Tag Archives: Giacomo Puccini

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

WNO’s ‘Butterfly’ simply glorious

WNO's elegant 'Butterfly'

In the spirit of full disclosure, I need to say that I was predisposed to write a generous review of Washington National Opera‘s ‘Butterfly’–I received two premium tickets for winning their opera songwriting contest last fall.  However, I  am not the most ardent Puccini fan, which I’ve mentioned on this blog, once comparing him to Nicholas Sparks, also on this blog, so there’s no shrinking from that comment. 

However, WNO’s Madama Butterfly was a synthesis of beauty and artistry–the best live opera production I’ve seen this year. And I’ve seen a bunch–more shows than ever. All the elements worked this time–music, direction, design, costumes, lighting–in tandem to produce a seamless opera experience that was nothing short of transcendent. 

I can scarcely describe the fulfillment I experienced as an audience-goer from such careful shepherding of all production elements toward a common end. 

Credit must go to WNO General Director Plácido Domingo and WNO management for selecting to present the Ron Daniels’ version that was so successful in San Francisco, despite the fact that it’s not a brand spanking new production. It’s a luminous treatment that deserves to be seen and appreciated by audiences on this coast. 

It’s no straight revival, but this version does honor the spirit of more traditional productions. All the artistic choices served the opera, and not the other way around, which, if I may say so,  is becoming annoyingly common  and tiresome these days. 

Audience members were wiping tears away by this scene, when Butterfly waits for Pinkerton

Ana María Martínez was a brave and graceful ‘Butterfly’–her voice was as strong and supple as a nylon string. Under the lithe and lively baton of Plácido Domingo, the orchestra supported the singers as if cradled in a gloved hand. We heard every nuance of Martínez’s performance, and there were so many to enjoy–the gentle trills, the beautifully controlled decrescendos on the highest notes the role demands. Her “Un bel di vedremo” was simply a triumph. She has a pure sound–never overdone–as some Puccini sopranos are wont to do. During a question and answer session after the show, I asked her what goes through her mind at the moment before she sings one of the most famous arias Puccini wrote and she said, “Of course, I’m in character. And after that I am only thinking how much I love singing it.” 

The curtain call was perfectly conceived. After the final scene, the curtain rose, and Martínez took a solitary bow. How fitting. It really is Butterfly’s show. Then the curtain fell and the traditional bows began. Though Martínez had already brought the audience to its feet, the standing ovation continued in sincere appreciation for the part that everyone played in making the production a stunning whole. 

Clearly, Plácido Domingo is that remarkable hand guiding each WNO production to its artistic zenith and will be sorely missed when he steps down at the end of this season. Here’s hoping the next general director will possess even half of his talent, taste, discretion, and maganimous spirit.

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Filed under North American Opera, Reviews

float like a ‘Butterfly,’ hurt like a ‘Butterfly’

Washington National Opera's 'Butterfly'

Today I’m seeing WNO’s Madama Butterfly at the Kennedy Center, my first time visiting the venue. If all goes as planned, I’ll be seeing Ana María Martínez sing Cio-Cio-San and Plácido Domingo conducting, who is amazing. (What doesn’t the man do?)

Following the performance, there is an artist Q&A–a nice value add for the audience.

While the reviews have been glowing (look for my own later today or tomorrow) and Martinez singled out for her performance, it is such a sad story. Even all the beautiful music can’t disguise a tragic tale of rape and abandonment.

While I love Puccini‘s music, I have found his heroines to be problematic characters. Puccini was a man of his time and place, and his female leads are too often VICTIMIZED and preyed upon and spend too much time portraying victims. I’ve found Puccini’s women to be somewhat two-dimensional. Not nearly as interesting as Shakespeare’s female protagonists, who can be as flawed and evil as any man or worse–think Lady MacBeth–and who deserve their tragic ends.

So, today when I watch the production, I’ll be considering what makes this opera so popular–and it’s wildly popular in the United States, eclipsed  only in popularity by La Bohème.

While I expect the music to float to the rafters, I already know I’ll have a hard time processing why such an innocent woman will be not only hurt but ruined in the course of this opera–a fate she scarcely deserves.

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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

Puccini’s best opera?

While listening to the Met’s Tosca with Sondra Radvanovsky and Roberto Alagna tonight, and after hearing La Fanciulla del West driving home from Wilkes-Barre Saturday, I was wondering which of Puccini’s works was considered his best–critically speaking.  Which might be a different choice than your favorite, if you catch my drift.

What do you think? Which is Puccini’s best opera?

Pick one:
Le Villi (The Willis or The Fairies)
Edgar
Manon Lescaut
La Bohème
Tosca
Madama Butterfly (Madame Butterfly)
La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West)
La Rondine (The Swallow)
Il Trittico (The Triptych) – Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica, Gianni Schicchi
Turandot

List your choice in the comments section. (Thanks to FanPop for all the retro thumbnails.)

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Filed under Audience participation, Classic Opera, Classical Composers

for every season there’s an opera

Fall is my favorite season apart from the glorious month of May. (I’m a sucker for spring flowers. What can I say?) As fall hangs on, gasping its last colorful breaths in the Mid-Atlantic states, my favorite eclectic radio station WXPN continues playing the traditional fall tunes–covers and original songs. Just this morning, they played Eva Cassidy’s version of “Autumn Leaves,” Claudia Schmidt’s “Novembering,” Cheryl Wheeler’s medley, “When Fall Comes to New England/When October Goes,” Ralph McTell’s “A Leaf Must Fall,” and Iris Litchfield’s “Autumn Colours,” to name a few selections.

I’m very susceptible to seasonal influences in food, drink (all Octoberfest beers, for instance), and of course music. So, it occurred to me there may be operas that suit certain seasons better than others.

Autumn operas
Raisa Massuda of Baltimore claims that Purcell’s The Tempest is her absolute fall favorite! Purcell is generally regarded as the greatest English composer before the 20th century. Listen to the overture to Tempest and judge for yourself. There’s an appropriate solemnity to it–fall is the death of living things, after all. But around two minutes into the work, the lively music sounds like the perfect score to watching leaves dancing to the ground in a fall windstorm.

Tenor Mitchell Sturges suggested Tosca or anything Strauss as perfect operatic fare for fall. He went on to explain that, “Fall brings a gravitas with it that both Puccini and Strauss excel in.”  The story of Tosca is intensely dramatic–relentless tragedy. If like me, you mourn the end of fall because cold, cruel winter is sure to follow, then choosing Puccini’s Tosca, arguably the most Wagnerian of his scores, makes perfect sense.

Another opera lover I met through Twitter who goes by the username Am Zénon,  lover of all great art and music and literature (Zénon is the fictional physician and philosopher from L’ Oeuvre au Noir by Marguerite Yourcenar),  claimed a favorite fall composer instead of a single opera. “Wagner, definitely Wagner in autumn, with his drama and music, stirring deep into inner life,” makes autumn the best time for appreciating his work. So many choices for listening to Wagner, so I chose a portion of the overture to Tannhäuser, which was first produced in Dresden on October 20, 1845. As I am listening to the work, looking outside my window, seeing red, gold, and orange-leaved trees, made more vibrant in the muted sunlight of late afternoon, it too seems a fitting homage to fall, blending minor and major keys and mournful strains of horns.

What’s your opinion on the perfect opera for fall? All three overtures are perfectly evocative and make for rich and rewarding fall listening.

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opera composers and literary counterparts

A few days ago, I sent a question out into the Twittersphere? Who are the literary counterparts to the greatest operatic composers? I got a nice response comparing famous cinematic directors to opera greats but no feedback regarding authors and composers.   

While I understood the comparisons between Puccini and Martin Scorcese and Verdi and James Cameron, I was still searching for a literary framework. Fundamentally, my first language is writing, not music composition. Cinema is a distant fourth or fifth. Finding no definitive work that likened composers to writers, I decided to create my own.   

Puccini

 

Puccini and Shakespeare    

Giacomo Puccini’s operas including La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot are among the most frequently performed in the standard repertoire. Shakespeare wrote heartbreakingly romantic tear-jerkers such as Romeo and Juliet that remain the most performed works in the dramatic repertoire. Puccini’s opera’s like Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted for modern audiences: Rent (Puccini), West Side Story (Shakespeare). According to The New York Times, Shakespeare, like Puccini, was “a notorious artistic poacher, so much so that tales of Shakespeare’s actual poaching of game have attached themselves to his legend.”   

Verdi

 

Verdi and Dickens  

 With 28 operas to his credit,Verdi’s operatic output is staggering, , many of which contain arias that have made their ways into popular culture and become mainstays. His mature period produced “Nabucco,” “Ernani,” “Macbeth” (after Shakespeare),” “Luisa Miller,” “Rigoletto,” “Il Trovatore,” “La Traviata,” “Un Ballo in Maschera,” “Don Carlo,” his most famous work: “Aida,” “Otello,” and “Falstaff” (both after Shakespeare).   

Charles Dickens wrote 31 novels comprising the mainstay of most-read works. References from many of Dickens’ works have infiltrated popular culture. Who doesn’t know what a Scrooge is? Who among us doesn’t recognize the Miss Havishams and Oliver Twists illuminated in contemporary literature? Like Verdi, he could do comedy and tragedy with equal aplomb.   

Wagner

 

Wagner and Homer   

 Of the top ten longest operas, seven of the epics are by Wagner. Götterdämmerung, the last of the Ring cycle, is 6 hours long. His operas are based loosely on characters from the Norse sagas and the Nibelungenlied. The four dramas, which the composer described as a trilogy with a Vorabend (‘preliminary evening’), are often referred to as the Ring Cycle, “Wagner‘s Ring“, or simply The Ring.  Wagner wrote the libretto and music over the course of about twenty-six years, from 1848 to 1874. He was not precocious. He was slow, thoughtful and philosophic; and music did not attract him so much as letters. His  four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen is gargantuan. It has also been said that the art of filmmaking would be set back 500 years, had Wagner not existed.   

 Homer was a legendary ancient Greek epic poet, traditionally said to be the author of the epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey. Homeric poems developed gradually over a long period of time. Many other works were credited to Homer in antiquity, including the entire Epic Cycle (comparable to the Ring Cycle?)   

Mozart and Kafka
  

Mozart

 

 Mozart was the most gifted musical genius in history, the most famous genius of any field in history, and is considered to be the perfecter of classical music. He wrote 41 symphonies, 27 piano concerti, a large amount of chamber music, 23 operas, 18 sonatas for piano, 36 for violin, for cello, church sonatas, organ pieces, 18 masses, including one Requiem, four horn concerti, 20 string quartets, serenades, divertimenti, and many others.   

Likeswise, Franz Kafka was a genius among literary geniuses. One Kafka expert claims that The Trial can be read “in any place, in any time, and it becomes about that place and time.” All his novels are classics, even minor ones. Vladimir Nabokov considered Kafka “the greatest German writer of our time.” Similarly, Mozart is considered the gold standard among musical composers. The entire ouevre of classical music is categorized around Mozart.   

So, there you have my framework for comparing opera greats to literary greats. How about it–those of you who are both literati and operaphiles? Do you agree with my comparables?

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