Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Here is what the Baltimore Sun critic Tim Smith wrote:
You can carp about the limited tonal power of Hvorostovsky, if you like. He has never had the biggest sound around, and he has to push hard to reach his maximum volume. But, 21 years after his career-launching win at the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, his tone remains nearly as smooth and sensual as the velvet tux he wore on Monday.
My favorite music Critic Anne Midgette wrote the following (Every one of these words is true. I did pick up on all the flaws that she talks about, but did not want to focus my post on them):
Hvorostovsky is known for a creamy voice and formidable breath control, producing long, smooth streams of sound. The breath control has become something of an end in itself; his singing on Monday was frequently punctuated with audible rough gasps as he filled his lungs between phrases. He also keeps the voice farther back than many singers; this makes it a little hard to hear, and keeps it from ringing out fully in dramatic passages. At the climax of "Oh, de' verd'anni miei" from Verdi's "Ernani," he almost visibly moved into a higher gear to produce a large, ringing sound. He didn't always engage that gear, though; in "Resta immobile" from Rossini's "William Tell," for instance, he showed what turned out to be a general tendency to sound muted.
But then Anne added this on Dmitri's encore - and nobody in the whole world would have said it better:
And Hvorostovsky, who earlier had dedicated the concert to the victims of the Moscow subway bombings, offered an unaccompanied folk song that was breathtaking: nuanced and skilled, vulnerable and emotional, and sheerly, hauntingly beautiful. It was thrilling to hear him, and Radvanovsky, show what they are capable of.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
At dinner I could not help but notice that many people were dressed in a pretty funky way. Many were wearing red, which probably in their understanding made them look more Russian???
Anyway, I happened to have quite a seat. Row P turned out to be Row 13 in the Orchestra. Could one wish for any better? The house was packed and the crowd was brimming with impatience and excitement.
Then the lights went off and the wonderful National Philharmonic under the baton of Marco Armiliato (the conductor of La Fille du Regiment at the Met, remember?) played Overture to La Nozze di Figaro.
And then Dmitri came out onto the stage. Just as handsome as on TV and every DVD of him, except that maybe not so tall, rather medium height. His famous silver hair was longer this time, which was the cause of quite a debate among his fans during the intermission. A couple of middle-aged ladies were trying to decide which hair makes Dmitri look more handsome: the longer or the shorter one.
Usually Dmitry dresses simply but very tastefully: a black shirt and black pants. This time,however, he was on a more chic note, which in my personal opinion was a little overboard. He was wearing a black velvet tuxedo and a diamond ring on his right hand, a little bit out of his own style, but you know what?
The man sang his heart out and that, my friends, is a rare quality of opera singers, most of which save their resources for “better” occasions and opera houses.
I was really impressed by Ah tal colpa (the duet from Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera).
What music! What dramatism! Verdi in full bloom. I have to admit that Dmitri had a couple of hoarse notes at the very end, but the rest was magic: pure, dramatic, powerful and overwhelmingly beautiful.
As an artist Dmitri treats music the way it really should be treated.
He sings even when he doesn’t!
Even when it’s just music playing you can see him sinking deeper and deeper into it, living and feeling every single note, breathing the air of his character.
He has always been like that. Check out any of his Cardiff ’89 You Tube clips. He was 28 then, but the way he sang Ombra mai fu… literary breathing every Handel’s note was so incredible, that he got his main competitor Bryn Terfel...among his fans.
The gem of the evening in my opinion was Dmitri’s encore Oi Ty Nochenka (Ой, ты ноченька), his famous a cappella song of a Russian cab driver (cab like in carriage, not taxi).
Anything I’ll say about it will not do any credit to Dmitri and will not even give you the slightest idea of what I heard. Because it has to be heard live.
Dmitri shook the audience with the deep amazing a cappella and moved every Russian heart with memories, sentiments, pain of love and loss, languish - everything that was ever felt by a Russian, who just like himself, or me, or anyone in the audience had to be away from his country.
At times he sang really softly, but it seemed like there was much more than one voice there: a voice and another inner melody of his soul. And then gradually his voice would build up all its volume and power, and again besides that voice you could hear so much more, as if the full orchestra was playing. And yet, it was just him, one voice, on its own, the voice of a man driving through a cold rainy night, pouring out his simple and dark, and yet beautiful and strong heart into that endless night.
When the recital was over, that song still rang in my ears. It rang in my ears all the way home, and it still does today.
Sondra Radvanovsky sang well. She has a very strong clean voice, but that’s about it. Strong and clean. No extras. She has a lot of charisma and the audience loved her right away. She also sang her heart out, which was truly appreciated.
I drove home but felt like I was flying. The impact that the recital made on me was really powerful and uplifting. I felt rejuvenated and strong from all the beauty I had taken in. And dashing through the dark night with Dmitri's song still ringing in my ears, I knew one thing: it's amazing now, but it's only going to be better in the morning. I will wake up shocked and stunned with the magnetic power of that voice and will start a new day, knowing that true artists still exist.
And that knowledge, my friends,will inspire me to teach more people about opera and help them see what I see and hear what I hear.
(The pictures above are pretty much self explanatory. The other gentleman is Marco Armiliato.)
Friday, March 26, 2010
I have good things to report this week.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Offenbach's music has always been an endless source of inspiration for me. I can't tell you how many drawings and paintings I have actually made for this particular opera, searching and probing for that only one seed of truth, how much I wrote and how much I contemplated on the significance of this incredible work.
Therefore, last year as soon as I heard about Bartlett Sher staging Les Contes at the Met with Elina Garanca, Joseph Calleja and Anna Netrebko under the baton of James Levine - that was it - I decided I had to see it. Then of course, we all remember that Elina Garanca withdrew from the production to sing in Carmen instead. So somehow I ended up deciding not to go and went to see Joyce DiDonato's recital in October. Besides, on December 19th, the day of the show, it happened to be snowing pretty heavily here in Baltimore, so should I have had a ticket, it would have been a disaster.
Yesterday, having seen exactly the performance I was supposed to see live, I told myself that I did not lose much by not going. Please do not think that I hated it that bad. There were some things that I did like, and I 'd rather start with them to sound more positive.
The Positive Side:
- The 2 Voices. To be precise, the voices of Joseph and Anna. Even though, in his usual manner, Mr. Calleja was not straining his voice, he has just the right voice for Hoffmann. His singing was beautiful. Of course, in my mind I kept comparing his Hoffmann with the one of Placido Domingo. What can I say? There is only one Placido Domingo.
- I have a confession to make. One of my most favorite opera duets is Duet of Hoffmann and Antonia C’est une chanson d’amour. Every time I see this opera I can't wait to hear it. There is so much spring, youth and shared passion not only for one another, but also for music in this duet. Joseph and Anna sang it perfectly.
- Anna Netrebko was a wonderful Antonia and it is because of her that people will remember watching this production on TV. As she was "dying", a real tear ran down her face. I am sure many were impressed and touched. It was not that silicone movie tear that actors shed just for the camera. That was a tear of true sorrow for her character. That was amazing. Everybody else was fine, expect for Alan Held, but let's save criticism for later.
- Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the tenor who sang Frantz Jour et nuit je me mets en quatre, but he was wonderful. He combined masterful vocal, acting and dancing skills to create an incredibly comic figure. Note to self: I would like to write a separate post on the beauty of comic arias. It definitely deserves a separate post.
- All over again I fell in love with the deep, the wise, the all-knowing and the overpoweringly beautiful music of Offenbach. Once again, I heard new thoughts and ideas that I did not pick up on before. Every little phrase and note carry a message that Offenbach wants us to hear and to learn from. I will touch upon some arias and scenes a bit later, but now I would like to mention the finale of the opera, when everyone on the stage is singing about man growing with love and with tears. I think the idea that Offenbach emphasizes with it is that everyone is different and every single character on the stage cries and loves in his/her own way. And that is the truth of life - we all go our different paths and live the best way we can. Trying to bring everyone to the common way of living is as fruitful as chasing phantoms. The beauty of life is in its variety: dolls, courtesans, divas, poets, students, muses and devils are all essential elements of life.
The Negative Side:
My expectations of this production were incredibly high, because I remembered Mr. Sher's genius Il Barbiere. However, comedy and drama are apparently too different for one to automatically guarantee the success of the other. In my opinion, before staging something as big as Les Contes, one should have a clear concept of what exactly he wants to make out of it and which of Offenbach's messages he wants to emphasize. Otherwise, it's a mess.
- Less is more, and it can't be more true than when it comes to staging an opera. For my taste, this production was packed. It had too much of everything. The stage was always too dark and too crowded. Even looking at it felt suffocating.
- In Olympia Act there were too many guest characters and it all got really messy and not in the least scary. I remember reading a book by a famous stage director who wrote about that particular act - horror should never be obvious. Genius, no? One really does not have to scream boo to get the desirable effect.
- The staging of Olympia Act could not be more traditional. Olympia was just a doll in a pink dress. Silly face, funny moves. It was fine, of course. However, how about thinking out of the box? What if Hoffmann was not as stupid as most directors pretend he was. His pink glasses were nothing but love infatuation. For years I have been thinking: why can't any director ever make Olympia an alive woman with a pretty doll face and just a hint of fake manners, but something dark and dangerous coming from within. And then I saw it on You Tube - the only Olympia that I really like - Ewa Malas-Godlewska, the so-called voice of Farinelli. Search for her Olympia on You Tube - you won't regret it.
- Olympia's theme was majorly over-used in this production. There were too many Olympias dancing around the stage pretty much through the whole performance. The only scene when it was well justified and effective was when Hoffmann was waltzing with Olympia and then all Olympia figures were scattered like pieces of broken glass.
- Back to Alan Held's roles, I have to say I was not impressed. His voice, even though strong, lacked the deep musicality that the Villains are supposed to have. The famous Scintille, diamant (one of my favorite arias) was not deep at all. And it has to be. At least, that's how I see it. Captain Dapertutto is evil of course and walks through life enjoying the fruits of his actions. However, the aria brings out something from the very bottom of his soul to show that without realizing it, he suffers being the prisoner of his own evil spirit, but simply can't break through. All Mr. Held's villains were exactly the same person, which I thought should not be the case.
- The Giulietta Act looked like all of a sudden the director realized he was running out of time. Nothing was heartfelt. All arias and duets, most of which sounded really nice, were rushed, just one after another. That act has so many gems... Barcarole, Hoffman's aria, Dapertutto's aria, Hoffmann and Giulietta's Duet... and yet it seemed like all these gems were jammed together to fit the tight show running time.
- Finally, one of the best arias of the opera Hélas! mon cœur s’égare encore! was not staged the way it should have been. I thought the dance of multiple Olympias with partners was totally out of place. Besides everything the aria talks about, the music has its own voice. The music goes in circles, narrowing around Hoffmann, bringing the important figures close to him, each with their own agendas, joys and sorrows. Many directors pick up on that and stage it that way. Sometimes it's the music that directs the show.
I do feel bad for criticising Mr. Sher's production that hard. I really loved his Il Barbiere. However, there should be a place on the Earth for everyone to feel free to speak their minds. Thank God for this blog!
Monday, March 22, 2010
Yes, my seniors are modern and know how to go online and read their stuff, (meaning my blog). We have computer rooms here, so all they need to do is to go downstairs and find a working computer.
The thought of taking my seniors out to the opera or bringing opera here to them has crossed my mind every now and then. I am very willing to do either one, but... lots of things have to be done before it can happen and lots of problems have to be solved.
One week exactly before my trip to Kennedy Center to see Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Sondra Radvanovsky's all-Verdi recital!
Friday, March 19, 2010
The seniors are still talking about La Boheme Night and are still thanking me. My manager is very pleased about it and brags about this event to managers of other properties. We'll see what might come out of this.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
The event was a blast. We had a great turn-out: 35 people were in attendance.
My talk went really smooothly. I explained what the word la boheme means, and then spoke about Puccini's music life and his La Boheme battle with Leoncavallo. I played it all by ear, and not willing to tire my audience, skipped the verismo part of my talk. As I spoke, I realized that it would be way too much for them.
However, I am very happy to say that along with reading the synopsis of every act, I sort of directed my audience with my personal accents and comments about certain arias and duets.
I'll just share several here:
The significance of many arias and duets in La Boheme go far beyond the meaning of the sung words.
Thus, Musetta's Waltz, for example, besides being Musetta's hymn to her charms and beauty, is most importantly the celebration of her heart, the heart of a young woman, the heart that is still young and still cable of true love for an equal: a young, handsome, talented man.
In Act 3 Rodolfo tells Marcello that he is scared he won't have means to support Mimi now that she is so sick, and therefore, wants to leave her. However, the music tells us: he is afraid to see his beloved die - he'd rather say good-bye to her now.
In Act 4 Colline's aria is addressed to his old good overcoat that he is going to sell. However, it sounds like a deep sincere prayer for Mimi.
That, my friends, I consider more important than the verismo information. After all, La Boheme does not even fully qualify as verismo, because there is no violence act in the story. So who really cares?
The evening did not go without an adventure. It turned out that we could not get the subtitles on the screen, because the remote controll was missing. Thus, the audience was left to enjoy almost 2 hours of untranslated Italian. Of course, they knew what was going on. Besides having the opera synopsis in their hands, they could also listen to me explaining every act. Sounds messy, I know, but trust me, it went short, sweet and clean.
As the opera ended, a lot of sniffling was heard in the room. Many cried. The Kleenex boxes were popular. Many seniors came up to thank me and one lady said: "That's what the magic of music is all about. You don't need translation. You just listen and understand".
It was very rewarding to hear that comment. If at least one person in the audience made this discovery, the evening was not a waste, because, guess what ? The lady is right! Music does not need words, translation or explanation. You just listen and understand!
P.S. The music cake was delicious. Check in later for pictures.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Once Placido Domingo said that in order to sing an opera well, one has to make it his favorite. I think it easily transfers to teaching opera.
Puccini is not my favorite composer, like many of you know. However, I officially declare that today, right now, at 12:19 a.m. March 17th 2010 La Boheme is my favorite opera. Maybe for just a day, but believe me, it is.
Time to sleep.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Monday, March 15, 2010
- Puccini himself
- his famous Boheme battle with Leoncavallo (remember I saw the original latter's note at the Morgan?)
- Boheme and bohemians
- Verismo movement
- the music itself, as a "painting" tool
- my very own favorites (Musetta's Waltz, Marcello and Rodolfo's Duet, Colline's Aria - and everything they say)
- the story
- the characters...
If I want to be heard, I have to remember to be short and sweet. I'll hopefully awaken their interest in opera by touching upon important things and supporting myself with a clear-n-easy handout, and then off we'll go into the movie watching. I have compiled short and nice synopsis of the opera in both English and Russian. I might post them here as well. This was not as easy as one might think. It sure takes a lot to express something shortly.
Tomorrow I will practice my talk and see which parts can stay and which ones have to go. Sometime, some day I know won't have to cut myself short. Some day...
More on the preparation later. Stay tuned.
Friday, March 12, 2010
What music do you think they were playing? Anyone?
Mozart string concertos!!!
The interior was kind of neat.
First of all, no McDonalds Clown!!!
Instead, they had funky colored lights, booths, a little lounge area with comfy armchairs and ah...Mozart... The staff was extremely polite and nice.
What a pleasant culture shock, no?
You know how some people die on their birthdays - the weirdest thing of all, or how some spouses die on the same day?
La Boheme was in a way the sunrise of Puccini's artistic career. It brought huge success, fame and acknowledgement to the young composer that he was at the time.
And - it so happened that years later, at the very moment he passed away in the hospital, La Scala was performing his La Boheme. The news arrived while the show was on. It was stopped right away and after the sad news was announced, the orchestra played Chopin's Funeral March. That way, the same opera La Boheme, became the sunset of Puccini's life.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
The day is Wednesday, March 17th.
5:30 - Pre-Opera Talk & refreshments
6:00 - The Movie
The flyers with this image
Monday, March 8, 2010
Musical Adventures Concert Series
Saturday, March 6, 2010 at 11:00 a.m.
Join the BSO and Enchantment Theater Company as Scheherazade's 1001 tales come to life! With the magic of music and theater, you can let your imagination run wild as your family is whisked away to experience adventures both great and small.
Friday, March 5, 2010
Meanwhile, my opera-going perspectives for the coming Season of 2010-2011 are shaping up.
First of all, my mom and I are planning a terrific venture with Troy this coming Saturday, March 6th. Not exactly opera, but incredible classical music and theater are involved. But shhhh… Let’s just leave it at that point for now. No details until it happens. But once it happens, I promise to write all about it. Keep your fingers crossed.
The next biggie is coming up on March 29th. I am going to Kennedy Center in DC to see a duo All-Verdi Recital of Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Sondra Radvanovsky. I am incredibly excited about it. I am going by myself, like I often do, which is fine with me.
I might see Thomas' Hamlet with Diana Damrau in WNO in May. I might, but I am not quite sure… We’ll see.
Summer is usually a dead season for opera and concerts, except for the wonderful concerts that BSO brings to parks every summer. I would very much like to take Troy to one of those. He even enjoyed it last summer, remember?
I have nothing planned for September and October, just yet. However, before I announce that I am not going anywhere in those months, I would like to take a look at calendars of Shriver Hall and even Morgan Library, which won't become available until much later. Those inexpensive venues very often host exceptional artists.
November… Ah yes, don’t I always go to the Met in November? Well, this November Elina Garanca is coming back as Carmen. I would love to go, but…we’ll see.
In February 2011 Juan Diego Florez is giving a solo recital at WNO. I would love to take my mom to that particular recital! I am positive of one thing: if you like opera, you have to see/hear Juan Diego Florez live. It’s a must. Options are not available.
Finally, the last and probably the best – April 2011 – the Met - Le Comte Ory, starring Juan Diego Florez, Joyce DiDonato and Diana Damrau. How can anyone miss that stellar team performing on the same stage and on the same day? Besides, it’s Rossini and who else but Bartlett Sher?!! One does not miss performances like that.
So that’s what my season perspectives look like right now. It's all very costly of course, so I can't go to everything. We'll have to look at options and make wise choices. So, bear with me, Reader, it is all subject to change and we’ll keep our options open.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Anyway, here goes another story.
Yesterday before I picked Troy up from my mom's, we sat down for a cup of tea.
It was not long before Troy said "Mama", pointed at me, and sang :a-a-a-aaaa-a, while waving his arms in the air as if conducting the orchestra. We both laughed and then my mom said:" I think he is asking you to sing."
So I sang one of our operetta favorites, that lively and very funny Duet of Boni and Stasi from Kalman's Silva. Of course, he was listening with all his attention, smiling in a happy dreamy way.
As soon as I finished, he started clapping.
It was funny and touching at the same time.
P.S. I would recommend that duet to anybody who is listening/singing with their little ones. The piece is genius. Besides the super-catchy music, it gives room for a lot of acting that you can do with your voice or with you body (unless you are driving of course).