Category Archives: Performers

today’s top tenors

I put the task off until today. But since it’s the last day of Talented Tenors month, it was now or never.

(It being the list of top tenors singing today.)

Strangely, there’s lots of information on the best tenors of yesteryear. Just not the best tenors performing today. What’s the cause of that? Recordings, I suppose, are infinitely more accessible than live opera performance though I much prefer to see them and hear them.

These singers range in age from 38 (Juan Diego Flórez, the youngest) to age 70 (Plácido Domingo, the oldest). Apart from Domingo, there’s no more than ten years’ difference in the ages of the other tenors selected. This is important because it presumes a requisite level of experience and exposure that can only be gained over years of time, which is why there are no twenty-somethings on this list.

So, in alphabetical order here they are–the best tenors in the world–today.

Roberto Alagna

Roberto Alagna — born June 7, 1963, a French operatic tenor of Sicilian descent. He made his professional debut in 1988 as Alfredo Germont in ‘La Traviata’ with the Glyndebourne Opera touring company. His performances as Romeo in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Covent Garden in 1994 catapulted him to international stardom.

Marcelo Álvarez

Marcelo Álvarez — born February 27, 1962, an Argentine lyric tenor. He achieved international success starting in the mid-1990s, his first role being Count Almaviva in “The Barber of Seville” by Rossini in Córdoba in June 1994. Four years later, he debuted at the Metropolitan Opera La Traviata in the role of Alfredo.

Plácido Domingo

Plácido Domingo — born January 21, 1941, a Spanish tenor and conductor.  His launch into international stardom occurred in February 1966, when he sang the title role in the U.S. premiere of Ginastera‘s Don Rodrigo for New York City Opera. In March 2008, he debuted in his 128th opera role, and as of July 2011 his 136 roles give Domingo more roles than any other tenor.

Juan Diego Flórez

Juan Diego Flórez — born January 13, 1973,  a Peruvian operatic tenor, particularly known for his roles in bel canto operas. Flórez’s first breakthrough and professional debut came in 1996, at the Rossini Festival in the Italian city of Pesaro, Rossini’s birthplace.

Jonas Kaufmann

Jonas Kaufmann — born July 10, 1969,  a German tenor, particularly known for his spinto roles. He was a prize-winner at the 1993 Nürnberg Meistersinger Competition. One of his breakout roles occurred with the 2003 Salzburg Festival for the role of Belmonte in Mozart’s “Die Entführung aus dem Serail.” Another significant step in his career came about in February of 2006 with his début as Alfredo in “La Traviata” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, at the invitation of James Levine.

Rolando Villazón

Rolando Villazón —  born February 22, 1972, a Mexican tenor. He came to international attention in 1999 when he won both first prizes awarded in Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, an international competition for emerging opera singers – in opera and zarzuela. He made his European debut that same year as Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon in Genoa. swiftly followed by further debuts at Opéra de Paris as Alfredo in La traviata; and the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin as Macduff in Verdi’s Macbeth.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing both Álvarez and Flórez at the Met in the last year and seeing Domingo conduct a beautiful Butterfly at WNO. I sincerely hope to see Alagna, Kaufmann, and Villazón in the near future.

What say you? Would these singers be on your list of top tenors?

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Bel canto opera, Opera Awards, Performers, Sunday Best, tenors

American tenor wins Operalia 2011

René Barbera, 2011 Operalia winner

Congratulations to René Barbera, US tenor, Texas native, winner of three prizes at Placido Domingo’s Operalia!

  • First Prize for Opera
  • First Prize for Zarzuela
  • Audience Prize

He is the first artist to be the sole recipient of all three awards since the competition began in 1993.

Here is his prize-winning aria from the competition. “Pour mon ame” from Donizetti’s La fille du régiment. Listen to him nail his top C’s–all nine of them. Laser sharp. Ping, bam, ring. WOW!

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Heartstoppers, North American Opera, opera competitions, Performers, tenors

what makes a great tenor?

Rolando Villazón

No matter how much you know about opera or about tenors for that matter, you’ll love this seven-part series “What Makes a Great Tenor?” produced by the BBC and hosted by tenor legend Rolando Villazón.

Villazón is an intelligent, gracious host. He is generous with his praise of other world-renowned tenors of his generation–Juan Diego Flórez, Plácido Domingo, Jonas Kauffman. And shares his instrument on cue–a real pro!

He is a most charming teacher and guide. And the perfect choice to lead us through this series. When he says, “They have all [tenors] received deafening applause,” that’s an experience he himself can claim, rightly so.  Later when he says, “Being a tenor takes dedication and a lot of hard work”  observations on his profession like this and others are delievered with credence and conviction.

This is a truly delightful series that enlightens and entertains. You’ll hear Roberto Alagna speaking in French about how significant it was that the tenor voice became a virile-sounding vocal part in the 1830s, which has certainly been a large measure of his superstar appeal and countless others.

There are wonderful contemporary and historic snippets of the great ones singing the great arias. Even interviews with the divas of today regarding the signficance and the challenges of the tenor role.

Here is the first part (1/7) of “What Makes A Great Tenor?”  All seven parts are available on YouTube. It is not to be missed. Do let me know what you think of it.

 

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Filed under opera history, Performers, tenors, Video

meet @mitchthetenor: sings internationally; loves American song

Mitchell Sturgess, tenor

Tenor Mitchell Sturges hails from Salt Lake City, Utah.  Currently, he lives in Tucson, Arizona, where he is under the tutelage of Dr. Kristin Dauphinais at the University of Arizona.

But in a manner of speaking, he’s like VISA. Mitch is everywhere you want him to be.

That’s because he’s really plugged into social media (he was one of the early adopters, judging from his huge friend and follower base), which is how I met him, and how I arranged for Mitch to be one of this month’s Talented Tenors.

Some of his past performances include leading roles in Gianni Schicchi, Il barbiere di Siviglia and Amahl and the Night Visitors, collaborating with the University of Utah Opera Theatre, Paradigm Chamber Orchestra, & Salt Lake Symphony.

In the summer of 2007, he sang the role of Gherardo in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi & the Sergeant in Donizetti’s Rita in Pesaro, Italy, at international music festival La Musica Lirica. He has been a featured soloist throughout Salt Lake performing J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, P.D.Q. Bach’s Oedipus Tex, Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb, Dvořák’s Requiem & Händel’s Messiah. In spring 2010, he was a featured soloist with Utopia Early Music, performing music from 17th century England.

No wonder his Twitter username is @mitchthetenor. Being a tenor is his life and his livelihood!

Welcome to Operatoonity, Mitch!

Where did you grow up and how did it affect your life choices?
I grew up in Salt Lake City, and this definitely affected my life choices. When I was in high school, we were known for our music, specifically the choral arts, with approximately 500 students in the choir department.The arts here are supported very well, with lots of different performing organizations performing all 52 weeks of the year. In addition to the professional groups, there are quite a few community performing groups that offer solo performance opportunities to the young and rising talent of Salt Lake, giving the opportunity to perform with an orchestra and/or chorus. Beyond those groups, there are lots of community venues (churches, colleges, etc.) that have concert series that mostly feature local talent. This is one of the greatest things, as finding a venue is usually the hardest part of putting together a performance. Had I not grown up in a place where the arts are not as strongly supported, I could have gone in a completely different career.

Performing in MacBeth

Do you believe that being an opera/classically trained singer is your destiny?
Short answer: Yes. I feel, that wherever my career path takes me, I will always sing. I have a couple different interests in the classical music industry (in no particular order): being a professional singer, being an artistic director of a company or concert series, a faculty member at a college or university, or music director for a church. The nice part about some of these options is that, in some cases, more than one could occur. I think, as of right now, my career is lining up more toward being on faculty somewhere. While being on faculty, I could (and would) still have professional engagements around the world, and this is definitely an option during the summer. Even if I don’t end up at an educational institution, I have a strong love of performing and recitals, and would perform constantly, whatever my position is.
How would you describe your voice?
I would maybe say that it is like (read: heading towards) Rockwell Blake’s sound. I sing mostly Rossini & Mozart, but have a little more heft than the standard leggerio. That said, I have had my voice described as being ‘transparently clean’ and that I sing ‘honestly and with clarity.’

Singing in 'Betly'

What single experience has been the most meaningful in your operatic pursuits thus far?
The most meaningful operatic experience so far was when I went to Italy in 2007, and had the opportunity to sing in a production of Gianni Schicchi & Donizetti’s Betly in a young artist program. It was five weeks of pure bliss. During that time, in addition to our musical training, we were in 20 hours of Italian class each week.

Although not really operatic, the most meaningful experience for me in my classical training was this past summer when I was presented in recital at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London. It was an amazing experience, and one I hope to repeat in the coming years.

Favorite composer? Favorite opera? Favorite role?  Favorite venue?
Picking a favorite composer is kind of like picking a favorite child. But, if pressed, it would be a tie between Rossini & Mozart. They wrote such beautiful timeless music. My favorite opera would have to be Barber of Seville–the music is so great and the characters are wonderful. My favorite role is usually whatever I’m working on, but Nika Magadoff in The Consul is quite a delight to sing. My favorite operatic venue is the Met, no question. Favorite concert venue is Disney Hall in LA. Favorite recital venue is St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London–the acoustics there simply divine.

What would you like to be doing in five years? Ten years?
In five years, I will be working on my DMA in performance. In ten, I would hope to be working professionally in some capacity in this industry. Ideally, I’d like to have a few years of real performing experience before I theoretically ‘settle down’ in a faculty position.

When did you embrace social media and how has it impacted your career or visibility. Or has it?
I started on Twitter mid-2008 on a whim and didn’t really use it to communicate with others until 2009. I don’t know if I could say that it has impacted my career . . . yet. My visibility has gone up though. What it has really done is put me in contact with people or groups that I would love to work with in the future.

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your resume?
I am an avid crocheter. I enjoy making afgans for my friends and family. This was actually something that was incorporated into an opera once…

a photo from his new website

Where can we see you in 2011-12?
In November of this year, I will be performing in The Consul with University of Arizona Opera Theatre. I have two recitals in March of 2012, one in Tucson, at St. Philip’s-in-the-Hills, and one at the Los Angeles City College. This recital is exciting as it is a test run of a recital I plan on taking to London and various parts of the US in the 2012-2013 season. Also, it features music that is a strong passion of mine: American song.

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You can find out more about Mitchell Sturges at his website. Or follow him Twitter @mitchthetenor or become his Facebook friend–where he is approaching godlike status with 2,292 friends (but would just love to have a few hundred more).

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Filed under Interviews, Performers, profiles, tenors

lend me a tenor?

all month on Operatoonity

I’d love to, but you’ll have to be more specific. That’s like a surgeon saying, “Lend me an instrument” when he needs a scalpel.

Since it’s Talented Tenors month, I thought I’d talk about the categories of tenors determined by the range, weight, and color of their voices. Within the operasphere, not only is there ample discussion about all the different vocal types, opera lovers also argue about which singers should be where, which I suppose boils down to which roles do they sing best.

One thing is for certain–tenors know what roles they can sing. They know their categories (their Fach, as its known in German) and so do the opera houses who hire them. Below is one popular categorization of tenors. Where possible I included an opera singer I’ve seen who has been associated with the category.

Juan Diego Flórez, 'Rossini' tenor

Light-lyric tenor–depending on the repertoire, these voices are often called leggiero tenors or “Rossini” tenors. Juan Diego Flórez is one tenor I’ve seen  in the Met’s Le Comte Ory whose name comes up frequently in this category. On his website he refers to himself as a bel canto tenor or one who is ideal for Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini operas. His website says that he has distinguished himself for his  “fluid, expressive singing and dazzling virtuosity.” Now that I’ve heard him in person, I can’t agree more.

Lyric tenor–with not quite the high register of the light-lyric tenor, this voice category is well represented by many beloved roles in opera such as:

Rodolfo, La bohème (Puccini)
Ferrando, Così fan tutte (Mozart)
Elvino, La sonnambula (Bellini)
Ramiro, La Cenerentola (Rossini)
Nemorino, L’elisir d’amore (Donizetti)

David Lomeli

Mexico City native and Operalia winner David Lomeli sings lyric tenor roles. He has garnered critical acclaim for his Rodolfo, which he’s currently singing at the Sante Fe Opera Festival. I saw him sing Nemorino for New York City opera last March, for which he earned rave reviews, including mine.

Lyric-dramatic tenor–while still lyric in nature, this category of singer demands a certain brightness or dramatic color to soar over the orchestra. Light dramatic tenors are often sought for these roles:

Cavaradossi, Tosca (Puccini)
Don José, Carmen (Bizet)
Florestan, Fidelio (Beethoven)
Canio, Pagliacci (Leoncavallo)
Max, Der Freischütz  (von Weber)

Marcelo Àlvarez

Some consider Marcelo Àlvarez a lyric tenor though the weight and color of his voice was ideally suited to singing the role of the artist Cavaradossi at the Met this past winter.

Dramatic tenor–also called tenore di forza in Italian. Dramatic tenor roles that require a spinto quality–an ability to push the voice–so that it sails over heavily-textured orchestral passages. Sometimes this is also called a robusto tenor. Depending on how they are cast, roles can include:

Andrea Chénier in Giordano’s opera of the same name
Don Alvaro, La forza del destino (Verdi)
Otello in Verdi’s opera of the same name

The title role in Verdi’s Ernani and Manrico (Il trovatore, Verdi) were originally considered part of the robusto tenor tradition even though these roles aren’t often cast that way these days.

Salvatore Licitra, tenore di forza

Tenor Salvatore Licitra is commonly identified as a tenore di forza among opera cognoscenti. I had the great pleasure of seeing him sing the role of King Gustav in “A Masked Ball” at Washington National Opera‘s “Opera in the Outfield” a simulcast of the Kennedy Center production in Nationals Park. Besides wowing the crowd with his singing, he proudly donned a Nationals cap at curtain call and will forever be adored by WNO fans who are also Nationals fans.

Stuart Skelton, heldentenor

Heldentenor–this is the dramatic tenor voice of the German repertoire that demands a distinctive ‘ring’ and weight for roles such as:

Siegfried, Der Ring des Nibelungen (Wagner)
Parsifal, Parsifal (Wagner)
Tristan, Tristan und Isolde ( Wagner)
Walther von Stolzing, Die Meistersinger ( Wagner)

Stuart Skelton is widely considered one of the pre-eminent heldentenors of his generation. Though I didn’t see Skelton in ENO’s Parsifal, David Karlin at Bachtrack.com did and said his singing nearly blew the roof off the London Coliseum. See David’s review here.

What about you, Operatoonity readers? Whom have you observed who define this classification? Any delights or surprises? Do you have a favorite type of tenor voice?

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Filed under Performers, tenors, Terminology

get to know ‘Pavarotti of the Panhandle,’ tenor Eric Barry

Eric Barry, tenor

Eric Barry is setting himself apart with his distinctive sound–which is both passionate and earnest–and with his genuine facility for dramatic expression.

His performances have earned him international approval: the PBS documentary Young Opera declared him to be “the next big thing in the tenor world.”

The Spanish-American tenor has been heard throughout the US and Europe–including broadcasts on National Public Radio. Eric is a graduate of the prestigious School of Music at Yale University, where he earned both an M.M. and an A. D. in Opera Performance.

He has so many professional engagements in the coming year that they can’t can’t all be mentioned in this post. (I hope he packs as well as he sings!) Why? Because everyone wants to hear this young talent! (Including moi.)

Welcome to Operatoonity, Eric. We are very excited to learn more about you.

Where did you grow up and how did it affect your life choices?

Eric Barry at the Teatro Real in Madrid

I grew up in Sundown, Texas — population 1511.  Sundown is about an hour from the closest movie theater or mall, and over three hours away from the closest opera company.  My mother always listened to classical music in the house and every now and then played CD’s of ‘The Three Tenors.’  I remember hating it.  “They’re just screaming,” I’d tell her.  That was the most exposure I’d had to classical singing until I was 20 years old.  Little did I know that a seed was being planted way back then.

Years later I found myself studying business in college and basically tripped into an offer for voice lessons.  (That’s an entire story on it’s own!)  I was an accomplished trumpet player but singing was relatively foreign to me.  I remember thinking, “I have to read music and words??”  Nevertheless, I had a pretty natural gift for singing and kept taking lessons clear into my MBA degree. I’d get a gig every now and then when my voice teacher would recommend me for something and as time passed those gigs got bigger and more exclusive.  Within a couple of years of studying voice I had already sung for princes and presidents and all kinds of social VIP’s. It was quite a ride, and for being only a hobby at the time I was starting to get quite involved.

Before I completed my MBA, my voice teacher sat me down and told me that if I didn’t take the dive and study music full time I’d probably never do it. I took a trip to NYC with my teacher and my mom and sang for various people and eventually decided to move to the East Coast.  From there things really started to blossom. I’ve been on the coast for four years now and now sing opera full time. If you asked me just five years ago what I’d be doing in 2011, I most certainly wouldn’t have guessed this!

When did you know that you were destined to become an opera/classically trained singer?
Ha, ha. There is a specific moment in my life when I realized my potential, but that’s a very personal story that I don’t usually share because I consider the events somewhat sacred. I can say that after I stumbled into those voice lessons, I knew that I liked singing. It was fascinating to think that a single human voice could be so penetrating that it could be heard over an orchestra in a 2,000 seat house. But, it was at least three years after my first voice lesson that I realized I had real potential.

The longer I pursued the art form, the more opportunities began to present themselves. I was offered a gig with the local symphony, and a small role in the local opera company, then lead role, etc. etc.  I wasn’t even really pursuing it, but the opportunities were there. I decided to audition for a summer program and was accepted.  As I mentioned earlier, everyone encouraged me to move to New York and start working as soon as I could. So, in 2007, I packed up my car and moved. During that drive I remember collecting my thoughts as to how I came to the decision to make such a drastic change in my life, and honestly, it all happened so quickly I couldn’t even connect the dots. I was nervous, but proud of myself for taking the leap of faith.

Pavarotti of the Panhandle

You have been called the ‘Pavarotti of the Panhandle.’  Do you agree with the comparison?
A four-star general heard me sing the national anthem at a political event in Texas and started his speech by complimenting my rendition. He said, “I never thought I’d fly from the Pentagon for this event today and hear something like that. You have your very own “Pavarotti of the Panhandle.”  The event was covered by the newspaper and the title stuck from that point forward.

Let’s be honest…no one will ever replace Luciano. My talents pale in comparison, but I do think there is something engaging in my voice that is attractive to listen to. That distinct beauty is VERY present in Pavarotti’s voice. You can hear a recording of him from 500 feet away and know that it’s him within two measures. I think I have a distinct sound too, but more than anything we just look similar!

How would you describe your voice?
What a hard question to answer. I actually went onto my website to listen to a clip before answering this. My singing is very Italianate. That’s just the way I was taught – very long, legato lines with an emphasis on true Italianate vowels.  I have a decent range and can comfortably sing a tenor’s low-b to high-d on stage. I love romantic music, but can move my voice surprisingly well too so I’m starting to sing a lot of Rossini and Bellini as well. As to my timbre, I think I have a unique tone that has a quality I can only describe as “honest.” I don’t really know how else to describe it.

What  role/opportunity/person was the biggest single influence on your career?
So many people have played a large part in the succession of events that have put me here.  Dr. Joe Ella Cansler, my first voice teacher, is responsible for convincing me to take voice lessons in college.  Needless to say, I loved it, and without her I would most likely not be singing at all.

But, I’d have to say that Mary Jane Johnson has probably been the most influential person in my career. She is a dear friend of Dr. Cansler’s, was my second voice teacher, and is a small town girl from Texas who became an international star.  Mary Jane nurtured me, taught me everything I know about Italianate singing, and has worked me like a dog. We have laughed and cried together over the years and I consider her family. She still advises me to this day and will always be a fixture for me.

Curtain call for 'La Bohème,' Teatro Comunale di Sulmona in Italy

As to influential roles, they’ve all played a part in my growth. My most memorable production up to this point was La Bohème at the Teatro Comunale di Sulmona in Italy.  It was my international debut in my favorite opera . . . in Italy!  It was really a dream come true.

One of the most advantageous opportunities for me was studying at Yale University. They called me in May of 2008 and asked me to audition.  I nervously accepted, auditioned the next day, and ended up getting two degrees there in three years.  Being there opened a lot of doors for me and I was able to learn a lot about myself during my time there.

How did the opportunity to be on the PBS “Young Opera” special come about?
I received a call from the program host asking if I’d be willing to interview for a PBS documentary on up-and-coming opera singers.  I’m not sure how they had heard about me because I had only been singing full-time for less than a year at that point.  Heck, I didn’t even know I was “up-and-coming.”  But I did know that I couldn’t turn down the opportunity.  After the interview was aired on TV and posted to the Internet, it received an overwhelming amount of attention.  I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with that production team on other projects as well, but that initial interview was certainly a memorable moment in my early career.

Favorite composer? Favorite opera? Favorite role? Favorite venue?
Favorite composer:  Puccini (although Wagner is creeping up the list) Favorite opera: La Bohème. Cliché? Perhaps, but I love it. Favorite role: This answer changes with the weather.  On a serious day, maybe Don Carlo. On a light-hearted day, Gianni Schicchi is pretty great. Favorite venue?  Who doesn’t want to sing at La Scala?

As the Duke in 'Rigoletto'

What would you like to be doing in five years?  Ten years?
It’s healthy and important to review professional goals so I’m glad you asked that. I think it’s realistic to hope for very steady regional work supplemented by appearances in a few large houses in the U.S. and Europe (I am an EU citizen after all!) in five years, most likely singing Mozart, Donizetti, Bellini and some Rossini. In ten years, I’d love to be jumping between international opera houses singing all of that and Puccini. I LOVE concert work too. I’d be perfectly content singing requiems, hodies and oratorios wherever those opportunities arise too. And, since my background is in business, I think eventually I’d like to manage other singers careers!

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your resume?
I feel like I’m a prince of useless talent:  From spinning random objects on my finger to catching marshmallows in my mouth from seven stories high. Or being a killer ping-pong player, frisbee thrower, and competition kite flyer. Odd talent is my specialty, including singing opera I suppose. I also love to cook and travel with my own kitchen knives.

Where can people see you in 2011-12?
Currently I’m singing with the Wolf Trap Opera company. We just finished a run of Wolf-Ferarri’s Le donne curiose (Washington Times review, Washington Post review,) and I’m now prepping for a recital with Steven Blier and a production of Sweeney Todd (as Anthony) with the National Symphony Orchestra.  Here’s a rundown of my schedule for the rest for the 2011  (more in the works!):

  • July 10, 2011 – Recital w/Steven Blier, Wolf Trap Opera Company
  • July 22, 2011 – Sweeney Todd as Anthony, Wolf Trap Opera Company with National Symphony Orchestra
  • October 1-2, 2011 – La Bohème as Rodolfo, Amarillo Opera
  • October 14, 2011 – Symphony No. 1 by Frank Ticheli with the Yale University Concert Band

Eric will be touring the US in the Fall of 2011 performing the Mozart Requiem with the Munich Symphony:

  • Oct. 26, 2011 – Richmond, KY
  • Oct. 27 – Granville, OH
  • Oct. 28 – Carmel, IN
  • Oct. 30 – Manhattan, KS
  • Nov. 1 – Fayetteville, AR
  • Nov. 3 – Conway, AR
  • Nov. 4 – St. Louis, MO
  • Nov. 5 – Joplin, MO
  • Nov. 6 – Overland Park, KS
  • Nov. 7 – Lincoln, NE
  • Nov. 10 – Winston-Salem, NC
  • Nov. 13 – Athens, GA
  • Nov. 15 – West Palm Beach, FL
  • Nov. 16 – West Palm Beach, FL
  • Nov. 17 – Gainesville, FL
  • Nov. 18 – Daytona, FL
  • Dec. 1-4, 2011, Hodie by Ralph Vaughan Williams with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra

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Anyone is interested in the rest of Eric’s season, can visit him or contact him through his website. Or you can follow him on Twitter @ebtenor where his profile reads: Tenor, but also a sophisticated Spaniard, vaudevillian veteran, ultimate consumer, instigator/enabler, certified ninja, chef and visionary.

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Filed under Interviews, Opera and humor, Performers, profiles, tenors

opera and premonition

Have you ever had a premonition? A presentiment of the future of the foreboding variety?   

I had one once when I was 19. While in the midst of a busy day acting and singing, I was overtaken that something bad had happened to my mother. I was studying performing arts in New York City at the time and about three hours from home. The next day, sure enough, I got a call from my sister that my mother had had a stroke and had been taken to the intensive care unit of the hospital where she was as likely to die as live.   

What is so striking about this premonition is that I’d never had one before. I wish I could describe it– like a pall I couldn’t shake until the reality of the premonition coming true jars you out of it. And my mother had rarely been sick when I was younger, so believe me, a seemingly healthy fifty-two year old suffering a stroke wasn’t anything anyone could have predicted.   

This week in opera history, Bizet will die on June 3,  1875, just outside of Paris at only36 years of age–of heart failure. While Bizet’s death at an early age is common knowledge, what you might not know is that the leading lady who premiered the role of Carmen had a premonition of Bizet’s death. When I read about the incident, I could well relate to how she must have felt.   

Celestine Galli-marie, who originated the role of Carmen

Parisian born mezzo-soprano Célestine Galli-Marié whose crowning operatic achievement was creating the role of Carmen became close to Bizet over the months of rehearsal. Only months after the show opened at the Opéra Comique in Paris, on the thirty-first performance, she arrived at the theater inexplicably anxious. In the third act, after Carmen foresees her own death in the “Card Trio,” she collapsed backstage. Not because something happened to her but because she knew “something dreadful” had happened elsewhere. The next day she learned that Bizet had died the night before.   

Galli-Marié was a difficult performer. Though she hardly originated the prototypical opera diva, she certainly was a standard bearer for the stereotype. Apparently she made Bizet rewrite the “Habanera” thirteen times until it passed muster. Perhaps if she hadn’t made him work so hard, he would have lived longer.   

So what causes these premonitions, do you think? According to one site I consulted, premonitions are attributed to the existence of paranormal capabilities and are thought to be “another fragment of the psychic abilities that everybody has, but not everybody may be in tune to applying.” Apparently, the most common method to receive a premonition is by way of a dreams, the rationale being that dreams provides us with knowledge our conscious mind does not.   

Neither Galli-Marié’s nor my premonition came via a dream. Have you ever had a premonition? Do you know of any other true-to-life opera premonitions?

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Filed under Classic Opera, Classical Composers, opera anecdotes, Performers, Premieres

keys to a classy recital: a how-to from bari Andy Stuckey

Baritone Andy Stuckey's April 28 recital at Share Hall

A rigorous solo recital may have been a requirement for his doctoral degree in musical arts from Rutgers University, but baritone W. Andrew “Andy” Stuckey transformed an academic expectation into a labor of love for him and (especially) for the audience.     

It was a stunning evening of vocally challenging music which showcased Mr. Stuckey’s  facility in a range of pieces, including perfectly appointed selections from rare baroque arias to quirky contemporary tunes, all masterfully sung.     

First, Mr. Stuckey has a powerful voice and exceptional control, soundly tested in a Veracini piece, “Se main piagato la morte,”  replete with run after run. The other pieces of early music presented included “Ah! Si vien Morte” from Nicola Porpora  and “Pensa a chi geme d’amor piagata” by George Frederic Handel.     

Joining Mr. Stuckey for the Baroque portion of the program were  Andrew Kirkman, violin;  Mira Kang, cello; and Allison Brewster Franzetti, harpsichord–all accomplished musicians. Then the stage was reset and Mr. Stuckey was accompanied by Ms. Franzetti on piano for the balance of the program.     

My favorite pieces were the Brahms selections, “Vier ernste Gesänge,” which were ideally suited to his range, his velvety rich baritone, and the intensity he projects in performance. (Mr. Stuckey talks at length about the Brahms’ selections later in this post.) He concluded the program with two of Paul Verlaine‘s poems set to music by Stravinsky and three of E.A. Robinson’s poems set to music by J. Duke. I hadn’t heard the poem “Richard Cory” for decades–literally.  Duke’s selections dripped with irony, as startling as the first time I heard them recited–expertly interpreted and sung by Mr. Stuckey. The encore, which Mr. Stuckey called a potboiler, was the perfect ending to a first-rate program.     

Andy Stuckey and his accompanist Allison Brewster Franzetti were ideally matched--both gifted professionals.

Stuckey and his accompanist Allison Brewster Franzetti were ideally matched--both gifted professionals.

 

Besides being a polished performance, the entire program was such a well conceived event that I was full of questions for Mr. Stuckey, which he gamely answered below.     

How did you select the program (who selected the program)?
It was a collaboration between me and my teacher at Rutgers, Professor Eduardo Chama.  In my career, I have found that the opportunities to sing recitals are few and far between so I am delighted to do the recital as part of the Doctoral degree requirement.     

I consider the Brahms “Four Serious Songs” to be a milestone set for my voice type.  They are at the absolute height of song repertoire and are challenging in every way.  In these songs the range is broad both tonally and emotionally, the subject is complex and deep, and the intensity required is breathtaking.  The challenge of performing music like this is what I relish about being a singer.  It is an honor to perform them.  The Stravinsky are interesting as they are a somewhat unique representation of his style.  They also happen to be orchestrated which will hopefully make them useful to me in future orchestral engagements.  The trio of John Duke vignettes are pieces that I’ve wanted to perform for quite some time.  I find the poetry fascinating and effective and the music quite illustrative. They are simply fun!  The Baroque arias were added in part, to fulfill the chamber music requirement of the degree.  I had performed them at Rutgers in concert with the original instrument group Musica Raritana.  In fact the violinist in my recital, Dr. Andrew Kirkman, is the conductor of that group. The trio of arias represent a sort of picture of the London opera scene in 1735.  It happened that one of Handel’s singers, Signor Montagnano had “defected” from Handel’s theater to a rival.     

Is it customary for the recitalist to translate what he is singing?
Generally, it is considered an important courtesy to provide the audience with a translation of the works in the recital.  A recital is SO much about the setting of poetry and prose to music that it really enhances the experience if all who are there understand the text.  Because the meaning is paramount, translation is a necessary part of the process for any recitalist.     

How long did you rehearse for this?
I started learning the repertoire last Fall and have been working like crazy ever since.  A recital is a HUGE undertaking.  Understand that the largest opera role, say Falstaff or Scarpia in my case, might be onstage for an hour.  However, the character would certainly not be singing the entire time.  In a recital of 50 minutes, it’s just the singer and a pianist. There is usually a more dense concentration of text and multiple styles which make the recital a hugely challenging art.     

What was the name of the encore piece?
 The encore was “And This Shall be for Music” by George Cory.     

Did you have a favorite piece that you performed?
The third Brahms song, “O Tod, wie bitter bist du”, is a song that has changed my view of life.     

You sang the Brahms beautifully. Do you agree with NY Times critic Anthony Tommasini who named Brahms to his top ten classical composers list?
Thank you!  Interesting list.  My initial impression of the list is that it is well done.  I might have included Monteverdi rather than Brahms but I see why Brahms was included.  Brahms is easy to overlook because to our ears it is an awful lot of pretty.  There is no doubt that he was one of the great composers of Western Classical Music though so I wouldn’t quibble too much.     

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You can follow Andrew Stuckey on Twitter @wastuckey or friend him on Facebook. He was also featured during Baritone Month earlier this year on this blog.

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Filed under Performers, Recitals, Reviews