Category Archives: DEVILED BY DON

Polly want a soprano?

Sopranos aren’t always women.

There’s the boy soprano–like the wonderful Michael Kepler Meo appearing in New York City Opera’s Seance on a Wet Afternoon. And plenty of sopranos pretending to be boys (trouser roles). There’s also the countertenor, or a male singing voice whose vocal range is equivalent to that of a contralto, mezzo-soprano, or (less frequently) a soprano.

Sometimes, sopranos aren’t even human.

My favorite non-human soprano is the African grey parrot who sings (or used to sing–sadly, the parrot died) “The Queen of the Night Aria” from The Magic Flute. In this video, little Menino hits notes I could only dream of reaching.

Menino’s performance was so inspiring, I  refer to an opera-singing parrot in honor of Menino, in a scene from my opera book.

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Filed under Classic Opera, DEVILED BY DON, Mozart, Opera and humor, sopranos

meet the soubrette, a stock soprano role

Soubrette is wonderful word I was introduced to last year from the world of opera. A term associated with stock characters in the performing arts/theater world, a soubrette is a minor female role in comedy, often that of a pert or flirtacious lady’s maid [from the French for maidservant, from Provençal soubreto]. A soubrette can also be a country maid or a character with beguiling country innocence, as illustrated in the accompanying painting. Soubrettish is the adjective form.

When I first heard soubrette, it reminded me of coquette, another word for a flirtatious girl or woman, that I was introduced to through the literary world–perhaps from reading Regency romance, but I’ve since forgotten. 

Soubrette by Depouilly

 The difference is that soubrette is more of a character type, just like an ingenue, the cad, or a romantic lead.

Famous soubrette roles in opera include Papagena from The Magic Flute, Adina in The Elixer of Love, Susanna from The Marriage of Figaro, and Zerlina, in Don Giovanni, which happen to be some of the most popular and entertaining soprano roles around and certainly have to be fun to play.

In my opera book, the character who wants the role of Zerlina is a soubrette herself–the pert, yet virginal type. This character, Oriane, who is twenty-nine when the story begins, whines that if she doesn’t get to sing Zerlina, she’ll be too old to play it when the next role comes around, which could be five years later. Many companies don’t repeat productions inside five years.

There is some truth to her complaint. A young singer may begin her career as a soubrette, but as she ages and her voice matures she may be reclassified as another voice type, such as a light lyric soprano. A singer rarely remains a soubrette for an entire career. Although in watching video productions of stage performances of Don Giovanni, I noticed a few Zerlinas who were too long in the tooth and wide in the waist to portray a pert country maid. More like madams, they were, IMHO.

So, Oriane is being mostly truthful when she claims that if she doesn’t get the role at twenty-nine, her voice might never be suited to the role of the soubrette again. What she neglects to mention is that she’ll now be eligible for different roles because of the mature timbre of her voice.

Here’s a You-Tube clip of the very famous seduction duet between Giovanni and Zerlina, “La ci darem la mano.” While the Giovanni is in fine (if heavy) voice, for my taste, he’s too old and oily to be very convincing as a seducer of woman of all ages–strictly my opinion. Zerlina is capably sung. Even though she’s clearly middle aged, her voice retains the proper timbre for a soubrette. By contrast, their are many, many YouTube clips of Zerlinas who need to put themselves out to pasture because their voices and bodies are too mature. I also chose this version of “La si darem la mano,” because it skips the recitative and gets right into the song. Let me know what you think of Angelika Kirchschlager as Zerlina. Is she a proper Zerlina, IYHO?  


Filed under Character from DEVILED BY DON, Classic Opera, DEVILED BY DON, Don Giovanni, Mozart, Performers, Terminology

opera rules (for the day)

Don Giovanni, Verbier Festival

Today, I learned that my contemporary novel with an opera backdrop (loosely mirroring Mozart’s Don Giovanni), advanced to the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. Out of the 5,000 entries initially submitted, 1,000 moved on, and mine was one of them.  

Holy Mozart Jubilate Deo!  

 There aren’t many contemporary novels published with classic opera as a backdrop. Mine is one of a precious few.  By March 22, the field narrows to 250 books, by the following month, 100, with six finalists announced a month later. My joy may be fleeting, but just for today I’d like to celebrate that opera rules, and share with you the first chapter of my novel, DEVILED BY DON. If the novel moves on to later rounds, I hope I can count on “Operatoonity” readers to support it. I can say with confidence the number of opera novels in this fiction contest will be slim pickins. (In fact, mine might be the only one.) Let me know what you think.  

“A well-born Cavalier, such ev’n as I am,
tamely can see such sweet and dainty freshness,
such delicate perfections.”

Don Giovanni  


The Cavalier  


Late March, downtown Hankey, Pennsylvania. Morning has broken like a brown egg cracked into a rusty skillet. The main thoroughfare, Henry Avenue, is deserted. Its centerpiece is the Hankey Opera House—the only handsome building on a blighted street.   

Deanna Lundquist never imagined she’d be late for a meeting she had called herself. She’d arrived twenty minutes early, coffee and Danish in tow, and dug out the keys to the opera house with her free hand. Expecting it to be locked, she leaned against the glass door. In the next second, it gave way and sent her stumbling into the foyer. The front door crashed into the adjoining glass before slamming shut behind her.  

Though she stayed on her feet, one of the Styrofoam cups tumbled onto the carpet. She’d better find some paper toweling and mop it up. A wet ring was spreading and deepening on the carpet with each second that passed.  

She hurried to the ladies’ room around the corner and set her things on the tiled counter, surveying the sink. No paper towels. Only a turbo-powered hand dryer that felt like it was tearing off her flesh the first time she used it.  

Why had the front door been left unlocked? It had to be the ballet company loading in for tech rehearsal, she thought, reminding herself other arts organizations were managing the same challenges she was, merely on alternate weekends.  

Back to cleaning up that spill. After their winter fundraiser, she’d packed some spare linens in the first-floor storage closet that could sop up the coffee. She had the key, a tiny one, as she recalled. Grasping the smallest key on the ring between her forefinger and thumb, she paused, sighing. She was supposed to be upstairs, preparing the rest of the guild members for the interviews. Deanna felt the air rustle around her and sniffed. The acrid scent of sweat rushed into her nostrils, turning her empty stomach. The next thing she knew, someone grabbed her around the waist and clamped a sweaty hand over her mouth.  

“Don’t move,” a man said in a husky voice. “I’ll snap your head off.”  

Deanna froze in stunned silence. She’d taken self-defense classes. In the throes of an attack, her mind had gone blank. What had her instructor said? Don’t capitulate. Refuse to cooperate.  

He took his hand off her mouth and wrapped it around her neck. “I want you talk nice to me, eh?”  

“You worthless piece of—”  

He clamped his hand over her mouth again, more forcefully this time. “I said, talk nice,” he hissed through clenched teeth, dragging her toward the elevator. “You don’t look stupid. Don’t act stupid. You better be sweet if you want to live to see your thirty-fifth birthday. Okay, signora?” He took his hand away from her mouth.  

 “If you let me go now,” she said, “you’ll get off with a hand slap.”  

She heard him push the elevator button. He nuzzled the back of her neck, and she stiffened. “Please,” she cried softly. The feel of his hot breath and clammy lips sent nausea climbing into her throat.  

“That’s better,” he purred, his voice becoming melodic.  

“Please stop,” she managed to say, but he continued grazing her skin with his mouth. She focused on picturing the size and weight of his lips, which felt blubbery and a little scratchy as if he wore a mustache or a mask. His accent was slight, lilting. Since he wasn’t revealing his face, she’d need those details to identify him to the authorities, assuming she lived through this. She heard the freight elevator doors clunk open.  

He pressed his lips against her ear. “Call me—il cavaliere.”  

Deanna shivered. “What?” she whispered.  

He inched them closer to the elevator, digging his arm into her chest. Was he going to hurl her down the elevator shaft? Her body recoiled in terror. If he dragged her inside the elevator car, he could do whatever he wanted to her.  

He yanked her closer to him. “Il cavaliere,” he repeated in a husky voice. “Il cavaliere.”  

His Italian sounded perfect, as if he’d studied the language. As if he’d been a student of opera. The irony of it. This guy was no simple Hankey thug.  

Il cavaliere,” she said, doing her best to mimic him.  

“Again,” he commanded. “Louder!”  

Deanna struggled to clear her throat with his forearm against into her neck. “Il cavaliere,” she croaked.  

He released her and shoved her hard in the middle of her back. She tried to break the fall with her hands, but he’d acted so savagely, she’d flown across the hall, landing on an elbow. The pain coursing through her arm was paralyzing, and she lay there a second, immobile. Yet, she had to see his face. She twisted around in time to see the elevator doors close on a mustachioed man wearing a black demi-mask, sweeping a dark cape through the air with a flourish, à la Don Giovanni.  

(end of chapter one)


Filed under DEVILED BY DON, Don Giovanni, My writing

biceps that inspired a book . . . and a blog

Erwin Schrott / photo by Decca - Uli Weber

Guess what, sports fans? February is bass-baritone month on “Operatoonity.” And I simply have to kick off the month with the bass-baritone who inspired the book that inspired this blog  one year ago this very month.       

None other than the heart-stopping, jaw dropping, beautiful and talented bass-baritone Erwin Schrott.       

How did I end up writing a book because of Erwin Schrott?       

See, I had been advised by my literary agent (at the time) to write a my next book using classic opera as a backdrop. As I recall, she said, “I can sell it in a heartbeat.”       

Well, that hasn’t exactly happened. But I did write the book.       

But, as any writer can tell you, the problem with all books is how and where to begin. Once I decided that the novel should mirror the story line of Don G, I went looking for inspiration in the form of pictures, so my mind’s eye could settle in on a prototype of the man singing the role of  Don G for my small town opera company. That’s when I found this picture of Erwin Schrott. And as you might have guessed, my imagination raced to Alpha Centauri and back. Truly, my life hasn’t been the same since I laid eyes on this photograph of Erwin Schrott.     

Were these the biceps that launch’d three hundred pages
To scorch the world of blogs and books
Sweet Erwin, make me immortal with a flex.

If I said the book wrote itself I’d be lying, but I did flesh out a major character and made up a whole back story about my baritone who was a gaucho in Argentina discovered crooning to his cattle and went on to win an international singing competition called (what else?) “Operatoonity,” a victory that thrust him into the international opera circuit.       

At the time I wrote the book, I didn’t know a lot of details about Mr. Schrott. I hadn’t needed to know much. I saw his picture–it captured my imagination faster and more intently than a capable gaucho ropes a steer, and I wrote a book. It was almost as simple as that.       

Of course, that mean inventing many details about his life before my Erwin Schrott character became an opera singer  but especially while he was an up-and-coming talent –those really were the most fun concocting.       

If I hadn’t written a book about an opera company who begins turning into the characters in Don Giovanni, I would never had need for this blog.       

And if I’d never seen this picture of Mr. Schrott, who knows what my book would have been about? Probably an adaptation of Falstaff. Instead of having a “barihunk” to capture my reader’s interest, I’d have spent my writing time with an overweight bulbous-nosed, drunken gas bag filling my head, page in and page out, day in and day out.       

Now you can understand why I owe Erwin Schrott such a great debt.


Filed under 21st Century Opera, Character from DEVILED BY DON, DEVILED BY DON, Don Giovanni, Performers

if it’s Tuesday, ask Richard about Pandora . . .

Cut Bank, Montana

Dear Richard,

A co-worker recently told me about a personalized Internet radio service called Pandora that helps you find and hear music based on your favorite composers. Not sure why they called it Pandora, since she opened up a world of trouble. Is it worth investigating? Or nothing more than a world of trouble?

Curious in Cut Bank, Montana


Dear Curious,

Funny you should ask about Pandora. I only started using Pandora last month. Despite the name–almost a misnomer–I find it a very agreeable service. Lately, it’s almost impossible to load a whole day’s worth of music on the stereo. Sometimes, I never know what to choose–must be my advanced years creeping up on me.

With Pandora, all I do is plug in the composers I want to hear, and it supplies the artists and orchestras. It’s like getting a gift  you don’t expect,  as they trot out Renata Tebaldi singing Meyerbeer or the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse performing Carmen, which is what I’m listening to right now. I love getting pleasant little surprises throughout my day and not having to fuss whatsoever to obtain them. My dogs and my garden need daily attention, so Pandora is a pleasureable timesaver for me. As long as you don’t exceed forty hours per month, it remains free–perfect for someone on a fixed income or watching their pennies.

I say, give it a try. It’s easy to use and fun to be surprised by a recording you’ve forgotten about.


Dr. Richard Rohrer

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Character from DEVILED BY DON, DEVILED BY DON

If it’s Tuesday, ask Richard about ‘Rigoletto’ filmed in Mantua

Dear Richard,            

I’ve  been so excited about the live TV film transmission from Mantua of Giuseppe Verdi‘s  Rigoletto, even though most of us in the States haven’t yet viewed the complete production. I watched one of the trailers prior to the live transmission. It was fantastic, like a microcosm of everything  this production had to offer–vibrancy, relevancy, and such fresh potential–in the way that it filmed opera not as a static stage production but as if it were cinema. Shooting a stage production in the conventional way would have been child’s play compared to the ambitious treatment of Rigoletto a Manatova. So, why are people who claim to like opera picking at this production like it’s a Thanksgiving turkey carcass? This was a watershed production for opera appreciation in the 21st century. It is living, breathing musical drama, dramma per musica, that has the potential to reach new audiences. Why aren’t people who say they love opera supporting this?            

Upset in Upsala            

Dr. Richard Rohrer


Dear Upset,          

I understand and share your concern. After all, some of the most accomplished and influential talents in the world of opera are associated with this production such as Plácido Domingo, internationally acclaimed performer and WNO principal; Andrea Alderman, producer; Marco Bellocchio, director; Zubin Mehta, conductor; and dozens  more talented and accomplished artisans. As the Classical Iconoclast has said in a recent essay on the production, “[Rigoletto a Montova]  is significant because it shows the possibilities of film in expanding the potential of opera to communicate.”            

I observed some of the nitpicking you refer to, reading comments posted on various opera blogs: “Zubin Mehta thinks he’s conducting Mahler;” “Grigolo screamed his part,” and so on and so forth, when in fact the production was impressive and nothing short of inspiring, on the whole.  And the whole is supposed to be greater than a sum of parts where drama is concerned. And in this case, the parts served the whole–admirably–despite the myriad challenges of filming live while attempting to convey verisimilitude more so than theatricality. Instead of feeling like I was watching from a box seat, I felt as though I was in the room with the Duke or standing beside Rigoletto in the thunderstorm.      

Unfortunately, so many conventional opera companies are hurting–my opera house in Hankey included. By tearing down brave new ventures like “Rigoletto” a Mantova, many self-professed opera lovers/cognoscenti insinuate that they would rather see opera as we know it die on the vine than support live opera  that doesn’t meet their high, unreasonable performance expectations in every piddling way.            

What the  creative team did, filming Rigoletto on site in Mantua, live, was an incredibly daring and artistically brave  and challenging endeavor. In every way that is significant, they succeeded. Promise me, Upset in Upsala, not to bend to the nattering nabobs of negativism in the operasphere but continue to support those who take risks in order to make opera a more accessible and a more relevant art form. If you bend to the naysayers, in less than 20 years, we are all doomed to viewing nothing but long-ago filmed productions, the historic record of a once-beloved live art form.            

Optimistically yours for opera’s future audience,            

Dr. Richard Rohrer            

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Character from DEVILED BY DON, DEVILED BY DON, Rant

“best of” countdown #1 – why do women fall for bad boys?

(first published February 22, 2010) 

NYC Opera's Don G (with Leporello)

Alpha males. Cads. Rakes. Men behaving badly. Whatever you call them, women know them by their swagger. Just as Don Giovanni can claim to smell femininity, women can smell bad boys, too, literally and figuratively. Women know what havoc bad boys can wreak in their hearts and lives, and yet, they still become involved with them . . . or secretly long to (and not just because bad boys can smell very good).   

What is it about bad boys women find so hard to resist?    

In a nice little article at, Chris Williamson lists seven reasons why women love bad men. Basically, Williamson contends bad boys are confident, adventurous men who appear to be in control but are always testing the boundaries–yours, theirs, and everyone else’s–all qualities women find very appealing.   

Opera Australia's Don G with Tahu Rhodes

The opera Don Giovanni is based on the legend of Don Juan, who lived in the early Renaissance. Giovanni is the ultimate bad boy, who’s broken hearts all across Europe. He’s had ninety-one women in Turkey alone, according to a funny line  from an aria sung by Giovanni’s manservant, who catalogs all the women his master has bedded (but never wedded). Yet, audiences never tire of hearing about or seeing Giovanni’s sexual exploits on stage. Baritones love to play the part. And audiences love watching a quintessential ladies’ man (especially when they look like  Teddy Tahu Rhodes  and Erwin Schrott).    

Will women ever stop being attracted to bad men? Hard to say. 

Erwin Schrott as Don Giovanni

In a blog called “Hot and Trendy,” author Barbara Lebey talks about women’s attraction to naughty men. Lebey said, “Some women love to capture elusive men. We all have within us the desire to tempt fate–to climb steep mountains, race cars, or gamble at roulette tables. Forbidden love provides a similar thrill.”  

I’m guessing there are also women like me, who prefer to marry a good man in real life, but long to escape with a bad boy via a good book. I certainly hope so. I have such a bad boy in my opera novel, an Argentine baritone Leandro Vasquez, who’s so good looking, he could definitely be a contender on a Poster Boys of Opera calendar, if he were a real opera singer and not just a fictional one.    

Is Leandro Vasquez someone you want your daughter to date? Absolutely not. Is he fun to read about? You bet your sweet bippy, he is.

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Filed under Best of Operatoonity, Character from DEVILED BY DON, Classic Opera, DEVILED BY DON, Don Giovanni, favorites

if it’s Tuesday, ask Richard . . .

Dr. Richard Rohrer is the reigning expert regarding classic opera in the Rust Belt town of Hankey, Pennsylvania, the fictional setting for my comic novel, DEVILED BY DON, and of all things “Operatoonity.” Since Tuesday is “Ask Richard” day, we proffer the following musical question:

Dear Richard,

Is there any commonality to posts that have been most successful with Operatoonity readers?

Dying to know in Dayton

Dear Dying,

Good question. Actually, my analysis of the site suggests that Gale’s interviews with performers have been far and away the most popular posts. Here are the top three:

Meet LeandraOpera on Sunday Best–an interview with American singer/performer Leandra Ramm

Meet soprano Zita Tátrai tonight on “Operatoonity”–an interview with Hungarian-born singer, stage and film actress, and visual artist

Meet Kala Maxym, lyric soprano (and TOI principal)–an interview with an American soprano who is also the executive director of The Opera Insider, a new opera website.

One could surmise that these three interviews have been the most popular because all of the women are lovely, gracious, and talented. (That’s just good old-fashioned common sense.) But there are other reasons, too. All these women have what is called a “presence” on  the new Social Media. Therefore, it’s easy to say to their followers, “Click this link (off Facebook or Twitter), and you can read this profile about me at this blog,” et cetera, et cetera.

So, you see, they’ve made it sinfully easy for fans to stay abreast of their comings and goings by being visible on these social networking sites. Also, they can be seen on the YouTube channel, which is critically important these days. Some performers, believe it or not, have not taken the time or interest to post videos of their performances on YouTube. I’m no digital native, but even I know that we’re in the throes of a revolution in the ways we reach new audiences, and that being accessible through Social Media can only benefit performers in this century–even if they’re partial to music from other centuries.

Yours in classic opera appreciation,

Richard Rohrer

So, there you have it. Three female performers and opera insiders with “Google Juice” top the list for Operatoonity readers. Highest ranking posts start Sunday, August 8.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, DEVILED BY DON, favorites, Performers, Sunday Best