Wednesday night broadcast of “From the House of the Dead” on Sirius/XM Radio: 8pm

A scene from the Met’s production of From the House of the Dead



ConductorEsa-Pekka Salonen
Filka MorozovStefan Margita
SkuratovKurt Streit
ShapkinPeter Hoare
ShishkovPeter Mattei
GorianchikovWillard White



Production: Patrice Chéreau
Associate Director: Thierry Thieu Niang
Set Designer: Richard Peduzzi
Costume Designer: Caroline de Vivaise
Lighting Designer: Bertrand Couderc


Listen Live!!!

Published in: on November 30, 2009 at 8:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Careful “Trittico” raises questions and invokes us to look at the past for answers

Stefanie Blythe as the Zia Principessa and Patricia Racette as Suor Angelica

New York Times Review of Il Trittico

I’ve included the Times’ review of the Met’s current production of Puccini’s Il Trittico to offer an opposing opinion to my own, which in this case is based on the historical area of Puccinian Aesthetics and 19th Century Italian Opera.  Although I did not have a chance to see the production live while I was last in New York, I listened to it on XM radio and so I am going to be generous in terms of comments on voices; mind you, the stylistic manner of singing is evident whether one hears opera in the theatre or live on the radio.

Having spent the majority of my education studying Puccini’s operas historically and musically, I often miss the feeling of hearing something for the first time, that virgin listening that excites us because our ear is being introduced to something new.  So, when I listen to opera I try to listen without putting my historical understanding in the forefront.  I wait to be moved first and then later reflect on historical understanding.  While I think the Met is trying to do the right thing, (I, for one, will never complain when any company wants to mount my precious Puccini’s operas) there were several things that affected the overall production being a great one.

In terms of the singing, Stefanie Blythe was my favourite singer in the production and was well-suited to her roles.  She sang with good diction and inflection, even if she tended to over sing (which is not necessary because her voice doesn’t need to be bigger in order to sing these roles).  Today, for some reason, we think that to sing Puccini one needs to have a huge voice.  This is absolutely not the case, and Puccini himself never as much once indicated this.  Instead, he looked for singers who would sing “aesthetically” well, which meant that he wanted singers who had the right understanding about how to sing his music; that is, the voice has to move from note to note by passing through all of the pitches in between.  So, how do you do that?  Essentially, it means that this music is sung with a Bel Canto technique (not with straight tone), and that the voice spins through the intervals (the spaces between notes) through portamenti, which no one seems to want to do anymore.  I’ll come back to this point momentarily

Patricia Racette, while she is courageous to approach all three roles, is suited more to Lauretta than she is to Suor Angelica and Giorgetta.  Unfortunately, she did not approach the Puccinian palate according to his requirements.  This was most obvious in the role of Angelica, which she over dramatized due to a lack of aesthetic inflection.  One thinks of Tebaldi, or Scotto in this role, singers who still remained true to the Puccinian language even up to 20 years ago.  Racette’s singing of “Senza Mamma” was lacking in the freedom that Puccini’s dramatic monologues require.  For this, I blame the conductor, who was making his Met premiere in this production.  As much as he was able to get some very beautiful colours and textures from the Met’s wonderful orchestra, Maestro Stefano Ranzani was much too careful in his phrasing and in leading the orchestra through the variety of tinte that Puccini effects in Il Trittico.

Trittico is special because it is the first opera after a break in composition after 1908 that returned to his original notion of love and death (Minnie in Fanciulla del West is one of the only heroines who does not die for love).  Puccini wrote the Trittico to correlate with that exquisite dramatic work that remains the official model for things in three:  Dante Alighieri’s Divina Commedia. In that, each opera is to represent one of the metaphysical worlds:  Hell (Il Tabarro), Purgatory (Suor Angelica), Heaven (Gianni Schicchi).  It is also one of the reasons why Puccini was adamant that the operas not be performed separately, just as Dante did not want the parts of his allegory separated.  They do not make sense until they are combined as one.    As such, the orchestral palate in Il Trittico must change with each, a change I did not hear in this production.  The tinte that Puccini infuses into the music are inherent to the dramatic concept of the scena; in Suor Angelica, for example, the expansion of phrases and the rubato that is necessary in order to effect the text that is often declaimed.  It is the orchestra in Trittico that speaks the truth and creates the atmosphere, but in this production the strict timing and measured phrases actually stunted the overall projection of each scene.  The palate itself, unfortunately, did not sound Puccinian.

It is, however, wonderful that the Met has staged this production which originally premiered at the Met in 1918.  I ask why, when we listen to recordings of this opera in the past, or even available videos, that the singing and orchestral style are completely different from what we are hearing, as of late?  While some might call that “old-fashioned” style, I ask who labeled it as such?  Puccini died in 1924, not that long ago, and it is interesting that his aesthetic style is getting further and further away from what it was originally as we get further and further away from when he died.  Perhaps we need to take time to reflect on this and ask whether this is acceptable, especially when we do so much to retain historical performance practice in so many other genres, Bach, Baroque Music/Opera, performing on period instruments, etc… Why should performing Puccini’s works be any different?  The solution is simple, perhaps we need to look at the past for answers and remain true to what the composer wanted, otherwise, can we accurately call these productions accurate representations?

Food for thought….

Precious Giacomo….what would you have to say?

Sirius/XM Radio broadcast of Puccini’s “Il Trittico” tomorrow night at 8pm.

Stephanie Blythe and Patricia Racette in the Met’s “Trittico”


Stay tuned for a review to follow.

ConductorStefano Ranzani
GiorgettaPatricia Racette
LuigiAleksandrs Antonenko
MicheleŽeljko Lucic
FrugolaStephanie Blythe
Suor AngelicaPatricia Racette
Sister GenovieffaHeidi Grant Murphy
La PrincipessaStephanie Blythe
LaurettaPatricia Racette
RinuccioSaimir Pirgu
Gianni SchicchiAlessandro Corbelli
ZitaStephanie Blythe


Published in: on November 25, 2009 at 3:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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Listen to a live recording of Aprile Millo and Mary-Lou Vetere from Aprile Millo’s 25th Anniversary Recital. November 17th, 2009


 With Lucy Arner, piano


The New York Times Reviews: Aprile Millo’s 25th Anniversary Recital

Strauss, Neapolitan Songs, and a Singsong by Vivian Schweitzer


PLAYBILL ARTS Interviews Grand Diva Aprile Millo on the cusp of her 25th Anniversary.

Aprile Millo celebrates 25 years tomorrow night at Frederick P. Rose Recital Hall, 8pm.


Click here to read the interview.  PLAYBILL ARTS INTERVIEW

A fascinating conversation with Aprile Millo.


Aprile Millo, Soprano

Lucy Arner, Pianist


Merynda Adams, harp

Christopher Collins Lee, violin

Michael Fabiano, tenor

Lynn Harrell, cello

Luis Ledesma, baritone

Danielle Orlando, piano

Mary-Lou Vetere, accordion

Iveta & Gherman dancers

Russ & Katusha, dancers

Cabaret Does Opera: Grand Diva Aprile Millo at Rose Hall by Steve Weinstein EDGE Editor-In-Chief Saturday Nov 14, 2009

This great article appeared in “EDGE” Magazine.  Couldn’t be more truthful about the importance of this singer and her place in the world of the arts.

Millo heart

When Barbra Streisand recently performed at the Village Vanguard, it set off a feeding frenzy among the public and the media. To have an artist of that stature, who seldom performs, at such an intimate space was truly historic.

Well, now opera fans will have their own comparable performance when soprano Aprile Millo joins her longtime collaborator Eve Queler and the Opera Orchestra of New York at the Frederick P. Rose Hall inside the Time Warner Center. This beautiful room, officially the jazz venue for nearby Lincoln Center, normally reverberates with very different sounds.

On Tuesday, Nov. 17, however, it will host one of the most beloved, respected and honored sopranos of our age. The fact that La Milllo will be heard in a comfy setting amidst the occasional clattering of drink glasses or food plates shouldn’t faze fans (or the singer) a bit. In fact, I’ll stick my neck out here, and say that this is the kind of place where a voice like Millo’s can be best appreciated.

Sure, she’s got a full sound that has made her one of the principal interpreters of Verdi heroines (as well as Puccini and the other great verismo and also the bel canto composers). But the silky texture of her smoother phrasing, her gorgeous tones, her precise intonation and her breath control will be up close and personal, instead of on a grand opera stage. For those of us who love true opera singing, this is an opportunity not to be missed. New York native Millo has sung title roles in every major house in the world, including La Scala, where she is worshipped. She won both the Richard Tucker and Maria Callas awards–akin to a writer winning a Pulitzer and National Book Award.

Of late, she hasn’t been as active because of family health issues, which makes this concert all the more thrilling. In an interview, Millo joked about playing in a cabaret room. Long outspoken about so-called crossover artists (one of the things that opera fans love about Millo is her accessibility and the way she communicates via her popular personal blog), Millo joked about “screaming about not doing crossover, and her I am doing a ’gig.’” This “gig” is actually a homecoming of sorts. Millo gave her first performance with Opera Orchestra 25 years ago. She has been a big supporter of the tenacious Queler’s attempts to bring little-known works the public. She is equally outspoken about what she sees as a tacit conspiracy among the city’s opera establishment–including Big Media–not to promote such a worthy undertaking. “That it’s ignored by the New York Times amazes me,” she said. “All these little organizations are desperately in need of publicity. There just aren’t as many outlets for young singers in the city. Streisand, Midler: Where would they perform today? There’s no place to hone your talent in front of the public.”

A performer who has forged a unique bond with her fans (known as a “claque” in Operaspeak), Millo readily acknowledged that they are as demanding as she is: “When people sing with me, they’d better be good, because these are the true opera fans. They don’t want robotic singers.” She noted ruefully that the emphasis on the camera (even the Met is broadcasting on giant screens) has put pressure on singers to look good. “The camera is a very important exponent” of opera, she said. “I’m the same age as Renee Fleming, but she looks a lot better.” (Actually, Millo is a beautiful woman who bears a strong resemblance to another singer, early ’60s teen idol Annette Funicello; but we won’t argue the point.) But she added, “I don’t even try to be part of the newer school.” Forget the celebrity couple, the touring “divos,” the barihunks. Millo is strictly Old School, which is exactly the way her fans like it. “Every age gets what it asks for,” she noted. “We’re celebrity crazed, everbody’s got to look good.

Opera singers weren’t necessarily beautiful. In this age, unfortunately, we’re bombarded by images.” Millo’s uncompromising vision of what real opera should be has put her in conflict with some general managers. She readily admitted that she has turned down roles in productions where the director’s reinterpretation was ridiculous. She cited one (blessedly unnamed) Otello in which she was expected to sing while Iago was masturbating. You can’t make this stuff up! Millo does have some projects in the pipeline. She is remaining mum for now, but check her blog.

In the meantime, those who wish to hear true beautiful singing, should rush to the Rose, where she’ll be joined by tenor Michael Fabiano and baritone Luis Ledesma. And lest you think Millo is stuck in some mythical Golden Age, note that the program also promises “special choreography by Melanie LaPatin from So You Think You can Dance.” Take that, purists! The recital will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 17, at Rose Hall, inside the Broadway and West 60th Street entrance of the Time-Warner Center on Columbus Circle. Tickets (if available) are being sold by Opera Orchestra.

Call 212.906-9137 or the company’s website. EDGE Editor-in-Chief Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early ’80s, when he began his career. He is the author of “The Q Guide to Fire Island” (Alyson, 2007).

Aprile Millo Celebrates 25 Years with the Opera Orchestra of New York

DON’T MISS this exceptional and historical evening.  To purchase tickets click the link below

MilloLa Profonda:  Aprile Millo

The grand diva with the golden voice is giving her 25th anniversary recital with the Opera Orchestra of New York, on November 17th, 2009 at 8pm at the Frederick P. Rose Recital Hall in the home of Jazz at Lincoln Centre.  This recital proves to be a magical, historic, and elegant evening, with a few surprises and Ms. Millo’s absolute devotion to her art, which to her represents a sacred vocation.  The first time I personally heard Ms. Millo, she was portraying Verdi’s Aida.  It was a voice I have never ever forgotten and one to which I have always felt a particular affinity.  This is a voice that comes along once in a lifetime.  Her golden voice is made up of the best attributes of her predecessors, Claudia Muzio, Rosa Ponselle, and Renata Tebaldi, and her technique is one that is firmly cemented in pure and unadulterated Bel Canto lyricism.  Combine this with Ms. Millo’s devotion to her art and the combination is almost too emotional for human consumption.  In a phrase, she is a living, breathing, musical vessel, one that anyone who loves opera, voices, or music should experience.  She is a true artist in the most fundamental sense of the word and her voice is a gift to us all.  There is no question that we are lucky to have her in our midst, as we were lucky to have Mr. Pavarotti, and all of the other greats who contributed so profoundly to this art.

On a personal note, I have never had the pleasure of hearing Ms. Millo in live performance, and so this first time I’m hearing her is also the first time I’m performing with her at a public venue, as such.  I am graciously honoured and humbled to be a guest artist on this important event.  With all of the respect I have for this artist, personally and professionally, there are no words to express how excited I am to be experiencing this.  I hope you’ll come and experience it with me.

Aprile Millo was a wunderkind.  She possessed this voice of almost unnatural beauty since she could walk.  When she sings, the room, the hall, vibrates with an energy that you can only understand if you have been enveloped by this voice.  It is one of those great voices that will go down in the history books for the rest of eternity.  One of the most accurate and definitive Italian voices ever, with an ability to sing recitativo like no one else, with a sense of punto di linea that I think some of us have forgotten is “inherent” in this music, and it lives in one of the kindest and most generous of individuals. Ms. Millo has won accolades the world over.  Please join me in this magnificent evening, celebrating one of the greatest artists this world has ever known.  My hat goes off to you, Signora.  The greats who are no longer with us will all be there celebrating with you.  From my heart to yours, auguri!

Purchase tickets HERE.

Aprile as Aida

Millo’s vocal beauty and technical prowess were unparalleled in Verdi’s “Aida”

MET OPERA: Janacek’s “From the House of the Dead.” Listen Live on Real Player at 8pm on Nov. 12.

From the House of the Dead
Approximate running time 1 hrs. 33 min.

With this new production, voted Europe’s best opera staging for 2007, one of opera’s great visionaries makes his Met debut. Patrice Chéreau, renowned for his legendary centennialRing cycle at Bayreuth, directs Janácek’s drama of human resilience inside a Russian prison. “The penal camp is a different society, parallel to ours, but there are many similarities between the two,” Chéreau declares. “Power, relationships, humiliation, passion—all those things exist in both worlds.” Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen also makes his Met debut, and Peter Mattei leads the ensemble cast.  A production of the Metropolitan Opera and the Wiener Festwochen, in co-production with Holland Festival, Amsterdam; the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence; and Teatro alla Scala, Milan.


Libretto by the composer, based on the novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky
World premiere: Brno, National Theater, April 12, 1930

Act I
The yard of a Russian prison camp. Early in the morning, prisoners leave their barracks to wash. An argument breaks out, and there is talk of a new prisoner, a “gentleman” named Gorianchikov. When he arrives, the commandant interrogates him and demands to know what he has been imprisoned for. When Gorianchikov replies that he is a “political prisoner,” the commandant orders him to be flogged. A prisoner plays with a captured eagle whose wing seems to be broken. The others admire its defiance in captivity. The commandant orders a group of prisoners off to work. Among those remaining is Skuratov, who begins singing snatches of a song, annoying Luka. Skuratov dementedly recalls his former life in Moscow, then suddenly breaks into a frenzied dance and collapses. Luka talks about his previous imprisonment for vagrancy. He tells how he killed an officer and was flogged for his offence. The guards drag in Gorianchikov, beaten half to death.

Act II
Some months later, prisoners are working outside the fence of the camp. Gorianchikov asks the young Alyeya about his family and offers to teach him to read and write. The boy eagerly accepts. When the day’s work is done, bells sound from the town, announcing a holiday. Townspeople arrive and a priest gives his blessing. Some men ask Skuratov why he was imprisoned, and he tells how his love for a German girl named Luyza led him to murder the man she was forced to marry. For a long time prisoners have been rehearsing two pantomimes, which they now perform: the first about Don Juan, the second about a miller’s pretty and unfaithful wife. When the show is over, bleak reality returns. A whore passes and a young prisoner goes off with her. Gorianchikov and Alyeya drink tea, which infuriates some of the other prisoners, who think it “gentlemanlike.” One of them hurls a jug at Alyeya, who falls unconscious. Guards rush in to restore order.

Alyeya lies in the prison hospital, delirious with fever and watched over by Gorianchikov. In other parts of the ward are Luka, close to death, and Skuratov, now mad and crying out for Luyza. Another prisoner named Shapkin describes how a police officer, who interrogated him after he was caught in a burglary, almost tore his ears off.

Night falls and silence returns, broken by an old prisoner lamenting that he will never see his children again. Prompted by Cherevin, Shishkov tells the story of his imprisonment: he married a girl named Akulina who allegedly had been dishonored by another man, Filka Morozov. But Filka later revealed that he had been lying about his relationship with the girl, who was in fact innocent. When Akulina confessed to Shishkov that she still loved only Filka, Shishkov killed her. By the end of the tale Luka has died. Only now does Shishkov recognize him as his old enemy, Filka. The body is carried away. A guard arrives with orders for Gorianchikov to follow him.

A few hours later, the commandant, drunk, apologizes to Gorianchikov and tells him that he is free. His chains are knocked off and, desperately, he says goodbye to Alyeya, who will stay in jail. The prisoners release the eagle, whose wing has healed, to shouts of “Freedom!” The guards order them off to work, and prison life goes back to its routine.

Published in: on November 6, 2009 at 4:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Opera Commentary

Opera housePosts in this area are going to focus on individual operas.  I’ll provide different reading sources that are interesting, my own commentary, and historical recordings that are valuable for each.  Then, I encourage discussion about these topics.  Feel free to comment and share your thoughts and ideas.

Published in: on November 6, 2009 at 3:55 pm  Comments (1)