Category Archives: Video

Glass’s ‘Satyagraha’ on tap in Met’s 2011-12 season

Satyagraha / Catherine Ashmore

Satyagraha by composer Philip Glass is an opera in three acts for orchestra, chorus, and soloists and will be presented this fall as part of the New York Metropolitan Opera‘s 2011-12 repertory.

Commissioned by the City of Rotterdam, Satyagraha is the second in Glass’s trilogy about men who changed the world. The opera is semi-narrative in form and is a moving account of Mahatma Gandhi‘s early years in South Africa and his development of non-violent protest into a political tool, a method that Dr. King would later embrace.

“Satyagraha” is a Sanskrit word meaning “truth force,” and the subtext of this opera is, as you may have deduced, politics.

Each act is dominated by a single historic figure  in a non-singing role who is overlooking the action from above: the Indian poet Ravindranath Tagore in Act I the Russian author Leo Tolstoy in Act II, the American Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. in Act III.

. . . you should embrace action for the upholding, the welfare of your own kind. Whatever the noblest does, that too will others do: the standard that he sets all the world will follow.
–from the libretto of Satyagraha

The opera premiered on September 5, 1980, in Rotterdam by the Netherlands Opera and is set to text from the ancient Sanskrit scripture the Bhagavad Gita.

It premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 2008, under the direction of Philip McDermott and designer Julian Crouch (artistic directors of London’s Improbable theater company). The Met version was considered adventurous, employing improvisational puppetry and aerialists to illuminate this work.

The revival. a collaboration with English National Opera, will again feature Richard Croft as Mahatma Gandhi. Satyagraha opens November 4 and runs through December 1, 2011.

 The following YouTube clip provides a flavor of it.

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Filed under 20th Century Opera, 21st Century Opera, Modern opera, Video

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

celebrating The American Tenors on the Fourth of July

Of course, America boasts lots of talented tenors who could (and should) be celebrated today, the day when the United States of America was born with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia in 1776.

But have you heard of  the performing group The American Tenors: the trio of  Marcus McConico, Nathan Granner, and Ben Gulley? Now, that’s American! A patriotic musical package of sorts, perfect for featuring on a Fourth of July Operatoonity post.

From l to r: Nathan Granner, Ben Gulley, Marcus McConico

The American Tenors were the brainchild of Frank McNamara (the creative force behind the success of The Irish Tenors), and were launched following a nationwide search early in 2002 by McNamara. The American Tenors began their journey with a PBS special recorded at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, following a signing by Sony Classical.

The American Tenors have delighted audiences across the U.S. and Europe with their combination of great voices, humor and choice of material from “Nessun Dorma” to “West Side Story,”  from the Great American Songbook to Neopolitan favorites.

“We are set to hit 24 dates this coming season,” Nathan Granner, the only original member of the group (and the most enterprising tenor I know), said of their 2011-12 contracts. “We have usually had two or three gigs a year, but this year is  more robust.”

I’ll say!

Ben Gulley is the newest member of the group and was “plucked from close to home,” per Granner. “He’s young, versatile, charming and an amazing voice! His career is skyrocketing. Also we have Marcus McConico, who has been with us for five years.”

Tenor Daniel Montenegro  sang  with The American Tenors for five years. “We miss him deeply. But he’s doing well. His career in opera is flourishing,” explained Granner, with Montenegro being a new Adler Fellow with San Francisco Opera.

Interestingly, Granner reports that the group has had six tenors participating to date.

Here is a YouTube clip celebrating The American Tenors, past and present, singing “Shenandoah,” one of my all-time favorite American folk songs from their Great American Songbook. (To hear Granner, Gulley, and McConico singing together, listen to this clip from their website):

Happy Birthday, USA, my home sweet home.

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Filed under Heartstoppers, Holidays, opera trends, Video

romantic arias for boys and girls . . .

Alas, my sweetheart is working this evening, so I’m sitting home listening to romantic arias, sipping wine, and slipping into a private little melancholy. (Well, not so private since I’m sharing my melancholia with the whole of cyberspace.)

Anyhoo, in honor of Valentine’s day, I have two lovely arias for you:

First, for the ladies, “Donna non vidi mai” from Manon Lescaut, sung by the Argentine lyric tenor Marcelo Álvarez (whom I just saw in the Met’s Tosca). Ladies, imagine you’ve just stepped out of a carriage, and Marcelo has fallen in love with you on sight and is singing this aria for your ears only.

The last is piece is especially for the gentlemen, courtesy of @amzenon. Okay, for everyone. But gents,  if Maria Callas can’t melt your stony heart with her renditio of “Porgi amor” on the holiday devoted to romance, then you are a Scrooge. Stand by. Three ghosts will be visiting shortly to help you claim your humanity, you heartless guttersnipe. And Happy Valentine’s Day!

And the moral of this post is: Don’t leave your wife alone on Valentine’s Day.

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Filed under Performers, Video

bass-bari Raimondi defines ‘Escamillo’

Ruggero Raimondi as Escamillo

Within the annals of opera performance, certain singers transcend the roles they play, ultimately defining them.  One such transcendent performer illuminating an operatic role is bass-baritone Ruggero Raimondi in the role of Escamillo, the toreador, in Carmen

Don Giovanni, Simon Boccanegra, Boris Godunov, Iago, Don Quichotte — you name it. There’s virtually no great bass-bari role Raimondi hasn’t sung. But just like we favor movie actors in certain roles (will anyone else ever play the Rain Man as convincingly Dustin Hoffman?), Raimondi is the essence of the matador Escamillo, like he was born to sing the part. Like the part was written for him. 

Watch this clip from the 1984 movie version and see if you don’t agree that Raimondi is The Matador. 

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Filed under Classic Opera, Heartstoppers, Performers, Video

‘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

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

In honor of Mozart‘s 255th birthday, folks on Twitter poured forth with favorite compositions. So all day today, I’ll be sharing their picks with you.

The first comes from @proxli, aka Terry Moore, who cited Sinfonia Concerto K. 364 as a favorite.

Here’s a great version featuring Issac Stern(Violin), Pinchas Zukerman(Viola), Zubin Mehta(Conductor), New York Philharmonic Orchestra 1980

First we have part one:

And part two, since you simply CAN’T stop after hearing part one:

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Filed under Audience participation, Classical Music, Mozart, Video

trivia and a treat for Tosca’s 111th anniversary

On this date, January 14, in 1900, Tosca premiered in Rome, Italy at the Teatro Costanzi. To mark the 111th anniversary of much admired opera, here’s a little Tosca trivia (and a Tosca treat). 
  • Tosca is considered to be Puccini’s  first foray into verismo, the realistic depiction of many facets of real life including violence.
  • Puccini wrote Tosca right in the middle of his career, with four operas preceding and five following.
  •  Tosca is unique in that all of the four main characters die violently.
  • For the “Te Deum,” Puccini exhaustively researched the liturgical practices at Rome .
  • The morning bells of Act 3 required a list of all the churches surrounding Castel Sant’Angelo and their bells, including the respective pitches.
  • 1928 marked the first and most notable Traviata-Tosca mashup in Milan. Apparently, the soprano singing Violetta drank too much champagne and made a mess of the first act of La Traviata. After a long intermission, the curtains opened on the second act . . . of Tosca! 

And now, the treat!  Here is  the complete second act of Franco Zeferelli’s (traditional)  Tosca filmed in 1962 at London’s Covent Garden with Maria Callas as Tosca and Tito Gobbi as Scarpia.

 

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Filed under 20th Century Opera, Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Premieres, Video