Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all my followers. Thank you for your patience as I recently didn't find enough time to post.

Here is Plácido Domingo (young and bearded ♥) singing Janáček's Hail Mary with some talking and shots from the rehearsal in the beginning. He sang it in Prague on Christmas 1990, right after the Velvet revolution and the fall of the Iron Curtain. (How many languages does this guy sing in?)

Zdrávas Maria, Hail Mary,
milosti plná, Full of grace,
Pán s tebou; The Lord is with thee;
Požehnaná tys mezi ženami Blessed art thou among women,
a požehnaný plod života tvého, And blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Ježíš. Jesus.
Svatá Maria, Holy Mary,
matko Boží Mother of God,
pros za nás, hříšné Pray for us sinners,
nyní i v hodinu smrti naší. Now and at the hour of our death.

Note on transcription: all /h/ are voiced, as in AmE and opposed to RP. In "hříšné" there is the raised alveolar trill "ř". In "hodinu" in the penultimate line, the "d" should be pronounced as a voiced palatal plosive, but I couldn't find the letter.

ˈzdraːvas ˈmarɪa | ˈmɪloscɪ ˈplnaː | ˈpaːn ˈstɛbou | ˈpoʒɛhnanaː ˈtɪs ˈmɛzɪ ˈʒɛnamɪ | ʔa ˈpoʒɛhnaniː ˈplot ˈʒɪvota ˈtvɛːho | ˈjɛʒiːʃ || ˈsvataː ˈmarɪa | ˈmatko ˈboʒiː | ˈpros za naːs ˈhriːʃnɛː | ˈnɪɲiː ʔɪ ˈvhodɪnu ˈsmrcɪ ˈnaʃiː | ˈaːmɛn

Merry Christmas and all the best in the new year!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Martinů:The Miracles of Mary, ND

Advent 2009, National Theatre, Prague, Jiří Bělohlávek conducting.

In short, it was a night to remember. Few works are as overwhelming as this masterpiece by Martinů. It is beyond me why it is so underperformed. Let me quote here the program:

"Its central theme, inspired by medieval miracle plays and legends, is the benevolence and compassionateness of the Virgin Mary, and in the wider sense (and above all) womanhood – wise, foolish, sinful, vain, affectionate, self-sacrificing, munificent..."

The opera comprises of four parts: The Wise and Foolish Wirgins, Mariken of Nimégue, The Nativity and Sister Pascaline. It is based on medieval liturgical plays, which developed as detours from the Christmas story and were the first plays in the area of the Czech lands. Martinů used all forms of performing art - solo voice, choir, spoken word and ballet.

The first mini-story seems a bit out of place here. Based on an Old French liturgical play, it's a story of virgins awaiting the groom - Christ. They are to keep their laps lit, but some of them fall asleep and the oil in their lamps dries out. They beg their friends for oil, they beg the merchants with oil, but to no avail. They are damned without mercy. Considering the Christian view on the forgiving God, and the three remaining parts, it is truly surprising. The only explanations I can see are that it is either on a higher level of symbolism than we presume on the first sight, or just to scare people from falling into sin too easily.

All three stories are about women gone astray, but Virgin Mary helps them find the way. Mariken, both here and in the opera's source, an old Flemmish play, marries the Devil and lives with him for seven years. After seeing a Christmas play by a wandering group of actors about the forgiveness of Jesus, she suddenly understands and rejects Satan. He kills her, but her soul is saved.

The Nativity is highly inspired in folk traditions of the plays, depicturing Virgin Mary looking for a place to give birth to little Jesus. She is rejected both at the inn and in the smithy, so she goes to the barn. The blacksmith's one-armed daughter comes to see little Jesus, and her missing arm is restored by miracle. The blacksmith, upon seeing this, is sorry that he didn't help Virgin Mary earlier.

Sister Pascaline, not getting any escapes from the monastery to live with her beloved, but Devil kills him and arranges that it looks like Pascaline is the murderer. She is to be burnt at stake, but Virgin Mary saves her. When Pascaline returns to the monastery, she is told that sister Pascaline never left. It was Virgin Mary who back then took her habit, so that the sisters wouldn't know about her past, now giving it back to her. Pascalina, moved by Mary's mercy, gives her soul up for God.

The stories might be simple, but the opera is not. Martinů used French miracles, folk Moravian poetry, liturgical texts and Psalms. The opera itself is highly modern, primarily in its main concept and its approach to metaphor. A recurring character, joining all four parts, is the spoken role of the Leader of the Play. It sounds almost like a miracle that Martinů managed to put all these pieces into a functioning opus, but the result is breathtaking.

The direction was again modern, BUT, this is a huge but, completely and utterly followed the music and the words - unlike what some of us has learnt to understand "modern direction". It was a solid counterpart of the composition itself. Only in one moment in the first part was I afraid that the director, Jiří Heřman, would fall into profanity, implying a mass rape of the "foolish virgins", but everything was calmed again without spoiling the atmosphere by anything unnecessarily violent (I feared for the many nuns in the audience, you know...). Jiří Heřman chose to work primarily with a set of different curtains AND light. Settings were changed simply by turning panels on the sides. The only props were tables on wheels. The resulting effect, though it can hardly be called "minimalistic", was just perfect.

Choreography, as much as I'm not too much into ballet, was extremely well done. Jan Kodet is arguably the best Czech choreographer, having worked with many Europian ballet companies.

As far as the voices go, nothing bad can be said. I was especially positively surprised by the low notes of the female protagonists. I can't complain about my turn of cast, being familiar with most of their names and voices from other operas. The actor Jakub Gottwald, playing the Leader of the Play, could be understood, even across music - a rare feat among today's actors, it seams.

Last, but not least - the music. Jiří Bělohlávek, what else can I say? The music just enwraps you, a magic happens and you are taken to another world. Perhaps I should only add that a special mention should go to the pianist, Libuše Klausová, and the violinist, along with the rest of the National Theatre Orchestra.

Overall, it was one of the most overwhelming opera experiences I've ever had. I almost don't know whether seeing it once in a lifetime is not enough - could another production ruin the memory of the experience? If opera houses are less focused on Verdis and Puccinis, we can find out, but once - it's a must.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Václav Havel: We Shall Overcome

20th Anniversary of the Velvet Revolution

A concert, set up by Václav Havel and featuring Joan Baez, Suzanne Vega, Lou Reed and Renée Fleming, took place yesterday, 14 November, at the Prague Crossroads.

In the end, the two major guests, Renée Fleming and Lou Reed, sang Perfect Day together.

After that, all the guest sang together the song Freedom.

During the concert, Renée Fleming also sang the obligatory Song to the Moon

...and, correct me if I'm wrong, she sang for the first time Milada's aria from Smetana's Dalibor. I hope that will appear on YouTube, too.

Thanks for uploading to MrFrais and velehof. If you're interested in more videos from the concert, visit their channels.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Meet... Cyprien Katsaris

Cyprien Katsaris has taught me that you can admire a person and laugh at (with?) him at the same time - positively speaking, of course. I truly admire his genius, and yet am more often than not unable to watch him with a straight face. Gotta love the hair :-)

Now, seriously: He's my favourite pianist of today, at least as far as Chopin is concerned. Trying to be objective, he's certainly "one of" the finest pianists. (And, seriously, don't you ever cut your hair short!)

Thanks to a friend of mine, I discovered this video. Few videos on YouTube make you fall off your chair in laughter just to make your jaw drop a few seconds after. And then make you laugh, and then make your jaw drop, and again, and again... Just amazing.

I don't know what he had smoked before this, but I want it too! :-D Bach's Toccata & Fuga faster than ever...

So that we don't just show the curiosities: Cyprien Katsaris playing The Flight of the BumbleBee by Rimsky-Korsakoff / Cziffra - in Cziffra's presence, in 1975.

Last, but not least: Mr. Katsaris is a magician when playing Chopin, here's one of my little favourites:

I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for uploading to Sissco, dafuckinmart, jaimeleclassique, and tosa1gou, respectively. I love you, Cyprien, please come to the Czech Republic sometime! ♥

Monday, 12 October 2009

Chopin's Death Mask in Prague

The Czech Republic is the first and, so far, the last country to welcome Frédéric Chopin's death mask. The year 2010 is to be named The Year of Chopin by UNESCO. At the gala concert, the Chopin Symphony Orchestra and Choir, conducted by the best Polish conductor Lukasz Borowicz, will play Mozart's Requiem - the composition that the Polish composer himself asked to be played at his funeral. Prague's St.Vitus Cathedral's bells and Warsaw's St.John's Cathedral's bells will sound at the same time.

It is actually Chopin's second death mask. The first one, taken right after the composer's passing, was regarded too troubled and weary by the mortal illness. Therefore the sculptor, Jean-Baptiste Clésinger, smoothed out its features. As a miracle, the bronze cast survived the World War II and the bombing of the Royal Palace in Warsaw.

Why Mozart's Requiem? Mozart influenced Chopin a lot. He died 19 year before Chopin, who often returned to Mozart's compositions, which he loved very much - especially his Don Giovanni and Requiem. When Chopin felt that his illness was fighting him, he had sent for its score. His last wish was "play Mozart's Requiem at my funeral, as a farewell."

Saturday, 10 October 2009

FruFru's Attitude towards Opera Productions

"When the curtain opened on La rondine at Covent Garden, the audience gasped and applauded. People want to dream. If directors want to do something new with operas, why not do something beautiful?"
Angela Gheorghiu

In response to the recent talks about the new Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera, directed by Luc Bondy, I came to the conclusion that it's about time for me to summarize what I actually think. I'm open to discussion. An "IMHO" applies to all of it, as a matter of course.

Yes, I do think that Carsen's Rusalka was bad, and no, I'm not afraid to say it.

Firstly and primarily, my opinion is that a director is just another interpreter - next to the conductor and the soloist. He or she should be seeking the best ways how to present the author's vision to the members of the audience.

The most often performed operas were composed in the 19th century. Everything about them is romantic (or "Realistic", haha). The problem of most "modern" productions is that they interfere with the opera, rather than interpret it. Dvořák composed a romantic fairy-tale, Carsen directs it as a psychological drama, making everybody who understands Czech laugh their head off. The reason for giving this example is the critical acclaim of this production. If you want a DVD with Rusalka, you can choose between an English one and this one.

My favourite simile is that to a painting and a frame. Operas are like Romantic or Realistic paintings. They work the best in those wooden, artistically crafted frames, OR in frames which don't interfere with them. On the other hand, can you imagine a Géricault in, say, a neon frame? No matter how interesting the frame is, its task is to frame a painting by Géricault, in which it fails.

According to many today's philosophers, the Enlightenment fable, that "the newer, the better", is rooted deeply in our society. A director will be praised (because the booing ones will be put aside as philistines), if his/her production is "innovative". As if there were the connoisseurs on one side, and the conservative grannies (whom every decent connoisseur scorns) on the other side.

Not that I am saying that Carsen is a bad director or that we should have a set amount of productions repeating. Even though, it's not a bad idea - just like we have a set amount of classical operas, musicians are trying to find the best way within what they offer... Imagine directors studying day in, day out, how to approach a Zeffirelli! Anyway, everybody should be reasonable, and not lament on the absence of candles in a Tosca, but, at the same time, not approving Tosca resting on a couch and revel in the sight of the dead Scarpia. Or any of the many things wrong with this production, for that matter.

A word [a little] against the "traditionalist" productions. I think it is actually quite difficult to direct such a production. Yes, if you fail, you don't insult anybody, but there are as many productions which lack some chemistry and are essentially boring, as the abortive "modern" ones.

Respect, man, just a little bit. For the author, performer, work, everything.

Just an off-topic footnote: Why do so many directors seem to relish in being despotic? It's a psychological 101, especially in a performing genre. The actor (singer) must know your (director's) intentions, and must trust them and agree with them. It's a hard enough job, why make it even harder by pushing them to things? Moreover, they might come with something useful on their own. A good leader is not a tyrant.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

50 Years Since Mario Lanza's Demise

On this day, 50 years ago, mankind lost one of the most beautiful voices ever, and a wife, parents and four children lost their husband, son and father. The all-too-warm heart of Mario Lanza's stopped beating and his voice silenced forever on October 7, 1959.

Guardian Angels by Harpo Marx is a lullaby, but I have never heard it as such; and if, then for a child who is seriously ill. I can't help the interpretation that the guardian angels are holding the delirious child's hand and, if he loses his fight, will show him to the paradise.

Rest in peace, Mario.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Jan Martiník: A New Hope for Czech Opera

['jan 'marciɲi:k] This young Czech bass at first wanted to study Medicine, like his father. Luckily, his talent was discovered when he was still at secondary school. Since then, he has been third at the Elena Obrazcova's competition in Moscow, a finalist of Operalia, and a winner of the Art Song Prize at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition.

Here's why:

Sunday, 20 September 2009

La Finta Gardiniera @The Estates Theatre: Mozart & Dwarves

La Finta Gardiniera was finished when Mozart was only 18 years old. His arguably longest opera, in the old style of a looot of repeating in the arias, can probably be a tad bit... ahem... boring. Not so in the production of Ursel and Karl-Ernst Herrmann.

Their more than twenty year old production of this underperformed opera, obviously televised in 1989, leaves little to be desired. Unlike their Clemenza di Tito, which I saw in this theatre two years ago and where they committed many UIF (UnIntentionally Funny) and WTF crimes , this production was very funny in the light Mozartean fashion.

Yes, I was a little worried when it began with a dwarf reciting Heinrich Heine while crawling up from the underground. However, within some twenty minutes, it was clear that it would be a pleasant evening. The Herrmanns' clever and fast-paced direction was (nearly) fully supportive to Mozart's almost Shakespearean comedy. Unlike many "modernized" productions, it was not trying to be "wiser than the author," and the sets offered a basis for many comic gigs. There was no ugliness or violence, so necessarily present in many today's productions. Nothing of the sets was there just pro forma, and even the shy Czech audience (well, at least half were Czech...) found it too difficult to muffle their laughter at times.

From the musical standpoint, there are no complaints on my part. Especially as Prague's opera sweethearts, Kateřina Kněžíková and our barihunk Adam Plachetka, were showing off not only their beautiful voices, but also a great deal of comedy talent. Plachetka can also be seen in Vienna, he had the "luck" of appearing in the fugly Salzburg Rusalka, and in three year's time, he will perform Masetto at Covent Garden. However, most of the cast was international, which opens some questions as to whether there are enough reasonably good Czech singers here. All that under the steady baton of Tomáš Netopil's, the new (and very young) chief-conductor of the National Theatre.

Overall impression: 85%

Adam Plachetka & Kateřina Kněžíková
Photos from their respective official sites.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Interview with Dmitri Hvorostovsky on Vocal Technique

By V.P. Morozov
Original (Russian) here.

- Dmitri Alexandrovich, your name has been on the posters of the most prestigious musical theatres, the press calls you the best baritone of the world, gives many interesting details about your personal life and creative successes, plans, but not a word about vocal technique. I plan to put a page about your voice in the second edition of my book "The Art of the Resonant Singing”, which I gave to you after your triumphant concert at the Great Hall of the Conservatory. Although about you - as an outstanding singer - is high time to write an entire book.

- Thank you. I am interested in vocal literature. I have an entire library about it. But I haven’t had the time to read your book, because my father took it.

- He sings, too?

- Yes, he has a beautiful voice.

- Fine. So you have a voice in the genes, that’s for sure. When did you start singing?

- As far as I can remember, about when I was three.

- And what voice did you have until the breaking?

- Normal, high, most probably soprano.

- Usually sopranos after the breaking transform into low voices.

- But I found a large range with very nice tenor top. My parents say it was a Lemeshev-like timbre.

- And how did you turn out as a baritone?

- When I came to the Krasnoyarsk Conservatory, Ekaterina Constantinovna Yoffel - my teacher - listened to me and said: "You are, without doubt, a baritone" - and led me as a baritone. In the third year I sang full baritone operatic repertoire in the theatre. My middle and lower register became stronger, baritone timbre, but I could not take the tenor top as freely as before.

- Do not regret! If you were a tenor, it is not known whether you would enjoy such a world-wide fame as you do today as the best baritone. After all, look what happens - at a concert in the Great Hall of the Academy the audience cheered you so much that they prompted you to sing an entire block of encores which was not on the program. I was listening to you already standing. But let's talk about the technique.

How do you imagine and feel your voice and its formation in your vocal apparatus, for example resonance?

- I can feel the vibration especially above the eyebrows, between eyebrows, around the nose, this "mask", as you know.

- And the chest resonance? Can you feel the connection of chest and head resonance?

- Chest, shoulders - all resonate. Like a column, resonating from the head, comes into the chest – such a feeling.

- When going to the top, what changes in your feeling of the resonance?

- Nothing in particular changes, because in the entire range and the lowest notes, I try not to lose the feeling of the mask, i.e. the upper resonator, and on the highest notes, to keep the chest resonance. Perhaps in the uppermost notes still noticeably the head sounds more. But in general, on all notes of the range, I use a mixed sound of the head and chest resonators.

- And on the transition notes?

- And on the transition notes - I have this "E" - "E-flat" - a mixed nature of sound, when both the upper and chest resonators sound, helps me to smooth out the registers.

Actually I have a feeling is that with the help of the resonance, it is possible to develop a force of sound that it will drown out the thunder of aircraft engines.

- And have you not tried?

- I have not tried to compete with a plane, but with the acoustics of the hall yes. At 35 years, when I began to sing in the big theatres in Europe and, especially, America, like the Metropolitan, I wanted to make my voice bigger, more powerful. And this is understandable - a huge hall provokes forcing. Your voice goes away from you and doesn’t return and to you it seems that you sing silently and should sing louder. But as a result I began to notice that I lose resonance and the ease of the voice, especially at the top. Yes, and transitional notes dropped a semitone, moved into the bass region - with the "E-flat" to "D".

- Yes, the forcing - the enemy of the resonance. How did you cope with this problem?

- It helped me that in our class – with E.K. Yoffel - we were accustomed to sing in muted acoustics. All the walls there were covered with drapery. You sing in the corridor - everything sounds great, but come to classroom – you can’t recognize your voice. As a result, I learned to sing focusing mainly on my internal feelings - both the resonator and the muscles.

After all, on the stage, especially in the opera, there are all draped sets, you’re wearing some plump costume, a huge hat absorbs all the high singing formant. Therefore, if you will rely solely on your ear, you will certainly force, and you’re ruined. But inner feeling, and in particular - resonator, here’s salvation. The singer has to be sure, - if the voice will be unforced, free and resonant, he does not fear any very "bad" acoustics, the voice will be flying and audible everywhere.

- Fine. Well, and how do you feel your singing breathing?

- The inhaling is short, very short. Yoffel used to say: "Breathe in the smell of a flower" - it definitely helps correct inhalation. But in order to have enough breath, the air consumption must be economical, very economical. This does not mean that you should hold your breath, no. It should be free and not forced on the larynx. The larynx should also be free, not tense, though lowered, as in yawn. This makes the oropharyngeal cavity larger and longer, and that’s good for the voice.

- And do you feel your vocal cords, do you try to manage them, when you sing?

- But for what? I read in Yudin, you probably know, he focuses on the vocal cords. As a student I tried to experiment with these cord sensations of tension and so on, but apart from damage to the voice, I didn’t get anything. We feel, control and regulate the work of breathing and resonators. This is important. But keep track of how your vocal cords work? No, no. It seems to me quite unnecessary.

But with the breathing and resonators we form some habits and then this all goes into the subconscious, in the automatism. And on stage I, of course, both breathe and resonate, as it should be - over that I keep some sort of control - but I think mostly about other things - how do I "paint" with my voice the emotional painting, the image, so that it is seen by each of my listeners.

The process of singing is not just a physical process, but also a psychological process. Therefore, the state of the singer’s soul is very important.

- When one listens and watches you on stage, they see how you show what you sing with all your body.

- This is Yoffel’s school. When I as a student began to unnaturally gesticulate, "help" myself with my hands (laughs), she halted it. And she taught to meaningfully express feelings with voice and behaviour. I am grateful to her. In addition, such natural "movement of the soul" helps as if to relax, to withstand the unnatural strain on the scene. And freedom of the body causes also, by the way, a resonating sound.

- Wonderful. And what are your preferences of other singers?

- How I turned out what I am – 50% of that comes from how much I listened and listen to other singers. I cultivated and cultivate my voice because of this.

- Your ideal? Which singer?

- From ours - it is P.G. Lisitsian - amazing, I mean the beauty of timbre and the vocal technique.

- You know, in the first edition of the book, in the section of computer spectra of the voices of masters of vocal art, I placed your spectra next to Lisitsian’s. So your voice can be compared in the basic parameters of high singing formant.

- Interesting! I will certainly look at it!

V.P. Morozov. The Art of Resonant Singing. M., 2008, pp.459-462
В.П.Морозов. Искусство резонансного пения
Translated by:

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

How I Came to Stop Worrying and Love Organ Music

I knew Toccata et Fuga in D minor - who doesn't? Then I saw this video:

And then I saw this video (Karl Richter playing at the Ottobeuren cathedral):

A Message to Critics

Perhaps this is a futile effort, as few of those whom this post is addressing - the harshest critics, both professional and amateur - are going to take it to heart. However, if a single person thinks again about what he or she writes about performers, it has not been in vain.

From the movie The Great Caruso, starring Mario Lanza (even though the film was highly fictionalized, the part about Caruso being compared to de Reszke and called "bourgeois" is correct, just like [both] de Reszkes' admiration to Caruso):

Not that I am blameless. Sometimes it's a difficult job not to be harsh, when music is your passion, and you hate some of its parts just as much as you love others. But we all should think twice, whether what we are saying or writing is truth, or if it is just a little frustrated musician in us talking.

In Art, few things are objective, and what one person likes, another may not. YouTube seems to be full of all too wise people who know a singer's technique is wrong, how a world star is terrible, or how a conductor's fame is just good PR. These are exactly the people who would criticize Enrico Caruso for not being Jean de Reszke; now they criticize Dmitri Hvorostovsky for not being Lawrence Tibbett, or Renée Fleming for being vulgar.

Artists are extremely sensitive beings, but in this ugly world, they either develop thick skin, or can't do what they love - sing, play, conduct. Everybody who can perform in public in the first place is great, because they are bringing Beauty to our lives. By savaging them, you're betraying the very essence of Art.

Life's too short not to enjoy world's beauty and loose time with what you dislike, or to annoy other people by not respecting their tastes!

Friday, 11 September 2009

Opera Trivia Quiz

A trivia quiz, made by moi :-)

Takes some time to load.

Some questions taken from Regina Opera, one from Discovery Education, two from Patricia Gray's website.

Music used:
1. Renée Fleming - Un bel di vedremo
2. Bryn Terfel & Cecilia Bartoli - Duet Papageno-Papagena
3. Mirella Freni - The Death of Butterfly
4. Mario Lanza - Che gelida manina
5. Hansel und Gretel - Act 1, Scene 1
6. Dmitri Hvorostovsky - Largo al factotum
7. Ellen Hagris - Se tu parti da me
8. Maria Callas - Si, mi chiamano Mimi
9. Anna Netrebko - Quando m'en vo
10. Dmitri Hvorostovsky & Renée Fleming - La ci darem la mano

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

100 Best Classical Recordings

No matter how I think choosing any "top few" in art is a folly, and giving "classical rules" conceited, it's nice to see a Hvorostovsky recording among the opera's top ten in the 100 best classical recordings, according to Igor Toronyi-Lalic, John Allison, and Michael Kennedy:

"7 Tchaikovsky Eugene Onegin (conductor Semyon Bychkov) Philips £17.60, RRP £17.99
Russia’s greatest opera, amid strong competition, Tchaikovsky’s 'lyric scenes’ have not been better served on disc than by the idiomatic conducting of Semyon Bychkov and a cast including Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s fresh-voiced Onegin."

It's only a pity that the discussion is not open under that article; I would give the authors a piece of my mind for telling me what to like and what to throw away.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Anna Netrebko's Video Blog

"Each month Anna Netrebko will select a few questions and post short video responses to them here. Submit your questions to Anna by filling out the form on Anna's website."

So far, there are three videos on her channel:

Doesn't Tiago look just like his father? Aren't they sweet together? :-)

Now, if only her Siberian colleague were willing to do something similar...

Wikipedia is joking, right??

"A physically fit male abdomen" in an encyclopedia article o_O

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

How to Become a Successful Opera Director

The Ten Commandments of Opera Directing, by Frufru:

McVicar, who else?

Rule no.1: Shock value is the value!!! Whatever you do, keep this in mind.
Rule no.2: Make a character gay.
Rule no.3: Make a character naked.
Rule no.4: Or both.
Rule no.5: If somebody dies, there should be a loooot of blood. No matter it's considered a mark of second-class horror movies.
Rule no.6: If an opera goer has to read through a manual to get a hint of what you're trying to say, you're on the right track.
Rule no.7: Use as much cliché as you are able to put in. Cliché in an artistic genre is considered to be "innovative approach."
Rule no.8: By ANY means whatsoever, don't get yourself troubled by the libretto or the score. The *story* is the important thing, and it has to be *retold.*
Rule no.9: Fire a soprano or two. Just to gain popularity. You'll always find a reason - too fat, too short, too tall, too bad an actress... doesn't want to undress creative differences...
Rule no.10: If half of the audience are booing and half are cheering you, you've achieved your goal. From now on, you'll be hailed by critics as one of the best opera directors, and DVDs will be sold only because your name is in the credits.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Il Trovatore in London, 2009

As Mostly Opera nicely put it: "So we are supposed to believe that the soprano kills herself to avoid sleeping with this guy? Right..."

I was awaiting a moment when Mr. Hvorostovsky appeared in Europe in a live, un-amplified concert, or in an opera where the baritone role is not too small and where I didn't have to be disgusted by some director's "retelling" of the story. I nearly gasped when I saw that he would appear in London, as il Conte di Luna, with Sondra Radvanovsky and Roberto Alagna, in the somewhat clumsy but traditionalistic and appealing Moshinsky's production.
It was my first visit of London, and of a big, famous opera house, too. I arrived in Covent Garden well before time, as I had intended to walk, but the rain was so heavy that I decided to take a cab. From the phonetic standpoint, the driver was a very nice Cockney guy, the doormen and ushers at ROH spoke "received RP" - the most understandable accent for foreigners - and most of the audience members and cashiers were native RP speakers (the cashier I spoke to when I was picking up the ticket had an especially arrogant tone in his language).
When I came in, I decided to dissolve my boundless excitement in a glass of wine and sit at a table there. If you, like me, have problems with low blood pressure, or any other reason why you prefer to sit down, I must recommend you to arrive *at least* half an hour before the performance. The room got crowded quickly, so that there was nowhere to sit, and the auditorium opens just ten minutes before the performance.

I invited a lovely elderly English couple to sit at my table, we talked mostly about opera. They had seen Rusalka in English, and they had visited Prague. They said that they liked the city, but in such situation, I always fear the people are just being polite... Well, come and see for yourself :-). We also talked about the dress code. We couldn't agree more that people should dress nicely, to show to the surroundings *and* to themselves that this is a special occasion. They told me that some twenty years ago, long gowns and tailcoats were common. I confessed that I had been afraid of being underdressed, but that fright was soon gone, after having seen a guy there, a tad bit horizontally challenged, dressed in casual jeans, army green pullover and white sport shoes. It spoils the impression a bit, when you see such a figure. While we're at the fashion policing, Mrs. Hvorostovsky, who was also there, chose the elegance of little black dress, Maestro Orbelian was wearing a dark suit.
Then the performance began. Mr.Moshinsky had been criticized for this production of his, that the sets take too much time to change, that it's all too static etc. That was apparently the reason why he chose to reduce the number of flats, which I found very unfortunate, especially in the third act. I was also looking forward to the first act fight between Di Luna and Manrico. Yes, Mr.Alagna is a half-pint, but quite athletic, I mean, I wouldn't force Johan Botha to it, but I think Alagna could have pulled it off... However, Moshinsky decided to go for the "Leonora-prevents-the-fight-until-the-curtain-falls" option. There was some fighting in the convent, but there they forced Di Luna to lay on the ground, in the fashion of American cops arresting a suspect. I was sitting in the second row, and feeling the urge to bounce from Maestro Rizzi's head and help Dima out. Anyway, forcing him down was a bit unnecessary. The great news was that Moshinsky crossed out the gayish ballet-fight in the third act, which 1. was weird and 2. didn't match the overall concept of the production. Instead, the chorus members were singing, sitting on chairs at the edge of the stage, with several stunt-men (?) showing-off their impressive fencing abilities behind them. The Di quella pira reminded me of Lt. Columbo; Manrico went away and returned a couple of times, like the repeated line "Oh, there's just one other thing..." The last change to the original production was, Di Luna did not shoot Manrico to death, but stabbed him in an outburst of anger, having realized that Leonora killed herself because of him, and Manrico died in his arms. I very much like the idea of the Count killing his brother with his own hand, and this worked just perfectly.
As for the singing: Ms.Walewska as Azucena was very good, if somewhat insipid in comparison to the starry cast. Ms.Radvanovsky has a big voice, and frankly, I can't understand the people who keep criticizing her for some reason. She appears to be the best Verdian soprano around these days, and I like her approach to her roles, too. Mr. Alagna was a very pleasant surprise. To be honest, I was expecting a disaster, having seen him as Radames on the DVD, but he pulled off Manrico very well. Last, but not least: Dmitri Hvorostovsky. People say that he's got a small voice - to me he sounded louder than Alagna. People say that he's not a "true" Verdi barytone - that was perhaps true ten years ago. The singing, the acting, the feeling, the man. I am happy and honoured that I have seen one of history's greatest baritones at his best.
So Il Trovatore ended. I was almost shocked by how short the applause was - only one curtain-call?? I quickly went to the stage exit, hoping to meet Mr. Hvorostovsky, but apparently, he had gone earlier, or through another exit, if that is possible. However, I met Maestro Rizzi, and I got an autograph from Mr.Alagna. Of course, the only thing I had forgotten was a pen, but I met a lovely Polish woman there. She was standing a bit aside, so she was an easy victim of my attempts of conversation. Her English was not too good, so I asked her where she was from, and she said, Poland. I said "Já jsem z Čech" (I'm from Bohemia), and she said "Tak to možem po našom" (So we can speak our languages). I have a feeling that the Poles understand Czech better than the Czechs understand Polish. She lent me the pen and showed me the members of Roberto Alagna's family. She was there alone, going back to Poland in the morning. As we were leaving, she said she would take a walk through London by night, I hope she got to the airport safely.
Well, and that's it. The evening of wonders was ended. One thing is for sure, that I will remember it for the rest of my life.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Opera Singer Laryngoscope

This is what your vocal folds look like. The second part of the video, where it looks like slow motion, is called "laryngo-stroboscopy." Thus the laryngologist can see if the vocal folds open/close properly.

Thanks to scottyandgenie for uploading.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Best of Twitter re: Hvorostovsky

Kathrine_A: On my desktop there is now a lovely wallpaper of Dima Hvorostovsky. (Yes, I'm twelve.:) Though listening to Jussi Björling at the moment.

24601_: Just went to see Dimitri Hvorostovsky, he signed my DVD and I told him to come to Chicago more often. I love him.

LLSi: Meninas, esqueçam Brad Pitt. Dmitri Hvorostovsky não é feio, além de ser um dos melhores cantores da atualidade. (Girls, forget Brad Pitt. Dmitri Hvorostovsky is not ugly, besides being one of the best singers of our time)

andrewpatner: Dmitri Hvorostovsky makes Rigoletto his own at Ravinia with the CSO

Still in clouds after opera Rigoleto last nite w/Dmitri Hvorostovsky, most gorgeous baritone in opera.

icmanu43: Mood of the moment: Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin with Fleming, Hvorostovsky and Vargas under Gergiev. Few things are as painfully beautiful.

LutheranLucciol: Dmitri Hvorostovsky is coming to SF Opera! Hello, sexual sin. Some women actually go to hear his voice, too. (I'm joking....sort of).

Petruccl: Hvorostovsky rocks my world...


#iamsinglebecause Dmitri Hvorostovsky is still not divorced.
#iamsinglebecause I couldn't say his name to the priest
#iamsinglebecause still can't spell his name

Opera_is_Sexy @thaisinhafc Dmitri Hvorostovsky is such a Hottie! I have an #operacrush on him! lol

tommydavidson: Spent time with Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Arguably the world's greatest baritone. Believe my wife would have left me in 5 seconds for this dude

Stickolofogus has a HUGE crush on Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Like seriosly HUGE!

musicbizkid: I think today I'll listen to nothing but Dmitri Hvorostovsky singing "Ja vas lyublyu" That oughtta kill my ambition to make music ever again

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

20:13 CET: New Concert Coming Soon

Frufru is now watching this concert. It features some arie antiche and some bel canto arias. The young Dmitri Hvorostovsky is accompanied by the young Mikhail Arkadiev. As soon as Frufru finishes watching, she'll cut it and post it to YouTube.


Done. The playlist is here.

Something which I've never seen in a recital occurred here: the audience demanded a bis, so we hear Fenesta che lucive twice in a row! I actually prefer the second time around, what about you?

******UPDATE #2******

My dearest friend fazed111 discovered that the concert had also another part. In the beginning, Mr.Hvorostovsky sang also some Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. Coming to YouTube soon.

Mario Lanza - L'alba separa de la luce l'ombra (Tosti)

My all-time favourite tenor sings an incredibly beautiful and sad Italian art song. It is even more sad when you consider that it was recorded only months before his untimely death.

Francesco Paolo Tosti / Gabriele D'Annunzio

L'alba separa dalla luce l'ombra,
E la mia volutta' dal mio desire.
O dolce stelle, l'ora di morire.
Un piu' divino amor dal ciel vi sgombra.

Pupille ardenti, O voi senza ritorno
Stelle tristi, spegnetevi incorrotte!
Morir debbo. Veder non voglio il giorno,
Per amor del mio sogno e della notte.

O Notte, nel tuo sen materno,
Mentre la terra pallida s'irrora.
Ma che dal sangue mio nasca l'aurora
E dal sogno mio breve il sole eterno!
E dal sogno mio breve il sole eterno!


The dawn divides the darkness from light,
And my sensual pleasure from my desire,
O sweet stars, it is the hour of death.
A love more holy clears you from the skies.

Gleaming eyes, O you who'll ne'er return,
sad stars, snuff out your uncorrupted light!
I must die, I do not want to see the day,
For love of my own dream and of the night.

Envelop me,
O Night, in your maternal breast,
While the pale earth bathes itself in dew;
But let the dawn rise from my blood
And from my brief dream the eternal sun!
And from my brief dream the eternal sun!

Monday, 24 August 2009

Opera Stars & Muppets

Long gone are those times when we would watch The Muppet Show and Open, Sesame. They would not just teach us to count, but also a little to appreciate the arts. They also showed that even opera divas can have sense of humour.

Learn counting to five with Renée Fleming, melody of Caro Nome from Rigoletto:

Samuel Ramey - "eL Toreador:"

Beverly Sills 1 - tap-dancing:

Beverly Sills 2 - spoon-hanging:

Beverly Sills 3 - Pigoletto:

Thanks for uploading to gtelloz, sawing14s and bakerpaters.

Friday, 21 August 2009

21st August: Heroes and Villains

During the night from the 20th to the 21st August 1968, five armies of the Warsaw pact crossed the borders of Czechoslovakia. During the first phase of the operation organized by the Kremlin, Czechoslovakia was invaded by about 100,000 soldiers, 2300 tanks and 700 airplanes. With relation to the occupation, 290 people were killed and 577 were seriously injured. It was a reaction to the gradual loosening of the totalitarian system, called "Socialism with human face," which ultimately led to the abolition of censorship early in 1968 and the so-called "Prague Spring." It was followed by long years of "normalization," which was ended by the Velvet revolution in 1989.

"Little Brother, Close the Gate" Thanks for composing and uploading to muv69

The Czechs, in their history, learnt to laugh at tragedies they could do nothing about: "A Well Intended Advice - Go Home, Ivan!" (And never come back. Ever.) Thanks for composing and uploading to bwdbwd

Paradoxically, my heroes come from the ranks of the "villains." On the 25th, eight people made a hard choice between clear conscience and imprisonment. Eight Russians went to the Red Square in Moscow and demonstrated against the Soviet invasion in Czechoslovakia. Their names were Larisa Bogoraz (whose husband, a writer, had previously been sent to Gulag for "anti-Soviet activity"), Konstantin Babitsky, Vadim Delaunay (a poet, died in Paris, aged 35 of a heart attack), Vladimir Dremluga, Pavel Litvinov Natalya Gorbanevskaya (a writer and poet, her blog is here), Viktor Fainberg, and Tatiana Baeva. Some of them ended up in jail, some of them in asylums, some in forced exile in Siberia.

For your and our freedom

The story continues. Forty years later, on the 24th August 2008 (not on the 25th, so that the police forces wouldn't be ready), seven activists went to the Red Square to remember this event. According to Novaya Gazeta, they were holding up a banner with the same slogan and were handing out leaflets: "There are again political prisons in this country [...] Love for country has been replaced with the love for leaders." The entire action (which had been authorized by the authorities) lasted five minutes. The police confiscated their banners and arrested the three activists who didn't manage to escape. They tried to confiscate the journalists' cameras and arrested correspondents of Novaya Gazeta, Grani-TV, The New Times and Vedomosti. The journalists were released the same day, the activists the following. The situation is not as bad as in 1968, but not too good, either - and could get worse. (NY Times article here)

Photos: Wikipedia and Novaya Gazeta, respectively

Hvorostovsky's Ex's Solicitor Chosen "Lawyer of the Week"

Lawyer of the Week: "Michael Rowlands, a partner in Cripps Harries Hall, acts for Svetlana Hvorostovsky, the former wife of the opera singer Dmitri Hvorostovsky."

"Variation of existing maintenance orders is a hot topic and there is a lack of certainty for those going to court. My client therefore needed to be kept on the right side of the risk-reward balance. Maintenance payments for life — in this case to the former wife and the two children — are a division of expected future income and it is reasonable for payments to go up to a level that might outweigh the standard of living enjoyed at the time of marriage breakdown."

Now I don't want to be Dmitri's wife any more. I wanna be his ex-wife!

On the left, Dmitri with his first wife, Svetlana, and boy twins. On the right, with his present wife, Florence, and their second child, Nina.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Meet... The Countertenor

Countertenor, compared to other voice types, is quite obscure to the pure Puccini-Verdi opera goers. But you don't want these faces when you first hear it, do you?
With the use of falsetto, men can achieve a sound quite similar to that of castrati. When you get used to the pitch, you realize that the timbre is distinctly male, or at least not female. That's what gives the voice the quality that many people describe as "angelic." Some even prefer the countertenor to the female voices. However, falsetto is difficult to master, and only with a great amount of talent and hard work you can be a good countertenor.

Frufru's favourite countertenor is without doubt Philippe Jaroussky. Here, at the "Artiste lyrique," he sings Vivaldi's Vedro con mio diletto (beating Roberto Alagna in the competition)

Something for coloratura lovers:

Just in case you don't believe their speaking voices are "normal" (or that they don't have a sense of humour) - Sombrero:

Countertenors can be encountered even on the pop scene. Just for fun, here's Vitas's Il dolce suono (Lucia di Lammermoor):

Thanks to Vitorvhs, BaroqueFever, MehdiCaps, and rxsuicide, respectively, for uploading.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

A Review of Netrebko's Videoclips from the DVD "The Woman, The Voice"

I'm going to be untypically harsh here, but I can't attempt to like modernized opera and remain nice at the same time.

Anna Netrebko is not one of my favourite singers, but she's far from bad and she's nice to look at. Especially in a videoclip. That's what I thought when I was downloading purchasing her DVD. Upon seeing the screenshots, I thought it would be interesting.

As I'm not interested in Ms.Netrebko reveling in talking about how she loves shopping in boutiques, I kept fast-forwarding to the videoclips, scattered on the whole length of the film. I quite liked the first one, Musetta's waltz. You could argue that it doesn't retain the spirit of the aria, but none of the videoclips here does. Musetta's waltz video is elegant, even though it somewhat lacks invention (what operatic videoclips don't?). I was especially annoyed by the switching to the black&white shots, but I liked the way she and the driver exchanged glances in the beginning *wink*! I guess this balancing on the edge of cliché is a match with Puccini.

However, the videoclips that followed were not short only of invention and originality, but also a slightest hint of style, pretending to be artistic. The diva is running/standing/lying around, with no further ideas to it. Vincent Paterson, the director, obviously thought that "the woman and the voice" is enough for a videoclip. He stayed half way between the traditional, where not so many things happen and you are left to enjoy beautiful music accompanied by beautiful pictures (as Sumi Jo's clip), and the progressive. He managed the almost impossible: modern opera clips which are boring.

The second clip was the Jewel Song from Faust. Ms.Netrebko in three very different settings for no apparent reason doesn't do anything but puts on jewels and adores herself in the many mirrors. Isn't that enough? Eh, not for me, especially when the settings are so kitschy.

A sparkle of hope came with the Don Giovanni clip, even though it immediately reminded me of the walking-talking trees in the Russian fairy-tale film Morozko (Jack Frost) and Titus. Unfortunately, the director again did nothing about it, so "the woman" is left there among the dancing trees, only opening her mouth to "the voice" and moving arms. Plus, there are several moments when the camera is so bad it's attracting attention.

La Sonnambula clip is so eurotrash it's almost useless to analyze it. The director knew no better way how to make it interesting than "the weirder, the better." It's tasteless, pointless, but at least not boring.

The Song to the Moon clip has been critically acclaimed, even by people who didn't like the other videos, but the reason escapes me. I'm amazed that so few people are capable of understanding the fact that Rusalka (opera) is a delicate and tender tragedy. The very *point* of it is that Rusalka (character) has got pure heart. There's a certain naïveté in her, but also strength: she sacrifices everything, is betrayed, but does not betray her love. Netrebko's approach to the aria is shallow every time, but when accompanied by a videoclip where she sings opens her mouth lying on a floating mattress, in a nouveau-riche style, with a giant moon behind her, it's just making fun of Dvořák and his depth. Otherwise, the clip is well structured, its only problem is that it's just as superficial as Ms.Netrebko's interpretation. Rusalka coming to the Prince when he's having a shower?

Well, I'm sure everybody who reads this review, including myself, will love the videoclips as a result. It's the expecting-a-disaster effect. If you like eurotrash productions and/or adore Anna Netrebko, I'm sure you will enjoy this DVD. However, it's almost a pity that she wasn't given the opportunity of having a documentary like those about Rolando Villazón or Elina Garanča. What actually saddens me the most is the wasted potential. Some clips look good at first sight, but the director let it all be as if unfinished, just the basic concept with no idea.

...But the pics look nice, don't they? Click to enlarge:
Musetta being neglected

The black&white inside life of the poor Musetta, who is neglected by her husband, which led her to having an affair with the driver. Which opera is this from?

Three snapshots from The Jewel Song, no comment

It looks beautiful, pity there's no meaning to it.

♪♫ Non mi dir ♪♫

La sonnambula. Flirting with an old man with pigtails on his beard. You should know that on the table there's a cake in the shape of a female leg.

Poor Bellini


I bet you didn't believe me the one about the shower!

Unfortunately, 90% of the time of the DVD we see just this:

Joyce DiDonato: The Anti-Diva

Frufru is now going through Joyce DiDonato's web log and is getting the impression that Frufru is the most self-centered woman on earth. Not only does Ms.DiDonato possess a wonderful voice capable of some wild coloratura, but also is a beautiful person with a
heart of gold.

Photography: Nick Gillespie (Member of the ROH chorus), taken from Ms.DiDonato's official website

This is my favourite Una voce poco fa. In the beginning, yet another little proof of Ms.DiDonato's magnanimity.

Thanks to thecelticspirit and Klassizismus for sharing.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Mario Lanza: An American Tragedy

My first operatic post here cannot be on anyone else than the person thanks to whom I listen to this beautiful genre of music. I had been acquainted to the performances of The Three Tenors, Bocelli, and others who are considered popular opera singers and who perhaps have set many people’s footsteps on the path of classical music. However, it was the smashing tour de force of Lanza’s voice, together with the incomparable heartfelt interpretation, what really caught my heart.

It is a twisted humour of the Fate that the one who could have become the greatest tenor in history died so prematurely, having made so few truly great recordings. His good looks turned out to be more of a curse, rather than a blessing. After a couple of years in Hollywood, everything started turning against him. The classical music critics started savaging him, resulting in a loss of his self-confidence, so vital for a performer.

The studio needed him to be slim for the filming, so he would put on weight for making of the soundtrack, and then quickly put it off for the shooting. As years passed, simple dieting would not work, so Lanza had to take medicines. He started having problems with phlebitis. Heavy drinking did not help his physical state.

After his moving to Italy, he made two more films and was planning to do more serious work. A TV spectacle with Maria Callas, or Pagliacci on stage of the Opera Roma season opening were on his schedule, but it was too late. Mario Lanza died on October 7th 1959 of pulmonary embolism, aged 38.

You’ll find a more detailed biography in Derek McGovern’s essay “Mario Lanza: A Radical Reassessment” here. A much more detailed biography is offered in the excellent book by Armando Cesari. You might also be interested in the Mario Lanza Google Group, the members of which are also Mr.McGovern and Mr.Cesari.

Lanza had no artistic guidance during his Hollywood years, plus many recordings were made quickly, without an established opera conductor. Moreover, most Lanza collections, especially those named “Lanza Gold” or “The Best of Lanza”, or similar to that, are simple packs of various recordings, no matter if good or bad. Even the only purely operatic CD “Mario Lanza – Opera Arias and Duets” is a decidedly mixed offering. It contains also lesser recordings, such as the Celeste Aida from the 1952 radio show. Why not the excellent one from The Great Caruso, with Peter Herman Adler conducting? Amor ti vieta, Nessun dorma, O soave fanciulla – ditto. In a situation where many opera aficionados don’t take him as a serious singer, there should be at least a CD of his true best.

If you’d like to know what his greatest recordings are, search here, a song-by-song review of the most popular CDs can be found here.

This is my absolute Lanza favourite. Un di all'azzurro spazio from Andrea Chenier. If Mozart's compositions are a proof of God's existence, this recording of Lanza's is double so.

Here you have some of Lanza's film best. Thanks to DiPlacido71 and Tenor65 for sharing.
The first clip is Dio, mi potevi scagliar from Verdi's Otello, as shown in the film Serenade, 1956.

The following video is of Vesti la giubba from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. It's a clip from Lanza's last film, paradoxically named "For the First Time", 1959.

Here we have Lanza in his youthful best: La donna e mobile from Verdi's Rigoletto, from the film The Great Caruso, 1951. Peter Herman Adler is conducting the soundtrack. The woman looking at him from the backstage is the famous Jarmila Novotná, who plays a selfish diva named Maria Selka. Unfortunately, their duet didn't make it to the final version of the film.