Monday, March 27, 2017
We present, by popular request, a revised Slipped Disc power list: 1 Anna Netrebko and Yusuf Eyvazov 2 Minnesota music director Osmo Vänskä and concertmaster Erin Keefe 3 Powerhouse Daniel Barenboim, pianist and festival director Elena Bashkirova 4 LSO chief Sir Simon Rattle, mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena 5 Boston chief Andris Nelsons, hyper soprano Kristine Opolais 6 Trumpeter Alison Balsom and new husband, director Sam Mendes 7 Tenor Roberto Alagna, soprano Aleksandra Kurzak 8 Soprano Sonya Yoncheva, conductor Domingo Hindoyan 9 Soprano Elina Garanca, conductor Karel Mark Chichon 10 Conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky and pianist Viktoria Postnikova, together since 1969 11 Conductor David Robertson and pianist Orli Shaham 12 Composers Kaija Saariaho and Jean-Baptiste Barrière 13 Cellist Alisa Weilerstein, conductor Rafael Payare 14 Glyndebourne hosts Gus Christie and Danielle DeNiese 15 Violinist Nicola Benedetti, cellist Leonard Elschenbroich 16 Composer György Kurtág, pianist Marta Kurtág 17 Israeli composers Noam Sherriff and Ella Sheriff 18 Met boss Peter Gelb, conductor Kerry-Lynn Wilson 19 Pianist David Fray, director Chiara Muti 20 Cellist David Finckel and pianistWu Han, chamber music entrepreneurs
The Colón Theatre has always been a tough nut to crack throughout its long history. Even when it was well run (Valenti Ferro, Renán) each day was a fight against obstacles either true or perverse. To be General and Artistic Director is a full-time job that takes its toll on health and demands deep knowledge of many ample and difficult fields, firm ethical decisions, ability to control and delegate as well as to plan ahead no less than two years, preferably three. As a cultured member of the audience consider what it takes to put on a fine interpretation of, e.g., a Wagnerian opera such as "Lohengrin" in a new production. First the dates for five performances, four of them by subscription: even a ten-title season is an extremely complex puzzle (although Valenti Ferro managed to present eighteen!). Crucial aspects: how many rehearsals the choir needs to memorize the music and the German text (calculated by the Choir Director); how many for the orchestra to learn the music and play it with exactitude and style (the conductor´s evaluation); nowadays productions have stage, costume and lighting designers unified by the producer´s vision: how many weeks the artisans and artists of the Colón need to realize the ideas of the production team in time for the scheduled dates? Plus the costs according to budget, the contracts, the proper cast or casts… Multiply all this by the total number of operas, plus similar requirements for the ballet season; add the subscription concerts of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic and its availability for the ballet nights. Add the concerts planned by the Colón in separate series, such as the Barenboim/Argerich festival; and the twenty dates of the Mozarteum Argentino plus a couple of Nuova Harmonia, and you have the legitimate work of a great integrated theatre. Unfortunately more and more intrusions alien to classical music have been given dates, denaturing the purpose of this theatre sometimes to ridiculous extremes (weddings, rock, pop, cinema stars, tango, folklore): there are other venues for all this and only a lack of clear thinking and a desire for juicy returns explain (not justify) these aberrations. During the Macri years as Chief of Government something essential was sanctioned by the Legislature: a very flawed Autarchy Law invented an absurd five-Director structure: General, Executive and three other members supposed to have "recognised cultural trajectory", one of them representing the Colón workers either from the artistic or the technical sectors. No mention of the Artistic Director (!?). Well, lawyers and accountants were named as members in flagrant violation, and the election of the representative of the Colón was delayed for years until Director General García Caffi could be sure that he had the votes for someone who wouldn´t be an independent voice. During the GC tenure happened two things: a) after six very confused and controversial years the Colón reopened in 2010: it had gone through a massive restoration; unfortunately it was incomplete (and still is: the Institute of Art went to a separate building, and many workshops work at La Nube, an insufficient Belgrano building); b) obeying Macri´s gravest mistake, four hundred people were summarily either transferred or left in a limbo without any rational previous evaluation: the 1300 people were reduced to 900 (they couldn´t be fired under the stability law); now we are back at the previous number if you sum the tercerized employees. Come January 2015 and out of the blue GC resigned, invoking private reasons. In this surreal Colón he had been both General and Artistic Direct. Implicitly recognising that an Artistic Director is essential, Rodríguez Larreta chose Darío Lopérfido as General and Artistic Director;he was a very negative Secretary of Culture during the De la Rúa stints as our city´s Chief of Government and then as President. To add to Surrealistic behaviour, later Lopérfido was named Culture Minister retaining the Colón but only as Artistic Director. María Victoria Alcaraz, for some years a low profile Director of the Centro Cultural San Martín, was named the Colón´s General Director. So she was Lopérfido´s superior at the Colón but reported to him as Minister! More Surrealism of bad quality. But Lopérfido resigned as Culture Minister for spurious reasons and came back to the Colón. And now he was offered by the Nation "an irresistible job" at Berlin (no details!) and resigned. Three candidates were evaluated and Enrique Arturo Diemecke was chosen as replacement, though changing the description of the job: not Artistic Director but Director of Programming and Artistic Production. Diemecke, of course, has been the Principal Conductor of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic for twelve years, and he will keep this position during 2017; in 2018 he will leave the post, previously choosing two conductors who will share the Principal Conducting. Lopérfido was a caretaker Artistic Director in 2015, for he respected García Caffi´s programming (only changing conductor and producer for "Parsifal"). 2016 was programmed fully by Lopérfido, and already last November he announced 2017 in every detail, published in a booklet. The press release states that the season will take place as programmed, but Diemecke says that there might be changes in the second semester! And although Lopérfido had advanced a lot with programming 2018, if there aren´t contracts everything can change. He says that he will continue to lead Ópera Latinoamérica and hold "an international representation of the Colón", Alcaraz doubts that this will be so. Our colleague La Nación had interviews with Diemecke, Paloma Herrera (who takes over as Directress of the Ballet due to Maximiliano Guerra´s resignation) and Alcaraz. The latter makes two interesting statements: with reference to Lopérfido: "it wasn´t an easy relationship because we didn´t share ethical criteria concerning management and other subjects". And about the Colón use for shows outside its vocation: "Diemecke and I will decide to whom we will rent the theatre. I have my differences about how it was used recently". It´s worth mentioning what is known about the Lopérfido 2018 opera season. The term used in the information, "comprometido", is rather "firm offer accepted by the artist", it isn´t the same as "under contract". "Tristan and Isolde" conducted by Barenboim; "Simone Boccanegra" with Domingo; Berg´s Lulu" (conductor Brönnimann); "Aida"; "The Tales of Hoffmann" (both conducted by Ranzani and the latter produced by Zanetti); Martinu´s "Julietta", premiere (conductor Kuerti) and Janácek´s "Jenufa". As the operas will be ten, three are missing from this list (one could be an Argentine opera by Matalón, as rumor has it). Says Diemecke: he likes the proposals but doubts if the budget for it will be available. In a recent article I mentioned that Guerra´s job was in danger due to great discontent with his tenure. Paloma Herrera, now 41, seems a good choice. She, like Bocca, is a product of both the Colón Art Institute and the American Ballet Theatre. As she expresses in the interviews, she will apply the same principles of discipline and perseverance of her own career to better the level of our Ballet. She wants more performances either at the Colón or elsewhere. She accepts the programming left by Guerra but wants to add to it. Both she and Diemecke believe in being present as much as they can, but this year they have previous engagements to honour, they will need efficient Subdirectors. And both as well as Alcaraz will have to tackle organisational reforms completely "forgotten" by García Caffi and Lopérfido: pensions, regulations, rehearsal times, and a big etc.For Buenos Aires Herald
September 6, 2017 will mark ten years since the great tenor’s death. The other two will top a commemoration bill that night at the Arena di Verona. Other names have yet to be announced. Bare announcement here .
Jonas Kaufmann ‘I refuse to be lectured on this,’ says Keith Warner about his new production of Otello coming to The Royal Opera in June 2017 (and starring Jonas Kaufmann in a to-die-for role debut, alongside American tenor Gregory Kunde ). I’ve just asked him the straight-to-jugular question – will there be blacking-up? – and it gets him immediately into a cheerfully pugnacious mood. ‘I’ve employed anybody of any colour for any role all through my working life. I would never dream of asking a black singer to put on a white face, so why ask a white singer to black up? That’s not the kind of theatre I’m interested in, and it’s just not necessary: it’s about the audience making an imaginative leap. And on top of all that, it’s of such offence to the black community in London and elsewhere. Why do it?’ So far, so firm. But then a glimpse of the collegial and anti-tyrannical figure, adored by singers for his responsiveness to work in the rehearsal room, shines through. ‘It’s not an edict. It’s not set in stone. Anything can change in rehearsal. But sitting here now, I just can’t see it. I’ve spoken to Jonas about it too, and he’s very sensitive to the issue.’ It’s this willingness to adapt, this delight in questioning everything – even his own dearly-held beliefs – which have made his previous Royal Opera productions so memorable. His Olivier Award-winning Wozzeck (2002) was a miracle of cool insight and gallows humour. His staging of Rossi’s Orpheus (2015) in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse was both engaging and moving. Speaking about his 2007 Ring cycle, he once said, ‘There is no true success in a Wagner production. Only degrees of failure.’ It’s a phrase that charmingly and modestly undersells its spectacular merits. Who could forget that joyous, doomed leap of the incestuous lovers at the end of Act I of Die Walküre ? Keith Warner in rehearsal for Orpheus, The Royal Opera and Shakespeare's Globe © 2015 ROH/Shakespeare's Globe. Photograph by Stephen Cummiskey Now he turns his attention, for the first time in his career, to Verdi ’s late, great masterpiece. It’s getting him excited, as much for the chance to work with his old friend and frequent collaborator Tony Pappano , as for the opportunity to explore the psychological depths of this great work. Indeed, his approach will be to treat the piece as something of a psychodrama, with the issue of identity crucial to the protagonist’s breakdown. ‘In Shakespeare’s time the word Moor had a wide connotation. I can relate this to my childhood, growing up on a council estate in North London, when anybody who came in – Pakistanis, Hindus, Africans – were called “blacks”, usually disparagingly: Moor was a similar catch-all phrase.’ So are Otello and the Venetians confused about his identity? ‘I think so. I’ve also been reading an excellent collection of essays in Shakespeare and Race [edited by Catherine Alexander and Stanley Wells], one of which suggests that Othello/Otello might have been one of the devşirme of the Ottoman empire .’ These were young Christian boys, taken by Muslims from conquered countries as a kind of tax, then sent to Constantinople to be educated as leaders, and then returned as men to be governors of their former homes. ‘Quite a few of these men would turn traitor, and return to their original roots. Could that be Otello’s story? If he’d been taken, and then escaped, and was now working for the Venetian state, the piece becomes about his confusion over who he is. He’s continually hearing attacks about his identity, in which the colour of his skin is really the least important thing.’ It promises to be a memorable interpretation, given Kaufmann’s star quality and Kunde’s deep and unique experience in the title role. This production will replace Elijah Moshinsky’s traditional, period-costume staging, which has been doing sterling service from 1987, in which year Plácido Domingo sang the title role. How does Warner hope to realize his psychodrama concept visually? ‘I want to give the impression that everything turns against Otello. He’s a great hero, and then his whole world collapses, bit by bit, until it comes down to the size of a tiny handkerchief. That’s what I’m after: to start outwardly and go internally. The set will be a huge symbolic play of black and white, moving from light and love into the dark prison cell of his mind. I’d like the audience to feel that it can’t quite define the space any more when we get to that point. I think Jonas will be able to act this breakdown in a way that very few other Otellos have.’ The costumes also promise to riff on this notion of instability. ‘The designer (Kaspar Glarner ) and I have tried to find a kind of look that will use an Elizabethan/Jacobean framework and take it into a modern context. In one sense it’ll be “period” and in another not at all. Materials might be Elizabethan, but the cut not – or vice versa. I hope it will have a kind of universality.’ The production will present yet another opportunity for Warner to work with his dear friend Tony Pappano, with whom he has a relationship going way beyond mere professional respect and shared artistic goals. They regularly go on holidays together and their families know each other well. They met in Vancouver in 1989 when Warner’s English National Opera production of Werther was being revived by the Canadian Opera Company . It was Pappano’s first major operatic job, but Warner was instantly enthralled by the conductor’s energy, musicality and instinct for drama. ‘I went home to my wife that night and said: “I have just worked with the greatest conductor in the world,” because it was immediately clear he was going places. And we hit it off within ten minutes. We started going on holiday together after that, and then visiting one another wherever we were. I was best man at his wedding, and we’ve had more Christmases together than Father Christmas and Rudolf. We’re just great mates.’ But he never loses sight of the extraordinary musicianship and roar-of-the-greasepaint instinct that makes Pappano such a great opera conductor. ‘He really leads a production from the dramatic side, and has totally sure instincts about the drama. When we were doing the Ring, for example, we wanted to put him down in the programme as “Violence Consultant”, because whenever anyone got killed on stage, you could really see that Italian side of him that’s fascinated with the Mafia bursting out. It was fantastic.’ Since there just happen to be one or two gory deaths in Otello too, his consultancy skills will no doubt come in handy again. But opera, of course, is always about the sum of the parts, never just either great conducting, or beautiful singing, or insightful direction. It’s the circle that so rarely squares, but when everything comes together, it beats anything you could ever hope to experience in a theatre. Warner agrees. ‘Tony and I share this idea that opera is actually incredibly close to circus. It’s not for nothing that Verdi makes the role of Otello so absurdly difficult. It has hugely loud passages, but demands sophisticated lyricism too, and it’s utterly remorseless. So part of the enjoyment for an audience is like being at a circus and having that delicious feeling of suspense: is the singer going to fall off the tightrope? Can he hit the high note? Tony understands that in his bones, and I love that. We always feel that we’ll risk everything when we work together. And why not? What would be the point otherwise?’ This article was originally published in the Royal Opera House Magazine, received quarterly by the Friends of Covent Garden . Otello runs 21 June-15 July 2017. Tickets go on sale to Friends of Covent Garden on 7 March 2017 with General Booking opening on 28 March 2017. The production is generously supported by Rolex and staged with generous philanthropic support from Lord and Lady Laidlaw, Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Alfiya and Timur Kuanyshev, John G. Turner & Jerry G. Fischer, Ian and Helen Andrews, Mercedes T. Bass, Maggie Copus, Mrs Trevor Swete, Beth Madison, John McGinn and Cary Davis, the Otello Production Syndicate, The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund and an anonymous donor.
Plácido Domingo meets Plácido Flamingo on Sesame Street (screenshot from YouTube) There are many great opera scenes in films but we shouldn't forget that the small screen has also produced its share of operatic moments. Whether it's deriving comedy from the at-times-bizarre rituals of opera-going, providing thematic commentary or just creating magic, the world's most intoxicating art form has appeared over the airwaves in all manner of guises: The Simpsons - 'Homer of Seville' (2007) This long-running cartoon is famous for its pop culture references and in the episode ‘Homer of Seville’, opera gets The Simpsons treatment. In a typically bizzare opening, Homer hurts his back falling into an open grave, and his cry of ‘D’oh!’ upon hearing the cost of the X-ray reveals a hidden operatic talent . Before he knows it he’s a famous opera star performing in La bohème at the Springfield Opera House (which is remarkably similar to a certain iconic opera house down under). The only catch is that Homer has to lie on his back when singing to hit the right notes. This scene references the famous ascending shot in the Citizen Kane , however in this instance instead of stage hands it reveals Homer's pals Carl and Lenny complaining about their seats. Plácido Domingo, voiced by the great man himself, also makes a guest appearance encouraging Homer’s singing career in the 'locker room' and asking to be called P-Dingo (in a nod to the moniker of rapper Puff Daddy ). Doctor Who - 'Asylum of the Daleks' (2012) Daleks past and present return with a vengeance in the first episode of Series 7 of the BBC’s rebooted Doctor Who . This episode also introduces Oswin Oswald (Jenna Coleman ), who in a future incarnation would become the Eleventh Doctor’s companion Clara Oswald, Oswin’s calling card being the Habanera from Bizet ’s Carmen . Oswin, a former Junior Entertainment Manager on the Alaska star liner, is stranded on a planet where damaged Daleks are herded to be exterminated. She has barricaded herself in her spaceship against the marauding Daleks keeping herself busy by cooking soufflés and listening to Carmen. While evidently the Daleks are not fans of opera, the Doctor recognises it immediately and it seems fitting that he calls her Carmen with her fiery red dress and sassy attitude. Sesame Street - '20 years and still counting' (1989) Sesame Street introduced a whole generation of children to opera through the character of Placido Flamingo , a debonair tenor muppet – ‘the numero uno bird of opera’ – who regularly performed at the Nestropolitan Opera. Flamingo enjoyed many moments in the spotlight including as soloist with the Animal orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa , a duet with Ernie , and performing a scene from ‘The Dentist of Seville’ . But Flamingo’s greatest moment was meeting his famous namesake Plácido Domingo in a special 20th anniversary episode. The two perform a duet of ‘Look through the window’ with muppets from all races and nationalities, proof of opera's power to unite. See if you can watch this clip and not break into a smile. Domingo hasn't been the only opera star to make a special appearance on Sesame Street. Renée Fleming , José Carreras and Samuel Ramey also performed with Jim Henson's iconic creations. Seinfeld - ‘The Opera’ (1992) What do you do when you have free tickets to the opera, your girlfriend is running late and you feel uncomfortable in your ill-fitting tuxedo? If you’re George Costanza, you sell her ticket to a tout. In a classic Seinfeld episode where the irreverence shown to the high arts is only by topped by the time Jerry placed a PEZ dispenser on Elaine’s lap during a classical music concert , it’s opening night of Pagliacci and Kramer has free tickets. Elaine’s new boyfriend ‘Joey’ has mysteriously started calling her Nedda . Kramer has told everyone to wear black tie but refused to dress up himself. Jerry is being stalked by 'Crazy' Joe Davola who is obsessed with Pagliacci and likes to go around dressed as a clown . In true Seinfeld style, storylines collide as the gang finally settle into their seats and George has been replaced by an overweight opera fan. But who did Kramer sell his spare ticket to? Frasier - ‘Out with Dad’ (2000) Over 11 seasons of this Seattle-based sitcom, Frasier (Kelsey Grammer ) and Niles Crane (David Hyde Pierce ) were known for their enjoyment of the finer things in life, so naturally they would have subscription seats to the opera. However on Valentine’s Day things get nasty when both Frasier and Niles want to use their opera tickets to woo women. When Frasier refuses to give up his opera ticket for Niles to have a date with his girlfriend, Niles threatens him with the most horrific fate one could possibly suffer at the opera: ‘May your box be filled with cellophane crinklers and the stage swarming with standbys!’. Unperturbed, Frasier drags his dad along to Rigoletto so he can pursue a fellow subscriber he’s had his eye on. This odd couple’s night out presents many opportunities for digs at opera story lines (‘more goofy stuff that never happens in real life’) and in-jokes for the opera fans. But it is not only Frasier who ends up with a date, the indomitable Martin unwittingly finds himself the object of an opera lover’s affection... Hannibal - ‘Sorbet’ (2013) Hannibal Lecter is well known in film, literature and television for his cannibalistic impulses so it's apt that the opera scene from TV episode ‘Sorbet’ exhibits a fascination with body parts. Beginning with a close-up of a quivering larynx, the camera follows the sound travelling from inside the human body past the uvula and tongue, making its way out through the singers’ mouth. The glorious sound of Cleopatra’s aria ‘Piangerò la sorte mia’ from Handel ’s Guilio Cesare travels across the room into the ear canal of Dr Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen ). It is the first time in the series that Hannibal shows any emotion and proves that even a remorseless serial killer can be moved by opera. Or is he fearful of the notion that the dead can return to haunt their oppressors? Hannibal is full of operatic moments punctuated with classical music . Each episode in Season 1 is named after a dish of French cuisine and this seventh episode of the series also reveals that Hannibal is a keen chef famed within opera-going crowds for his dinner parties. Unbeknownst to his guests, his speciality is meticulously prepared human offal . My Family - ‘Droit de Seigneur Ben’ (2000) Anyone who has ever battled to drag a reluctant spouse to the opera will sympathize with Susan (Zoë Wanamaker ) in this episode of the British sitcom My Family. Susan has tickets to Don Giovanni but being the grumpy misanthrope that he is, Ben (Robert Lindsay ) says he hates the opera, complaining that he never knows what’s going on and ‘it’s as boring as hell’. But Susan won’t be deterred, shrewdly presenting him with a vinyl and translated libretto of the opera so he can familiarize himself with the storyline before the performance. Despite himself Ben slowly becomes absorbed in the world of the opera, discovering that a 17th century Italian opera can in fact pertain to his own life as he realizes he has set up his daughter on a date with a modern day Don Giovanni. Mildred Pierce - ‘Part Four and Five’ (2011) In his five-part television mini-series about a tenacious mother and her bratty, narcissistic daughter set during the Great Depression, director Todd Haynes indulges in his favourite genre – melodrama. Operatic in its pace, themes and length, Mildred Pierce also includes a number of wonderful operatic moments . Always knowing she had a hidden talent that would help her rise above the humdrum, Veda's (Evan Rachel Wood) talent as a coloratura soprano is eventually discovered. The young woman's music teacher compares the coloratura with ‘a snake’ and Veda lives up to this description. Mildred (Kate Winslet ) watches on with mixed emotions – awe at her daughter’s talents, anguish at their estrangement and fear of the monster she knows lies underneath Veda's starry exterior. Veda’s performances are voiced by Korean soprano Sumi Jo and Wood trained with an opera expert to achieve the correct postures and breathing techniques. Veda’s arias provide a thematic commentary on goings-on in the Pierce household from Veda’s first radio performance of ‘the Bell Song’ from Lakmé which foreshadows Veda’s seduction of Mildred’s lover, to the presence of an overbearing opera mother as reflected in her rendition of The Magic Flute's ‘Der Hölle Rache ’.
Placido Domingo has sung the young Verdi’s old king at Covent Garden and the Met at the age of 75. Running him close is Leo Nucci, the specialist Italian Verdi baritone, who is presently singing Nabucco at the Vienna State Opera. Nucci will be 75 in April. He shows no sign of strain. If the voice has lost a little lustre at the lower edge, there is no lack of voltage and the naturalness of his delivery is a delight. At full power, his is still an instrument of wonder. photo: Vienna Opera/Michael Poehn Guenter Kraemer’s 2001 production requires him to suffer a stroke during Abigaille’s coup and to make a miraculous recovery in the third act. He brings tears to the eyes with his disability and a little gulp of joy at his incredulous return to full health. You would not want to meet Anna Smirnova’s Abigaille without an armed escort. She is menacing, brutal and alarmingly lyrical with an apparently limitless top reach. Miro Dvorsky and Roberto Tagliavini were in fine fettle as Ismaele and Zaccaria, but the Tatar mezzo Ilseyar Khayrullova was colourless on her Vienna debut and dramatic tension went limp at the finale. Thielemann’s ex-understudy Guillermo Garcia Calvo conducted with a very long stick. The piccolo, flute and cellos solos from the Vienna Philharmonic deserved threee encores all their own. The abiding memory, though will be Nucci, a dictator defiant of age, struck down by a cruel disease and finding a stubborn way to cope with disability. Moving, at times, beyond words.
Great opera singers