoy having it all with me without having to choose what I want to hear because of a lack of space. May God bless all of you immensely, and thank you for reading.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

OPERA NEWS - The New Masterpieces

I am quite willing to say that I am an ignorant critic, but my feeling after hearing Saariaho's L'amour de Loin was that it was one of the worst compositions I had ever heard. I lisetned a live recording from the 2000 Salzburg festival with Dawn Upshaw, but, as much as I adore her voice and its versatility, I simply could not overcome the sense that all of the music sounded much the same and quite mundane. Read what these people think, listen to recordings, and tell me your opinions. Sarah, if you are reading, I was a little surprised to notice that Tobias Picker's An American Tragedy was left out of the reckoning of the top ten in the issue with all of the excitement that I remember about it at the time.

OPERA NEWS - The New Masterpieces
New Masterpieces Doctor Atomic hdl 1111
The Metropolitan Opera premiere of John Adams's Doctor Atomic, 2008, with Sasha Cooke (Kitty), Gerald Finley (Oppenheimer), Richard Paul Fink (Teller) and Eric Owens (General Groves)
© Beth Bergman 2011

Twenty-five years ago, brand new operas were few and far between. Today, we find them everywhere. I've seen eighty-three world and U.S. premieres of new operas since the beginning of 2000 — a remarkable number, considering that, with one exception, they were all seen in the U.S., and I don't include the two dozen or so revivals of recent, pre-2000 works. What is more, I'd be interested in seeing about half of them again.

Which ones are the best? I asked a sampling of knowledgeable operagoers to choose. Some could base their opinion on only a small number of pieces; others had seen many. The only restriction was that they not include any opera in which they had been personally involved. Will these be the works that stand the test of time? Only if someone puts them on again — and again.

Michael John LaChiusa
Composer, librettist, lyricist

Osvaldo Golijov's Ainadamar [heard on recording] has to top everything. It's spectacular in so many ways — rich, beautiful and exciting. I love it! It's romantic and filled with passion. I like the experimental harmonies, and the rhythms are always surprising. It's all about texture and layering — a thrill ride from beginning to end. And Dawn Upshaw is splendid on the recording.

Runner-up: Ricky Ian Gordon's Orpheus and Euridice, if we can count that as an opera. He captured the soulfulness of the characters, and it was playful, too, with a great deal of humor, which is hard to do in music.

James Robinson
Artistic Director, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Unsuk Chin's Alice in Wonderland. I remember how vividly it's orchestrated, and it was a haunting production [by Achim Freyer]. It was not at all what I expected, and I found that refreshing. It had some fantastic choral writing, as well, and it was very original in its approach to the story. Curiously, I don't think it's been done in the U.S.

Runner-up: I admired much of Doctor Atomic but found the world-premiere version a bit congested with an overwrought, sometimes tedious libretto. While I didn't care for the Met production, I thought the revisions made for a better overall experience. I admired the orchestrations, and the vocal writing was very good.

Speight Jenkins
General Director, Seattle Opera

Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking is a flawed work but the most engrossing of the new ones I've seen. It does what an opera has to do — it takes a good text and expands it, makes simple words have greater meaning and creates some powerful characters. I would have put Doctor Atomic first, except for the fact that the singers are amplified, and I am utterly opposed to that. I was completely swept away by Doctor Atomic. The orchestration was marvelous, and as a Wagnerian, I felt that the musico-poetic-dramatic synthesis absolutely worked. But I was shocked when I found out that the voices were amplified, and that eliminates it for me.

Greg Sandow
Critic, composer

Bang on a Can's Lost Objects. I love those three composers [Michael Gordon, David Lang, Julia Wolfe] individually, and their collaboration with each other, and with a big-time period-instrument orchestra [Concerto Köln], was musically fascinating. And what was happening onstage, using a mix of different art forms, was ravishing. It had an idea line, or a feeling line, rather than a story line, and the music was the bedrock of that. It's a meditation on lost objects in life and what they mean. The music makes the intangible connections. It serves as a model of how you can do that with projected words, film, lighting and movement.

Runner-up: Conrad Cummings's The Golden Gate. I saw a DVD of a semi-staged performance with piano that knocked me out. It was really honest and full of feeling. I was caught up in the story and the people, as if I were watching a movie.

New Masterpieces Grapes HDL 1111
The world premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon's The Grapes of Wrath at Minnesota Opera, 2007
© Michal Daniel 2011

John Kander

My favorite is Ricky Ian Gordon's Grapes of Wrath, which I heard on recording. I liked that it was extremely theatrical and heartfelt. I respond to his writing a lot — he's wonderfully talented! I'm anxious to go back and discover more in it. I'm eager to hear whatever William Bolcom writes next. I loved A View from the Bridge [world premiere in 1999, just outside the decade]. It's odd that in New York, being the center that it is, we don't get the opportunity to see that many new operas. The regional houses commission operas, but they don't go anywhere else.

The New Masterpieces HDL 1 1111
Thomas Adès's The Tempest at Santa Fe Opera, 2006, with Gwynne Howell (Gonzalo), Keith Phares (Sebastian), Rodney Gilfry (Prospero), Chris Merritt (Alonso) and William Ferguson (Caliban)
© Ken Howard 2011

Peter Carwell
Executive Director, Richard Tucker Music Foundation

The Tempest, by Thomas Adès, which I saw in Santa Fe. It achieved what it was supposed to — it was musically interesting and theatrically viable. I don't go out of my way to see new pieces. When I do see them, I like the cutting-edge ones. Most of them are too bland. Adès writes in an interesting new medium, and he does it effectively. I'd like to see what else he does, and that's not always the case.

Mark Swed

Louis Andriessen's La Commedia. Written as Louis's wife, Jeanette, lay dying, Commedia is a divine-less comedy that is about death in the here and now and the only paradise we can know. I think what struck me the most is the extremes of expression — from utter hopelessness to the sweetest children's chorus imaginable that lifts the blackened spirits without a trace of nostalgia.

I can't come up with one runner-up and will have to list three — Kaija Saariaho's L'Amour de Loin, Unsuk Chin's Alice in Wonderland and John Adams's Doctor Atomic. I was at the premieres of all of them. And I can't leave off Philip Glass's Waiting for the Barbarians or Lou Harrison's Young Caesar either.

Dona D. Vaughn
Artistic Director of Opera Programs, Manhattan School of Music

Thomas Adès's The Tempest. From the moment I heard the overture, I bought it. The overture just lifted me up, and I thought, we're on a roll here! Usually, it's text that draws me to new operas, but while I was fascinated by the text of The Tempest and how different the characters are from the Shakespeare play, it was the music that got me. I had a big grin on my face the whole time, especially when Ariel sang "Five fathoms deep."

Robert Marx
Vice President, Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation

Saariaho's L'Amour de Loin. I saw the Salzburg production in Paris. As Martin Pakledinaz, the costume designer, said to me at the time, we all talk about things being beautiful in the theater, and for once, it really is! The music is sensuous and beautiful, the librettist (Amin Maalouf) and director (Peter Sellars) shaped it theatrically, and Gerald Finley and Dawn Upshaw were just remarkable in creating this very mysterious, medieval, failed love story. The floating towers looked as though the entire Islamic collection of the Metropolitan Museum had been boiled down to two exquisitely beautiful stage elements, and with the entire Châtelet theater illuminated by the light reflected off the water, the glass boat crossing the stage and the sound of the male chorus floating down from the upper balcony, it was very potent.

Laura Aikin

The most memorable piece I've seen in recent years was K at the Bastille with Susan Anthony. It was a fantastic, rich composition and a great story. I love intellectual exercise, but when it comes to opera, I must say I get much more involved emotionally if there is a great story and fleshed-out characters. K had heaps of that! I wanted to jump onstage and start singing it!

Alex Ross

John Adams's Doctor Atomic, which I heard at its world premiere at San Francisco Opera, in 2005, has come in for considerable criticism from listeners who were dissatisfied with aspects of the score and/or the libretto. I found it transfixing from beginning to end. No modern opera has had such an acute impact on me, to the point where I was sweating while I watched it. While it may not be a flawless work, it contains some of Adams's most forcefully eloquent music. Telling the story of the first atomic test with Wagnerian breadth, it is beautiful and frightening all at once.

Runners-up: Kaija Saariaho's L'Amour de Loin, Thomas Adès's The Tempest.

New Masterpieces Handmaids lg 1111
Poul Ruders's The Handmaid's Tale at English National Opera, 2003
© Clive Barda/ArenaPAL 2011

George Loomis

Poul Ruders's The Handmaid's Tale. This operatic version of Margaret Atwood's futuristic novel, including its sex and violence, was really powerful onstage. Paul Bentley's libretto mixed scenes depicting the grim reality of the prevailing "theocratic dictatorship" with scenes showing a happier past. It was especially effective to have this contrast reinforced by having different singers portray the principal female character. Ruders's music was especially poignant and lyrical when the voices of the two combined, but it also contributed strongly to the atmospheric tension overall. I was rapt for almost the entire opera.

Runner-up: Giorgio Battistelli's Richard III. I find it astonishing that, as far as I know, no opera company in an English-speaking country has taken it up. Battistelli's tense modernistic score was a perfect match for the Shakespeare-based story (with an English text). And Robert Carsen's production was excellent too.

Susan Narucki

Many of the pieces that stick in my mind from the last decade were interesting new productions of older works. But the one that still stays with me is George Benjamin's Into the Little Hill, which I saw at Lincoln Center. The production values were very simple, but the piece and the performance were arresting. The story — a version of the Pied Piper of Hamelin — was terrifying and beautiful at once. The score was intricate and fascinating, so finely crafted but still with an extraordinary sense of span and dramatic weight. And the soloists — Anu Komsi and Hilary Summers — were stunning.

Marc A. Scorca
President and CEO, OPERA America

I am reluctant to name recent works, since I don't want to show favorites among composers and opera companies. However, there are older pieces that have been revised and produced again to what I consider great success. Marvin David Levy's 1967 Mourning Becomes Electra, which I saw in Chicago (1998) and at New York City Opera (2004). Also, Dominick Argento's Miss Havisham's Fire (1979). Opera Theatre of Saint Louis gave the revised version in 2001. With some revision and perspective enriched by the passage of time, existing works can emerge as real gems of American opera.

New Masterpieces Moby HDL 1111
The world premiere of Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick at Dallas Opera, 2010, with Ben Heppner (Ahab), Talise Trevigne (Pip) and Robert Orth (Stubb)
© Karen Almond, Dallas Opera 2011

Anne Midgette

The new opera I saw in the last ten years that most excited me at the time was Jake Heggie's Moby-Dick. I never thought I'd say that. But it was certainly the most exciting and satisfying premiere I experienced personally in that time period, and one of the very rare cases I've seen of an opera connecting with an audience and hitting a lot of artistic sweet spots. It was a very smart adaptation, it featured one of the best all-round opera casts I've heard in years, it had a bang-up production — and all of this helped, a lot.

Runner-up: Ned Rorem's Our Town, which I thought was conceived in the spirit of the play and had a touching sweetness. 

Heidi Waleson

My own pick? I was enchanted by L'Amour de Loin and moved by Daron Hagen's wonderful Amelia, but I'll put Ruders's The Handmaid's Tale first. This chilling opera took its source material to a new level with music, humanizing the novel's main character and precisely evoking the horror of her dystopian environment. With a suitably grim production in Minnesota, the opera made the book's feminist subject — tyranny over women — immediate and immensely powerful. spacer

HEIDI WALESON is the opera critic for the Wall Street Journal.