Let’s start at the very beginning: the origins of opera

It’s hard to approach an art form as vast as opera and accurately pin-point the moment of its birth.  Although there are a surplus of history books, texts, critical biographies, etc., many of these sources use different starting points, so, I’m going to begin with my own starting point, just cause I can and because I’ve never been completely convinced of the traditional story of how opera began.  Most histories of opera begin with concepts of monody (one line vocal melody, rather than the 6 and 7 voice madrigals that had been popular at the time), the Florentine Camerata–I’ll leave that one for another post–and then lead into Claudio Monteverdi’s first attempts at opera.  Monteverdi has since been considered the “father of opera,” and probably rightly so, but I’m going to stretch the limits a little and start a little earlier than Monteverdi.  What if I were to say that the first composer of opera was a woman, and that it was as early as 1089?   I’m talking about Hildegard von Bingen (1089-1179).

Hildegard of Bingen….the mother of opera?

Now, you might think, well…she was a nun; in fact, the founder and abbess of a convent at Rupertsberg in Germany, and also a visionary, famous for her prophetic powers.  How could she possibly have come up with “opera”?  Actually, I’m not going to suggest that she formulated opera as we know it, but that she foresaw the benefits of merging opera and drama.  Since she lived during Medieval times, her dramas are sacred in their content, which is a reason why scholars might not be so quick to give the Mother Superior any additional accolades; however, who said that opera’s couldn’t have sacred content?

The convent at Rupertsberg

In 1151, Hildegard wrote Ordo Virtum, which is actually unusual for its time because it doesn’t fit the mold of the other liturgical dramas of the day in that it isn’t a supplement to a Mass (which was the main platform for music during the Medieval period).  Therefore, Ordo Virtum is an independent Latin play that was written as entertainment for Hildegard’s select community of noblewomen.  To be accurate, it is a morality play in which all the parts are sung in plainchant, except for the role of the Devil.  The singers represent the Patriarchs and Prophets, 16 female virtues, including Humility, Love, Obedience, Faith, Hope, Chastity, Innocence, Mercy, etc…, a happy soul, an unhappy soul, and a penitent soul.  Then, of course, there is the Devil who can only shout and bellow.

Sounds operatic to me?

Basically, the work begins with the chorus of Patriarchs and Prophets who express their wonder at the sight of the richly robed Virtues.  Other souls are walking in a procession around them and beg the virtues for divine insight, which musically corresponds to alternating solos and choral responses.  As this transpires, the Devil tempts the souls, because, as is per usual, the Devil has nothing to do but make trouble.  He finds one unhappy soul and clings onto him, nagging him, and urging him to follow him.  Later, this soul returns a beaten up, hurt, and really sorry for ever having followed Mr. Mefistofele.  The Devil, never being satisfied, tries to reclaim the soul, but the Virtues, led by Humility, protect it and consequently capture and bind the Devil.  In the end, the Virtues invoke Christ who urges them to aspire to Godly fullness.

If you take out the sacred titles: virtues, prophets, christ, soul, etc…, and put in a few names like Leonora, Manrico, Fidelio, Rigoletto, or Macbetto, isn’t this an operatic plot?  Some might argue with me, but since I like to push the limits, I’m going to stick by my opinion.  Although she didn’t classify her work as “opera” per say, it is dramatic, musical, has a moral point, used instruments, and is therefore not far removed from what Monteverdi would call “dramma in musica” 400 years later.  Way to go Hildegard!

Carmen, “whoever she is”, seduces her way into the Canadian Opera Company

A scene from the COC’s “tawdry” Carmen.

The Canadian Opera Company’s production of Bizet’s audience favourite, “Carmen,” opened at the Four Seasons Center two nights ago.  The original announcement had Beth Clayton in the role of the seductive gypsy, but according to “Fashion Magazine,” Ms. Clayton announced her withdrawal from the role on January 20th, leaving little time for the COC to find replacements for a production that would begin in a few days.  The second announcement had Israelli mezzo-soprano, Rinat Shaham (above), replacing Clayton, who withdrew for “health reasons.”  Shaham is performing Jan. 27, 30, Feb. 2, 5, 7, 9, 11, 14, and her alternate, Anita Rachvelishvili on Feb. 17, 20, 23, 27.  Micaela is portrayed by Canadian soprano, Jessica Muirhead, Don Jose is played by both Bryan Hymel (above) and Garrett Sorenson, and Escamillo is Paul Gay.

In and of itself, Bizet’s opera was controversial in its day, for its fusion of comedy and tragedy, its gutsy realism, and in-your-face female heroine, the universally desired, Carmencita.  But, it seems that controversy follows Carmen wherever she goes, the COC notwithstanding.

Here are some reviews.  Enjoy.

COC Carmen too Tawdry by John Coulbourne of the QMI Agency

Trio of Singers Redeems Flawed Carmen from the Globe and Mail

Carmen in Eyeweekly.com

According to these, once again, the purity and authenticity of opera has been marred by producers and directors trying to project more from the opera than is actually necessary.  Actually, it’s more a “dumbing down”, which probably should offend the intelligence of operagoers.  If you strip it down to the nitty-gritty, opera says everything it needs to say, as it is.  I wonder whether directors feel that to make it “sexier,” “more disturbing,” or even “more interesting”, they need to over-emphasize the wonderful subtleties that audiences actually adore, subtleties that composers like Bizet, Verdi, and even Beethoven, already imbedded within their operatic fabric.  Have audiences changed all that much that we need it–whatever “it” is–shoved in our faces for fear we didn’t get it?   I think we get it!

Calgary Opera presents Mark Adamo’s “Little Women”

Tomorrow night is the Canadian Premiere of this new opera by Mark Adamo.

Composer, Mark Adamo

Click here to read a synopsis of Little Women

The production runs from:

Saturday, January 30, 2010: 8pm

Wednesday, February 3, 2010: 7:30pm

Gordon Gerrard , Conductor

Gordon Gerrard is quickly establishing a place among the new generation of Canada’s exciting young musicians. Gordon was the 2009 recipient of the Enbridge Arts Award for Emerging Artist and he was invited to compete in the prestigious Wigmore Hall International Song Competition 2009 in London. In recent years, he has worked as Assistant Conductor for Opera Lyra Ottawa, Repetiteur for Vancouver Opera, Associate Music Director for the Manhattan School of Music Undergraduate Opera Studio, and Lecturer at Iowa State University. Gordon maintains a busy schedule in addition to currently holding the positions of Resident Conductor for Calgary Opera, and staff conductor at Opera Nuova (Edmonton).

Kelly RobinsonKelly Robinson , Stage Director

Kelly Robinson is a director and choreographer whose career spans opera, theatre, film and  television. He has worked extensively in the United States with critically acclaimed productions of Die ZauberflöteLa Bohèmeand La Belle Hélène for the opera companies of Dallas, Utah, Portland and Arizona to his credit. In Canada, he has presented opera audiences in Edmonton, Victoria, Calgary, Winnipeg and Vancouver with new productions of works ranging from Les Pécheurs de pėrles and Eugene Onegin to Britten’s The Turn of the Screw and Rossini’s La Cenerentola. Mr. Robinson’s work has been seen at the National Arts Centre (Ottawa), Canadian Stage Company (Toronto), the Palace Theatre (New York), the Vineyard Theatre (New York) and the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Centre. He is currently Director of the Opera as Theatre Program and Director of Theatre Arts at The Banff Centre.  Mr. Robinson has directed many productions for Calgary Opera including Filumena,FrobisherSweeny ToddThe Ballad of Baby Doe and Ariadne auf Naxos.

Allyson McHardy, Mezzo-Soprano (Jo)

Mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy is “a singer of enormous imagination and versatility” in the words of the San Francisco Chronicle. An alumna of the prestigious Merola Program, Ms. McHardy debuted as Olga in Eugene Onegin for the San Francisco Opera in the fall of 2004 and was immediately re-engaged to be heard as Rosinain Il Barbiere di Siviglia in the 2006-07 season. She appeared as Flosshilde and Rossweisse in the Canadian Opera Company’s first Canadian Ring Cycle in the new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. 2005-2006 included Suzuki in Madama Butterfly for l’Opéra de Québec, Flosshilde in Götterdämmerung and Magret in Wozzeck for the Canadian Opera Company.   Upcoming engagements include Dalilah in Samson et Dalilahat Opera Ontario with Richard Margison and Handel’s Israel in Egypt with Les Violons du Roi.

Colin AinsworthColin Ainsworth, Tenor (Laurie)

Praised for his “ability to move seamlessly between different areas of the repertoire”, Mr. Ainsworth is eagerly sought out for his interpretations of operas ranging from the early operas of Monteverdi to the contemporary operas of Britten. This season, he made his debuts with Manitoba Opera in the world premiere of Victor Davies’ opera, The Transit of Venus as Desmarais, Ralph Rackstraw in H.M.S. Pinafore and Fenton in Verdi’sFalstaff both with Edmonton Opera, Jaquino in Beethoven’s Fidelio with Vancouver Opera, Rinuccio in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Ching’s Buoso’s Ghost and Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance with Lake George Opera. He also made critically acclaimed debuts last season with the Royal Opera House and the Edinburgh International Festival in the world première of Stuart MacRae’s opera The Assassin Tree as Youth and the Greek National Opera to sold-out houses singing Orphée in Gluck’s Paris version of Orphée et Euridice, a role he reprised with Opera Atelier under the baton of Andrew Parrott. He also made his debut with L’Opéra Français de New York as Castor in Castor et Pollux, conducted by Yves Abel, joined the Montreal Baroque Festival in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and was lauded by the Toronto Star as being “every inch the prince, and his lyric voice a golden treasure” for his role as Tamino in The Magic Flute with Opera Atelier.

Krisztina SzabóKrisztina Szabó, Mezzo-Soprano (Meg)

Canadian Mezzo-Soprano Krisztina Szabó has become a highly sought-after artist in both North America and Europe. The Chicago Tribune recently exclaimed, for her performances of Ottavia in L’ incoronazione di Poppea, “Krisztina Szabó stole every scene with her powerful, mahogany voice and deeply poignant immersion in the empress’ plight.” She made her Lincoln Center debut as Dorabella in Così fan tutte at the Mostly Mozart Festival where she was praised in the New York Times for being “clear, strong, stately and an endearingly vulnerable Dorabella.” Krisztina Szabó’s 2007-08 season was highlighted by performances of new roles: Komponist in Ariadne auf Naxos with Stadttheater Klagenfurt in Austria, and Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni in her fourth production with Chicago Opera Theater. She also also appeared with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra as soloist in Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, L’Orchestre Symphonique de Québec in Bach’sMass in B Minor, the San Antonio Symphony for a performance of Handel’s Messiah, and the Talisker Players in Toronto for an evening of chamber music.  Ms. Szabó is appearing as Rosina in Calgary Opera’s The Barber of Seville this April.

Mariateresa Magisano, Soprano (Beth)

Mariateresa Magisano is a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.  In 2001, she debuted with the New York City Opera as Zerlina in Don Giovanni, a role she also sang with Vancouver Opera and Opera Columbus. Recently, Ms. Magisano performed Micaela in Vancouver Opera’s Carmen (2009); and Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro with Opera Lyra Ottawa (2008).  Ms. Magisano sang the title role in Thomas’Mignon in an “Opera in concert” with Opera Lyra Ottawa (2007); and covered the role of Fidelia in Puccini’sEdgar with the Opera Orchestra of New York (2008). Career highlights include: Susanna in Le Nozze di Figarowith Vancouver Opera, Despina in Cosi Fan Tutte with Arizona Opera, Gretel in Hansel & Gretel with Calgary Opera and Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia with Opera Lyra Ottawa, Buffalo Philharmonic, Aspen Opera Theater and Opera Saskatchewan.

Catherine MayCatherine May , Soprano (Amy)

Catherine May was born and educated in Canada before completing her studies in the UK. Operatic performances in 2008 included Olympia/Antonia/Giulietta for MidWales Opera, and Pretty Polly (cover) and Cunegonde (cover) for English National Opera. Other recent roles have included Queen of the Night The Magic Flute (English Touring Opera), Zerbinetta Ariadne auf Naxos (Britten-Pears Young Artists Programme), MimiLa Bohème (British Youth Opera, Scottish Opera on Tour), Blonde Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Diva Opera). Concert performances include Carmina Burana for the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Mendelssohn’sLobgesang at the Aldeburgh Festival, and Poulenc’s Gloria and Jenkins’ The Armed Man with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Ms. May is delighted to return to Calgary Opera, where she sang Frasquita in Carmen and Naiad in Ariadne auf Naxos.

Elizabeth Turnbull, Mezzo-Soprano (Alma March)

A Winner in the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions, North American finalist in the International Bernstein Song and Oratorio Competition, and recipient of a Canada Council Career Development grant,Ms. Turnbull is a mezzo with a distinguished reputation in the U.S. and Canada, hailed by the press as “(one) of this country’s finest singers, luminous and rich-voiced”. Her 2008-2009 season included Messiah at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Regina Symphony, Madam Larina inEugene Onegin for Opera Lyra Ottawa, a concert featuring the music of Mendelssohn for the Aldeburgh Connection and Schafer’s AdieuRobert Schumann for the Ottawa Symphony. In the U.S., she sang in Bach’sWeihnachtsoratorium (Nicholas McGegan and San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque) and Messiah for Los Angeles’ Musica Angelica.  Most recently she created Elizabeth I in Frobisher and performed Augusta Tabor inThe Ballad of Baby Doe for Calgary Opera.

Colin AinsworthPhillip Addis, Baritone (John Brooke)

For the 2009-2010 season Phillip Addis appears as Belcore in L’elisir d’amore with Atlanta Opera, the Count inLe nozze di Figaro with Opera Atelier in Toronto, John Brooke in Little Women with Calgary Opera, as well as the title role in Pelleas et Mélisande at the Opéra Comique. Last season Mr. Addis appeared as Marcello in a new production of La bohème with the Theater Basel in Switzerland, and Zurga in Les Pêcheurs de Perles with Opéra de Montréal Additionally, Mr. Addis sang the Count in Le nozze di Figaro with Florida Grand Opera and a recital tour in his native Canada.

Terry HodgesTerry Hodges, Bass-Baritone (Gideon March)

Bass-Baritone Terry Hodges enjoys a busy career in opera and music theatre in the United States and Canada with credits at Santa Fe Opera, Lake George Opera Festival, Carnegie Hall, Boston Lyric Opera and the Opera Theatre of St. Louis. Recent and upcoming engagements include, La Roche in Capriccio for Pacific Opera Victoria, Dick Deadeye in HMS Pinafore for Nashville Opera, Benoit/Alcindoro in La Bohème for Vancouver Opera, Dulcamara in L’Elisir d’Amore for Tulsa Opera and Frank in Die Fledermaus for Manitoba Opera. He has also done more than 2,000 performances of Phantom of the Opera. This is his debut with Calgary Opera.

Brent CalisBrent Calis, Baritone (Mr. Dashwood)

A Calgary native, Brent Calis is currently a member of Calgary Opera’s Emerging Artist Development Program. His role highlights include Papageno in The Magic Flute, and Schaunard in La Bohème with the University of British Columbia. He has also participated in The Toronto Summer Music Academy and Festival and The Banff Summer Arts Festival. Mr. Calis returned to Banff this past summer to perform The Forester in Janácek’s The Cunning Little Vixen and Jonathan in Siren Song by Jonathon Dove. He looks forward to performing with Opera NUOVA this summer in their production of Falstaff.

Kimberly BarberKimberly Barber, Mezzo-Soprano (Cecilia March)

Canadian Mezzo-Soprano Kimberly Barber is known for the expressive power, purity and refinement of her voice, her elegance of phrasing and musical gesture and the intelligence and intensity of her physical portrayals. Ms Barber’s recent seasons have held important role debuts. She garnered great praise for her first Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther with Vancouver Opera, and created the role of Jessica in the world premiere of John Estacio’s Frobisher for Calgary Opera. Her critically acclaimed first turn as Sister Helenin Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking was a feature of the Canadian premiere of that work for Calgary Opera, performances of which were broadcast on CBC’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera. This was followed by her return to Seattle Opera, and first bows as Despina in Jonathan Miller’s acclaimed production of Cosi Fan Tutte. She gave her first performances of the role of The Angel in Edward Elgar’s oratorio Dream of Gerontius, with the Richard Eaton Singers in Edmonton, a work which will signal her debut with the Elora Festival in the summer of 2007.

Daniel Okulitch, Bass-Baritone (Friedrich Bhaer)

Bass-Baritone Daniel Okulitch first came to national attention on Broadway as Schaunard in Baz Luhrmann’s production of La Bohème–a role he repeated when the production traveled to Los Angeles, for which he received the Ovation Award for Best Ensemble Performance from the LosAngeles Stage Alliance. He has since begun an international career with opera companies and orchestras throughout Europe and North America, and is lauded as much for his powerful stage presence and dramatic abilities as for his “focused, resonant bass-baritone that he wields with power and sensitivity” (NJ Star-Ledger) His signature roles show a dedication to both old and new works, including the title role in Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro, Joseph DeRocher in Dead Man Walking and Olin Blitch in Susannah. He performed last for Calgary Opera in Dead Man Walking (2006).

This week on Sirius/XM Radio: from the Metropolitan Opera

Conductor, James Levine

Monday, Jan. 25:  Sirius/XM Broadcast of Simon Boccanegra (8pm)

ConductorJames Levine
AmeliaAdrianne Pieczonka
GabrieleMarcello Giordani
SimonPlácido Domingo
FiescoJames Morris

Production: Giancarlo del Monaco
Set & Costume Designer: Michael Scott

Thursday, Jan. 28:  Sirius/XM/Listen Live Broadcast of Turandot (8pm)

Conductor: Julien Salemkour

TurandotLise Lindstrom
LiùGrazia Doronzio
CalafFrank Porretta
TimurHao Jiang Tian

Production: Franco Zeffirelli
Set Designer: Franco Zeffirelli
Costume Designers: Dada Saligeri, Anna Anni

Lighting Designer: Gil Wechsler ,Choreographer: Chiang Ching

Saturday, Jan. 30:  Sirius/XM Radio Broadcast of Stiffelio (1pm)

ConductorPlácido Domingo
LinaSondra Radvanovsky
StiffelioJosé Cura
StankarAndrzej Dobber
JorgPhillip Ens

Production: Giancarlo del Monaco

Set & Costume Designer: Michael Scott
Lighting Designer: Gil Wechsler

Anne Midgette of the Washington Post and Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times take Placido to task

Domingo as Simone

The critical world is really taking on a life of its own these days, especially where opera is concerned.  Just yesterday, I was immersed in very early critical reviews that were written in Milan during the 1850s and 60s–yes, Verdi’s time–and I couldn’t help but admire the manner in which these critics understood, spoke, and wrote about opera.  Their reviews left one aching to hear or see the work discussed, or rightly provided critical dialogue that was not invasive but critical in a musical sense, where aesthetics, style, genre, and national identity were concerned.  Newspapers like the Corriere della Sera, with its section on “spettacoli” or Il Giornale della Societa del Quartetto, among others, are so enlightened that they have remained in circulation until today.

The birth of music criticism, as we know it, actually began with Schumann and Berlioz, who felt that music could and should be discussed openly, critically, and that a critic must learn how to accurately describe what music is in words, a difficult task then and now.  This last week, two critics have followed one another’s ideas and while the main focus of their articles is Mr. Domingo, they really provided no criticism on the music, as it were.  I have provided a link to Anne Midgette’s article, that started quite a ruckus where Mr. Domingo is concerned.  And today, Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times provided a musical review that left much to be desired.

What ever happened to talking about voices and singers with intelligence about aesthetics, fach, and historical truth?  It is not just about what one hears and whether it’s good or not, but how what we present today remains authentic, true, and accurate to the composers wishes.  Whether or not Mr. Domingo sings Baritone or Tenor is not what should be being discussed but, rather, was he true to the style and did he sing aesthetically correct.  Did the other performers?  Moreover, I find it more than farcical that the words “a real Verdian voice” are being thrown around when, in fact, no one has any idea what a Verdian voice is, was, or is supposed to be. Is it enough for a singer’s voice to simply move swiftly through notes but sing completely without aesthetic understanding of this style and be called “Verdian?”  I guess nowadays this is acceptable or it wouldn’t be at the Met, but it is not acceptable for me and certainly not for those who have studied the historical properties of this man’s music.  Let me pose my point in a question.  Would you perform in a modern string quartet and use Baroque stylization and perform on a Viola da Gamba?  That’s exactly what is happening here and yet…it continues to happen.  To me, this question is more important than whether Mr. Giordani’s voice “throbs” or not. In fact, if we were being true critics we would be asking whether he was able to present a viable, historical, and believable performance as his character in the style of Verdian singing.  While I withhold my own opinion on this matter, for now, I have chosen to present Ms. Midgette and Mr. Tommasini’s reviews.  You forge your own opinion.

Anne Midgette from the Washington Post


For Verdi, Masquerading as a Baritone


In 1959, when he was 18, Plácido Domingo auditioned for the National Opera in Mexico City as a baritone. The jury was impressed but told Mr. Domingo that he was really a tenor. Two years later he sang his first lead tenor role, Alfredo in Verdi’s “Traviata” in Monterrey. And so began one of the great tenor careers in opera history.

On Monday, three days before turning 69, Mr. Domingo returned to his vocal roots. For the first time at the Metropolitan Opera he sang a baritone role, the title character in Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra.” Some of his tougher critics would say that Mr. Domingo has been a quasi baritone for years, since he has increasingly asked conductors to transpose parts of the tenor roles he sings down a step or two.

But he sounded liberated as Boccanegra, a tormented doge in 14th-century Genoa. At times his voice had a worn cast. And when he dipped into the lower baritone register, he had to fortify his sound with chesty, sometimes leathery power. Still, this was some of his freshest singing in years.

Maybe taking on Boccanegra is a self-indulgent exercise for Mr. Domingo at this stage of his career. I almost hesitate to praise him, since I do not want him to get ideas. Right now the two companies he is running — the Los Angeles Opera and the Washington National Opera — are struggling financially. So he has big responsibilities.

That said, he earned an enormous ovation on Monday night. Over the last decade, when a role took him to the upper register of his tenor voice, he often sounded cautious and calculating. But as Boccanegra, he could not wait, it seemed, for the line to soar into the baritone’s high register, now his comfort zone.

Yet that auditioning committee of 1959 was right: Mr. Domingo was a tenor. Whether a singer is a tenor or a baritone is not just a matter of range. The coloring and character of a voice also identifies its type. There have long been dusky, baritonal qualities to Mr. Domingo’s singing, but the overall colorings and ping in his sound were those of a tenor.

Inevitably, he made Boccanegra seem like a tenor role. The long scene in which Boccanegra discovers that Maria, who goes by the name Amelia Grimaldi (don’t ask), is his long-lost illegitimate daughter, did not have the contrast of baritone and soprano colorings that Verdi intended. Still, Mr. Domingo brought vocal charisma, dramatic dignity and a lifetime of experience to his portrayal. Purists will complain, but Mr. Domingo’s performance was an intriguing experiment.

A week earlier Mr. Domingo was in the pit at the Met to conduct the first performance of Verdi’s “Stiffelio” this season, a run that continues. He did an able job. But what a difference to hear a similarly complex Verdi score withJames Levine in the pit. Mr. Levine, who conducted on Monday night, has often spoken of how much he reveres this score, and his respect came through in the somberly beautiful, nuanced playing he drew from the orchestra.

“Simon Boccanegra” is a hybrid in the Verdi canon. It was a flop at its premiere in 1857 in Venice. Almost a quarter-century later, in 1881, Verdi extensively revised the score, which combines elements of impassioned middle-period and magisterial mature Verdi.

The plot, however, is one of the most convoluted in opera. Verdi was drawn to the story because it allowed him to portray an imperfect man, once a ruthless pirate, who is conscripted into a leadership role for which he feels unfit, yet who tries to reconcile the conflicts between the plebeian commoners and the aristocracy; a man who made a mess of his personal life but eventually does right by his daughter. But do not try to untangle the strands of the plots and the multiple identities of the characters.

As Maria/Amelia, the Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka was splendid, singing with clear, shimmering, pitch-perfect sound and lovely phrasing. The tenor Marcello Giordani can be a sloppy singer. But the role of Gabriele Adorno, the hotheaded aristocrat who loves Maria, suits him, and he sang with ardor and big, throbbing top notes.

The bass-baritone James Morris’s voice is weather-beaten these days. But as Fiesco, Maria’s father, he conveyed grave dignity and moving authority. Paolo, the villain (that much seems clear), was the bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi, whose strong voice flagged as the night went on.

Giancarlo del Monaco’s tastefully grand production was introduced in 1995, when Mr. Domingo sang the tenor role of Gabriele. Even with all his drive to notch records in the opera annals, Mr. Domingo could not have imagined then that he would be singing the title role at 69.

This week at the Metropolitan Opera

What’s playing this week:

Turandot (Jan 4, 8pm)

Carmen (Jan 5, 8pm)

Der Rosenkavalier (Jan 6, 7:30pm):  Sirius/XM Radio Broadcast/Live Met Radio

Turandot (Jan 7, 8pm): Sirius/XM Radio Broadcast

Carmen (Jan 8, 8pm)

Der Rosenkavalier (Jan 9, 1pm): Sirius/XM Radio broadcast/LIVE in HD Telecast

Turandot (Jan 9, 8:30pm)

Renee Fleming and Susan Graham in Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier

Published in: on January 3, 2010 at 8:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Hey…ey…ey..ey…What’s goin’ on?

Franco Zeffirelli’s productions have been staples at the Met and worldwide

The new year has opened with a number of well-loved favourites at various opera houses around North America and overseas.  Tickets continue to sell, but not without controversy, perhaps the most bothersome at the Metropolitan Opera.  As of late, Mr. Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met has been dealing with some much deserved flack for the failed production of Puccini’s “Tosca,” a failure that was secured by the modern and inauthentic direction of Luc Bondy, but also by the continued problem of inappropriately casting non-Italianante voices in Italian repertoire and vice-versa in the Germanic repertoire.  Many patrons have been bothered by Gelb’s failure to admit that the Bondy production failed.  He has only publicly stated that beloved Franco Zeffirelli’s production of “Tosca” would be remounted.  In what seems like a bit of retaliation, Gelb has now decided to withdraw Zeffirelli’s “Boheme” production for a new one.

At a time when podcasts, internet streaming, and digital cable are at an all-time peak of interest, the artistic genres that have maintained verisimilitude seem to be suffering. Why now, after a century of excellence, is it necessary to “modernize” even those things that do not need to be modernized?  I’m all for new ideas, but when those new ideas interfere with the composer’s indications or with aesthetic truths, then I raise my hand in defiance.  We are in a crucial period where the maintenance of opera as a valuable art-form relies heavily on authenticity, but in these times the authentic voice of opera is facing the possibility of becoming mute, a prospect I will fight tirelessly to prevent.  It is why the value of the productions are lesser and why the wrong voice types are constantly being cast in repertoire that not only affects the singers’ vocal health, but mars the essential quality that these styles are meant to promote.

What’s goin’ on?

Peter Gelb

Of course there are those who think this is fine and dandy, and that opera needs to be multimedia-ized in order to retain a voice.  Certainly, it is great to promote it to the younger generation who really have no means of knowing it otherwise, but do we need to inject every production with an alternative antibiotic, usually some blatant and unnecessary sexuality that was not intended by the composer?  Might I be so bold as to say that Opera is sexy on its own and so are its characters, so is the music.  Is it possible that most operas, if presented authentically, are expressive enough solely in the combination of their text and music to deliver the same punch that directors are trying so hard to achieve?  It’s already there, in the mix, so why add more ingredients?  Overlooking what is innate in the art for the sake of making opera suit the times seems like a waste of time to me.

Food for thought at the dawn of a new decade.

“What’s Goin’On?”