Saturday, February 28, 2009

Live Offerings - Saturday, February 28, 2009

A number of interesting offerings for this afternoon. Here is just a sampling:

  • Metropolitan Opera (on numerous stations) - First and foremost, Verdi's Il Trovatore, with Marcelo Alvarez, Dolora Zajick, Sondra Radvanovsky and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda.
  • Radio 4 Netherlands - Bellini's Puritani, starring John Osborn as the altitudinous tenor lead, with bel canto specialist Giuliano Carella at the podium.
  • Radio Oesterreich International - Bizet's Carmen, starring Vesselina Kasarova in the title role, with colleagues Jose Cura (Jose) and Ildebrando d'Arcangelo (Escamillo), Ascher Fisch conducting.
  • KBIA2 - NPR World of Opera offers a performance of Bizet's Pearl Fishers, featuring the translucent tones of Karina Gauvin as Leila, Frederic Chaslin conducting.
  • Sveriges Radio P2 - From the Metropolitan, a repeat of Cilea's Adriana Lecouvrer, with Maria Guleghina, Placido Domingo, Olga Borodina and Marco Armiliato conducting.
  • Cesky Rozhlas 3 - Vltava - John Osborn is also heard in a rarity, Marschner's Der Vampyr, with Roberto Abbado conducting.
  • Klara - Britten's Death in Venice, featuring John Graham Hall as Achenbach and Andrew Shore in a number of different roles, Paul Daniel conducting.
  • Espace 2 - R. Strauss's Salome, featuring Nicola Beller Carbone as Salome, with Kim Begley (Herod) and Alan Held (Jokanaan) as two of the men in her life ............. Gabriele Ferro conducting.
  • Radio Tre (RAI) - Salvatore Licitra is featured in Verdi's Aida, from Rome Opera, under Daniel Oren.
  • WOMR - You can also tune in for a special tribute today to beloved soprano Lotte Lehmann, following today's "live" broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Live Offerings - Saturday, February 21, 2009 - Part I

A number of interesting offerings for this afternoon: Cavalli's Ercole amante from Amsterdam; The Metropolitan Opera's Adriana Lacouvreur with Placido Domingo and Maria Guleghina; from Paris Berlioz's Beatrice et Benedict with Joyce di Donato and Chalres Workman; from Madrid Un Ballo in Maschera with Marcelo Alvarez, Violeta Urmana, Ludovic Tézier and Elena Zaremba; repeats of the Met broadcasts of Rigoletto (don't miss Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda!), Doctor Atomic and La Rondine. Here's the complete live lineup:

  • Deautschlandkulter Radio & Klara - From Muziektheater Amsterdam, a January 24th performance of Cavalli's Ercole amante, with Luca Pisaroni, Veronica Cangemi, Anna Bonitatibus, Jeremy Ovenden, Anna Maria Panzarella, Marlin Miller, Umberto Chiummo, Wilke te Brummelstroete, Johannette Zomer, Mark Tucker and Tim Mead, conducted by Ivor Bolton.
  • Metropolitan Opera (on numerous stations) - Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, with Maria Guleghina, Olga Borodina, Placido Domingo, Roberto Frontali, John del Carlo, Philip Cokorinos, Brian Frutiger, Jennifer Black, Reveka E Macrovitis and Bernard Fitch, conducted by Marco Armiliato.
  • Radio Clasica de Espana - From Vienna State Opera, a November 29, 2008 performance of Wagner's Lohengrin, with R. D. (Lohengrin), C. Nylund (Elsa de Brabante), J. Bachle (Ortrud), F. Struckmann (Friedrich von Telramund), A. Anger (Rey Enrique el Pajarero), M. F. Larsen (El Heraldo real). Coro y Orq. de la Staatsoper de Viena. Dir.: L. Segerstam.
  • KBIA2 - NPR World of Opera offers a performance of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito from Washington National Opera, with Tatiana Pavlovskaya, Michael Schade, Marina Domashenko, Jossie Pérez, Hoo-Ryoung Hwang and Nikolai Didenko, conducted by Heinz Fricke.
  • NRK Klassisk & NRK P2 - From Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, Berlioz's Beatrice et Benedict, with Christophe Fel, Nicolas Cavallier, Nathalie Manfrino, Jean-Francois Lapointe, Joyce di Donato, Charles Workman, Jean-Philippe Laffont and Elodie Mechain, conducted by Colin Davis.
  • Espace 2 - From Teatro Real in Madrid, an October 4th performance of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera, with Marcelo Alvarez, Violeta Urmana, Ludovic Tézier, Elena Zaremba, Alessandra Marianelli, Borja Quiza, Miguel Sola and Scott Wilde, conducted by Jesus Lopez Cobos.
  • Latvia Radio Klasika - Another chance to hear the Metropolitan Opera's January 10th broadcast of Puccini's La Rondine, with Angela Georgiu, Roberto Alanja, Lizette Oropesa and Samuel Ramey, conducted by Marko Armiliato.
  • Radio Tre (RAI) - On Saturday and Sunday evening, hear a collection of live lieder recitals from RAI's broadcast vaults: On Saturday, catch a 1960 recital with Hermann Prey singing Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte, a 1966 recital with Martti Talvela in Schubert's Winterreise and a 1952 recital with Kirsten Flagstad singing Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder; on Sunday, a 1955 recital with Anton Dermota singing Schumann's Dichterliebe, a 1964 recital with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau singing Brahms's Die schöne Magelone, and a 1974 recital with Janet Baker singing Mahler's Kindertotenlieder.
  • WDAV - NPR World of Opera - on a one-week delay - From Houston Grand Opera, a performance of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, with Samuel Ramey, Stefan Margita, Raymond Aceto, Joseph Evans, Robert Pomakov, Jon Kolbet, Taylor Rawley, Heidi Stober, Jennifer Root and Norman Reinhardt, conducted by Tugan Sokhiev.
  • Concert FM (New Zealand) - From the Metropolitan oper, Adam's Doctor Atomic, with Sasha Cooke, Meredith Arwady, Gerald Finley, Richard Paul Fink and Eric Owens, conducted by Alan Gilbert.
  • ABC CLassic FM (Australia) - From the Metropoltian Opera, Verdi's Rigoletto, with Giuseppe Filianoti, George Gaznidze(Met debut), Aleksandra Kurzak, Mikhail Petrenko, Victoria Vizin, Kathryn Day, Keith Miller, and Sebastian Catana, recorded by Riccardo Frizza.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Comfort Food

Sam Shirakawa was present for the premiere of the Met's new production of Il Trovatore on Monday night:

16 February

Premiere New Production

Once upon a time, when opera was an affordable passion, I regarded Il Trovatore as Verdi's Smorgasbord, a cucina toscana laden with comfort food. Who cared if a mezzo was day-old, a baritone bland, or a soprano overcooked? Trovatore has so much melody to munch on! In those halcyon days, Trovatores were also as plentiful as pizza parlors. Easy to cast.

Now that the Metropolitan Opera is about to bang its neediest patrons with a 33 percent price increase, though, Trovatore is turning into white truffle. And casting a competent quartet of leads has long since turned tougher than lining up a Marfa in Mauritius.

Then too, the Met has had little luck with mounting Trovatore in the past 20 years. Remember that awful production by Fabrizio Melano for Joan Sutherland in 1987? Graham Vick's attempt at producing an opera in 2000 lasted two seasons.

If third time lucky and multiples of three exert a positive influence, David McVicar's elaborate production was unveiled Monday night on the occasion of the Met's 600th performance of the opera. Except for the final scene, the Met now has a palatable if not delectable mounting of the opera. Thanks to a revolving stage (whose gears need a grease job -- it squeaks and creaks alarmingly), scene changes take less than 30 seconds. Thick high walls -- separating Charles Edwards' innocuously realistic sets -- also serve as massive sounding boards. They bounce the voices out into the house to create marvelous reverb enhancement. (The wide stairs dominating the unit set of the Met's I Vespri Siciliani and the oval wall in the second act of Tannhäuser create a similar effect.) But the final scene fails to make sense. It's supposed to be a prison dungeon, but it's unmistakably the gypsies' camp of Act II. A lot of press was given to the influence of Goya on the current production, but the only vestige of the Spanish master I could discern was the scrim, covered with cartoons of horrified facial expressions, that's used as the house curtain.

Of course, attractive resonant sets serve no purpose unless they're amplifying world-class voices. It's hard to imagine a more tantalizing cast than the one the Met has convened. I first heard Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora at the Met almost ten years ago to the day. She was good but green. She is now at the threshold of a huge career that sadly keeps receding before her for some reason. She should be up there with Anna, Karita and Renee, but she's still Sondra Who? Hers is one of the few voices before the public today that has a distinctive instantly recognizable timbre. It may not appeal to all tastes. A quick poll among acquaintances during intermission wrinkled some noses. But I can't get enough of it. There's room for some work on the lower register, but the middle and top are firmly in hand. The interpolated high notes are thrilling. "D'amor sull' ali rosee" has a way to go before it smacks down memories of Leontyne, but the anticipation it aroused at the premiere was compelling indeed. Radvanovsky, as I've commented before, is about as close to a real Verdi soprano as we're likely to get.

Reporting on a recent Adriana, I wished that Borodina would cut loose a bit more. Delora Zajick's Azucena, however, bolted with her usual high-gear elan. She's capable of endless nuance, but fortunately for those who like their Azucenas wild, she left her fennel at home.

Marcelo Alvarez' Manrico tends to swing toward the lighter side, but his way with "Ah si, ben mio" and the stentorian declamations that followed elicited an ovation that only a happily surprised audience can confer. He merits more work at the Met.

Dimitri Hvorostovsky as Luna is also capable of deliriously nuanced vocalism, but he might do well to remember that Luna is, and always will be, a meatball role. Put in some more Parmesan, Dimitri! and take the cue from the character's name: Be looney, a la the late and still lamented Lenny Warren!

Perhaps the little-noticed surprise of the premiere was the admirably lyrical conducting of Gianandrea Noseda. But his work, too, could use a fistful of peperoncino. You're Italian, Gianni, so don't fuggetaboutit!

"The characters are always on their feet, singing their hearts out," proclaims the program note. Actually, in McVicar's production, Leonora and Azucena spend a lot of time on the floor. Radvanovsky even hits a high note just before she collapses on her back. Which only goes to suggest that among the celebrities in attendance at the premiere was the spirit of Magda Olivero, who will be 100 years young next year. Were you there in 1975, when she sang the first part of "Vissi d'arte" flat on her back, after Ingvar Wixell as Scarpia threw her to the floor? Scrumptious!

© Sam H. Shirakawa 2009

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Adriana Lecouvreur

And another squib from Sam Shirakawa, who attended Friday evening's performance of Adriana Lecouvreur:

13 FEBRUARY 2009


That's right. If you're a star soprano, you can't be a shrinking violet, especially if you're headlining a cruddy opera like Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur. You need to believe there is more to this trash heap of notes than the two lovingly composed arias Cilea set for its legendary creator Angelica Pandolfini [whose elusive recordings constitute the Avalon if not the Holy Grail among record collectors. Read the riveting interview with Sir Paul Getty by Richard Bebb]. More than believing, though, you need conviction. Caballe had it. Scotto too. So did Tebaldi, although I never heard her sing the role live.

Maria Guleghina -- the Met's current Adriana -- has a plethora of belief and conviction, but from the get-go, she's severely handicapped in portraying the immortal diva of La Comedie Français: She must make her entrance speaking a few lines before launching into song. Whadishesay? Mind you, a lot of suspension of disbelief is required at this point -- indeed throughout the whole plot. The setting is backstage at La Comedie Française, where French is the lingua franca, but the text of Cilea's opus, of course, is in Italian. Guleghina's sung Italian diction more than passes muster. But her spoken Italian?

So unintentionally stunning is Guleghina's elocution, that it's hard to comment on how she delivered her first aria -- you know, the one in which the eponymous diva declares that she is but the humble handmaiden of genius. Having only partially recovered by the time her fourth act aria came up, I can only say that the Ukrainian-born Met favorite left me with the impression of an unusual Adriana.

An unusual performance of another sort was rendered by Olga Boradina as the Princess. She was oddly detached in a role that screams for some "trucking."

I must confess now that I attended this performance partly out of morbid curiosity: to hear Placido Domingo attempt Maurizio -- his debut role at the Met in 1968. Amazingly, he can still do it. Domingo has become a walking object lesson in style, musicality and vocal technique and proves that age does not necessarily wither. The squillo -- that wounded animal sound -- still squeezes out of the upper register, the phrasing is indeed more natural than in his salad days, and he's gained the aura of a compelling stage-presence. That was not always at his command.

Roberto Frontali made the most of what he could out of Adriana's love-lorn suitor Michonnet.

Marco Armillato is conducting a lot at the Met these days. Is he taking charge of its Italian wing? His reading of Cilea's loose score -- maybe it's just lousy -- is tightly disciplined, if not always dramatically taut.

Something is missing from Mark Lamos' production. The sets could also use a few more walls. Maybe that's what's missing -- not enough scenery to chew.

The Met has assembled just about the best star cast that money can buy in these moribund days of the economy and romantic lyric theater. But where to buy that touch of wonder that sparks enchantment?

Speaking of money, the Met is upping its ticket price in the Family Circle from $15 to $20 next season. That's a 33 percent increase. Not enchanting. Other price ranges apparently remain unchanged [editor's Note: prices for the partial-view balcony box seats are also going up]. Why is the Met financially penalizing most the people who can afford opera least? This decision may well be a cynical move to capitalize on subscribers who are moving down in the world from the Dress Circle and the Balcony. A five dollar increase in less superior seats is still cheaper than staying where they are. This is outrageous, but nobody seems to care. Very well. Both the callous Met management and the silent stalwarts who keep opera going long after the fat cats have slunk away will each get exactly what they deserve. The Met will get less reliable patrons hopefully grabbing up the cheapest seats, while those who previously bought them will have no opera at all. Trickle down... down... down.


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Heavenly Harps

We were unable to post to this blog for about ten days, so now we make up for some of the lost time with a couple of reviews from our friend, Sam Shirakawa:


MARIKO ANRAKU, Metropolitan Opera
JESSICA ZHOU, New York City Opera
NANCY ALLEN, New York Philharmonic
REBECCA RINGLE, mezzo-soprano
WEILL HALL 28 January 2009

Harps may sound heavenly, but they're hellish to play. I should know, because I'm a recovering harpist. You have to tune constantly, a pedal slip can instantly turn Mozart into Mayhem, strings can break with no warning. These are just a few of the angelic thoughts swirling through a harpist's mind while performing.

All that plus a challenging group of works must certainly have been on the minds of the principal harpists from the Big Apple's three most prestigious musical institutions, as they presented a concert Wednesday evening at Weill Hall. But you'd have never guessed it, as Mariko Anraku of the Met, Jessica Zhou from the City Opera, and the Philharmonic's Nancy Allen sallied elegantly through a delightful assortment of uncommon music for two and three harps, as well as a familiar work featuring mezzo-soprano Rebecca Ringle.

In fact, it was Ringle's participation in Manuel De Falla's Siete canciones populares españolas in a transcription by legendary harpist Carlos Salzedo that added extra spice to an unusual musicale. Ms Ringle is currently making her way through the operatic circuits, notably as a Valkyrie, but her true calling may be as a recitalist. She has an unusual claret timbre that retains its erotic resin from bottom to top. Blessed with a commanding stage presence, she communicated the full range of moods in the seven songs.

The preponderance of the heavy lifting throughout the evening was shared by Mss. Anraku and Zhou, starting with Cesar Franck's Prelude, Fugue and Variations in an arrangement by Dewey Owen, a Sonatine for Two Harps by Jean-Michel Damas, and a delightful self-arranged rendition of Ravel's Mere L'Oye. Nancy Allen joined them at the end of the concert for two substantial works by Francis Poulenc -- Fresco, Bela Bartok -- Hungarian Peasant Dances, and an encore -- Seguedilla by Isaac Albeniz.

The bitter-sweet take-away from this concert is how badly composers, especially great composers, have neglected the harp, thereby denying demonstrably virtuoso artists such as Anraku, Zhou and Allen opportunities to purvey their artistry to a broader public. Mozart hated the harp, Richard Strauss liked the instrument but never mastered writing for it, Salzedo tried in vain to persuade Stravinsky to compose at least one major work for harp, and he was similarly rebuffed by other composers. So harpists must rely on transcriptions or compose their own music.

A pity because the harp has a wealth of tonal possibilities that has yet to be fully explored by a major composer. And that confines wonderful harpists like Anraku, Zhou and Allen to the shallows of a still-uncharted musical sea.

©Sam H. Shirakawa 2009

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Live Offerings - Saturday, February 14, 2009 - Part II

And now for the live offerings for this afternoon:

  • DR P2 - From Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa, a January 20th performance of Rossini's Il Turco in Italia, with Vincenzo Taormina, Antonella Nappa and Myrtò Papatanasiu, conducted by Jonathan Webb.
  • HR2 Kultur - Live from the Stadtheater in Gießen, Haydn's Orlando Paladino, with Petra van der Mieden, Matthias Ludwig, Ralf Simon, John Carlo Pierce, Thomas Stückemann, Simone Schwark, August Schram, Henrietta Hugenholtz and Tomi Wendt, conducted by Carlos Spierer.
  • Metropolitan Opera (on numerous stations) - Tchaikovsky's Eugen Onegin, with Karita Mattila, Thomas Hampson, Piotr Beczala, Ekaterina Semenchuk, James Morris, Wendy White, Barbara Dever, Tony Stevenson and Richard Bernstein, conducted by Jiri Belohlavek.
  • Radio Clasica Espana - Live from Teatro Real in Madrid, a concert performance of Handel's Tolomeo, re di Egitto, with S. Prina, K. Gauvin, K. Ek, R. Basso, A. Foster-Williams, conducted by A. Curtis.
  • NPR World of Opera - From Houston Grand Opera, Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, with Samuel Ramey, Stefan Margita, Raymond Aceto, Joseph Evans, Robert Pomakov, Jon Kolbet, Taylor Rawley, Heidi Stober, Jennifer Root and Norman Reinhardt, conducted by Tugan Sokhiev.
  • Radio Oesterreich International - If you missed the last week's Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, catch it here this afternoon - with Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczala, Mariusz Kwiecien, Ildar Abdrazakov, Colin Lee, Michaela Martens and Michael Myers, conducted by Marco Armiliato.
  • Espace 2 - From Teatro Comunale in Bologna, a November 15th performance of Marschner's Der Vampyr, with Detlef Roth, Carmela Remigio, Roberto Tagliavini, Marianna Cappellani, Harry Peeters, John Osborn, Karl Heinz Macek, Donata D'Annunzio Lombardi, Paolo Cauteruccio, Adrian Sampetrean, Thomas Morris, Mario Bolognesi, Gabriele Ribis, Conald Coad and Monica Minarelli, conducted by Roberto Abbado.
  • Klara - a rebroadcast of Bernstein's Candide, from English National Opera.
  • Sveriges Radio P2 - From Viennas State Opera, a December 2008 performance of Verdi's Stiffelio, with José Cura, Hui He, Anthony Michaels-Moore, Gergely Nemeti, Alexandru Moisiuc, Benedikt Kobel and Elisabeth Marin, conducted by Michael Halász.
  • Radio Tre (RAI) - From this past summer's Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, intermezzos from L'amico Fritz, Guglielmo Ratcliff, Cavalleria rusticana and Manon Lescaut, followed by Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, with Salvatore Licitra, Amarilli Nizza,
  • Tonio/Taddeo, Seng-Hyoun Ko, Mark Milhofer, Luca Salsi, Luciano Roberti and Leonardo Melani, conducted by Patrick Fournillier.
  • WDAV - NPR World of Opera on a one week delayed basis - From Parca delle Musica in Rome, Vivaldi's Orlando Furioso, with Romina Basso, Manuela Custer, Sylvia Pozzer, Anna Rita Gemmabella, Jordi Domenech, Xavier Sabata, Lorenzo Regazzo, conducted by Andrea Marcon.
  • Concert FM (New Zealand)- From the Metropolitan Opera, Puccini's La Rondine, with Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagne, Lisette Orapesa and Samuel Ramey conducted by Marco Armiliato.
  • ABC Classic FM (Australia) - From the Metropolitan Opera, Gluck's Orfeo et Eurydice, with Stephanie Blythe, Danielle de Niese, and Heidi Grant Murphy, conducted by James Levine.

Happy listening,

Live Offerings - Saturday, February 14, 2009 - Part I

Happy Valentine's Day!

Spend the afternoon listening to your favorite opera with your loved one.

Eugen Onegin, on the boards at the Met this afternoon starting at Noon Eastern Time, may be an unsuccessful love story, but it has some of the most romantic music ever. (What could be more passionate than the Letter Scene in Act I?) And today's cast - Mattila, Hampson, Becala, Semenchuk, White and more - is about as close to ideal as you can find these days. Stay tuned for the rest of this afternoon's live lineup...!

Happy listening,