Category Archives: Mozart

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?  

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

Sunday Best — Oscar loves opera!

*This post was great fun to write last year on the day of the Academy Awards, and is applicable today. Hence, an Operatoonity Encore Post.

Psssst. Wanna know a secret? Oscar’s in love with opera. Operatic music is widely and well used in many excellent films: The Godfather, Life of David Gale, Fantasia, Black Hawk Down, and the list goes on and on.

Here are some of the Oscar-winning movies I’ve seen (and some of my favorite also-rans) with the classical music they incorporated into their soundtracks. Maybe that’s why Oscar adores opera.

1997: Life Is Beautiful – Best Actor (Robert Benigni) – “Barcarolle” from Les Contes d’HoffmannOffenbach (This is one of my all-time favorite movies, so it gets the first YouTube clip.

1993: PhiladelphiaBest Actor in a Leading Role (Tom Hanks), and Best Music, Song (Bruce Springsteen for “Streets of Philadelphia“) – “La Mamma Morta” from Andrea Chénier – Giordano

1987: Moonstruck – Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress (Cher), and Best Supporting Actress – La Bohème – Puccini

1987: The Untouchables – Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Sean Connery, always have to give a nod to Sean Connery, wherever and however possible) – “Vesti la giubba” from Paliacci – Leoncavallo; also featured in a Seinfeld episode.

1987:  Wall Street – Best Actor (Michael Douglas) – “Questa O Quella” from Rigoletto – Verdi

1984 Amadeus – Eight Oscars, most notably Best Picture,  Best Actor in a Leading Role (F. Murray Abraham), Best Director (Miloš Forman), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Peter Shaffer) –  Don Giovanni  and “Sull’ Aria” from The Marriage of Figaro – by whom else by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

1980 Raging Bull – Best Actor (De Niro) and Best Editing (Schoonmaker) – “Cavalleria rusticana” – Mascagni

1979 Apocalypse Now – Best Cinematography and Best Sound – “Ride of the Valkyries” from Die Walkure – Wagner

Three of my favorite also nominated-but-didn’t-win movies with opera. (Hey! It’s my blog!) 

1994: The Shawshank Redemption – “Sull’ Aria” from The Marriage of Figaro – Mozart. Here is the scene where Andy plays the aria for inmates (It is one of my favorite scenes ever–thank you, Mozart):

1987: Fatal Attraction – “Un Bel di Vedremo” from Madama Butterfly  – Puccini

1990: Pretty Woman – Best Actress (Julia Roberts) La Traviata – Verdi

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Filed under Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Don Giovanni, Mozart, Sunday Best

bari steals show in COC’s delightful ‘Flute’

How many people watch The Magic Flute and wonder why Mozart wrote such a lighthearted, whimsical character as Papageno for the baritone voice? Anyone besides me?

In many cases, too many to mention here, baritones are opera’s bad boys, villains, tragically flawed protagonists,  womanizers, and drunkards.  

And then there is Papageno, the spritely birdcatcher–a part in a class all its own–who always seems to steal the show, no matter who produces the show.  

According to the professional reviews and audience reactions on the Canadian Opera Company‘s Facebook page, in the COC’s new production of The Magic Flute running through February 25, Papageno, the bird-catching bari, strikes again, capturing the heartshare of operagoers and critics alike. The review from the Toronto Star said:  

“The star of this production is Russian baritone Rodion Pogossov, who lit up the stage whenever he appeared. He not only sang beautifully but was a paragon of comic flippancy as Papageno, the bird-man who only wants a nice wife and something good to eat and drink.” — John Terauds  

Rodion Pogossov as Papageno / photo by Michael Cooper

Congratulations to the COC on another hit! Enjoy more of the photographs taken during dress rehearsal.  

Michael Schade as Tamino/photo by Michael Cooper

Lisa DiMaria as Papagena and Rodion Pogossov as Papageno /photo by Michael Cooper

 For remaining performances and tickets, visit the COC website. Production credits: Conductor Johannes Debus, director Diane Paulus, set and costume designer Myung Hee Cho and lighting designer Scott Zielinski.

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Filed under Classic Opera, Mozart, North American Opera

three websites for delving into Mozart

Since January 31 is the last day of the Merry Month of Mozart on Operatoonity, I thought it would be fitting to share three sites where you can hear more of his music as well as learn more about his music and the world he lived in. 

Classical Music Archives: Mozart

At the Classical Music Archives you can hear hundreds of his compositions in MP3, MIDI and WAX (a special kind of Windows Media Audio.) Guests can listen to up to five pieces of music per day. This limit is removed for paying subscribers, who can also can download the music files to their own computers. To hear Mozart’s first minuets, scroll down the page to Nannerl’s Notenbuch. To untangle the complexities of audio file formats, read their “How to Listen to Music on the Internet” 

Mozart Project

The Mozart Project presents the milestones of Mozart’s life in a time line showing concurrent world events. Europe, teeming with political and cultural activity throughout the eighteenth century, greatly affected Mozart’s development. You’ll also find an annotated catalog of Mozart’s life work, cross referenced chronologically as well as by category. Not merely a listing of compositions, it offers a detailed insight into each work and its creation. 

Salzburg: Mozart

the house where Mozart was born

Tour Salzburg, the City of Mozart’s birth, from your easy chair. Stop along the way to visit his birthplace on Getreidegasse, and Mozart’s residence in Makart Square. The site offers a short biography as well as details on the two Mozart houses, now maintained as museums by the Mozarteum Foundation, and is sponsored by the Salzburg Tourist Board. 

Happy reading and listening!

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Filed under Classical Composers, Mozart

‘Idomeneo’ welcomed into the world this day

On January 29, in 1781, Mozart’s first real operatic masterpiece Idomeneo, opera seria in three acts, premiered in Munich, Germany, with Mozart conducting.

Like Iphigenia in Aulis, Idomeneno is considered a sacrifice opera in that the story contains the perennially tragic story of the younger generation condemned to death by the vows or treaties made by their elders.

Idomeneo, the king of Crete, is returning home from the Trojan Wars during a storm, when he vows to sacrifice to Neptune (the Greek god Poseidon) the first living creature he meets ashore in return for his own safety. The first person he sees turns out to be his own son Idamante, and Idomeneo attempts to escape from fulfilling his vow. Idamante, meanwhile, is loved by orphaned prisoner Ilia and by the jealous Electra.

According to the Penguin Opera Guide, during the time when he was writing Idomeneo, Mozart was saddled with Karl Theodor‘s orchestra and opera company from Mannheim. Mozart considered the actors playing Idomeneo and Idamante “the two worst ever born” and that this perception influenced the music he wrote for them. Idamante was played by an untalented castrato Mozart dubbed, “amato castrato del Prato” but since castrati tend to be in short supply in modern times, it’s not uncommon for the role to be sung by a soprano.

Below, is a conventional interpretation of Idomeneo with Pavarotti singing the title role, clipped from performance at the Metropolitan Opera in 1982, with Frederica von Stade as Idamante.  Wow, what a set!

Fast forward to 2006,  when the Salzburg Festival presented a starkly beautiful production of Idomeneo  to celebrate Mozart’s 250th, featuring Ramon Vargas as Idomeneo, soprano Magdalena Kozena as Idamante and Ekaterina Siurina as Ilia. In the following clip, Kozena is completely believable as Idamante–one of the best pants role performances I’ve ever seen.

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Filed under Classical Composers, Concert Opera, Mozart, Video

post-party expression

Now that my favorite composer’s birthday has come and gone, and I personally made an unprecedented amount of hoopla over it, it might be reasonable for me to be suffering a little post-party depression.

Instead I feel happy (and spent–in a good way–I did post four times yesterday–a personal best not soon to be repeated)! Not to mention that I bolted upright at three in the morning with the title for a post I hadn’t yet written–one of the aftereffects of posting daily I suppose–the subconcious mind never stops working.

Just so you know, I am not a one-track train. Besides opera, I am an avid fan of the NBA and was a sports mom for a decade. I love my gardening during growing season, birds, and books–reading them and writing them–and also, keeping it real,  “Dancing with the Stars.” (Per my daughter, I don’t really like DWTS–I merely have settled into the irony of liking it.)

Regarding Mozart‘s birthday, I needed to set aside time to give him his due on this opera blog. And you can say what you want about Twitter and deem it a time suck or a worthless pursuit, but besides #operaplot week, it was a most uplifting day on Twitter yesterday. More than a hundred people joined the #mozartchat list, sharing little known facts about Mozart, quotes about Mozart, and loads of links. Dozens of  links to wonderful pieces of music were shared yesterday–on and off the #mozartchat list.

Yes, a whole echelon of folks managed to communicate meaningfully for a day on Twitter without no mention of Kanye West, Justin Bieber, or Kim Kardachian.

Thanks to everyone (you know who you are) who chimed in with an anecdote, a YouTube clip, the title of a favorite piece, or a bit of Mozart trivia. You made yesterday a fitting and memorable tribute to the late great W. A. Mozart.  Oh, and fun! Fun is good, too.

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Filed under Best of Operatoonity, Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Mozart

fave Mozart works–the Twittersphere has spoken (part trois)

The delightful classical connoisseur @amzenon responded to my Tweet requesting the name of their very favorite Mozart piece, saying one word, “Figaro.”

Apparently, Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) was Operatoonity readers’ favorite, too, having won the favorite Mozart opera poll with more than 34% of the vote compared to next best, Die Zauberflöte, with 25%.

In the final installment of “Fave Mozart works,”  in honor of Mozart’s birthday, here is the overture to Le Nozze di Figaro performed by the Miyazaki International Music Festival Orchestra, 2009 (a splendid version, I might add). Hope you like it, too.

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Filed under Audience participation, Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Mozart