An Italian Operatic Journey: Il Tabarro, Puccini, La Tebaldi, and Zeffirelli

Tabarro Poster

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A story of infidelity and deception, murder, and infinite purgatory, a man whose music transcends, and a woman who was born to sing with Golden beams of sound that cause frenzied audiences: the combination of a lifetime and the reason behind one of the most rewarding trips to Italy I have ever taken and may ever take. I’ve thought for awhile about writing this blog entry and how or if I was going to publish one at all because of the deeply personal value of this trip for me, however the experiences and personas that I encountered, the understanding of the current artistic situation in Italy, and the state of opera in general have to be shared in order for it to gain true value.

Several months ago, when Aprile Millo was contracted to sing Giorgetta in Puccini’s “Il Tabarro”, I became overly excited because I have spent so much time with the great Maestro’s music.  I was tickled by the fact that her ever beautiful, but now much more lush and buoyant sound, filled with “corpo” and a cut that few singers have in this day and age, would be mingled with the harmonies in Tabarro that had haunted me the first time I heard it.  I was really interested to see how an artist of her ilk, seeking perfection and being very selective about the heroines she chooses to portray, was going to wrap her mind around a woman who is definitely one of the least honourable of Puccini’s women.  It is truly a lesson as an artist to observe someone great go through a journey of this type and boy what an honour it was for me to see this unfold.

IMG_3656 Via XX Settembre, Genoa

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View from the upstairs of the Teatro Carlo Felice

IMG_3688The beautiful Teatro Carlo Felice

Arriving in Genoa, the diva didn’t have much time to assimilate and acclimatize from the cold temperatures of New York to the more springlike temperatures of Genoa, nor the fact that we were in the north of Italy.  Nothing fazed her and off  she went to rehearsal the day after arriving.  I did not attend the first rehearsal but was busy exploring the area around the Via XX Settembre, which was of course filled with everything I adore:  bookstores, cafés, pen and stationary stores, and yes…shoe stores but we won’t talk about that…that’s another blog entry all on it’s own!

IMG_3675 Dress Rehearsal for “Il Tabarro”

The following day, I did attend the dress rehearsal in the Teatro Carlo Felice and was very interested in the construction of the theatre, especially the exposed stone walls that surround the stage.  I immediately fell in love with this orchestra.  Ma che bravissimi!!!  And, Maestro Donato Renzetti was truly a caring, diligent, and supportive conductor who allowed the singers and musicians to express while keeping the constraints of the music.  I cannot stand when Puccini is conducted like Mozart.  The music is very expansive with flex and fold and I usually become agitated when the passionate fervour of his orchestral palate is destroyed by a conductor who does not understand the important balance Puccini required  that in each of his operas is different.  Maestro Renzetti made sure to allow for expansiveness and flexibility which allowed the singers to express freely.

Donato Renzetti

Maestro Donato Renzetti

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The cast list

It was at this rehearsal that I became entranced with what Aprile was doing with Giorgetta.  I had always listened to la Tebaldi sing it and enjoyed it very much, but in this Aprile brought her own personal interpretation which was different and one that I have to say I enjoyed even more than Tebaldi’s.  Every word was expressed to the point that even the softest piani were heard in the back of the theatre.  Her sense of “parlato” was impeccable and the diction clear as a bell.  She was able to expand the character both expressively and vocally with a huge range of colour and volume.  Personally, I had never really liked Giorgetta as a character, and we’re not really supposed to the way Puccini presents her, but what I found was that I actually liked Millo’s Giorgetta.  I felt for her…I understood why she was acting the way she was.  The opera suddenly became more valuable to me within the repertoire.  I was also deeply moved by the rich chocolate baritone of Carlos Almaguer and the mezzo of Renata Lamanda who expressed their roles with elegance and personality.

The performance was gaining a lot of buzz around Italy and I was very happy to find this in the newspaper the day of the show:

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A full 3 page article discussing Puccini’s heroines in the Genovese newspaper and yes THAT is how it’s done in Italy people.  Opera gets headline news!!!  Viva L’Italia!!!  The theatre was buzzing that night and important persons were present, especially of note Signora Simonetta Puccini, the granddaughter of Giacomo Puccini himself.  She personally asked to meet Aprile before the performance and the two who are both soldiers for opera and the preservation of its authenticity became fast friends.  However, it must be noted that after the performance, Signora Puccini in my presence told Millo that her performance of “Tabarro” was the best she had ever heard.  She wished to include her photo at Torre del Lago of the great interpreters of his roles.  I already knew something historic was happening that night and Signora Puccini also realized what was being presented.  This would not be the final meeting with Signora Puccini…

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Aprile Millo and Signora Simonetta Puccini

The performance was electric.  A very lovely Suor Angelica was presented prior to, sung by the renowned Italian soprano Donata D’Annunzio Lombardi, who sang with beautiful tone and attention to every detail.  Also, of note was the singing of mezzo-soprano Annunziata Vestri who sang the role of La Badessa.  When Tabarro began, immediately the harmonies sweep you away into something you’re not sure you want to be in but you can’t help yourself.  Millo and her colleagues dove right in from the first utterances of “O Michele Michele.” which caused a hush in the theatre.  I was even more impressed by the expansiveness Millo showed that evening with the softest piano and two hairsplitting high C’s that are so full and yet penetrating that you’re not really sure what happened to you once they ring in the theatre walls.  The audience was in great appreciation with multiple curtain calls and a Signora Puccini who was applauding with great enthusiasm. Needless to say, honouring Puccini that evening was a great success for the Teatro Carlo Felice.

Review of Il Tabarro from the Bergamo Opera-click

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Lots of pictures and line ups of aficionados

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Maestro Valerio Galli, Aprile Millo, and Renato Bonajuto

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Renata Lamanda in praise of her colleague

Part II:  Villa Puccini

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Not only did Signora Puccini enjoy the performance, she invited Millo (and me in tow) to Puccini’s villa in Torre del Lago a couple of days later.  For me, this was the invitation of a lifetime.  I’ve spent 20 years studying the music of the great maestro and he is of course my “preferito” and so I could not believe that I was going to his home, where he had written so many of the operas I adore and those that I have fallen crazy in love with.  We arrived in Torre del Lago in what seemed to be a violent tempest of rain.  Blowing wind, water that seemed to be jumping up over the edge of Torre del Lago like some kind of wild animal, and very poor visibility because of the buckets of rain that fell.  As soon as we drove into the little town, the energy became electric for me.  Every street has the title of an opera and it is a long road that leads to one place only…the place Puccini loved, that he spent his most beloved hours in life.

IMG_3743Puccini’s statue in the distance looking at the wild water of the Lake.

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Exterior facade of the Villa Puccini

Upon arriving at the villa, my heart was pounding so hard I could hardly hear anything else.  After so much time adoring this man I never even met and probably spending more time studying him and his music than I have with even my own family, I realized that I was on sacred operatic ground.  Not only was his villa intact with everything he owned, his furniture, photos, hunting materials, and his beloved piano on which he composed, he was also buried in the villa.  Needless to say my legs were shaking.  We were met by Signora Puccini, adorable in a red toque at the door after traversing the blowing wind and rain to get in.  Aprile and I were immediately overwhelmed by the idea of where we were standing.  The first room was filled with old letters, manuscripts, and photo signed by all of the great interpreters of Puccini, a beautiful statue of Enrico Caruso in La Fanciulla del West, and a glass case in which lay the white vest and cummerbund that Maestro wore.  I looked at it almost as if trying to figure out exactly how big a man he was.  Note:  none of these photos were taken by me personally.  They are taken from online sources.

Manuscript room

We continued through the house and entered into a room in which both of us were in tears.  Everything as he left it, preserved beautifully by his granddaughter.

Puccini villa 2

Upon seeing that piano, the presence of the Maestro was palpable.  I think Signora Puccini was not sure what to do because we were both so overwhelmed with emotion.  She graciously had the glass over the keys removed so we could touch the keys and Maestro Galli, who we were with, played “Tu che di gel sei cinta” on the piano.  Never will I forget the sweet but prominent tone of that piano on which my favourite composer in the world composed the operas that steal my heart.

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But more overwhelming was the move into the the room just behind the piano where the Maestro is buried right behind the piano he loved so much to play and on which the first melodies of Boheme rang against that wall.  It was not a place of sadness but of joy, of music, of someone trying to say, my music is important and I left it for you, please honour it.  We had brought a huge bouquet of red long stemmed roses which now was placed at the foot of his sepulchre.  Finally, I was able to put my hand where he rests and say “thank you” for the beauty and joy he brings to my life every day.  Even without knowing him, the room was filled with smiles, especially from Signora Puccini who by this point understood that Aprile and I were completely devoted to her grandfather.

We were so blessed to have spent time with her and I will never forget the wonderful things she spoke about, which I will not write here simply because of the nature of a private conversation, but I must document one important thing.  It became clearly evident how much the preservation and “authenticity” of her grandfather’s music was to her and to him.  Hearing her discuss her feelings on modernizing his productions made me furious with those who think it’s ok to simply ignore Puccini’s markings, instructions, and indications on the score.  It is NOT OK for directors to just rethink Puccini.  He did the thinking!!!  Modernizing is not the issue, it is when the composer’s wishes are bypassed in order to “rethink” his art.  I will forever stand in solidarity with Signora Puccini who made it clear that her grandfather would not have been too pleased.

In all, this was a day none of us will ever forget.

IMG_3747Simonetta Puccini and Myself

Part III:  The Home of Renata Tebaldi

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This angel continues to influence young singers every day.  I did not go on this trip and expect to be so close to her and yet so far. Another person I have admired and adored, who I never met, and yet now I feel like I have.  Aprile, who had a very beautiful friendship with La Tebaldi had not been to her home since her death and so this experience was different for her than it was for me.  It was one of realization and some sadness, but joy in being with those who devote their life to her still.  In Milano now, we were greeted at the door by the president of the Renata Tebaldi foundation, Giovanna Colombo, who is busy preparing for the opening of the Tebaldi Museum in Busseto in June.  I stood beneath a huge plaque that indicated this place as one of honour in Milano because she had lived there.  Again, shaking is an understatement.

Up the little elevator we went and down a hallway where we were greeted by Marisa and a little dog who ended up stealing my heart.  Bonnie (III) is the little dog of Tina Viganò who had spent more than half her life in service to “la signorina” (she never calls her by first name).  I could not believe I was meeting her.  I was immediately hit in in the face with a gorgeous life-size portrait of Tebaldi on the wall that was so radiant you would think it was going to speak to you.  Out came Tina, a sweet, gentle smiled woman with open arms so happy to see Aprile who Tebaldi had adored as a friend and an artist.  I  was so moved to meet her but I became mute as I usually do when something affects me deeply.  All of la Tebaldi’s things were in the apartment, untouched, almost as if she was still living there. Especially moving was the piano that was the centrepiece of the room, covered with photos of important people and of the angel herself.  When I was asked by Tina to play it, I felt like I couldn’t possibly touch this instrument but I sat at the bench and collected myself before touching the keys as respectfully as I could.  A beautiful sweet sound, one that I could imagine her voice mingling with.  What a gift.

Afterwards we spent a lovely dinner talking about “la signorina” with little Bonnie (III) keeping an eye on everything but mostly on her Tina who was so watchful of her.  So many things, so many memories, I felt honoured to hear them and I felt like somehow La Tebaldi would’ve been tickled to know that Aprile was with Tina.

My beautiful pictureAprile with Renata Tebaldi

DSC_0091Aprile holding Bonnie III, Tina, me, and Giovanna Colombo

To visit the Official Renata Tebaldi Page and learn more about the beautiful Museum set to open soon please click here:

Sito Ufficiale del Comitato Renata Tebaldi

Part III: Franco Zeffirelli

Rome:  one of the greatest directors of all time celebrating his birthday and of course Aprile Millo, one of the greatest Liu’s in history, was invited to celebrate with him.  Another unexpected meeting for me, but one I was honoured to experience.  His house was a thing of beauty.  Art, and music everywhere, photos of great actresses he had worked with and singers.  The vibrance and elegance of this man, and a huge personality abounds.  With one of his many little dogs firmly planted on his lap the entire evening, he smiled broadly, welcoming everyone who was beautifully dressed  and so happy to be there.  I kept thinking of how I felt when the curtain opens on the Imperial Scene in Turandot and how majestic it is and Act II of La Boheme.  SHAME ON ANYONE who is trying to replace his magnificent artistic and creative productions.  Viva Zeffirelli per sempre!!! Happy Birthday Maestro…I was so happy to meet you!!

Aprile and Franco

Zeffirelli and Aprile Millo

1938039_10152223612963497_1304165351_n The sweetest man and a great artist

Part IV:  Various and Sundry

Some photos for your pleasure

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The facade of the Vatican

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Teatro Carlo Felice (Genoa)

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The interior window of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (Milano)

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Interior of the Galleria (Milano)

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Exterior of the Galleria at night (Milano)

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Duomo Milano (at night)

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Il Colosseo (Roma)

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Piazza del Duomo (Milano)

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Il Duomo (Milano)

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La Scala and someone who loves her

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Beautiful and rainy Venezia

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Santa Maria della Salute (Venice)

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A room with a view

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If one could only wake up to this every day

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The bridge of Sighs (Venice)

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St. Mark’s (Venice)

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Interior of St. Mark’s (Venice)

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Gondolas on the water

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One of the beautiful bridges (Venice)

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Beauty

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Yay for female gondoliers!  I wonder if she sings?

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Santa Maria della Salute (Venice)

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I tried very hard to take this from the train.  The Alps were magnificent

Part IV:  Verdi’s Grave

It would not have been right for one of the greatest interpreters of Verdi in the world to go and pay respects to Puccini and not to her “preferito”, Giuseppe Verdi.  Straight from a long train ride from Venice to Milano, we took a cab to the Casa di Riposo Giuseppe Verdi.  Although this was a deeply personal moment for her, I feel the need to recount it for its beauty and honesty. I knew this was going to be an emotional moment for la Millo because she had not ever been to this spot (I had several years ago during a research trip to Milano and had a totally breakdown in front of that great man’s tomb).  We both became very muted and there was no one around, just the sound of her walking on the stone path that leads to his and Giuseppina Strepponi’s grave.  In the courtyard, one of the residents known to sing constantly, was singing Act II of La Bohème with such beautiful “nella maschera” singing that you could hear her from the street and she was probably 70-something years old.  I walked behind Aprile and gave her space to approach this man to whom she is so utterly connected.  In my mind I recalled her unparalleled “Ballo in Maschera” and “Aida” and all of the operas of his that she had left an inedible mark on. She stopped before entering the chapel in which the great man is buried and I watched her catch her breath although she was visibly shaking.  She entered there and immediately fell to her knees at the stone wall that separates the graves from the public.  The head bowed in complete prostration and the tears falling upon the stone….we stood in complete silence but I broke the solemnity to take this photo which I think speaks a thousand words and ought to be public for its beauty and for the devotion of this artist to this composer.  I know he would have smiled at you Aprile, for the honourable manner in which you continue to serve him not just on stage but every day of your life. Viva Verdi!!!

DSC_0519Aprile Millo at Verdi’s Grave

And so ended this time with little Tina Viganò, and Bonnie III coming in the early morning to hug Aprile and myself and say goodbye.  How beautiful it was that she came to wave and watch the car drive away, as Aprile had done the last time she saw Tebaldi leave.  We were both moved and I personally felt such a protectiveness toward Tina that I didn’t want to leave.  I cried outright at leaving this lady who in her devotion to Tebaldi became a solider of the arts herself.  This time that was filled with opera and singing, history, tears of joy, tears of gratitude, song, new friends, old friends, and the beauty of a country that remains in my heart every day.  How proud I am to be Italian and although I was born in Canada I owe so much to my great-grandparents Erminia and Ernesto for instilling in me the ways of life in Italy, traditions I keep to this day.  I promise that I will return to her much sooner than later and with a song in my heart willing to be expressed in honesty and devotion to these beautiful memories that I was absolutely blessed to have experienced.  Viva la patria!  Grazie Aprile and congratulations on a huge success. Stay tuned everyone for much more to come from her very soon!  I’ll keep you posted!

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La Boheme (Season Premiere) Live Broadcast from the Met: Tonight at 7:25pm

Joseph Calleja

Starring Joseph Calleja as the poet Rodolfo, (pictured above with Anna Netrebko)

and

Maija Kovalevska

Maija Kovalkevska as the living poetry that is Mimi (pictured above with Ramon Vargas)

In Franco Zeffirelli’s magnificent and historic production

Franco Zeffirelli

ConductorStefano Ranzani
MimìMaija Kovalevska
MusettaIrina Lungu
RodolfoJoseph Calleja
MarcelloAlexey Markov
SchaunardJoshua Hopkins
CollineChristian Van Horn
Benoit/AlcindoroDonald Maxwell

Production: Franco Zeffirelli
Set Designer: Franco Zeffirelli
Costume DesignerPeter J. Hall
Lighting DesignerGil Wechsler

No matter how many times you’ve seen or listened to La Bohème, Puccini’s masterpiece is a true “squarcio di vita” that we all need to revisit now and again.  It talks of the beauty of life, how to live it even in the face of adversity, and more importantly…how deeply love, true love, can touch the soul.  Every time I listen to Bohème, I find something new and wonderful about these characters.  If portrayed well, you want to be part of their little circle of  friends, and for those two hours linger in a world perhaps more simple, or perhaps more complex in feeling than the one we allow ourselves to live in today.  Life is Opera and Opera is Life…Bohème is one major reason this genre continues to thrive, everywhere and always.

To Listen Live CLICK HERE!

or Listen on

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The Greatest Love Story Ever Sung: La Boheme Returns to the COC

Canadian Opera Company Media ReleaseLa Boheme COC 2013

Toronto – The Canadian Opera Company launches its 2013/2014 season with a new production of one of the world’s greatest love stories, La Bohème. Puccini’s masterpiece of youthful flirtation, passionate love and heartbreaking tragedy returns to the COC for 12 performances at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on October 3, 6, 9, 12, 16, 18, 19, 22, 25, 27, 29, 30, 2013.

Canadian-born Tony Award-winning director John Caird (Les MisérablesNicholas Nickleby), last with COC in 2007 to stage the monumental Don Carlos, premieres for the company this new production of one of opera’s favourite love stories. He’s joined by one of world’s best Puccini conductors, Italian Carlo Rizzi, who makes his company debut leading the COC Orchestra and Chorus through a score of soaring and impassioned orchestrations filled with dramatic intensity and beautiful melodies.

La Bohème is set in the raucous streets of Paris’s Latin Quarter in the late 19th century and explores the loves and lives of a group of young Bohemians. The COC production has cast an equally young group of singers, many Canadian, who are making names for themselves internationally.

Already acclaimed for their renditions of this starring role, two recent graduates of the Metropolitan Opera’s prestigious Lindemann Young Artist Development Program make their COC debuts as the fragile seamstress Mimì: Italian soprano Grazia Doronzio and Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury(Oct. 9, 19, 27, 30). Doronzio, called “splendid” by the New York Times and a “fascinating discovery” by the Chicago Tribune, has made recent notable engagements at Oper Frankfurt, Hamburgische Staatsoper, Angers Nantes Opéra, Seattle Opera and the Metropolitan Opera. El-Khoury has earned praised from Opera NewsWashington Post and The Financial Times, among other publications, for performances across North America and Europe, and recently made her recording debut with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at London’s Barbican Hall.

El-Khoury is double-cast in La Bohème. In addition to Mimì, she sings the role of the flirtatious singer Musetta for eight of the 12 performances of the COC’s production. Sharing the role of Musetta is COC Ensemble Studio graduate soprano Simone Osborne (Oct. 9, 19, 27, 30). A favourite with audiences and critics, Osborne returns to the COC after recent engagements with Opera Hamilton, Vancouver Opera and Carnegie Hall, appearing in the world premiere of the classical music show Viva Verdi! in Zurich and in the Saito Kinen Festival with renowned maestro Seiji Ozawa, as well a debut performance with the LA Philharmonic.

The role of the poet Rodolfo, Mimì’s lover, is sung by two rising young tenors, Mexican David Lomelí and Italian-American Eric Margiore (Oct. 9, 19, 27, 30). Lomelí has built a growing reputation in opera houses and concert halls across North America and Europe since becoming a first-prize winner of Plácido Domingo’s prestigious Operalia competition in 2006. First introduced to Toronto audiences in 2011 as the Duke in the COC’s Rigoletto, he returns in a role that “from both vocal and dramatic perspectives, you [would] have a difficult time finding a tenor more suited” (concertonet.com). Margiore recently made his European debut with Deutsche Oper am Rhein and is quickly establishing himself as an international contender in the principal Italian bel-canto and romantic tenor repertoire. He makes his COC debut as Rodolfo, a role for which Margiore’s been called “an ideal fit” (Opera News).

In the role of the painter Marcello, Musetta’s lover, are two standout Canadian baritones: Joshua Hopkins and, in a company debut, Phillip Addis (Oct. 9, 19, 27, 30). Last with the COC in 2005 inCarmenHopkins has been hailed as “an outstanding young baritone with a virile, vigorous yet velvety sound and an immediately evident dramatic authority” (Globe and Mail) and was chosen byOpera News in 2012 as one of 25 artists poised to break out and become a major force in the coming decade. A rising star on the international stage, Addis has performed in opera, concerts and recitals throughout Canada, the United States, Europe and Japan. He’s been called “a star in the making” (MusicOMH) and praised for his creamy, bright, smooth voice as much as for his spell-binding, daring, yet sensitive interpretations.

In addition to Marcello, Addis takes on the role of the musician Schaunard for eight of La Bohèmes 12 performances. He shares the role with COC Ensemble baritone Cameron McPhail(Oct. 9, 19, 27, 30), whose “impressive voice” (barczablog) had its company mainstage debut last season in the acclaimed production of Dialogues des Carmélites.

The role of the philosopher Colline is shared by two celebrated bass-baritones: American Christian Van Horn and Canadian Tom Corbeil (Oct. 9, 19, 27, 30). Quickly becoming a regular in the world’s most prestigious opera houses with a voice described as “a true balm of vocal happiness” (ResMusica), Van Horn returns to the COC after his 2012 debut in ToscaCorbeil is praised throughout North America for his vocal presence and stage craft. Last with the COC in 2010’s Death in Venice, he returns after spending a recent season singing Lurch with the first national tour of Broadway’s The Addams Family Musical.

Rounding out the cast is acclaimed American bass-baritone Thomas Hammons (an impressive Henry Kissinger in the COC’s recent Nixon in China) as the Bohemians’ landlord Benoît and as Musetta’s wealthy gentleman suitor Alcindoro. COC Ensemble tenor Owen McCausland is the toy vendor Parpignol, Ensemble Studio baritone Clarence Frazer makes his mainstage debut as the Customs House Sergeant, and Ensemble Studio bass-baritone Gordon Bintner makes his mainstage debut as a Customs Officer. He shares the role with Ensemble Studio graduate baritoneDoug MacNaughton (Oct. 12, 16).

In creating this new production of La Bohème, Olivier Award-winning and Tony Award-nominated set and costume designer David Farley has taken inspiration from France’s Belle Époque to capture the romance and artistic brilliance at the heart of this opera. The set design, in particular, is conceived as a collage of canvases by the painter Marcello that frame the action within the opera’s changing Parisian locales. Michael Clark creates the romantic lighting design.

La Bohème is based on the 1851 Henri Murger novel Scènes de la vie de bohème, a collection of stories about bohemian life in Paris. While the opera was not a great success at the time of its 1896 premiere, it has since become Puccini’s best-known work and one of the most loved and performed operas in the world. The tale of doomed romance in Paris has inspired many books, films and theatrical productions. The most notable adaptation in recent history is the rock musical RENT.

This new production of La Bohème is a COC co-production with Houston Grand Opera and San Francisco Opera. The opera was last performed by the COC in 2009, and is sung in Italian with English SURTITLES™.

TICKET INFORMATION

Single tickets for La Bohème are $12 – $365 (includes applicable taxes). Tickets are available online at coc.ca, by calling 416-363-8231, or in person at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts Box Office, located at 145 Queen St. W.

Standing Room 

Sixty $12 Standing Room tickets are available at 11 a.m. the morning of each performance, in person only at the Four Seasons Centre Box Office. Limit of two tickets per person. Subject to availability.

Young People
Special young people’s tickets are priced from $26 to $365 (includes applicable taxes). These ticket prices apply to those who are 15 years of age or under, accompanied by and sitting next to an adult.

Opera Under 30
Patrons between the ages of 16 and 29 may purchase $22 Opera Under 30 tickets as ofSeptember 21 at 10 a.m., online at coc.ca, or in person at the Four Seasons Centre Box Office. Program patrons may opt to pay $35, whereby their seats are automatically upgraded to the best available on the morning of the performance they are attending. Opera Under 30 is presented by
TD Bank Group
.

Student Group Tickets 
Student group tickets are $22 per student and may be purchased by calling 416-306-2356.

Rush Seats
Rush seats, starting at $25 and subject to availability, go on sale at 11 a.m. on the morning of each performance at the Four Seasons Centre Box Office. Limit of two tickets per person.

January 2012 “Singer of the Month”: Maria Jeritza (1887-1982)

Maria Jeritza

Years ago, when I began studying Puccini’s Turandot, I came across the name Maria Jeritza in Mosco Carner’s biography “Puccini: A Critical Biography,” along with several other names that ended up fuelling my operatic interests and studies for the next several years.  Jeritza, born in Brno in 1887 is a singer who perhaps deserves more attention than she has yet received, both historically and as a performance icon.  Fascinating because she created several of the most coveted roles in all of opera and worked with the greatest composers of her era, Jeritza belonged to a generation of singer that honed their instruments to a point that any major composer had to seek them, a practice that seems to have dissipated in recent years.  For me, her work with Puccini and Strauss is the most valuable to sopranos who are learning or attempting to sing the roles she created, because she worked hand in hand with the composers and was able to produce the vocal nuances and stylistic aspects they desired in their heroines.

As Turandot

As Marie/Marietta

She created the roles of Blanchefleur in Kienl’s opera Der Keurigen (1911), Ariadne in Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos (1912), the Empress in his Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919), and Marie/Marietta in Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt (1920), the latter also being the role of her debut with the Metropolitan Opera on November 19, 1921.

With Richard Strauss

On November 16, 1926, she starred in the title role of Puccini’s Turandot in its North American premiere at the Metropolitan, where she also created the title or leading soprano roles in Leoš Janáček’s Jenůfa (1924), Ermanno Wolf-Ferrarri’s I Gioelli Della Madonna (1925), Korngold’s Violante (1927), Richard Strauss’ Die Āgyptsche Helena (1928), and Franz Von Suppé’s Boccaccio (1931) and Donna Juanita (1932.) Her popularity at the Metropolitan was, as in Vienna, immense, especially as Tosca, Carmen and Massenet’s Thaïs.

In the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musician’s, it states:

Her Covent Garden performances were confined to seven roles during 1925 and 1926, whereas at the Metropolitan she sang 290 performances in 20 roles. After World War II she made isolated appearances in Vienna and New York (having become a naturalized American). Though endowed with an ample and lustrous voice, Jeritza belonged to the category of artist known as a ‘singing actress’, freely yielding both dramatically and vocally to impulses that were sometimes more flamboyant than refined. In her numerous recordings, faults of taste and technique co-exist with genuine vocal achievements. Archival material from the Vienna Staatsoper in the 1930s testifies to the magnetic effect she had on audiences. (Desmond Shawe-Taylor/R).

In 1948 she married New Jersey businessman Irving Seery and moved to a mansion located in the Forrest Hill neighborhood of Newark, NJ where she made her home until her death in 1982, at age 94. She died in Orange, New Jersey, and is interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington, New Jersey.

Jeritza made a number of 78-rpm recordings which testify to the high quality of her voice. Many of these recordings have been released on CD. She also wrote an autobiography called “Sunlight and Song” in 1924.

From Vienna in May 1923, Puccini wrote a letter to Giueseppe Adami, which indicates the type of power a singer like Maria Jeritza held over productions and over the composers who sought her talent.  He wrote:

Dear Adamino,

In hate: arrived safely.  Cool today, but very warm journey.  There is talk of “Manon” for September.  They are giving “Cappelli Bianchi” in a few days.  Eisenschitz wanted to give you a pleasant surprise.  If Jeritza accepts they will do “Manon.”  If not I shall return to my work.  But I shall stay here a little while for the festivities which they have prepared for me.  They treat me here as if I were the Kaiser or the Crown Prince.  Living is enormously dear.  My bedroom and sitting-room cost 500,000 crowns a day.  I am well.  My thoughts are on the lovely “Turandot,” lovely in her newest attire, thanks to the great “tailleur” Adamino.  And talking of beauty, last night at the Opera, in Strauss’s “Legend of Joseph” there was an ensemble of the feminine nude that would have turned the head of St. Francis.  Good-bye.  Greetings to you from us all. (Giuseppe Adami, ed., “The Letters of Giacomo Puccini,” Translated by Ena Makin, (London: Harrap & Co, 1931), 307).

I find it fascinating that unless Jeritza accepted the offer to sing Manon Lescaut, Puccini would simply just return to his work.  It is also interesting to note that Puccini was at this time already thinking of Turandot.  It is no big surprise that Jeritza would sing its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera.

Mosco Carner recounts:  “Jeritza was to become a celebrated interpreter of this role [Tosca] as well as that of Minnie in La Fanciulla; Puccini himself later declared her his best Tosca and ‘one of the most original artists I have ever known’.  It was, incidentally, Jeritza who by an accident introduced the half-lying position in which most Toscas now address their “Vissi D’Arte” to Scarpia.  In her tussle with the Roman Chief of Police she had, during a rehearsal, slipped to the ground, a position which Puccini considered in perfect keeping with the emotional situation at that moment and which he asked her to retain.”  Apparently, she received over 50 curtain called for her portrayal.

What I love about this last video is not just the singing but the gallant manner of introduction for these two artists, the respect paid to them by the speaker, the idea that opera singers were adored at a level that surpassed the normative artist.  Where has this well-deserved respect and gracious manner gone?  Those who lived during this period had less in terms of technology and methods of communication, but the thought that families would turn on the radio and listen to something like this, together, and in respect of great art, might just be worth turning back the clock…even if for a little while.

© Mary-Lou Vetere, 2012

“Laggiu nel Soledad, Cento Anni Fa”: Fanciulla del West in Review, Then and Now

Months ago, I voiced my opinion about the interesting casting for this important 100th anniversary production of Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West.” Tonight, I recall some of the history associated with this important opera.  In 1910, Fanciulla debuted at the MET with Puccini in the audience and with hand-picked singers, Enrico Caruso and Emmy Destinn.  The libretto was written by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini, based on the play The Girl of the Golden West by David Belasco.

Since I first heard Fanciulla, the score and the text fascinated me for a number of reasons.  In honour of the 100 years ago since Puccini’s Golden Girl premiered, I would like to explore some of those reasons here and also express my opinions on this evening’s broadcast and how the two amalgamate, or separate.

Fanciulla was composed in 1908, after a very emotional and psychologically tumultuous period in Puccini’s life.  It is also the first work in which his heroine does “not” die.  There is a very significant reason for this, one that was very personal and yet effected musically and dramatically in the extension of Minnie’s character.  But, it is not only this that distinguishes Minnie from his other heroines.  Her other supreme asset is her authority over the men…a trait Puccini continues to explore in Turandot. (Effectively, all of Puccini’s have some authority over men, but stay tuned for that conversation in upcoming opera chats/lectures).

The premiere, on December 1910, proved one of the most spectacular events in the annals of theatre. Opera historian, Julian Budden recounts, “The house was packed with notables of every variety–diplomats, generals, leaders of high society, and such artists of eminence as happened to be in the city, among them the pianist Josef Hoffmann, and the composer Humperdinck.  The “Sun” summed up the occasion with the banner headline, ‘GOLDEN WEST IN OPERA DRAWS GOLD FROM EAST’. The performance itself had every appearance of an uncontested triumph:  47 curtain calls and a silver wreath presented to Puccini by Gatti-Casazza amid loud cheers.  Next day a banquet in Puccini’s honour offered by the Vanderbilts.”

After some hiatus, Puccini had given up the idea of working on a “Hunchback of Notre Dame” and instead took on the idea of Belasco’s play, however you will note that the opera sounds remotely different than his earlier works.  In Fanciulla, Puccini not only expands his melodic spectrum, but the orchestra becomes much more present.  Typical of him, as in Butterfly, Puccini adopted western melodies, traditional american songs, and even cadential phrases that mimic negro spirituals and imbedded them within the symphonic structure of the opera. Textually, he instituted a more expansive free-form style than in any of his previous works.  Here, as in Turandot, Puccini demands that his orchestra adopt the palate of the insinuated “tinta;” whether it be Chinese or Western, the orchestra in these late works is fully recognized as a character with which the voices are meant to integrate, alla Richard Strauss, where a web is woven by the presence of the voice as an instrument and the orchestra as a voice.

But, what is more, Fanciulla’s expressive text and the free manner of writing is more firmly linked to the actual inflection of Italian.  Therefore, for Fanciulla to be exciting, it requires a conductor who understands how to balance the colorito (as Puccini called it) in the orchestra, and singers who have a fervent grasp of the nuances in the Italian language (not to mention specific voice colours that are typically lugubrious and rich in the middle.  Perhaps more rhythmic than any of his other works, Fanciulla’s impetus is of “off-beats” and “accents” that create the offsetting western swagger of the Golden West.

The set of the MET’s Production

 

Tonight’s production, which remounts the opera for the 100th Anniversary of the actual premiere on Dec. 10, was well-done, but unfortunately lacked in several of Puccini’s absolutes.  Let’s not forget, HE was there and highly involved in the production in 1910.  Nicola Luisotti, who is well-respected as the newest conductor of Italian productions at the MET, opened with what should be an Allegro ma non troppo in an excited and explosive manner, if not too fast.  It is here at the opening of Puccini’s work that one must linger in the sonorities that he created because of his continual indication that the “Tinta” was initially created by the orchestra and then expanded throughout his web of sound.  If one glosses over these rich chords, it is difficult to achieve the sort of affect Puccini demanded.  For the most part, he kept the orchestra nicely balanced although it sometimes lacked in the lower resonances, which are the scaffolding on which Puccini built so many magnificent moments. Puccini’s orchestral texture ought to be thought of as vertical–that is, stemming from from what might be called “earthly” sonorities (the low resonances of the orchestra), the “middle hemisphere” (where the voice and the motives circulate), and the “ethereal” (the highest sonorities of the orchestra, and often of the soprano).  In order to attain the Puccinian palate, these must be balanced in accordance with the text and emotion that is occurring.  Although Luisotti did a fine job of keeping everything moving and exciting, Puccini’s works stem from a period of opera that requires one to look at “everything” intrinsically.

Maestro Nicola Luisotti

In the opening scene with the miners, the orchestra was slightly overbearing and more attention could have been paid  to the offbeats that require that extra bit of accent to make the atmosphere more authentically western. Although the voices were quite nice, and the scene was well produced, the conversation between the miners sounded too technical and off the page rather than naturally spoken with Italian inflection.  Puccini was a master at capturing the inflection of naturalized text in a rhythm, and so to achieve authenticity or accento puro, one needs to just speak it alla Italiana.  In  this production, Marcello Giordani was the chief representative of this trait.

At the point of Minnie’s entrance, the orchestra might have been balanced toward the higher resonances, the high strings, as is a typically associated with Puccinian heroines.  Ms. Voigt’s entrance was interesting if not slightly under-pitch.  Minnie’s entrance is a difficult one and the role does take some warming up to get into, however  much can be done with Minnie’s character because she is so utterly unique in Puccini’s oeuvre; in fact, it is just as much about her personality and her text than her voice.  One reason, in particular, for which she is so beloved is because she does not die. She is energetic and brilliant and a woman of strength.  Ms. Voigt, while attempting to deal with the difficulties of the music, lacked some of this necessary brilliance initially, although she warmed up to some extremely expressive moments in ACT II.  Her Laggiù nel Soledad was pretty, but too careful in terms of the text.  Her end to the ACT II poker game was most definitely her best singing of the evening, expressive and dramatic.

Deborah Voigt

 

Voigt’s colleague, Mr. Giordani sang with more authentic Italian inflection and exhibited several magnificent moments in the upper tessitura, however, Dick Johnson sits lower than some tenor roles and so the middle voice was slightly pushed this evening.  His singing of “No, Minnie, non piangete” was certainly his best singing of the evening, heartfelt and passionate.  This scene is my favourite because of the impending transfer of Johnson’s melody to the concert master.  Here, Puccini’s masterful chord transitions, as he develops the melody, are illuminating and vibrant.  Luisotti might have taken the end of this section with a stronger focus in the violins.

Giordani

 

All in all, the production was good but not spectacular.  For the 100th anniversary, I feel that the MET ought to have gone out on a limb and presented something more extravagant with this production, especially since the premiere was such a monumental and historical event.  Nevertheless, those who sit in the theatre on December 10, and those who listen to the radio should recall the great man who sat in the old-Met and listened to his music performed in America.  What a triumph for the MET and for Puccini, who with Minnie (the unconquerable) had overcome the most serious and difficult moments of his life.  She is his legacy of truth and those who sing her ought to be blessed with the knowledge that Minnie, above all his heroines, is superlative.

 

©Mary-Lou Vetere, 2010

The Golden Girl Turns 100, But What Would Puccini Think?

100 years ago, David Belasco’s popular play, “The Girl of the Golden West” premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.  Set to music by Puccini and conducted by Arturo Toscanini, the premiere of Fanciulla del West inspired the meeting of American “Cowboy” culture with the passionate European musical palate.  Fanciulla is an opera about redemption, about love, and contrary to popular opinion (as of late) about singing.  The singers who performed the opera at the Met 100 years ago are historically connected to the work, not just because they sang it, but because Puccini wrote the roles of Minnie, Jack Rance, and Dick Johnson especially for them.  Those singers were Emmy Destinn, Pasquale Amato, and Enrico Caruso.

The original Minnie, Emmy Destinn

Therefore, in order to produce an accurate staging of Fanciulla, at least an historical one, it is relevant to know what those singer’s voices were, especially since the composer created the roles specifically for them.  Enrico Caruso’s voice really requires no explanation, for those of us who are opera afficionadi; Pasquale Amato and Emmy Destinn, however, prove interesting.

Baritone, Pasquale Amato

Amato was born in Napoli in 1878 and was for all intents and purposes and Italian operatic baritone.  He was popular in Italy, but achieved the majority of his success in New York City, where he was employed at the Metropolitan opera from 1908 until 1921. His teacher, Beniamino Carelli also taught Enrico Caruso and so they shared similar aesthetic qualities in singing.  Interestingly, the cast of Caruso, Amato, and Destinn performed regularly together for the unity and homogeneity of their voices. His voice according according to Michael Scott in “The Record of Singing,” had a “ringing vibrant tone that could not be confused with that of any other baritone. He possessed plenty of carrying power, masterful phrasing and cantabile.” He died in Queens, N.Y. on August 12, 1942.

Destinn, on the other hand, was also known as Ema Destinnová, who was born in 1878 and known as a Czech operatic soprano.  She was well known to sing Italian opera in Dresden, Prague, and Berlin, and was the original Salome in Richard Strauss’ Salome.  She debuted at the Met in Verdi’s Aida in 1908.  While she was successful in lighter Wagnerian roles, her voice was best suited to the lyrical Italian repertoire.  Her career was halted during World War 1, when she returned to her homeland whereupon her passport was revoked.  She returned to the Met in 1919 but had by then been replaced by a new generation of singers.  The voice was versatile and powerful of long cantabile lines.

What is interesting in this upcoming anniversary of Fanciulla is that the voices chosen to sing do not meld like those that were meant to perform the role.  As of now, the Met has cast Deborah Voigt as Minnie, Marcello Giordani as Dick Johnson, and Juha Uusitalo as Jack Rance.  The opera will be conducted by Maestro Nicola Luisotti.  Although these singers are reputable and well known for many wonderful performances, as a historian this conglomeration of singers is a little off-putting, especially since the Puccinian tinta is one that contributes to the opera’s authenticity.  Unfortunately, this season, the result of several miscast operas has produced the very effect that I hope the Met will try to avoid in the future.  Casting German voices in Italian repertoire and vice-versa actually mars authenticity and that means that the performance fails to create an historically accurate presentation.  Now, of course, we aren’t going to find another Caruso to sing Johnson; even if Mr. Giordani has a viable instrument, it is rather the combination of voices and the necessity for accento puro that will affect this production of Fanciulla if it isn’t properly coached.  Since this is the 100th year anniversary of an opera that is beloved to historians, opera lovers, and singers alike, it is my hope that the Met will view these important historical revivals as they are meant to be viewed.  How about considering what the composer asked for and decided was right?  


Review of Opening night of the 2009/2010 season at the MET: Puccini’s “Tosca”: Washington Post

OPERA

The Met’s Twist on ‘Tosca’? It’s the Audience That Gets the Knife.

By Anne Midgette

Karita Mattila as Tosca and Marcelo Alvarez as Cavaradossi in the Metropolitan Opera's season opener.

Karita Mattila as Tosca and Marcelo Alvarez as Cavaradossi in the Metropolitan Opera’s season opener. (By Ken Howard — Metropolitan Opera

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

NEW YORK, Sept. 21 — If art is a secular religion, opera can be a particularly orthodox sect of it. Certain rituals have become codified with time. In “La Bohème,” Rodolfo always clutches Mimi the same way when she dies. In “The Barber of Seville,” the maid, Berta, always sneezes loudly after taking snuff. And in Act 2 of “Tosca,” Tosca always spots the knife with which she is going to kill Baron Scarpia at a particular chord in the music; and she always sets lighted candles around his dead body before she leaves the room. It’s in the score; it’s in the music; it must be so.

So when Luc Bondy, the director of the new “Tosca” that opened the Metropolitan Opera’s season Monday night, had Tosca fail to do those things, he was virtually guaranteed a lusty chorus of boos.

Opening night at the Met is something of an international observance, particularly since the accession of Peter Gelb as general manager in 2006. Gelb’s first opening night featured a “Madame Butterfly” from the English National Opera by the film director Anthony Minghella, whose presence drew considerable star wattage, with the likes of Sean Connery and Jude Law in attendance. None of the subsequent opening nights of Gelb’s tenure has been quite as lustrous, and with reason: None, including this “Tosca” (which will be broadcast live to movie theaters around the world on Oct. 10) has been artistically as good.

Redoing “Tosca” was going to be sacrilege to some people, no matter what Bondy came up with. The Met’s previous “Tosca,” by Franco Zeffirelli, which dated from 1985, was seemingly set in stone: It faithfully reproduced each of the Rome locations specified in the score, so that you got a veritable postcard of the Palazzo Farnese in Act 2, which plays out in Scarpia’s study, and a faithful reproduction of the last-act Castel Sant’Angelo, from whose parapet Tosca leaps to her death. Zeffirelli, a local hero at the Met, did not go gently into the good night; in an interview with the New York Times before the performance, he dismissed Bondy as “third-rate.”
Bondy certainly tried to clear away the layers of encrustation from the opera, rather like a restorer trying to clear the varnish from a painting. The problem was that he didn’t always seem to have a vision of the strong underlying image he was trying to reveal. His modus operandi seemed to be to get rid of all of the Tosca traditions and start afresh, but “afresh” often involved gestures every bit as gratuitous as the ones he was trying to replace. For instance: Tosca doesn’t place the candles around Scarpia’s body, and place the cross on his breast, after she kills him in Act 2; instead, she runs to the window and contemplates a suicide leap, forecasting her demise at the end of Act 3. Like so many of this production’s gestures, it’s contrived and a little odd without being particularly effective.

Bondy also loosely disconnects the action from its historical time and place without altogether updating it. The costumes, by Milena Canonero (a three-time Oscar winner for films including “Marie Antoinette”), stay in the early 19th century, but the sets by Richard Peduzzi waver in an uncomfortable ahistoricalness. The Romanesque brick church of the first act looks almost like a postwar reconstruction of an ancient cathedral, while Scarpia’s study, with hideous yellow and brown walls hung with big maps of Italy, evokes dreary institutions circa 1960. It is perhaps a perfect setting for Scarpia: so unpleasant it is difficult to be in, for the characters and for the audience.

The star of the evening — her face, chosen as the icon of this season, has been plastering New York buses and billboards for some weeks — was the Finnish soprano Karita Mattila. Mattila isn’t the most Italianate of singers, but she won my admiration by clearly grasping the challenges of the role and throwing herself into it wholeheartedly, even when it didn’t play to her natural strengths. Her voice may not have the iron the role might demand, and she was a little flat on her high notes, but she held nothing back, took abundant risks, and bit into a gravelly chest voice time and again to show the character’s despair.

Her Cavaradossi, Marcelo Alvarez, was just the opposite: His voice naturally fits the role, but he sang it almost carelessly, worrying a lot more about making big sounds than about singing through to the ends of his phrases. You might say he was in a time-honored Italian tradition, and he sounded pretty good.

George Gagnidze was a late replacement when the scheduled Scarpia, Juha Uusitalo, had to withdraw because of illness. Initially small-voiced and dry, he ultimately acquitted himself honorably in a role that was hampered by Bondy’s conception of the character as a weak bully, surrounded by ladies of leisure in his study who try to pleasure him as he sings of his love for Tosca, and then sobbing on his hands and knees when she tells him she wants to leave Rome after sleeping with him to free Cavaradossi.

The strongest guiding hand of the evening was James Levine in the pit, who generally offered a reminder that this opera’s music can indeed still be fresh, vital and (in a couple of solo spots in particular) absolutely ravishing.

For most of the audience, though, the decent-to-good musicmaking will not outweigh the sacrilege of Bondy’s production. Tosca’s stabbing of Scarpia — hiding the knife behind the sofa cushions, then driving it into him when he leaps upon her for the sex she has promised him — was actually quite effective. It wasn’t orthodox, though, and it infuriated the audience still more. Opera, sung in a foreign language with subtitles and shown in movie theaters, has come to resemble a foreign film in the minds of some American audiences: People assume that it needs to be exactly the same each time you see it, without realizing that in live theater, this isn’t at all the point of the exercise.