Saturday, March 31, 2007

Catán's Florencia en el Amazonas From Michigan State University's Opera Program

Daniel Catán's Florencia en el Amazonas, based loosely on the writings of Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Márquez, was first performed in 1996 at Houston Grand Opera to great acclaim. WMSU Opera Theatre at Michigan State University's College of Music has obtained the rights from the composer to present a complete performance of the opera. The opera will be presented tomorrow afternoon as a video telecast and webcast (a coproduction of WKAR-TV amd radio station WMSU). The webcast will be available from WMSU.

This opera is worth hearing. The composer has been working in residence with the student cast. We encourage you to watch this special video webcast and try out WMSU's Real Player video stream (it is broadband only, as one might expect with a videocast), which will be available shortly before the program begins, at around GMT 1755/EDT 1:55PM. There will be interviews of the composer, conductor and director first; the opera itself won't start until 3:00PM EDT.

I won't be able to catch this webcast. Since this is the first time we have listed a video webcast on OperaCast, I would love to hear from any of you who do tune in - how was the overall production and did the stream work well?

Happy listening....

From Egypt to San Francisco!

With so many European stations carrying the Egytische Helena from the Met this week, there are only a few additional live offerings today:

  • Metropolitan Opera - Strauss' Die Agytische Helena, with Deborah Voigt, Tauston Kerl, Deena Sydney Fink, Diana Damrau, Wolfgang Brendel, Garrett Sorenson and Jill Grove, conducted by Fabio Luis.
  • NRK Klassisk & NRK P2 - From Den Norske Opera a November 2006 performance of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, with Helge Rønning, Birgitte Christensen, Hege Høisæter, Signe Sannem Lund, Silvia Moi and Magne Fremmerlid, conducted by Rinaldo Alessandrini.
  • NPR World of Opera (WVIK & WDAV) - Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio, with Laura Aikin, Charles Castronovo, Valentina Farcas, Dietmar Kerschbaum and Franz Hawlata, conducted by Ivor Bolton.
  • Klara - From La Monnaie, a performance of Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila, with Olga Borodina, Carl Tanner, Jean-Philippe Lafont, Federico Sacchi, Chester Patton, Tie Min Wang and André Grégoire, conducted by Kazushi Ono.
  • Latvia Klasika Radio - From Stockholm's Baltic Sea festival, Verdi's Falstaff, with Edem Umerov, Vasilly Gerello, Mikhail Petrenko, Larisa Djadkova and Olga Trifonova, conducted by Valery Gergiev.

The big news on the operatic broadcast horizon is the arrival of broadcasts from San Francisco Opera. KDFC in San Francisco will be airing one opera each month - on the first Sunday of the month (look for it on our Monday page). The lineup of operas is pretty impressive, starting with this Sunday's opera, Puccini's Manon Lescaut starring Karita Mattila (get a "sneak preview of next saeason's Met Manon Lescaut). And one can certainly look forward to May's offering: Rigoletto with one of the best Rigolettos currently singing the role, Paolo Gavanelli...

Looking further down the week, since it is Holy Week, look for various Passions and other special sacred music broadcasts, some of which we will list (our general policy is to list those items with soloists doing "parts" [versus choral solos], so we do not usually list masses but we do list things like Bach's St Matthew and St. John Passions).

Happy listening,


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Saturday Highlights

Hitting some high spots other then the Barber coming today live from the Met...

NPR (WVIK & WDAV) - From Welsh National opera, Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria (The Return of Ulysses) by Claudio Monteverdi, featuring Paul Nilon, Sara Fulgoni, Elizabeth Vaughan (Ericlea), Clive Bayley, Neil Jenkins, Ed Lyon, Iestyn Davies, Sarah Tynan, Elizabeth Atherton, Andrew Tortise, Geoffrey Dolton and Andrew Mackenzie-Wicks, conducted by Rinaldo Alessandrini.

DR Klassik, DR P2, RBB Kulturradio, Dwojke Polskie Radio, Latvia Radio Klasika & Radio Slovenia Tretji - From Deutsche Oper in Berlin, a performance of Weber's Der Freischutz, with Simon Pauly, Tiziano Bracci, Manuela Uhl (a soprano our friend Sam Shitikawa thinks very highly of...), Marisol Montalvo, Reinhard Hagen, Will Hartmann, Harold Wilson and Jörg Schörner, conducted Renato Palumbo.

France Musique - From Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, Handel's Ariodante, with Angelika Kirchschlager, Vivica Genaux, Danielle de Niese, Jaël Azzaretti, Topi Lehtipuu and Olivier Lallouette, conducted by Christophe Rousset.
Radio 4 Netherlands - From the Bastille in Paris, an April 2006 perfromance of Kaija Saariaho's Adriana Mater, with Patricia Bardon, Solveig Kringelborn, Stephen Milling and Gordon Gietz, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.

NRK Alltid Klassisk & NRK P2 - From Willfred Pelletier Hall in Montreal, a March 10th performance of Delibes' Lakmé, with Aline Kutan, Frédéric Antoun, James Westman, Randall Jakobsh, Mireille Lebel, Anne Saint-Denis, Allison Angelo, Leticia Brewer and Thomas Macleay, conducted by Jean-Francois Rivest.

Cesky Rozhlas3-Vltava - Yet another broadcast of the La Scala opening night performance of Verdi's Aida with Roberto Alagna, Violeta Urmana and Ildika Komlosi.



Geoffrey Riggs: BARBIERE for our generation, 3/24/07

Once in a great while, an ensemble will appear that encapsulates the very best of its generation. And when the best of a generation seems equal to the best of preceding generations, magic happens. It happened this past Wednesday the 14th, when Liz and I saw the current cast of Rossini's BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA at the MET. This same cast is performing the opera over the air this afternoon at GMT 1730/EDT 1:30PM. TUNE IN!! We fervently hope that the entire cast will show up today feeling fine!

Since Rossini originally entitled his timeless comedy CONTE ALMAVIVA/L'INUTIL PRECAUZIONE, we start with Juan Diego Florez's Count. There is an increasing tenderness to some of his singing today, especially in the rarely heard "Cessa di piu resistere", even though he's sung this difficult aria countless times before -- an artist capable of growth. Peter Mattei seems a veritable chameleon. After being one of those rare Don Giovannis who can easily fuse both suavity and menace, his Figaro is all sunniness and deft wit, fearlessly sung, with broad phrasing and adept agility throughout. John Del Carlo's deceptively conversational patter in Dottor Bartolo's music shows extraordinary facility too, and his funniest moments spring from a profoundly musical sense controlling a fine instrument. He is the truest successor today to Fernando Corena. Finally, the new addition to the cast, mezzo Joyce Di Donato, had herself a triumph. Hers is the most mischievous and ardent Rosina of today -- and she has a splendid technique and a lovely and wide-ranging voice. Many generations back, one fine Rosina of yesteryear once garnered a Shakespeare quote from an enthused critic: "[C]unning pattern of excelling nature". Well, that is Joyce Di Donato's Rosina.

Fortunately, Maurizio Benini's leadership at the podium shows far more sensitivity and a true sense of narrative theater in Rossini's score than we heard in an accomplished but not incandescent FAUST last week. Incandescent is exactly what Benini's Rossini is, and his contribution capped a BARBIERE on the 14th that was as close to perfect as we may ever hear.

Happy listening indeed!

Geoffrey Riggs

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Highlights for Saturday, March 17, 2007

With a dozen European stations joining in, one of the most highly visible items on tap this Saturday is the MET Faust, at GMT 1730/EDT 1:30PM, featuring Ramón Vargas, Ruth Ann Swenson, Ildar Abdrazakov, with Maurizio Benini conducting.

NPR World of Opera offers Verdi's Falstaff, starring Bryn Terfel and Patricia Racette, over WVIK.

For those who missed previous airings, we have another chance at GMT 1800/EDT 2:00PM to catch a rerun of a Gala Massenet evening: Manon, over DEUTSCHLANDRADIO KULTUR, featuring Netrebko/Alagna.

From Opéra Bastille, Rolando Villazon stars in Offenbach's Contes d'Hoffmann, over FRANCE MUSIQUE.

At GMT 1830/EDT 2:30PM, the NRK network, NRK ALLTID KLASSISK / NRK P2, carries Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri, with Olga Borodina, Juan Diego Flórez, and Ildar Abdrazakov, also our Mephisto in the MET Faust [see above].

Over RADIO OESTERREICH INTERNATIONAL, Annick Massis stars in Bizet's Pecheurs de Perles.

And there are a number of other offerings today in addition, all covering a wide variety of styles and genres in opera, ready for you to catch and enjoy!

Happy listening!


Geoffrey Riggs: Verdi's VESPRI SICILIANI?

It's occurred to me that while it's very easy and understandable why some would single out a Rossini, say, for especially demanding tenor writing, or a Wagner for especially demanding orchestral writing, or a Donizetti for especially demanding soprano writing, and so on, it's more difficult to zero in on any particular composer who mirrors all these three composers (or additional ones) together in each of these demanding respects (and a few more).

Of course, at the time, Meyerbeer's Paris works, for instance, depended on frequent constellations of remarkable talent, all the way from the remarkable first desks in Habeneck's orchestra to the extraordinary facility of vocal luminaries like Nourrit and Falcon. But even here, it's notable how frequently Meyerbeer allows the "spotlight" to stay on only one or two characters per work (in terms of the nth degree of vocal difficulty, that is) rather than throw everything imaginable into the writing for three or four different characters at the same time. Sure, the writing for the soprano Berthe in PROPHETE is hardly easy, but weighed against the extreme difficulties in adequate casting for both the tenor and mezzo, those associated with the soprano seem fairly surmountable. Similarly, the tenor's music in AFRICAINE, while occasionally deeply expressive and compelling, does not abound in the sheer trickiness of Selika's. Here, the tenor's writing seems (relatively) surmountable (although often inspired as emotional expression). Two other instances like this, ROBERT LE DIABLE and HUGUENOTS, have daunting writing indeed for their tenor roles instead, while Valentine, for instance, in HUGUENOTS, though hardly negligible, ultimately takes a back seat to the tenor. And so it goes.

In fact, it's hard to find any opera throughout the rep where both the soprano and tenor roles would show up equally often in many a list of the most difficult roles of all for their voice types, and where the instrumental writing and additional production requirements are especially daunting as well.

Well ........... it's hard, perhaps, to find such an opera, but is it impossible?

In my own experience, come to think of it, I've yet to experience a fully satisfying VESPRI SICILIANI. And I'm referring as much to performances attended in person as to audio recordings and video ones. Could it be that, as a totality, VESPRI is in a unique position in requiring an equal fusion of the declamatory and the agile from both principals, an alert conductor capable of taking a near-symphonic partitur in hand, a master of mise-en-scene production, an expert choreographer, and the needed dramatic rapport among all the principals as a whole for delineating, vividly, some frequently complex character relationships?

Granted, the fusion of the heroic and the agile in Elena's "Coraggio, su coraggio" cabaletta, say, is not duplicated much elsewhere in her role, although the contrast between the declamatory versus the agile (the Siciliana) is still a recurring characteristic throughout the part. At the same time, even this pales somewhat when compared to the frequent fusion of the two contrary aspects in far more than just one catch-all passage in Norma's writing, or Abigaille's, or Lady Macbeth's, or the DEVEREUX Elisabetta's. Similarly, the more elaborate orchestral writing in VESPRI (more elaborate compared to some other Verdi and bel canto scores in general) is still not on a par with Wagner's GOETTERDAEMMERUNG, say.

Still and all, it's in the surprisingly equal (more or less) distribution of incredible challenges for all concerned that VESPRI stands out, in my view, from any other opera I've yet heard. I realize that's a pretty large statement. But on recent reflection, I'm hard put to recall any other score where quite so much is so vulnerable to the vicissitudes of each and every musician involved.

This consideration is separate and apart from musical and dramatic genius, of course. In terms of the most probing human insight and deep musical expression, VESPRI arguably doesn't operate at the same high plane as DON CARLOS, for instance, and even though the VESPRI tenor role of Arrigo is certainly more difficult as sheer singing than the title role of DON CARLOS, the latter still reaches the spectator at a deeper level, IMO. Even the sometimes inspired orchestral tone painting in VESPRI is not quite as consistent or well-wrought as some of the writing in Verdi's OTELLO, for instance, or even the half dozen most inspired verismo scores.

Still, the score for VESPRI is far from ineffective: As a spectator, I do sometimes respond strongly to the feelings of Elena and Arrigo, and, in view of the readiness of some to dismiss much of Verdi's orchestral writing, I find it amusing that no less a "would-be-German" than Berlioz ;-) -- this tongue-in-cheek description courtesy of Tom "Tenor-Monster" Kaufman -- wrote after VESPRI's premiere of the "sumptuous, wise variety of the instrumentation" and its "vastness and poetic sonority of the concerted pieces".

This is a fine work, if not a supreme one. The problem is, it's extremely tricky to bring off successfully. Sure, one could lay that at the feet of certain inadequacies in the opera itself, but I seriously feel that ultimately it simply requires such a level of supreme technical achievement from everyone that, short of a miracle or an astounding series of coincidences, basic inadequacies are bound to pop up somewhere, "somewhen". And this is doubly the case when one considers the rarity of any opportunity of hearing this opera in its French original as VEPRES SICILIENNES.

I've never been fully satisfied at any performance -- and I'm only talking of basic reasonably respectable accomplishment here, never mind true transcendence in performance, which I've pretty much given up on with this score -- and so my two-part question is:

1. Has anyone here ever felt unequivocal satisfaction at any "live" VESPRI or with any video/audio recording of it at all?


2. Applying the technical parameters I've outlined here (at undue length), is there any other opera that anyone can come up with that has the same combination of appreciably elaborate scoring, two protagonists with equally daunting mixtures of the declamatory and the agile, terrifying production reqs., elaborate choreography, intricate character relationships -- all the rest of it?

I'd be sincerely interested in any responses on either query. Thanks.

Geoffrey Riggs


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Highlights for March 10, 2007

With over half a dozen European stations joining in, the biggest item on tap today is the MET Meistersinger, at GMT 1700/EDT 12:00NOON, offering an unusual opportunity to catch Hei-Kyung Hong's Eva; her colleagues include James Morris as Hans Sachs and Johan Botha as Walther, with James Levine conducting.

For those who missed previous airings, we have another chance at GMT 1800/EDT 1:00PM to catch a rerun of a Gala Massenet evening: Manon, over DR KLASSISK / DR P2, featuring Netrebko/Alagna.

More Mozart at GMT 1830/EST 1:30PM, when the NRK network, NRK ALLTID KLASSISK / NRK P2, offers a rerun of last summer's Salzburg Don Giovanni, led by the new conducting sensation, Daniel Harding, and featuring Hampson, Schaefer and Diener, among others.

Janice Watson stars in Previn's Streetcar Named Desire, over RADIO OESTERREICH INTERNATIONAL.

NPR World of Opera offers Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, starring Ramon Vargas and Ana Maria Martinez, over WVIK.

And finally, two rare historic documents:

  • At GMT 2300/EST 6:00PM, RADIO TRE (RAI) presents Menotti's The Medium in Italian, an historic broadcast (1957) starring Gianna Pederzini and Graziella Sciutti;

  • The trip down memory lane continues on Sunday, the 11th, at GMT 2300/EDT 7:00PM, when RADIO TRE (RAI) presents Menotti's The Consul, in an historic broadcast (1972) starring Virginia Zeani.