It’s Mozart Week during the Met’s free nightly streams! Forgive the belated post, but it’s not yet too late to catch the Monday night stream of Le Nozze do Figaro, with the absolutely charming Ildar Abdrazakov, and I can’t recommend this production highly enough! The perfect antidote to these days of Covid-19.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the Cosi fan tutte that starts tonight. But above all, the Don Giovanni with Mariusz Kwiecien, Luca Pisaroni, and Stefan Kocán, which is one of my favorite all-around productions.
I do hope to catch the La Clemenza di Tito, which I’ve not yet seen a production of, this Wednesday.
It’s Puccini Week over at the Met’s Nightly Streams, beginning with an opera I haven’t seen any version of yet: La Rondine. And this version stars Roberto Alagna and Samuel Ramey! I’m not sure what I’ll make of the opera, but I’m intrigued to give it a try.
Also difficult to resist will be a rewatch of any La Fanciulla del West, my favorite Puccini opera. I am also intrigued by this casting of La Boheme, which is one I’ve not yet seen.
Have a happy week, everyone…and happy opera listening and watching!
My friend Gabriela and I have long thought that he deserved one, so why not create it ourselves? The incomparable Canadian bass-baritone John Relyea has been a favorite of ours for years. I recall first hearing his voice on the radio, and wondering: “Who is that?” Along with our dear friend and group admin extraordinaire S. Blake Duncan, we now have the beginnings of a fan group, which I will link to here.
I will write an entire separate post (well, probably several, eventually!) about the work of Mr. Relyea, but for now…please feel free to come check out the group, and share or learn about this extraordinary bass-baritone.
It’s a week of bel canto streaming free from the Metropolitan Opera, and each stream will be available for approximately 24 hours.
Due to work this week, I’m not sure I’ll be able to make most of them, but I definitely want to rewatch I Puritani with the great bass John Relyea this Friday ~ which I’ll probably start around 7:30pm Oregon time! It’s one of my favorite operas just for the sheer beauty of listening ~ it’s one of the rare ones where following the plot is not as crucial to me, I just love to listen to it so much. I never did get around to seeing this week’s version of L’Elisir and Norma (Sat/Sun), so perhaps I’ll be able to dip into those as well.
“That’s what I like about Shakespeare, the pictures.” ~Al Pacino, “Looking for Richard”
This blog post might as well have been titled “…And he can sing, too!” which happens to be another of the joking lines that are often used by my family in relation to the all-around marvel that is Jonas Kaufmann.
I finally caved and bought “the picture book,” as I was mentally titling it, having seen the price drop by about $20 U.S.D. recently from one vendor (which, alas, I am not sure is still selling it). But I should have bought it right away. It is written/photographed by Jonas’ friend, biographer, and media manager Thomas Voigt and my lovely friend Christine Cerletti, and it an absolute must for those of us suffering from the happy malady known as Kaufmannia, described in a post from 2016. And who among us couldn’t do with a little more light and beauty right now?
Jonas Kaufmann: Eine Bilderreise is a dual-language, heavily-weighted, and very attractive book, following our hero in pictures through the wealth of his many performances, from snapshots of his “early years,” including Idomeneo and Cosi fan tutte, through his work mostly categorized by composer or repertoire, from “Giuseppe Verdi” to “German Repertoire” to “Giacomo Puccini” to “Verismo,” to “Recitals,” “Concerts,” portraits of Jonas, and even a special little selection of Jonas’ own abstract photos. The introduction by the Director of the Munich Staatsoper, Nikolaus Bachler, as well as those by Voigt and Cerletti, express well the beauty and attractiveness that draw us to the “dark” tenor.
“What matters to him is presence instead of semblance, content instead of an empty shell. Not only do his heroes always emanate a sun-like magic, an inner fire and glow, but also dark presentiment and abysmal depths. Kaufmann does not merely belong to those who have been called, but is among the chosen…” ~Nikolaus Bachler, pg. 6
This is far more than your typical coffee-table book, perhaps because it brings into visual relief the wealth of this unique tenor’s incredibly rich and diverse work in a way both sensitive and insightful. Many of the featured photographs are essentially Christine’s own “screenshots,” some of which those of us in Jonas’ fan groups have enjoyed over the years. They capture moments of supreme beauty and emotion which recall us instantly to the performance. And none can so completely draw us into the emotional depth and interiority of a role as can Jonas.
Christine, in her delightful introduction, relates the way she first heard our tenor’s voice, as she was searching for an interpretation of Schubert’s Winterreise, and she’d frankly been trying to avoid the tenors. But his name kept coming up, and when she finally listened, it was transformative: “I would never have thought it possible that a tenor’s voice could electrify me that profoundly. I was completely taken with its baritonal, bronze, and sensual tone alone, let alone the singer’s eminent musicality and enormous expressiveness. This was not a narrator describing the figure of a wanderer in winter–this was the lonesome wanderer struggling with his fate.”
I think this beautifully sums up what makes Jonas’ voice and interpretation so unique: not only the dusky sound, but his approach to a role as if it had never been sung before. As if from within. This echoes Voigt’s insight into the words of Helmut Deutsch, who had said of Jonas that each time he comes to a role, even one which he has done many, many times before, “not the slightest routine made itself felt, each time it was all or nothing–and each time different,” his energy never abating. Jonas connects to the audience as if mind-to-mind, and heart-to-heart. Or, as Antonio Pappano has said of him, he is “the thinking-man’s tenor.” And he just happens to be a marvelous actor as well as singer and interpreter.
“Whenever you’re on stage, don’t act ‘as if’! This is about genuine feelings! I have learned this from the great stage director Giorgio Strehler, with ‘Cosi fan tutte,’ my very first opera production in Milan. He required absolute, unconditional commitment and passion from us; and this has literally burned itself into my mind.” ~Jonas Kaufmann, pg. 43
Thank you, Thomas Voigt and Christine Cerletti, for such a beautifully photographed and sensitively composed tribute to “our tenor,” and another ray of light in the midst of this ombra di nube.
I know I’m not alone in feeling something of a constant, low-grade “depression” (not to be clinical about it, but for lack of a more accurate word) during what has been a uniquely difficult year for the world.
Countless fires in my home state, Oregon (or is it “Mordoregon”?) ~ one of which started at the north end of my own town, Ashland, this past Tuesday, and caused devastation in its northward path to neighboring towns ~ and all over the West, and the Covid-19 shutdown, and ineffective leadership, and racial injustice…all feel like an oppressive shadow obscuring any brightness in the world. Now, we hardly need more brooding words about the state of the world; rather, we need hope, joy, kindness, good works for our neighbors, beauty, and art. Sometimes it has been all some of us can do to just live, and pray, and work; some of my own opera listening and watching has fallen by the wayside. But it is a sad loss, if that’s too long the case. We’ve lifted up the neglected “essential workers” during this time of pandemic, and it’s beyond wonderful. Now, I feel more than ever how truly essential also are our artists, actors, musicians, and those who bring beauty into the world. I don’t intend to focus on anything but music and opera in this blog, but only to take a brief pause, to remind myself, if nothing else, not to neglect the beauty that we live for.
Speaking of those who bring beauty into the world, one of my opera heroes, Ildar Abdrazakov, has tested positive for Covid-19, and I hope and pray for his quick and full recovery, and for all of his family.
I am so curious as to how, and whether, the Don Carlos from the Wiener Staatsoper, with Ildar and Jonas, will continue as scheduled, in the midst of social distancing. But if does, I’ll be there…virtually!
The latter, set on a platform above a beautiful Mediterranean vista, was so much fun, and particularly the duet from L’Elisir d’Amore, that I finally watched my first L’Elisir! I can’t believe I hadn’t seen one yet. It was a subtitled 1997 version from Lyon, with a very young Roberto Alagna ~ whose Nemorino was very reminiscent of a clumsy, adorable, hapless Charlie Chaplin ~ and Angela Gheorghiu. The whole cast did a lovely job, and the two leads were so delightful.
If anyone else has beautiful, inspiring, or just downright funny and delightful operas to recommend, I’d love to hear them! Meanwhile, here’s a virtual toast to art, opera, opera friendships, and laughter! And prayers for all of our beloved artists worldwide, and for our suffering world.
I couldn’t resist jotting some thoughts on my reaction to the recent and much-anticipated Royal Opera House production of La forza del destino, starring Jonas Kaufmann, Anna Netrebko, Ludovic Tézier, and Ferruccio Furlanetto, even though I’m not very familiar with this opera. When I first became infatuated with opera, I saw a recording of the Kaufmann/Harteros/Tézier version from Munich of several years ago, but that was the only complete version I’ve seen. I was intrigued, but a little confused by what seems a fairly simple story. Perhaps it was some directorial choices that made certain things unclear, whereas many who saw it were probably well familiar with the story from other versions and had no trouble following along.
In essence–SPOILER ALERT–the story begins in the home of the Marquis of Calatrava, who believes that his daughter Leonora has gotten over her infatuation with the foreigner, Don Alvaro (an Incan prince from the Americas). In reality, they’ve planned an elopement, and Don Alvaro shows up that very night, and overcomes the reluctance of Leonora to fulfill their plan. They are caught, however, by the Marquis, accompanied by the pursuing “destiny theme” in the music, and provoke a fight with Alvaro, who has tried to take the blame on himself. Alvaro, in trying to hand over his gun, accidentally shoots the Marquis—who, with his dying breath, curses his daughter. Both Leonora and Alvaro flee the same night, but not together; she believes he has escaped, perhaps gone back to his homeland. After overhearing her brother’s plan to find and kill his sister in order to avenge the family honor, Leonora begs Padre Guardiano to let her follow in the footsteps of another unhappy woman, and to commit herself to the life of a solitary anchoress in a cave near the friary. After some resistance, Guardiano agrees to support her. Meanwhile, after having sought Leonora for a year and now believing her dead, Alvaro joins the fight for Italy against the Germans. Rising in the ranks, he ends up—under another name—saving his foe, Don Carlo (who is also going by another name), and the two swear eternal brotherhood. Alvaro, having become mortally wounded, gives Carlo the key to a box that he keeps, revealing his identity, and asks Carlo to burn the contents. Carlo finds out the identity of Alvaro, and is eager that he should be healed–which is what happens–in order that he may kill him himself. Carlo reveals to Alvaro that Leonora is alive, but will die by his hand. After presumably both time and a game of cat-and-mouse searching have passed, Don Alvaro ends up committing his life to the friary in order to expiate the misdeeds of his past, and is much beloved by the populace. Finally, his whereabouts are discovered by Carlo, who provokes the dormant ire of the now-nonviolent Alvaro; they duel, ending up disturbing the peace of the nearby (dying) anchoress Leonora; Alvaro strikes a mortal blow at Carlo, and as the latter is dying Leonora and Alvaro recognize one another, and the dying Carlo, unrepentant still, kills his sister. During her final, peaceful passing, Alvaro finds in the situation and in her words assurance of his own redemption in spite of the brutal force of destiny.
In Charles Osborne’s book, The Complete Operas of Verdi, I was surprised to read that La forza, based on a play by Angel Saavedra and on a scene from Schiller, was first composed for a Russian audience and performed at St. Petersburg at the Imperial Theatre. The original ending was even more Russian, dark, and Dostoyevskian, coming directly from the play:
“Riva’s play ends, after the duel and the death of Leonora, with Alvaro’s suicide. He rushes to the cliff edge as the Father Superior and the monks appear on the scene. When the Father Superior calls him by his monastic name, Rafaele, he cries: ‘You can search for Father Raphael, you fool. I am a messenger from hell. I am the spirit of destruction….Hell, open your mouth and swallow me. Let the heavens collapse! Let mankind perish!’ And, with a final shout of ‘Extermination, Annihilation”, he flings himself over the cliff….The gentler ending as we know it today stems from the Milan revision of 1869” (Osborne 336).
Anna Netrebko’s low, melancholy soprano and the passionate but sadly tormented demeanor are a great fit for Leonora, and although Jonas is the only Don Alvaro I’ve seen, he fits the role beautifully with his winning charisma as well as his dark and dusky tenor voice and his phenomenal acting ability revealing the character’s guilt-ridden torment.
Ludovic Tézier is a brilliantly cold Don Carlo, whose rich baritone mingles so beautifully with Jonas in their scenes together; the two always have the most compelling chemistry. Theirs is the friendship that might-have-been; it is for me possibly the greatest tragedy in the story. The extent of Don Carlo’s need for revenge goes beyond any kind of bounds of honor; it becomes sheer passionate excess; but one sees, in the budding friendship before he realizes the identity of Alvaro, the potential that this character has. The gorgeous friendship duet, “Solenne in quest’ ora,” is breathtaking.
And Ferruccio Furlanetto’s Padre Guardiano is spot-on; the beauty of Furlanetto’s voice, so brilliantly preserved and rich, is always a sheer delight to listen to, and he plays the role with the appropriate complexity; he clearly admires Leonora but doesn’t know what to make of the whole situation. And, like a well-meaning but possibly quite misguided Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet, allows her to persuade him to an extreme course of action. (His voice sometimes made me weepy just with the sheer beauty of it.)
I liked the simple staging and updated dress, whose time period was a little hard to pin down. The glimpse into Leonora’s childhood with an abusive brother, which we witness during the overture, makes an imaginative and helpful background for Carlo’s fanatical, Javert-like pursuit of his sister and her would-be lover. Thankfully, Christof Loy’s direction is neither overly-symbolic nor unnecessarily ambiguous; any interpretation that can be attached to it is something that one considers only in hindsight—at least, this was my experience—because the drama takes precedence. In Loy’s use of the background film projections of close-up, exaggerated reactions of the prinicpal characters, generally in slow-motion, I was reminded, as was my friend Viv whose review I would love to link here if I can find it on a public site, of the Warlikowski Don Carlos of Paris, 2017, though I don’t believe Loy’s was as creative and inspired as the latter overall. Another curious stage choice was that, whether in the Calatrava household or later in the friary, we seem to be in the same “setting”–a dining room of sorts—and I couldn’t help but wonder if the director wanted us to believe that Leonora was simply exchanging one kind of submission (that of a daughter to an overbearing father) for another (that of an anchoress to a religious father). I appreciated the “deeper logic” that the director was trying to get at in the staging, with the recurring room perhaps more reflective of Leonora’s consciousness and her tormented memories, than the real setting itself.
In terms of direction, the only thing I had a negative reaction to–because it took me “out” of the drama, as not entirely making sense except in terms of directorial imposition–was the scene where the friars are accepting their new “charge,” their new anchoress who will dwell in the cave, after Leonora has persuaded Padre Guardiano to allow her this chance. At a certain point, the mood of the scene changes from the somewhat daunting, somber and inspired piety of the action, to one where Leonora seems to have a last-minute change of mind, but the monks physically force her to stay and she ends up in a restraint position on the ground. Here again, I felt a little bit of the director’s imposition: the idea that she has merely exchanged one form of submission for another. To me, this undermines the strength of the love-sacrifice of the story, and the strength of Leonora’s character. After all, however misguided Padre Guardiano was in agreeing to it, it was her request and her resolve that won the day, and I think we need to respect that in the storyline, as it shows no little strength of character. We are dealing with people of a different time and different ideals, including those of the Romantic—often to the point of melodramatic—19th century stage here, and, in my opinion, the piece is more poignant if played straightforwardly and as though the characters are acting out of their authentic convictions, and not with our own 21st-century abhorrence for the extreme choices of cloistered, consecrated, or eremetic life, with the added submission to authority that is inherent in such a choice. So, while I see what the director was saying, it was, for me, a momentary misstep.
I do want to give a special mention to the fabulous supporting cast. In particular, for me, Alessandro Corbelli gave us some welcome comic relief with his wonderful Fra Melitone, and Robert Lloyd was both haunting and intimidating as the Marquis…such a key role and a key scene in the psychology of Leonora, and of her sad destiny. Veronica Simeoni did a fine job in the role of Preziosilla, though hers was overall, for me, not as strong a performance as the others. (This may be my own unfamiliarity with the opera and the character’s role in the drama, and having nothing to compare with.)
In terms of Pappano’s brilliant conducting and the beauty of the orchestration, nothing could be better. The thrilling final scenes, the Don Carlo/Alvaro duel, and the heartbreaking look on Jonas’ face which brought tears to my eyes—all made for a brilliant finale.
My next Forza, I think, will be the 1958 video recording with Corelli, Bastianini, Tebaldi, and Christoff…and very much looking forward to it!
But I also look forward to revisiting this one; I very recommend this production, which was a good vehicle for an excellent cast and orchestra of this strange and poignant opera.
Speaking of “malaise,” the overworked pace of 2018 kept me on a restricted opera regimen–and, actually, a restricted regimen of any life outside of work!–and I regretted having missed most of the Met’s HDs and radio broadcasts and many of the other broadcasts I would love to have seen and heard. (I’ve generally been MIA from my favorite opera groups online. I miss my dear opera pals so much!) However, things are looking up, and on this restful Sunday morning I’ve been spending time reviewing the recent announcements on the Met’s 2019-2020 season, both on stage (radio, for me!) and cinema.
Overall, nothing stands out in the way that La Fanciulla del West did this past season, with the return not only of this too-little-performed Puccini opera, but of Jonas Kaufmann. Nor have any of my long-term hopes been realized: another big HD role for John Relyea and Štefan Kocán–both of whom are notably absent from any Met performances in the coming season; nor my perhaps quixotic hope that the Met will one day put on a gloriously heartbreaking production of Don Quichotte with Ferruccio Furlanetto, capturing this iconic role in HD for the ages; nor yet the promised all-star Don Carlos in the 5-act French version. Nor do I see anything with King René Pape.
On a few underwhelming notes, what we do have are some of the standby, albeit beautiful Zeffirelli productions–La Bohème, Turandot. (Frankly, I was hoping that they wouldn’t HD the latter again until Jonas Kaufmann finally sings Calaf.) We have an Anna Netrebko feast, with her special concert, as well as the reprisal of her Lady Macbeth and Tosca roles. But we also have Marco Berti back, and Aleksandrs Antonenko.
But I’d rather stick to a few more exciting, positive highlights:
To hear the great Luca Pisaroni‘s Guglielmo and Gerald Finley‘s Don Alfonso in Così fan tutte, although not an HD of the season, alas.
The return of Sir Bryn Terfel, in Der Fliegende Holländer, conducted by Valery Gergiev in a new production.
Stars such as Elīna Garanča, Bryan Hymel, and Ildar Abdrazakov in Berlioz’s Faust.
Morris Robinson’s Sarastro, although the shorter, English Magic Flute.
Diana Damrau and Jamie Barton in Maria Stuarda.
Angel Blue and Eric Owens in Porgy and Bess.
Luca Pisaroni again, as Figaro in the Nov/Dec Nozze.
Luca Salsi as Germont in Feb/March La Traviata–though I’m not overall a huge fan of the opera–and Quinn Kelsey in the Jan/early-Feb performances.
Kate Lindsey and Joyce DiDonato in Agrippina.
Other intriguing cast members: Peter Mattei and Tamara Mumford (Wozzeck); Roberto in Bohème; roles with Matthew Polenzani, Javier Camarena, and the great Željko Lučić.
I decided to write this after being informed about the announcement by my dear opera pal Gaby, but before getting back on my beloved opera groups, and I’m intrigued to hear others’ reactions. Similarly underwhelmed? Or perhaps intrigued and inspired? I’d like it to be contagious, if the latter.
In any case, here’s to a new season–not to mention, grateful for a lineup of fantastic performers–and, hopefully, pleasant surprises.
I know it has been a long time since I have posted. The sadness after Dima’s death nearly a year ago, followed by a nearly relentlessly unpredictable and busy schedule at work, has made it difficult to finally piece together many different ideas and experiences I’ve been wanting to write about. Notes are scattered in many places, waiting to be utilized!
So this is, essentially, only a brief note about a wonderful four days in New York City ~ my first time ever ~ with, I hope, more details to follow. Merely dipping the toe back in the opera posting…and if you are facebook friends with me, this brief summary will be a repeat.
My mom Debra and I made our first ever pilgrimage to the Metropolitan Opera on the trip, starting out with Tosca with the stunning Sondra Radvanovsky, Željko Lučić, Patrick J. Carfizzi, and Joseph Calleja, and we were so delighted to be able to meet some of them after, with the aid of the indefatigable opera friend, Sophia Cerovsek. Tosca was a gorgeous production all around.
And of course the beautiful Fanciulla production which was captured and streamed live in HD yesterday…what can I say? Jonas, you broke my heart yet again…a perfect performance that I can’t wait to see again ~ with close-ups! ~ at the cinema encore this Wednesday night as I dash off from work. I was a wreck again in Acts I and III, moved mostly by the heartbreaking richness of his dark voice. Željko Lučić was a gorgeous Rance…so beautifully done. (I also can’t wait to see his close-ups because I adore watching his face.) Eva-Maria was absolutely fantastic, and the whole cast and production was strong all around…it was an unforgettable day.
But one of the most unforgettable things about this trip has been the opportunity to finally meet some of my dear, long-distance opera friends in person: Laura, Blake, Dash, Sophia, Peter, Joanna, and other friends from the lively Met Live In HD Fans group. It has been a true blessing, and is a large part of the huge joy that is opera obsession.
As I write on this final day in NYC, sleepy but happy, I am thinking with gratitude about all the wonderful friends near and far who share their joy of opera, and with huge gratitude to the artists who remind us why we work and live, and who bring such beauty into our lives.
It will be back to the usual work grind for me personally on Tuesday, but I have more determination than ever not to let work take over my life. Starting with Wednesday evening: nothing will induce me to stay late at work and miss the Fanciulla encore! 😁 Viva Puccini!! 🎶🎵👏👏💛💙💜💚💛 Bravi tutti!!!!!!!!!!!!
I don’t have words right now, and must go to work ~ somehow, eyes red from crying ~ but I just heard the news from a dear friend about the passing of our beloved Dmitri Hvorostovsky. With a broken heart, I add my quiet condolences to those of all of his many, many fans throughout the world. Rest in peace, beloved Maestro. Thank you for all the beauty you have given us. Our lives are richer for your presence. You will always be our Beloved Baritone.