Tag Archives: North American opera

murder at the opera?

a novel by Margaret Truman

Only on the page, I’m afraid.  

Though at least one opera singer in the US was believed to be murdered in the past year (according to one news story I read), real murder at the opera is merely the stuff of fiction. In fact, it’s a Capital Crimes Mystery by author Margaret Truman, set in Washington D.C., at the Kennedy Center, home to the Washington National Opera.  

Like Bel Canto, this opera-based novel is written by a North American. It also takes place in the capital of the United States.  

I found Murder at the Opera while searching for contemporary fiction that used opera or an opera house as a backdrop. Actually, the pickings were pretty slim, and, as a result, Truman’s Murder at the Opera surfaced quickly.  

After flipping through the book, I liked the amount and frequency of dialogue as a model for my own opera-based book. Also, almost from the opening line, the author Margaret Truman exhibits a gentle sense of humor about opera that makes the story more accessible. After discovering the book included scenes with members of the Washington National Opera’s volunteer guild, it jumped to the top of my list.  

Here’s the book’s premise: A rising star from Canada enrolled in the Washington National Opera’s Young Artist  Program is stabbed in the heart during rehearsals for a production of Tosca, the most famous opera for fatal stabbings. An opera guild volunteer and her professor-husband, once a defense attorney, set about trying to solve the murder on behalf of the WNO, alongside the Metro Police. Together working with a retired detective who is an opera buff and a supernumerary for Tosca, that set out to unmask a killer. The case quickly becomes more complex as the crime-fighting couple learns the deceased soprano had connections with international terrorists.  

Pretty scary–a scenario that includes a member of the company’s young artist program. After all, young people come from all over the world to participate in these accelerated opera training academies, trusting they will learn a profession, and not lose their life for their ambition.   

As the daughter of a president, Margaret Truman is very interested and skilled at showcasing Washington, D.C., and knows the area, Washington society and Washington restaurants well. She shows a formidable knowledge and appreciation of opera without pounding her knowhow into readers.  

I liked her dialogue attribution and her dialogue as  well. She worked back story in seamlessly. Right away, she introduces a sympathetic character in one of her main characters as we learn early on that his first wife and child were killed. His new wife is pretty, smart, cultured and very loving and easy for the reader to like.  

Truman has an economical but not sparing writing style which serves her genre well, occasionally lingering over a description here and there. She writes with confidence. She has a gentle sense of humor. She’s more hip than I ever imagined she would be from her name and her picture in which she looks ninety years old.  

I liked the first two-thirds of the book a great deal. Since mystery is a genre dependent on plot, I didn’t think the last third delivered the necessary punch. It became a little convoluted and the outcomes were disappointing.  

To set your mind at ease, unless you are talking about the butchery of a score or killing a production, an actual murder at the opera remains the stuff of imagination only. Let’s hope it stays that way. 

 

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a tale Godunov to share–the Chevy Chase of basses?

Tonight, I went to opening night at Berks Jazz Fest. At the gala before the show, I was talking with a veteran local musician, now a senior citizen, who had seen Boris Godunov at the Met decades ago.

“It starred a Finnish bass,” he explained but not remembering the name. “This singer was unusual because during the death scene, he didn’t just slump over in his chair like most Godunov’s. I remember he actually tumbled out of it.”

The death scene is dramatic and draining and to combine the equivalent of a pratfall in the scene sounded like a killer punishment to the body–over time.

I got home and within minutes on the computer, I googled Finnish bass and Godunov and found (drumroll, please) this video of Martti Talvela just about killing himself in this scene–definitely punishing his body. When he dies, he hits the floor,straight on, like dead weight. And yet he performed the role of Boris Godunov 39 times between 1974 and 1987, at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, which is why I referred to him as the Chevy Chase of opera. Not because Talvela was funny, but because he inflicted so much punishment on his body while on stage. Sadly, he died young, at only age 54 in 1989.

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Filed under North American Opera, opera anecdotes, Performers

Donizetti operas–three score and counting, all totaled

'Lucia di Lammermoor' --Operatoonity readers favorite Donizetti

In this century, it’s generally agreed upon that only a dozen of Donizetti’s operas are worth producing. Arguably some people would quibble with even that figure. According to the Donizetti poll I posted yesterday, your favorite is Lucia di Lammermoor.  Some opera fans I know consider Lucia not only their favorite Donizetti, but their all-time favorite opera.  

According to one of Opera Pulse’s polls, in which I voted, Lucia is also the second best opera character to be for Halloween (she was my first choice). I also had a blast writing about Lucia on this blog last June. Whoever schedules Lucia during the most popular marrying month in North America must have a wicked sense of humor. Don’t expect to see Lucia on the cover of Bride Magazine anytime soon.  

After one of my readers mentioned that some of Donizetti’s lesser known operas featured some of the silliest plots ever, I decided to give them a look-see. According to The Penguin Opera Guide, Donizetti wrote 65 operas in total. Other sites say 60. Sixty operas? Verdi wrote half that many. True, most of Verdi’s works endure today where as only one-fifth of Donizetti’s works are regularly produced. But 60? That’s a lotta opera! 

Did any other composer write as much as Donizetti? Apparently, depending on how you define opera, several composers are credited with more than 100 each, one surpassing 250, but how many composers whose work is produced today? Good question. Donizetti would have to be right up there.  

According to Bachtrack’s 2010 League Tables, Donizetti ranked 7th of composers with most opera performances worldwide with 240 after Verdi with 824, Mozart  with 771, Puccini  with 681, Wagner  with 273, Rossini  with 259, and Richard Strauss 246. More Strauss than Donizetti?  A surprising statistic, per moi.  

I can’t say which of the following Donizetti works are so silly they aren’t worth producing, but I can tell you which one would drive the marketing department crazy:  

Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali   

Just how do you fit that title onto a poster?  

Anyhoo, here’s one list of his complete works:  

A  

    * L’ajo nell’imbarazzo
    * Alahor in Granata
    * Alfredo il grande
    * Alina, regina di Golconda
    * L’ange de Nisida
    * Anna Bolena
    * L’assedio di Calais
  

B  

    * Belisario
    * Betly
  

C  

    * Il campanello
    * Il castello di Kenilworth
    * Caterina Cornaro (opera)
    * Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali
  

D  

    * Il diluvio universale
    * Dom Sébastien
    * Don Gregorio (opera)
    * Don Pasquale
    * Le duc d’Albe
 

 

Operatoonity readers' second favorite Donizetti

E  

    * L’elisir d’amore
  
 * Elvida
    * Emilia di Liverpool
    * Enrico di Borgogna
    * L’esule di Roma
  

F  

    * Fausta (opera)
    * La favorite
    * La fille du régiment
    * Francesca di Foix
    * Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo
  

G  

    * Gabriella di Vergy
    * Gemma di Vergy
    * Gianni di Calais
    * Gianni di Parigi
  

I  

    * Il giovedì grasso
    * Imelda de’ Lambertazzi
  

L  

    * Linda di Chamounix
    * Lucia di Lammermoor
    * Lucrezia Borgia (opera)
  

M  

    * Maria de Rudenz
    * Maria di Rohan
   
* Maria Padilla
    * Maria Stuarda
    * Marino Faliero (opera)
  

O  

    * Olivo e Pasquale
    * Otto mesi in due ore
  

P  

    * Parisina (opera)
    * Pia de’ Tolomei
    * Pietro il grande
    * Il Pigmalione
    * Poliuto
  

R  

    * Rita (opera)
    * Roberto Devereux
    * La romanzesca e l’uomo nero
    * Rosmonda d’Inghilterra
  

S  

    * Sancia di Castiglia  

T  

    * Torquato Tasso (opera)  

U  

    * Ugo, conte di Parigi
    * Una follia
  

Z  

    * La zingara
    * Zoraida di Granata
  

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Audience participation, Bel canto opera, Classical Composers, North American Opera, Poll

retro Met? (don’t quote me)

Plácido Domingo

 

The one thing I hate at the Met is the note in the program that the public is requested not to interrupt the music with applause. That should be destroyed. What we need is to be encouraged to applaud.
–Plácido Domingo 

 
Fast forward to 2011: Rules about applauding at classical music concerts appear to be relaxing. Even in the bastions of classical music like the Metropolitan Opera, you are likely to hear premature clapping.

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take me out to the opera–an Operatoonity microtale

Babe Ruth, a legendary baseball player, not known for singing opera

Today, March 20, is the first day of spring, and many people in North America equate spring with baseball. In celebration of America’s favorite spring sport, I found a microtale about both opera and baseball. 

A group of American reporters once asked Caruso what he thought of Babe Ruth. Caruso, who was unfailingly polite and friendly, said that he didn’t know because unfortunately he had never heard her sing. 

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Filed under Microtales, North American Opera, Opera and humor

COC mounts ‘Cenerentola’ with sensational cast . . . and cute contest!

Lawrence Brownlee (foreground) as Don Ramiro in ‘La Cenerentola’

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee as the Prince? Elizabeth DeShong as Cinderella? The two talents together singing classic Rossini?  North American opera simply doesn’t get much better than that.

The Canadian Opera Company’s (COC) spring 2010/2011 season opens with Gioacchino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola) featuring a glittering cast in a whimsical rendition. La Cenerentola, an opera for all ages, was created by the Spanish artist collective Els Comediants and led by director Joan Font. Leading the COC Orchestra and Chorus is rising young Italian conductor Leonardo Vordoni, recognized across the United States and abroad for his interpretation of the Italian repertoire.  

COC’s production also includes a Cinderella Outfit Challenge called “Send your Doll to the Ball!” (My aunt and grandmother used to crochet outfits for my Barbie. Is this contest a way cute idea or what?)

Inspired by the crocheted dress-wearing doll used in the creative campaign of the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Cinderella, the opera company launches the Cinderella Outfit Challenge. The gauntlet has been thrown to designers, fashionistas, and those handy with a needle and thread to create a doll’s hand-crafted costume inspired by the classic fairytale.

Participants who submit a photo of their homemade doll costume, inspired by Cinderella, will have a chance to win a prize package including four tickets (plus lounge pass and drink tickets) to the opening night of the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Cinderella (La Cenerentola), an overnight stay at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Toronto, a gift basket from Cheese Boutique valued at $200, and a chance to meet the members of the cast after the performance.

Sung in Italian, Cinderella runs for nine performances at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on April 23, 28, May 1, 7, 10, 13, 19, 22 and 25, 2011.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, North American Opera, opera firsts

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

North American Opera . . . the answers

I promised answers to yesterday’s quiz today, and here they are. True confessions time: I didn’t have to work very hard identifying them. One reader, John Gilks, came up with most every answer I needed. I was so tickled I told John he earned a prize,* which will soon be speeding toward his home.

  1. Dmitri Hvorostovsky in SF Opera's Simon Bccanegra/Photo by Terrence McCarthy

    Most people can name the largest opera house in North America. What is the second largest?
    John thought it was Sante Fe, but according to my research, it’s  the Civic Opera House in Chicago, with 3,563-seats, home to Lyric Opera of Chicago; whereas the Metropolitan Opera has 3,800 seats and more than 300 spaces for standing room. The second largest company is San Francisco, by their own accounting.

  2. What is North America’s oldest continuously operating summer opera company?
    It’s Chautauqua Opera, in Chautauqua, New York, founded in 1929.
  3. Can you name three of the most popular operas produced in North American in 2009-10?
    According to OPERA America, the most frequently produced operas in the 2009-2010 season were: The Marriage of Figaro, La bohème, Carmen, Tosca, La traviata, Madame Butterfly, The Magic Flute, Hansel and Gretel, The Elixir of Love and Don Giovanni.
  4. Can you name three of the most popular North American operas presented in 2009-10?
    Per OPERA America, the most frequently produced North American operas in the 2009-2010 season were: George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, John Adams’s Nixon in China, Lewis Spratlan’s Life is a Dream, Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers and Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors.
  5. To the closest hundred, how many new operatic works have been produced by professional opera companies in North America since 1990.
    This is OPERA America’s stat, and here’s how they answered it: Over 400 new operatic works have been produced by professional opera companies in North America since 1990.
  6. Name five Canadian cities currently producing opera.
    John actually nailed these answer, so here’s what he said: “Toronto, Hamilton, Waterloo, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Victoria, Richmond Hill, Kawartha Lakes, Quebec, Saskatoon, Regina, Edmonton, Halifax. I’m sure I’m missing some.” (Anyone who reads this blog knows about all the extraordinary opera in Toronto! Or they haven’t been reading “Operatoonity.”)

How I love these audience participation posts! And thanks again, John, for making tonight’s work easier. (I’ll get those nails filed and polished after all.)

*So what did John win? Why, a Manet’s Masked Ball Mouse Pad personalized with the Operatoonity website address.

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Filed under Audience participation, North American Opera, quiz