Last night was the Met Gala celebrating the new exhibit "China: Through the Looking Glass." There was a time not that long ago, when art and fashion that was inspired by the East was considered "Orientalism," and was treated as an exotic, mysterious cuture to be celebrated and discovered. This inspiration is incredibly evident in the theatre, especially in opera. The Met exhibition does much to preserve the whimsical interpretations of Chinese culture and esthetic, while the opening night, red carpet gala, satisfies celebrity exhibitionalist leanings, always in theme.
I'll point out some of the more interesting gowns that I saw. Interesting for one specific reason, they seem utterly inspired by Puccini's Turandot. At the end I've included a few other non-Turandot inspired standouts as well.
1. Sarah Jessica Parker / Rosa Raisa as Turandot
2. Austin Lyric Opera Turandot / Lady Gaga
3. Opera di Firenze Turandot / Fan BingBing
4. National Theatre Brno Turandot
5. Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen / Adam Shulman and Anne Hathaway
6. Turandot Costumes: Maria Jeritza / Birgit Nilsson
8. Jennifer Lopez / Imperial Concubine Yang Yuhuan
The city of Verona, with its romantic qualities and artistic history, was not always the stunning tourist destination that can be seen today. The city has a long, robust history and was an important centre both strategically and politically. The original settlement, now known as Verona, was founded by ancient tribes, and the current historic centre was founded during the 1st century BC as a Roman colony. Built on a grid structure, the city has a famously impenetrable defensive wall which could only be entered through two gates, Porta Leoni or Porta Lova, which later became Portone Borsari.
Verona, as a city was founded in 49 BCE and has ever since continued to grow as a stronghold as well as in wealth. Even the word Verona (wehre is german for defend) is attributed to its strength and resistance, and over many centuries to come Verona remained protected from the various invasions that instead left other towns desecrated.
Verona even boasts one of the richest collections of Roman remains in Italy, including what's left of the Porta Leoni; the rebuilt Arco dei Gavi; Ponte Pietra, the Roman theatre; and the Amphitheatre Arena, second in size only to the Colosseum in Rome.
During the 5th century, Verona became the second capital of the Italic Kingdom of the Ostrogoths, was controlled by the Lombards until 774, and eventually ruled by Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire until the turn of the millennium. Many of the city's most prominent religious buildings were constructed during this period including the church of San Giovanni in Valle, parts of the church of San Lorenzo, the church of San Fermo, and the Duomo, rebuilt after an earthquake destroyed it during the 6th century.
The now famous Arena was built during the reigns of Emperor Augustus, and Emperor Claudius as an arena for gladiator combat, games and spectacles. The amphitheatre took on its latest incarnation as a theatrical hall during the renaissance period when it started to be used for theatre performances.
The Arena's very important, and globally impacting history with opera began much later, during the early 20th century on the occasion of the centenary of the birth of composer, Giuseppe Verdi. Tenor Giovanni Zenatello and theatre impresario Ottone Rovato took it upon themselves to launch an opera festival in celebration of the great composer by featuring the opulent, and visually stunning masterpiece, Aida. They managed to secure the prolific conductor Tulio Serafin to conduct the inaugural performance of Aida, catapulting the festival into the immediate interest of the public and while earning respect and importance, and has been a permanent part of the Arena ever since.
With the founding of the Opera Festival also came the founding of the Opera Festival Orchestra, an orchestra of supreme talent and history that has been host to such composers as Pietro Mascagni, Riccardo Zandonai, and Mikis Theodorakis who also participated as conductors. Other conductors who have made guest appearances at the Festival include Sergio Failoni, Riccardo Muti, Zubin Mehta, Rudolf Kempe, Daniel Oren, and Lorin Maazel.
The wealth of operatic repertoire available and access to singers, directors and musicians of the highest calibre means that any opera imaginable could potentially be performed at the Arena, but often, a special spot is reserved for a few key elements:
First and foremost, the operas of Giuseppe Verdi are still celebrated annually. The most extravagant being the opera that inaugurated the festival, Aida, which often features live animals, lavish costumes and innumerable extras, but other favourites such as La Traviata, Otello, Nabucco, or Un Ballo in Maschera will leave any opera lover or opera newcomer in awe of his artistic genius.
The operas of Giacomo Puccini are also mainstays of the arena, his penchant for drama and hummable melodies from the likes of La Bohème, Tosca, and the opulent Turandot are perfectly suited to the grandeur of the Arena and the romance of watching an opera under the stars in Italy.
Besides the Arena, Verona is lovingly remembered as the backdrop for the tale of Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers. Romeo and Juliet are thought to have lived in Verona, some say only in fiction while others believe the Capulets and Montagues really did stroll the streets of Verona. Regardless, Juliet's balcony remains one of the most important and visited locations in Verona, and the programming of the Arena reflects the world's love for the bard and his epic romantic tale. There are two versions of Shakespeare's story that any opera lover will instantly recognize: Romeo et Juliette, by Charles Gounod, and i Capuleti e i Montecchi, by Vincenzo Bellini. Both are gorgeous, unforgettable settings that are often featured at the Arena.
I also wrote the original version of this article: VERONA: FROM SHAKESPEARE TO VERDI A CITY OF MUSIC AND LOVE, which can be seen on the website KissFromItaly .
Glitz and Glamour abound as the COC Vocal Showcase takes Centre Stage in Toronto
The Canadian Opera Company really knows how to promote young talent while raising funds that support the opera house. I know many theatres that could learn from their example. Their latest event is a Gala dinner and competition that will feature the finalists from the Ensemble Studio Competition. The Ensemble Studio is the resident Young Artist Program (YAP) at the Canadian Opera.
I love the way they open the final round of auditions to the public in the form of a concert, instead of hiding away the talent in a closed audition setting. This way the singers get extra exposure, and have the opportunity to be adjudicated during a performance, instead of in a potentially nerve-wracking, and stifling audition room.
The company has the opportunity to fundraise by hosting a swanky event that compliments the competition, and the public has the opportunity to hear fresh talent, have a few cocktails, and if they're so inclined, to enjoy an intimate, post-concert black-tie dinner on stage catered by Chef David Lee. The whole thing is fab, and the audience even gets to vote for their favourite singer. After the concert the winners receive a cash prizes ranging in value from $1,500 – $5,000, and the newest additions to the Ensemble Studio are announced.
Ben Heppner will host the festivities when the seven singers perform on the mainstage accompanied by the COC Orchestra conducted by Johannes Debus. They also have a surprise musical guest lined up to perform with the Orchestra. It's anyone's guess who will be singing.
Some official info:
The young singers featured in the 2014 vocal competition are: mezzo-soprano Zoe Band (Toronto); soprano Eliza Johnson (Stratford, Ont.); baritone Dimitri Katotakis (Toronto); baritone Nathan Keoughan (Charlottetown); tenor Aaron Sheppard (St. John's, N.L.); mezzo-soprano Michelle Siemens (Calgary); and tenor Charles Sy (Toronto). You can learn more about the singers by visiting Centre Stage.
The jury is comprised of COC General Director Alexander Neef, COC Artistic Administrator Roberto Mauro, COC Music Administrator Sandra Gavinchuk and Head of the COC Ensemble Studio Liz Upchurch, as well as Canadian soprano and Ensemble Studio Head Vocal Consultant Wendy Nielsen.
Here are the details of you would like to attend (please send me photos or video, I wish I could be there!):
Centre Stage takes place at 6:30 p.m. in R. Fraser Elliott Hall at the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen St. W.). Centre Stage Competition tickets are $100 and include a pre-competition cocktail celebration in the Four Seasons Centre's sparkling Isadore and Rosalie Sharp City Room. Specially priced $35 tickets are also available for patrons between the ages of 16 and 29 through Opera Under 30 sponsored by TD Bank Group.
OLGA PERETYATKO AT The OPERA OF BOLOGNA IN A MULTIMEDIA PERFORMANCE FREE ADMISSION
A special, never seen before event featuring the music of Rossini! Music, film, live TV, with the public acting as protagonist. This looks like a lot of fun, and it is FREE. "L'evento SPECIALE, in forma mai vista prima! La musica di Rossini, i film, le foto, Live TV recording, dove il pubblico diventerà protagonista, venite tutti, prendete gli amici, raccontate a tutti! preparate le domande, CI DIVERTIREMO!!!! L'ingresso è GRATIS!!"
Tapestry's latest opera event is going to be an unique, provocative telling of 10 new and original mini operas, and site-specific installations that will take place all over the Distillery Historic District in Toronto. You'll be serenaded, and entertained amidst the public galleries, brick lined halls, and distinctive distillery locales while be treated to craft beer and ice cream along the way.
The evening will feature the fine vocal talents of baritone Alex Dobson; soprano Carla Huhtanen; tenor Keith Klassen; and mezzo soprano Krisztina Szabò.
From secrets in suburbia to dating on Queen West West, from a notorious murder to the dystopian world of 1984, Booster Shots offers up a fresh, beautiful and absurd opera and theatre experience with contemporary music and texts. Here are some of the highlights:
1984:THE FOLDED PAPER by Nicolas Billon and Christopher Thornborrow
Orwell's iconic Winston Smith is secretly handed a love note from Julia. Not sure if it is real or a trap, he hides it, agonizing over what it could mean.
THE OVERCOAT by Morris Panych and James Rolfe
Panych's hugely successful reinterpretation of short stories by Russian dramatist Nikolai Gogol, the wordless The Overcoat, is brought to life once again by Panych and Rolfe in a scene where two comically opinionated tailors dominate the man being fitted for a simple overcoat.
MEMES by Nicholas Billon and Dean Burry
A hipster couple on a first date discover they don't have anything in common . . . until they discover a shared passion for trending memes. Virtual romance and hilarity ensue!
TAPESTRY presents TAPESTRY BRIEFS: BOOSTER SHOTS
November 13-16, 2014, All performances begin at 8pm • All Tickets $35 Ernest Balmer Studio, Studio 315, 9 Trinity Street, Distillery Historic District
For more information and to purchase online, visit tapestryopera.com or call 416.537.6066
I saw Il Campiello, at Opera di Firenze Thursday night, and was pleasantly surprised by this gem of an opera. It's by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (Venice, 1876- Venice, 1948) a little known Italian composer who's non verismo, comedic style just couldn't compete with the popularity of Puccini and Mascagni. His writing style is very instrumental in nature, and I found myself connecting to the opera on a symphonic level, more than an operatic. The main reason being the obvious lack of arias. Ariosos were peppered throughout the work between accompanied recits and ensembles, creating a dynamic musical style that continually moved forward. Harmonically, Wolf-Ferrari manages a balance between bel canto melody, and modern harmonic colour, hearkening to the Germanic influence and modernization of music at the time.
The story is adapted from a play by the same name, written by Venetian Playwright, Carlo Goldoni. The beauty of the story is the non-apologetic lack of story. The entire opera showcases the daily goings on of the residents of a square in Venice. There is little plot development in the traditional sense, and little drama. Just a gem of observation and character study. The director, Leo Muscato, took some unique liberty with the historical timing of the piece, while keeping the location and characters true to the story. He placed each of the opera's 3 acts in a different time period, 1700s, 1930s, and 2014. It was a great way to show how life in the square develops, yet remains essentially the same over centuries. It was a direction that really worked, creating interest where a traditional retelling may have fallen flat.
Here's Opera di Firenze's retelling of the evening from their various social media feeds:
Marlis Petersen (Susanna), Peter Mattei (Count), Amanda Majeski (Countess) Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera
I would love to say that Peter Mattei stole the show during the Opening Night Gala of Le nozze di Figaro, at The Metropolitan Opera, but that would be unfair to his cast-mates who were equally worthy of the achievement, such as Amanda Majeski in her Met debut as the Countess, Isabel Leonard, as Cherubino, Susan Menzer, as Marcellina, Ildar Abrazakov, as Figaro, and Marlis Petersen, as Susanna. Since I'm in Europe, I was only able to listen to the performance via live stream, but without a doubt, Mattei has a glorious instrument, approaching the role of the Count wth elegance, ease, and the right air of seduction. I've heard whispers from those in the theatre that in person his singing is absolutely luscious. Amanda Majeski was sublime as the Countess, with a voice that conveyed an understated, slow burning fire. I'm looking forward to watching the full production when it returns as an HD broadcast.
About the production: "Met Music Director James Levine conducts a spirited new production of Mozart's masterpiece, directed by Richard Eyre, who sets the action of this classic domestic comedy in an 18th-century manor house in Seville during the 1930s." The Met
Amanda Majeski, "Porgi amor" The Met, dress rehearsal, 2014
Isabel Leonard, "Non so più" The Met, dress rehearsal, 2014
Peter Mattei, "Deh vieni alla finestra" La Scala, 2011
Marlis Petersen (Susanna), Isabel Leonard (Cherubino), Amanda Majeski (Countess) Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera
Spending their way out of a recession, blaming the artists, blaming the management, blaming the public then rustling up the public, rounding up union members, scare tactics. This summer played out like an opera at The Met, full of twists, turns, and potential tragedies, but thankfully things have settled down and the season will begin, as originally scheduled, with Le Nozze di Figaro, on September 22. It will be a black tie gala that will hopefully serve to rebuild the relationship between the public, the management and the artists, all in the name of artistic excellence. You can read all about the results of the contract negotiations, and about the new season here.
Ildar Abdrazakov (Figaro), Marlis Petersen (Susanna) Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera
If you are in Toronto, and are looking to have a meaningful discussion about the future of arts and culture in the city, you might want to check out some of the upcoming roundtable discussions being organized by Salon West. They are an informal way for the public, artists, and companies to discuss and create.
The next salon will be on September 26th at 8:30pm, Heliconian Club, 32 Hazelton Avenue.
"StateOperaViennaNightBackside" by Markus Leupold-Löwenthal - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Franz Welser-Möst, and Bertrand de Billy have both stepped down as conductor within a two week span. Welser-Moest on Sept. 5, and De Billy on Tuesday.
"It has to do with singers and directors; it has to do with the entire domain that determines the artistic direction of the house. Believe me: this is a is very painful decision for me," said Franz Welser-Möst, "one of Austria's most famous conductors, said he had informed the opera house's artistic director, Dominique Meyer, of his decision to resign, due to "long-standing artistic differences that were not resolved in several discussions". The Independent
"Bertrand de Billy says he refuses to work under opera director Dominique Meyer, mentioning "dishonesty" and "lack of loyalty." Washington Post
It seems like management, and artists are having a few too many problems in recent years. Let's hope that some real change happens soon.
The opera tenor Roberto Alagna, who started out signing in a Paris pizza bar, confessed to a huge admiration for Barbara and said he learned from her how to perform in small spaces like L'Ecluse, whichseat no more than 60 people, most of them eating their dinner through a performance.
I recently wrote an article outlining the managerial issues at the Met Opera, which emphasised the American Guild of Musical Artists' (union) perspective on the budget cuts and processes. I felt that the amount of PR available to General Manager, Peter Gelb, to present his position warranted my inclination towards presenting the point of view of the company's artists.
As a follow up to my previous post, I would like to include an update on the situation, and information on the union lock-out that will potentially happen at the beginning of August. A lock-out is when workers are prevented from doing their job by the authoritative power. This is different than a strike, which is a work stoppage activated by the workers themselves. Below I have included the full statement, made by the American Guild of Musical Artists, which was posted yesterday on their Facebook page. This is not an official statement to the press, but an internal update.
"To: AGMA-represented principal artists From: Alan Gordon Re: Update on Met Negotiations
Sadly, I have to report to you that recent developments at the Met make it a virtual certainty that Peter Gelb will lock out all of the Met's performers, instrumentalists, stagehands and other performers on or after August 1st. In turn, the eventual result will likely be the cancellation of all Met performances throughout 2014, and possibly for the entire season, and perhaps beyond.
Bicycle Opera Project members, from left, Christopher Enns, Tristan Durie, Larissa Koniuk, Geoffrey Scott, Stephanie Tritchew, Chelsea Shanoff and Wesley Shen.
I love hearing about innovative arts projects and collaborations. Bicycle Opera have been on my radar for a while, and I am happy to say that they are receiving some deserved recognition for their dedication to sustainable travel, and dispursment of culture across the province of Ontario. I have included below an article recently printed in the Toronto Star, featuring The Bicycle Opera Project.
There is no clear-cut path to becoming a successful artist. Success is subjective, often defined by the artist, and the struggles and sacrifices one has made to pursue their craft can be difficult to understand. Many give up pursuing their artistic passions because of the many obstacles, and the inherent instability an artistic career can bring. These people may not ever see the fruits of their years of dedication, study, practice, nor of their financial investment.
Now imagine being an aspiring young, black, opera singer in post-Apartheid South Africa, dedicating your life to an art form that has frequently been associated with white performers and audiences. The documentary "Ndiphilela Ukucula: I Live to Sing," by Julie Cohen, does exactly that, chronicling the particular struggles that three opera singers at the University of Cape Town Opera School face.
"Decades after the end of apartheid and Nelson Mandela's election as South Africa's first black president, the nation struggles to fulfill the promise of a transformed society. At the University of Cape Town's once all-white opera school, both the struggle and the promise are embodied in an enormously talented group of classical singers from the black townships. When the opera school opened its doors to black students after apartheid, faculty members were awed by the wave of gifted singers that poured in. Many learned opera in competitive community choirs in the townships, while others heard it only on TV. Today, the school is two-thirds black and mixed race, and is achieving greater success than ever in propelling graduates to the world opera stage. Recent alumni are now achieving great acclaim at venues such as The Metropolitan Opera in New York City, and La Scala in Milan, Italy.
Ndiphilela Ukucula: I Live to Sing (half of the title is in Xhosa, the native language of many of the black students) is a documentary and performance film following three of the opera school's top students through a year in the program. The filmmakers travel with the students from their home townships, where they've faced financial hardship and in some cases health struggles, to Cape Town, where they perform in the city's opera hall, once a flash point in the anti-apartheid movement, to New York where they sing at the prestigious Glimmerglass Festival. Along the way, they confront everything from racial politics to tuberculosis to their parents' fears that opera is not a suitable career. Filmmaker: Julie Cohen" American Documentary Film Festival
Anyone fortunate enough to have tickets to see Mozart's Così fan tutte or Rossini's Le Comte Ory at La Scala di Milano this week just got struck by some bad luck. This evening's production of Così fan tutte has been officially cancelled, and the opening of Le Comte Ory scheduled for Friday, July 4, 2014, is equally at risk. The reason behind the cancellation is a multi union strike, which includes workers and orchestra members.
The two major issues that the unions have taken issue with are, the intended changes with regards to sick days. The proposal is that workers who are absent due to illness will have a salary reduction of 40-50% during the first 10 days of absence. The second issue involves musicians who teach in conservatories and universities abroad. They have been presented with an ultimatum, choosing between their place at the theatre or their work outside of Italy. This is due to a stipulation that constrains them to teach in Italy only. These educators feel there should be an allowance for teaching outside of Italy.
There has been a lot of discussion about the financial situation at The Metropolitan Opera in recent months. The media has been bombarded with remarks from Metropolitan Opera General Manager, Peter Gelb, citing the demise of opera, its imminent death and the aging audiences as the reason the opera house is now falling into debt and supposedly facing bankruptcy. From reading the various articles and interviews with Gelb, one begins to get a sense of being distracted from other important factors, thanks to the foresight of the Met's most prominent, and influential character. Gelb has been publicizing the financial problems, and exposing average salaries of the orchestra and chorus members, making the case that their wages are compromising the company as one of their greatest expenditures. This action has given Gelb some fuel to talk union pay cuts while garnering sympathy.
When, instead, the focus shifts towards the management of the company, the story starts to fill out in a way that few outside the Met's internal community could explain. The Met Opera Orchestra, and Local 802 AFM, the union representing the musicians, have released a public statement, which clearly explains The Metropolitan Opera's current financial situation, arguing that the budget problems and deficit has less to do with the cost of paying musicians wages, and more to do with the failing artistic vision and mismanagement of Peter Gelb.
I have available here the full statement, with financial figures and box office numbers. Please take to time to read the document, and reflect on the media campaign Gelb has recently launched. The document emphasizes the manner in which the budget has been handled over the last seven years, under Gelb's management. There has been an increase of spending in all areas, including musician and management wages, but most notable is the huge increase in spending on media and new productions. According to the budget documents acquired by the union,
Julie Jacobson / Associated PressPeter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera
"This figures vary dramatically from the information the media has received, claiming, "When the Met's finances are in order — payroll for 3,400 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees eats up 75 percent of the Met's $330 million annual operating budget — Gelb's most important job is artistic director."
It is yet to be determined where the truth lies. Considering how little increase there has been to the production costs over the last seven years, and the large increase in other new spending, it appears that the Met's ideal budget is lowered at the cost of the singers, instrumentalists, seamstresses, stage management, actors, lighting and tech crew, ushers, box office employees, maintenance staff, essentially the people that make the shows happen, rather than publicity and spectacle. Is this a healthy compromise? I suppose it all comes down to what draws audiences to the theatre.
"The Met is seeking to cut its labor costs to deal with a number of serious challenges: box-office revenues have been declining; costs have been rising; and although the company has bridged that gap with record fund-raising, it has also drawn heavily on its endowment. The Met's endowment was valued at $253 million at the end of last year — less than its operating expenses that year, which were $327 million."
Michael Mayer's new production of Rigoletto, set in Las Vegas
Much of the criticism has been surrounding the increased spending on new, modern revivals of repertoire productions, and the recent emphasis on the visual aspects of the performance, rather than on the comprehensive artistic quality of the productions. Over the last few years, visually spectacular shows and the Met's "Live in HD" experience have become central elements. Some say Gelb is pandering to new audiences, to those who wouldn't normally attend a live performance at the theatre, while ignoring the company's loyal patrons and opera loving supporters.
"It's hard to defend myself without sounding defensive," Gelb said. "What's difficult and frustrating for me is that so many critics seem to have so little appreciation for what we're trying to do theatrically. I think there is a lack of understanding about our effort to make these productions appealing to an audience that may or may not know much about opera." NYTimes
Critics have also begun to rail against the noticeable decline in vocal quality, often at the mercy of more realistic acting or an improved visual presence.
The Met's new Ring cycle, directed by Robert Lepage
In a post on The Times's Web site, Joe Pearce said he wondered whether Gelb understood the difference "between his true opera-loving audience and the happening-seekers he would convert" and dismissed as nonsense the idea that new meaning could be found in great works of art "through semi-Eurotrash reimaginings by third-rate theatrical minds." The bigger issue, he told me — bigger than any one opera-company general manager — is the decline of vocal artistry. "Singers are no longer being trained to act with their voices like they used to do," he said. "Now they act with their bodies." NYTimes
Gelb's vision seems to be based on a false ideal, that opera is, or should be a central form of entertainment in today's society. Surely many lovers of opera and classical music would agree that it seems unrealistic that classical music could outperform or match the popularity some other more commercial forms of entertainment, so why even try to compete? It is an idea that seems to contradict the tradition. Many people attend operatic productions precisely for the tradition it represents, not because it is a short-form of entertainment. Gelb goes on to contradict himself when he cites tenor Luciano Pavarotti, as central in the attraction of past audiences. He essentially points out how much of an influence the singer in the production has on ticket sales, rather than flashy sets and marketing. Gelb claims that
"We've embarked on a strategy to make the Met more accessible, including last season's abridged "Magic Flute," for families. The audience is shrinking. I fault our times and short-form entertainment. The days of Pavarotti standing center stage and selling out are gone. Then opera still had a foothold in popular culture. It's a niche now." Bloomberg
I question why Gelb feels opera is inaccessible. I would think that a lack of education on the art form, and perhaps performances in foreign languages would create more of a barrier to new audiences than the theatre's status as "niche".
An example of the hyperawareness of the Met's media image can be understood through Gelb's presence in the preparations for "The Met: Live in HD"
"After checking overnight box-office totals and other automated reports, Gelb typically uses the predawn hours to telephone agents, artists and opera impresarios in Europe and Japan. But this morning in late October, only months after his most difficult season — a season of scathing reviews that indicted him for accenting spectacle over cohesive drama and various other felonies having to do with his taste, temperament and sensitivity to criticism — he has decided to overhaul a script. Any underling could handle the job of rewriting remarks for the soprano Sondra Radvanovsky when she introduces the Met's "Live in HD" broadcast of "Otello" in two days, but Gelb is an unabashed micromanager, and the Met's "Live in HD" broadcasts didn't become his capital achievement because he let somebody else make the coffee." NYTimes
Sources for this article:
Met Orchestra Musicians Local 802 AFM Presentation to the Board of Directors of The Metropolitan Opera Association Announcement and Full Report
Host Hugh Jackman (C) onstage during the 2014 Tony Awards. Credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images
The 68th Annual Tony Awards ceremony was held this past weekend at Radio City Music Hall in New York, and in Broadway style featured some of today's greatest singers, dancers, musicians, directors, writers and choreographers mixed in with Hollywood and Music's most memorable names and films. Some of the evening's winners included the award for best musical, which went to "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder," and the award for Best Play, which went to "All The Way," by Robert Schenkkan.
Winner: Best Play
ALL THE WAY by Robert Schenkkan
A gripping new play about a pivotal moment in American history starring Bryan Cranston as President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Winner: Best Musical
A GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER
A new musical comedy set in England's elegant Edwardian era that shows just how low we'll go to make it to the top.
Winner: Best Revival of a Musical
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH
Neil Patrick Harris stars in the Broadway premiere of the legendary John Cameron Mitchell/Stephen Trask rock musical.
Winner: Best Original Score
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Winner: Best Actor in a Play
BRYAN CRANSTON, in All the Way
Winner: Best Actress in a Play
AUDRA MCDONALD, in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill
Winner: Best Actor in a Musical
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS, in Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Winner: Best Actress in a Play
JESSIE MUELLER, in Beautiful–The Carole King Musical
Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka has been honoured with the Paul de Hueck and Norman Walford Career Achievement Award, a $20,000 prize granted by the the Ontario Arts Foundation biannually in areas of keyboard artistry, art photography and singing. The award honours the career of a working artist.
It seems fitting that Pieczonka receive the award, as she is one of a small number of Canadian opera singers who has solidified an international career, while maintaing a balance of performance and continued education in Canada. Last year alone Pieczonka gave four public masterclasses for young opera singers in Toronto and London, while performing roles in Ontario, Italy, France, and across Germany. In 2014 Pieczonka will perform locally in as Amelia in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Verdi’s A Masked Ball, as well as appear in operas at La Scala, Covent Garden and with the Bavarian State Opera.
This is not the first time her enviable career has been recognized, Pieczonka is an Officer of the Order of Canada, an Austrian Kammersängerin, and has received two Juno Awards.
When asked about her future intentions, Pieczonka gave the following insight: “My plan is to sing until I am 60 or so in my current roles. I don’t necessarily want to go into ‘old bag roles,’” she says. “I want to stop at my peak, with my star not fading, and devote myself to fostering and mentoring.”
On November 26, 1963, Italian soprano Amelita Galli-Curci (1882-1963) died of emphysema at the age of 81. The great soprano, known for her coloratura and command of the bel canto repertoire was also one of the first divas of the recording industry. Her contribution to the history of the art form is only complimented by our ability to listen to her various Gramophone recordings.
Amelita Galli-Curci studied piano at the Conservatory of Milan and taught herself how to sing, after the Pietro Mascagni, composer of "Cavalleria Rusticana," heard her and encouraged her to study towards a career as an opera singer. Born in Milan, of Italian and Spanish descent, her father was a banker, and could afford her the advantage of learning about the art-form and hearing world class opera singers live at La Scala from a very young age.
"'I learned about the operas,' she said, 'from going to La Scala Theatre. I heard them all from the time I was 6 years old.' As for acting, ten lessons from Valvassura, whom she called a rival of Bernhardt in 'Tosca,' sufficed. She did not, like too many young singers, pin faith to instructors nor to tricks of song. 'The coloratura is not enough by itself,' she exclaimed. 'The same 'cikeraki, cikeraki' is a little annoying. The public grows tired. A lyric style is important first.' She studies locked in her room, listening to her records on American talking machines." New York Times, January 27, 1918.
She made her debut at the Constanzi Theatre in Rome as Gilda in Rigoletto in 1910, and made her New York debut in 1918 singing the title role of "Dinorah" at the Lexington Theatre.
"Her debut here was a veritable triumph; she was cheered for twenty minutes after the big scene in the second act, and from that time hers has been an operatic fame almost the equal of Caruso's" The New York Times, February 8, 1921.
Galli-Curci's emphasis on the lyric quality of the voice and the elimination of frivolity or musical "tricks" as she called them, was one of the reasons she became such a sensation. She approached this repertoire with intelligence and substance, giving emotional weight to the roles and music while maintaining a celestial, delicate vocal quality.
According to the New York Times, "her singing is of lyrical quality, however, a 'voice that floats,' with singular purity of tone, and an even range of about three octaves. She speaks and sings in seven languages." New York Times, February 8, 1921.
"She has an uncanny intelligence; and because of this you know that she does not use the great gift of her voice merely for the display of its own possibilities, but as a means to the higher ends dictated by her artistic consciousness." New York Times, February 10, 1918.
With the public and critical interest in the performance style of Galli-Curci, came a change in the way bel canto operas were perceived. There had been a decline in interest, in Chicago and New York City, of operas featuring coloratura singing that became rekindled with the debut of Galli-Curci. The same phenomenon of a singer bringing depth and substance to bel canto roles, and subsequently sparking the public's interest in the style of composition, can also be attributed to such sopranos as Joan Sutherland and more evidently, Maria Callas. Herbert Witherspoon, retired operatic bass, singing teacher, and eventual general manager of The Metropolitan Opera, explains this cycle quite eloquently for the New York Times:
"In recent years the public has been starved of this type of singing...The history of music has moved in cycles; the musical-dramatic ideals of the early Florentines gave place to operas in which the thought and dramatic quality was next to nothing, and the vocal acrobatics of the prima donna took on almost the whole importance. Then, in turn, came another reaction, and in the realistic operas of recent years we have seen almost the complete disappearance of the sort of music in which Mme. Galli-Curci has displayed such distinguished ability. This imposed quite needless and unreasonable limitations upon the art of song. There was nothing the matter with coloratura singing in itself; the objections to it were objections to the quality of many coloratura roles, the type of opera in which they were found, and the needless degredation of all the other factors that should blend in their composition-the bad results that would be found in any art if it were shut off from a considerable portion of the field which it should cover. They can be found in the general decline of our singers in the last twenty years…Now comes a singer like Galli-Curci and gives the public something it wants and has unconsciously longed for. IT is impossible that her example should not bring results. More coloratura sopranos will be developed, as it is evident that the public taste still likes them; and this means, od course, that the old operas are going to be revived with much greater frequency. They will be restudied, cut no doubt, altered here and there; but they will be revived, and with them will grow up a school of singers who can sing them." New York Times, February 10, 1918.
Amelita Galli-Curci singing "Si, Carina" from Meyerbeer's Dinorah. Victor recording, June 17, 1924:
Here is a short radio interview with Galli-Curci, broadcast on KFC radio in November, 1963, where she discusses the early recording process, vocal technique, Joan Sutherland, her career, and gives some solid advice for young singers:
"Noi in questo Elisir abbiamo voluto ritornare ad es- sere Peter Pan, perché la freschezza della musica magnifica di Donizetti unita alla leggerezza di cui parla Calvino nelle sue Lezioni americane"
In this Elisir we wanted to go back to being Peter Pan, because the freshness of the magnificent music of Donizetti, paired with the lightness that Italo Calvino described in his book Lezioni americane.
The opera, which is currently running at Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, takes place in a performing arts school in America, where each student dreams of fame and glory. Adina is the most popular girl in school, Nemorino the loser, Belcore is the school bully who has a thing for cheerleaders, and Dulcamara is That Guy who graduated years ago, but keeps coming back to high school to relive his glory years. This is where the elixir of love rules, making every moment seem perfect. Where you can find a love that brings you to paradise, or that ultimately destroys you.
L'elisir d'amore GAETANO DONIZETTI Melodramma giocoso in due atti di Felice Romani Musica di Gaetano Donizetti Edizione: Edwin Kalmus & Co., Inc., Boca Raton, Florida
Nuova produzione Allestimento del Teatro Comunale di Bologna Direttore di Programmazione e Produzione Marco Zane Direttore Allestimento scenico Tiziano Santi Con sopratitoli a cura di Prescott Studio, Firenze
Nemorino Giorgio Berrugi - Alessandro Scotto di Luzio (16, 19, 21)
Belcore Mario Cassi - Julian Kim (16, 19, 21)
Il Dottor Dulcamara Marco Camastra Giulio Mastrototaro (16, 19, 21)
Giannetta Elena Borin
Direttore Giuseppe La Malfa
Regia Rosetta Cucchi
Scene Tiziano Santi
Costumi Claudia Pernigotti
Luci Daniele Naldi
Video proiezioni Roberto Recchia
Assistente regista Stefania Panighini
Maestro al pianoforte Andrea Severi
TEATRO COMUNALE di Firenze
Venerdì 15 novembre 2013, ore 20.30
Sabato 16 novembre, ore 20.30
Domenica 17 novembre, ore 15.30
Martedì 19 novembre, ore 20.30
Mercoledì 20 novembre, ore 20.30
Giovedì 21 novembre, ore 20.30
Act I. The entrance to Adina's farm. The harvesters are resting in front of the farm- house after working in the fields, while the rich and capricious Adina is sitting apart reading the story of Tristan and Isolde. Nemorino, a shy peasant, who is very poor, is watching her, consumed with love for her. At the request of everyone pres- ent, the young girl reads with incredulity the strange story of Tristan who suc- ceeded in obtaining Isolde's love through a magic potion which everyone then dreams of possessing. A platoon of soldiers arrives headed by the conceited Ser- geant Belcore who gives Adina a bunch of flowers and proposes to her, certain that she reciprocates, but the girl shows that her suitor does not interest her par- ticularly. Nemorino plucks up courage to propose to Adina but she rejects him saying she is too fickle to tie herself to one man and advises him to look for an- other girl.
The village square. A trumpet call can be heard and Doctor Dulcamara arrives in an showy carriage, arousing general curiosity; he is, in fact, only a charlatan who goes round from town to town selling bottles of his "elixir" which is supposed to cure every kind of malady. The naive Nemorino immediately asks him for the magic potion of Queen Isolde thinking that in this way he will awake the love of Adina. Taking advantage of his naiveté Dulcamara sells him a bottle of wine, assuring him that he will feel the incredible effect after only a day, time enough for him to put some distance between himself and the village. Nemorino happily drinks the wine and sure of the magic power of the"elixir"he appears happy and indifferent before Adina; the girl is surprised and irritated by the changed attitude of the young man and to revenge herself for his indifference she decides to accept the courtship of Belcore and marry him that very evening as the sergeant and his men have to leave the following morning. Nemorino is desperate and begs Adina to put off the wedding until the following day when, according to the doctor's prom- ise, the elixir is bound to take effect, but the girl again rejects him and the young man smarts under Belcore's ridicule: the marriage will take place and the whole village will be invited to the celebrations.
Act II. Inside Adina's farmhouse. Everyone is already singing and drinking happily while busy preparations for the imminent wedding are being made; Dulcamara also takes part in the celebrations and suggests that he and the bride should sing a lively song together. Belcore announces the arrival of the notary and the bride and bridegroom leave to sign the register followed by the rejoicing crowd. Dul- camara is left alone at the wedding table reflecting on the pleasure of such fes- tivities when he is joined by Nemorino who asks him what he must do to win the heart of the girl. The doctor advises him to drink another bottle of his elixir and the young man, who has no more money, has to hurry off and look for some if he wants a second dose of the magic potion. While Nemorino is wondering how to find sufficient money, he is joined by Belcore who says he is amazed by the ex- traordinary behaviour of women; Adina loves him but wants to postpone the wedding until evening. The sergeant sees his rival is desperate and advises him to enrol in the army; military life will bring him joy, glory, fleeting love affairs and twenty scudi prize money. The young man accepts in order to receive the money to procure the filter and although he is worried about his decision hurries to join Dulcamara who awaits him at the Partridge Inn.
Rustic courtyard open at the back. News has reached the village that Nemorino has become rich after suddenly inheriting a large sum of money. Everyone is talking about it but the young man has not yet been notified. A peasant girl, Giannetta, was the first to hear the news and is telling everyone about it but she implores them not to mention it. Nemorino arrives, and after drinking another bottle of elixir his hopes are raised once more. Everyone looks at him with different eyes now he has be- come a good match for the village girls, but he believes that this unusual interest is due to the effect of the magic potion. Meanwhile Adina and Dulcamara arrive on the scene and are surprised to see the young man courted by all the girls. Nemorino happily thanks the mystified doctor. Adina, on the other hand, con- vinced she would find her suitor in tears, is jealous and in this way she discovers that she is in love. She has also found out that he has enrolled in the army and would like to speak to him but Giannetta and the other peasant girls drag the young man off to the ball. Adina and Dulcamara are left alone and Adina discovers that the reason for this change is the elixir and that Nemorino has only signed up for money in order to buy the potion. The girl is now desperate; she loves Nemorino but he does not seem to notice her any longer. The doctor offers her the filter but the young girl is certain that her charm will be enough to win back the lost lover. Nemorino sees a "furtive tear" fall from the eyes of Adina and realises that he is loved but he decides to continue to pretend to be indifferent until the girl reveals her true feelings. She, in the meantime, has bought back the youth's contract of en- rolment and gives it to him without any further comment. The young man is dis- appointed and refuses to accept it; if Adina doesn't love him he prefers to go off and be a soldier. Only at this point does the girl confess her love and the two are at last happy. Belcore, followed by his garrison, joins the two lovers; he realises he has been defeated by his rival but consoles himself by thinking that, after all, the world is full of women. The real winner of the whole story is, however, Dulcamara, who gives himself the credit for the happy ending and leaves the village to the accla- mations of the crowd, having proved yet again the virtues of his elixir of love.
There is no denying that politics and the economy have caused major problems for the arts in Europe, but to hear an honest account of the cultural climate in Italy from an internationally acclaimed opera singer, who was born and raised in the same town as Giuseppe Verdi, really helps to put things into perspective.
“In spite of being in huge demand on the world’s major opera stages, Luca Pisaroni rarely sings in his native Italy.The bass- baritone describes how apathy towards cultural heritage has taken the shine off Verdi’s birthday celebrations in his homeland.”Interview by Courtney Smith
Verdi just turned 200, and to celebrate the region of Emilia-Romagna and the Province of Parma, Italy, have created a beautiful website dedicated to the genius that is Giuseppe Verdi. Here you can find biographies, films, libretti, archival documents, exhibitions, tour guides, apps and photos all lovingly curated and offered free to the public. Oh, and the site is offered in english as well as Italian.
I loved scrolling through the photograph and caricatures galleries and have included a few pics below. The one of Verdi resting on his laurels is especially charming.
Patrice Chéreau in 2005 on the set of his film Gabrielle, starring Isabelle Huppert and Pascal Greggory. Photograph: Everett Collection/Rex Features
Patrice Chéreau, groundbreaking opera and film director, died of cancer on October 7, 2013. He was 68 years old.
Chéreau is the French theatre director best known for his controversial staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Bayreuth in 1976. The production, conducted by Pierre Boulez, was controversial for its departure from a traditional, storybook fable, to a modern, conceptualized interpretation that played on the symbolic and psychological aspects of the story.
“For Mr. Chéreau, the story was a Marxist allegory of capitalism and the exploitation of the working class.” New York Times
“Chéreau attempted, and successfully achieved, a daring interplay of the mythological and contemporary planes on which the work is constructed. He set the action in an industrialised society, with a hydro-electric dam taking the place of the free-flowing Rhine; there were also occasional 20th-century costumes and props. He was not the first to invoke a modern setting for the action – roughly the century framed by the history of the work to date, 1876–1976 – but the incisive social critique of Chéreau's production was regarded by some of the ultra-faithful as an outrage, and created a scandal of unprecedented proportions.”The Guardian
This departure caused controversy with the audience at the time, revolutionising modern opera and ushering in a new age of highly conceptualized theatre productions centring on the director’s vision.
“He once jokingly told me,” Mr. Gelb said of Mr. Chéreau in an interview, “that he was responsible for the movement disparagingly referred to as ‘Eurotrash,’ because his production of the Ring at Bayreuth, which is now legendary, was the first kind of high-concept operatic production that radically transformed the action.”New York Times
Chéreau’s final project was Strauss’s Elektra, for the 2013 Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Information on the production, with a link to the full program can be found here: http://www.festival-aix.com/en/node/2031
I know, I know, I've been on summer hiatus. Don't worry, I'll be filling you in on the Art Life and Stilettos summer transcontinental trek in no time. In the meantime why not take a break from the serious world of classical music and check out some rarely seen crossover talent? No, not that kind of crossover...
Opera singer, and singer songwriter Ashleigh Semkiw will be headlining the Drake Underground on Saturday, August 18. Ashleigh is a unique artist, in that her most recent operatic performance was in the spring of 2012 with Chicago Opera Theatre in their production of Shostakovich's Moscow, Cheryomushki, and if you're expecting her pop stylings be reminiscent of Renée Fleming's most recent pop curious album Dark Hope, rest assured that Ashleigh writes and performs her own music and is decisively marching to the beat of her own drum. You can check out Ashleigh's music and art at www.ashleighsemkiw.com