Monday, December 26, 2011

12 Steps to Raising Self-esteem

My resolution for 2012 is to raise my self-esteem, because it is essentially important to do so for myself and for others. These are things that can be practiced quite easily. But some of them are not so easy to do. Anyway, I hope this is helpful, because it is to me. Step One Stop comparing yourself with other people. There will always be some people who have more than you and some who have less. If you play the comparison game, you'll run into too many "opponents" you can't defeat. Step Two Stop putting yourself down. You can't develop high self-esteem if you repeat negative phrases about yourself and your abilities. Whether speaking about your appearances, your career, your relationships, your financial situation, or any other aspects of your life, avoid self-deprecating comments. Step Three Accept all compliments with "thank you." Ever received a compliment and replied," Oh, it was nothing." When you reject a compliment, the message you give yourself is that you are not worthy of praise. Respond to all compliments with a simple Thank You." Step Four Use affirmations to enhance your self-esteem. On the back of a business card or small index card, write out a statement such as "I like and accept my self." or "I am valuable, lovable person and deserve the best in life." Carry the card with you. Repeat the statement several times during the day, especially at night before going to bed and after getting up in the morning. Whenever you say the affirmation, allow yourself to experience positive feelings about your statement. Step Five Take advantage of workshops, books and cassette tape programs on self-esteem. Whatever material you allow to dominate mind will eventually take root and affect your behavior. If you watch negative television programs or read newspaper reports of murders and business rip off; you will grow cynical and pessimistic. Similarly, if you read books or listen to programs, that are positive in nature, you will take on these characteristics. Step Six Associate with positive, supportive people. When you are surrounded by negative people who constantly put you and your ideas down, your self-esteem is lowered. On the other hand, when you are accepted and encouraged, you feel better about yourself in the best possible environment to raise your self-esteem. Step Seven Make a list of your past successes. This doesn't necessarily have to consist of monumental accomplishments. It can include your "minor victories," like learning to skate, graduating from high school, receiving an award or promotion, reaching a business goal, etc. Read this list often. While reviewing it, close your eyes and recreate the feelings of satisfaction and joy you experienced when you first attained each success. Step Eight Make a list of your positive qualities. Are you honest? Unselfish? Helpful? Creative? Be generous with yourself and write down at least 20 positive qualities. Again, it's important to review this list often. Most people dwell on their inadequacies and then wonder why their life isn't working out. Start focusing on your positive traits and you'll stand a much better chance of achieving what you wish to achieve. Step Nine Start giving more. I'm not talking about money. Rather, I mean that you must begin to give more of yourself to those around your. When you do things for others, you are making a positive contribution and you begin to feel more valuable, which, in turn, lifts your spirits and raises your own self-esteem. Step Ten Get involved in work and activities you love. It's hard to feel good about yourself if your days are spent in work you despise. Self-esteem flourishes when you are engaged in work and activities that you enjoy and make you feel valuable. Even if you can't explore alternative career options at the present time, you can still devote leisure time to hobbies and activities, which you find stimulating and enjoyable. Step Eleven Be true to yourself. Live your own life - not the life others have decided is best for you. You'll never gain your own respect and feel good about yourself if you aren't leading the life you want to lead. If you're making decisions based on getting approval from friends and relatives, you aren't being true to yourself and your self-esteem is lowered. Step Twelve Take action! You won't develop high self-esteem if you sit on the sidelines and back away from challenges. When you take action - regardless of the ensuing result - you feel better about yourself. When you fail to move forward because of fear and anxiety, you'll be frustrated and unhappy - and you will undoubtedly deal a damaging blow to your self-esteem.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Messiah in Splendor at Carnegie Hall

Handel's "Messiah" is one of the most popular musical works in the entire universe. The fact that it is truly a great work is a valid reason for its popularity. Tonight as I was sitting in the audience I realized that I had never sat in the audience during this work. Standing up during the "Hallelujah" chorus in Carnegie hall was surreal. When Handel put down his pen after writing that chorus which ends part 2, it is said that he was crying because he knew he had written something special. The performance I saw this evening involved The Masterwork Chorus and Orchestra with Katharine Dain, Soprano, Abigail Nims, Mezzo-soprano, Matthew Anderson, Tenor, and Mark Moliterno, Bass-baritone. Andrew Megill conducted. According to Dr. Megill's program notes, Handel completed "Messiah" in 24 days. That is quite an astonishing fea. The first thing I noticed about Megill's direction was his superior cuing in his conducting gestures. The chorus was mostly volunteer, and considering that they did a great job. Ms. Dain handled the coloratura in "Rejoice Greatly" very well. I thought the very fast tempo might be a problem until I was proven wrong. I liked her work in the duet "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd." I also enjoyed Ms. Nim's singing in that duet. She also sang "He was depised" quite well. Matthew Anderson would make a good Evangelist in Bach's passions is what went through my mind while he was singing. Then I saw that he does a lot of Bach solos in his bio, which doesn't surprise me. His voice fit the tenor solos well in this piece. Mark Moliterno brought his strong bass-baritone to the bass arias. A bass-baritone with a solid upper range is the ideal fit for the bass arias in "Messiah." The recit preceding "The Trumpet Shall Sound" was handled beautifully by Mr. Moliterno. It was one of the highlights of the performance as a matter of fact because of his coloring on the word "mystery." Handel's "Messiah" is a masterpiece, but I find myself wanting to hear works such as Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" and "L'anfance du Christ" done more often. I do not think they get the credit they deserve. Both of those pieces are as great as "Messiah" in my book, and that is saying a lot. However, "Messiah" is essential for the arts financially. I sang in "Messiah" in Philadelphia last weekend and the house was full. Tonight's performance was also full. Dr. Megill certainly brought solid leadership tonight. I am glad that this chorus and orchestra seem to be thriving when so many organizations in the arts are not. As a musician with sensitive ears, I could say certain things could have been better about the performance. The same thing goes for any performances. However, after standing during the "Hallelujah" chorus I was enjoying myself. Enjoyment is a huge part of the purpose of any musical performance.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Musical Settings of Faust

After performing "A Faust Symphony" by Franz Liszt with the American Symphony Orchestra last Sunday, I came to the realization that there sure are a lot of musical settings of Goethe's "Faust." It sure is a fascinating story, is it not? The story is completely fictional. However, it is based on a true story of a magician who lived during the fifteenth century in northern Germany. In the story, Faust is a scholar who is old and going through bitterness and despair. He calls the devil, the devil appears, then he sells his soul to the devil in exchange for power, and knowledge. In other words he gives up spiritual principles in exchange for what he thinks is happiness. Faust wants what he wants, and is oblivious to the consequences. Being damned is a pretty big consequence, I would say. Faust and the devil make a pact, in which Mephistopheles serves Faust for a certain period of time. Mephistopheles is full of tricks and deceptions, and Faust accomplishes very little while he and Mephistopheles are on adventures. In Goethe's version, Faust is saved by the grace of God. In the musical versions by Berlioz and Gounod, he is damned. Berlioz felt very strongly about that twist, because his version is called "The Damnation of Faust." He even invented his own hell language for this work. There are over thirty musical settings with parts of the story of "Faust" in them. Many famous and not so famous composers have set this legend to music. There is even a rock band called Faust. There are even six musicals based on this story. The term Faustian is even a psychological concept, meaning made or done for gain in the present without regard for future consequences or costs. The question I have been pondering lately is the question of why so many composers, rock musicians and whatnot set this drama. Why set it now if so many settings already exist? Well, it is a complicated story with a lot of different themes, so it does not get boring. Plus there are many musical sounds which can be thought of to set this drama. The versions by Gounod, Berlioz, and Liszt are completely different from one another. Take a text like Alles Vergängliche ist nur ein Gleichnis; das Unzulängliche, hier wird's Ereignis; das Unbeschreibliche, hier ist es getan; das Ewigweibliche zieht uns hinan. Everything transitory is only an approximation; what could not be achieved here comes to pass; what no-one could describe, is here accomplished; the Eternal Feminine draws us aloft. This text is set completely differently by Liszt and Mahler. The story of Faust is in part two of Mahler's 8th symphony. The text makes for a big ending. Whereas, with Liszt the setting is a lot simpler. By simpler, I do not mean unsophisticated, I mean smaller as far as volume, and the forces involved. The number of ways to set "Faust" never seem to run out. The production of Gounod's "Faust" which I recently saw at the Met, was set set during World War 2, and Faust was working on the atomic bomb. So, he was more a scientist than a scholar. Various directors can have all sorts of conceptions of the story. In addition, Faust does not always have to be the main character. In fact, Arrigo Boito wrote an opera called "Mephistophele" in which the title role is the devil. Mephistopheles is a favorite of composers in his own right. Liszt wrote the "Mephisto Waltz", Mussorgsky wrote "The Song of the Flea", and Beethoven wrote a song about Mephistopheles. The devil also appears in many different guises. Nick Shadow in Stravinsky's opera "The Rake's Progress" is satan. Tom Rakewell, is Faust, but under a different name obviously. He wishes for various things such as money and happiness, and magically Nick Shadow appears. He is acting the same way Faust does, in that he is missing life's big picture. There are settings with feature Gretchen also. The list of possibilities with "Faust" musically go on and on. I am sure there will be many more to come. It is a great story, which is hard for me to understand. However, I can appreciate the amount of great music which has been set to "Faust." The Gounod, Berlioz, Liszt and Mahler are awesome examples, and they are very different from one another. Several of these composers talked to each other about setting "Faust." In fact, Berlioz introduced Liszt to Goethe's story. The story of "Faust" is very important in the history of the world, not just in music. It is an all time classic, which I have no doubt will be set many more times.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kaufmann and Pape Shine in Met's Faust

The opera "Faust" by Charles Gounod is a terrific work, which I got the chance to see last night. My feelings on the new production of "Faust" at the Metropolitan opera in New York City is highly favorable with regard to the music, but a little indifferent to the visual set, costumes and staging. First of all, this is the version of "Faust" by Charles Gounod, and the music is beautiful. The opera has been loved by audiences for over a century and a half. The cast yesterday evening December 3rd included Jonas Kaufmann was Faust, Marina Poplavskaya as Marguerite, Rene Pape as Mephistopheles, Russell Braun as Valentine, Jonathan Beyer, as Wagner, Wendy White as Martha, and Michele Losier as Siebel. Incoming music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducted the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

This new Met production of "Faust" takes place before the second World War, in an atomic bomb lab. Some of the effects of the set were really striking. At first, I was indifferent to the projections of Marguerite and Faust's faces on the curtain. However, it did work in the later part of the opera, when Marguerite was projected in jail for killing her baby in a fit of madness. Soprano Marina Poplavskaya, and Jonas Kaufmann, both looked their respective parts in those projections. Another aspect of the staging and set which was effective was Faust's transformation into a youth. That was a less than a minute costume change time wise, which luckily worked out. The smoke which accompanied the transformation blew me away for a moment. As for the time period, I am not sure what to think, because a conception of a story is a conception, and it is all based on opinion. The lab with the spiral stair cases was a neat visual effect. However, Faust and Mephistopheles were constantly going up those stair cases, which was a bit distracting to me. Also, for this opera in particular, I found the set too minimalistic. For the fair in Act II, I wanted to see an actual fair. In Act III, I wanted to see an actual garden. In Act V, I wanted more of a taste of what hell actually looked like. In the beginning, I was nearly taken away to another realm by the set. However, I just wanted more. I remember seeing the Berlioz version of this story "La Damnation de Faust" two years a go, and the hell scene actually had the men down below. I liked that much better.

Musically, conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin did a fabulous job with the orchestra, and in following the singers. The fact that he is doubly trained as an orchestral and choral conductor must have been a tremendous help to the chorus and soloists. When singers took liberties, Maestro Nezet-Seguin followed them. Last night's cast of soloists were very skilled singers. Especially, Jonas Kaufmann, and Rene Pape. Jonas Kaufmann, sang a splendid high B natural in the second act, and did a diminuendo to pianissimo seamlessly. My mouth dropped, and my heart nearly stopped when he did that. Also, he sang the act three aria so musically, and with such passion, that I closed my eyes during some of it, so I could be at one with his art. His heroic high notes in the later acts made me think he has vocal cords of steel. The end of intermission before Act III involved a man screaming "occupy wallstreet" right before the conductor took the podium. Whether that was an idea for a new vocal warmup we will never know. Rene Pape was fantastic vocally and physically as Mephistopheles. His rendition of "Le veau dor" was a highlight of the whole show, and got a huge response from the audience. In addition, Pape was able to mix devil charm with devil menace to great effect. Marina Poplavskaya sang very musically as Marguerite, with very intelligent phrasing in the Jewel song in the third act. Russell Braun has a good lyric baritone voice, but his intonation pushed sharp on occasion. Never the less, I really liked his acting in Valentine's death scene in Act IV, when he curses Marguerite. I was happy to see Jonathan Beyer make his Met debut as Wagner. I think it is a good role for him. Michele Losier's portrayal of Siebel was a nice addition. Overall, this production of "Faust" was a strong show. However, I think some of the aspects of the production kept me from being completely blown away. Some of the singing from Kaufmann and Pape did blow me away for sure. After this month, the great bass Ferruccio Furlanetto will take over for Rene Pape. In addition Roberto Alagna, and Joseph Callejo will take over for Jonas Kaufmann.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Glass = Half Full

The purpose of this blog posting is not to solve a math equation. I am not the right person to do that. I do know that I can think things are going well, or everything sucks. I can dwell on what is good right now, or what is wrong with everything and everyone. This moment right now is all we really have. It is quite simple, isn't it? The glass is half empty, or it is half full. I am healthy, I am a live, and I have a bed to go home to tonight which is not a box. Therefore, I have what I need at the moment. Who cares about what I don't have. If I focus on that it sends out an ungrateful vibe to the universe. A lot of people do not have their health, or a bed to sleep in. I am no better than these people at all. I am lucky, and that is all. Of course this glass is half full attitude can be tough when life throws curveballs, or is not going the way we want it too. I write these things to share my experience. My experience of life is what I know for myself. If that helps someone, then great. Glass is half empty, versus glass is half full is a choice of attitude. I emphasis the word choice, because we have that choice at any given time starting now. I need to have this explained to me constantly. But, it is something I am working hard on. The glass is half empty choice on the menu causes food poisoning and indigestion. Since there are only two choices on the menu, I'm going with the glass is half full right now. It's more pleasant for the people around me. I am being comical and serious at the same time with the menu reference. Glass is half empty attitude is toxic. Glass is half full is much more edible for myself and the people around me. To switch attitudes, just think about one thing that is going well, and then more things will come to mind. If your thoughts go on the toxic end, do not beat on yourself for it. Kind of a duh statement, but it is not always cemented in my brain. Just notice it, tell yourself you deserve better, and turn it around.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Listening

Listening is an essential form of communication. It is important for relationships, and for peace, and learning. I often learn most when I take the time to listen. Most often, my mind is running at a hundred miles per hour. The hamster mind makes listening a lot more difficult. Just think about how essential listening is for a moment with me. People need to be listened to, because people need to know that other people care about them and respect them. If someone asks me to do something or stop doing something, and I do not listen, then I am being rude. I am guilty of this sometimes, as I am sure a lot of us are. After all, we all are humans. Even if someone is annoyed, and they are not saying it, it is equally important to listen to those non verbal cues. People love to talk about themselves. I certainly know that I like to talk about myself. Listening is one of the keys we turn in the door in order to connect with other people. I am getting better at listening, because being a good listener is paramount for relationships with other people, and ourselves. We have to listen to ourselves as well, because our minds give us a lot of important information. What part of the human skeleton tells the body it is tired? Unquestionably the brain gives us that information. Of course our brains tell us we are inadequate and no good sometimes. The key to that, is to listen so we can reframe those thoughts into positive ones. When I sit quietly and meditate, and concentrate while doing it, I am listening, and learning in quiet. When my mind is racing, I am not listening to anything or anyone. I will tell you one thing, and this I know for sure. Listening takes the focus off any worrying, negativity, anger, and so on and so forth. Interestingly, when I am partaking in negative emotions, and I decide to drop it and listen to someone else, I learn that their problems make mine seem like a joke. So, listen, listen, listen. If I am telling myself something crazy, and I listen, I can listen to how crazy it actually is. Also, if I really listen to a piece of music, I can listen to what the artist is trying to communicate, and learn something, or feel something from it. Listening is a good skill. Before, I think about what I am going to say or do next, I need to listen, or I might miss out on things.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Henri Duparc's Story

It is early in the morning on this dreary day before Thanksgiving, and I found myself browsing on Amazon. I stumbled upon Jose Van Dam's recital of Duparc songs, which I own, and then thought about how Duparc was a genius, and how his story is one of success and tragedy. Duparc was very gifted with musical talent and intelligence from a early age. But, he was incredibly hard on himself, and constantly doubting himself. When I listen to his songs full of brilliance, I think to myself, how is that possible. How could Duparc doubt himself so much, that quite a few of his works were destroyed by him? Duparc stopped composing before the turn of the 20th century, but he lived until 1933. When I listen to his songs, I think to myself how could anyone even come up with this. Well, the purpose of this blog is to talk about Duparc's life. So, here is some information about him. Duparc studied law in college, while studying piano with Cesar Franck at the same time. He soon began writing music, but often destroyed his early works because he was not satisfied with some aspect of them. One of the most important events of his life was traveling to Munich, where he met Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. Duparc's music is very Wagnerian in nature. In the 1870s, through the middle of the 1880s, Duparc wrote quite a few works, but very few of them survive because he destroyed them. Duparc made several trips to Bayreuth, and co-founded the Société Nationale de Musique with Camille Saint-Seans. By this time Duparc's inspiration turned towards the orchestra. Duparc wrote Poéme nocturne in 1874, and it was premiered in April of that year at a Société National concert Sadly, only one of the pieces three sections survived. Also, Duparc composed a symphonic poem entitled Lénore, in 1875. A few years later, because of the influence of Richard Wagner, though not stylistically now, Duparc began work on his opera Roussalka. Although his career was going very well, in 1885, at the age of 36, Duparc stopped composing altogether. By this time he had a disease called neurasthenia, which may have affected him psychologically. The term neurasthenia is no longer in use these days, but back then it was a disease in which there was acute pain and fatigue, irritability, lack of concentration etc... Duparc lived with his family until the end of his life, and he revised some of his works. However, he became blind and paralyzed as time went a long. He traveled to the shrine known for miracles in France, because he was always a religious man. Therefore, he came to peace with his blindness. Duparc's compositional output is too small for him to be considered one of the all time great composers. In my opinion, he is still great though, because of his songs. It is important to acknowledge what Duparc did, versus what might have been. A total of 16 songs of his are published, and several of them are performed quite often. The songs have profound beauty, and are very dramatic and tender at the same time. A lot of great singers have recorded songs by Duparc, such as; Jose Van Dam, Gerald Finley, Janet Baker, Paul Groves, and Gerard Souzay to name a few. Duparc's piano accompaniments are Wagnerian in scope. The vocal lines, go from very declamatory, to very sad, to very tender in a heart beat. Duparc could use a variety of emotions in his song compositions like very few composers I have heard. I thank him for what he did contribute, and long for what he might have done at the same time.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Time Travel

Sometimes I wish time travel were actually possible, and sometimes I do not wish it were possible. We all make mistakes, and we try to learn from them. All we can do is try to learn from our mistakes. When we make mistakes again, it is all the more humbling. Time travel is not possible, and we all know that. The present is pretty wonderful, but there are some situations that I wish I had handled differently. I am sure we all have situations like that. I sometimes think, if only I had reacted this way, a situation would have had a better outcome. Time travel is not possible though. I cannot go back to some event which I did not handle correctly a week a go. It is a phenomenon how time just passes and passes, and things cannot be done over. I do not get time back, and that is the absolute truth. I can do things differently the next time, but I cannot get the time back. It is a fascinating concept if you really think about it. It would be cool to go back hundreds or thousands of years, and meet famous people. It would be pretty neat to see what things were really like in the 17 and 18 hundreds. Think about all the technological things we have now, and try living without any of them. That sounds totally far fetched, but back then it was reality. Composers wrote all this great music hundreds of years a go without any technology. How did they do that? I wish we all could go back in time and find out. I have mixed feelings about technology. It has a lot of advantages for sure. I could not write this without technology, and I do love to write. However, I can get a bit too attached to my iPad and iPhone for my own good sometimes. Not always a good thing. It can make me miss moments of life which I cannot get back. I am very in favor of technology, but a break from it is not a bad idea sometimes. Every moment in life counts, and we cannot get them back.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Male Voice Types

If anyone is looking for an introduction to opera, then look no further then this posting. I want to start with the five different male voice types, which are counter-tenor tenor, baritone, bass-baritone and bass in order from highest to lowest. Most people have heard of tenor, baritone and bass, but perhaps they have not heard of bass-baritone or counter-tenor. I will explain more about that later. But, those are the voice types in a nutshell from the highest range to the lowest range. Range is the amount of notes that a person is capable of singing as comfortably as possible. These voice types have general ranges which are approximate. For example, some baritones can singer higher or lower than a typical baritone. Another important thing about these voice types, is that different voice types play certain types of roles in opera. An opera by the way is a play set to music. However, the actors sing instead of speak. Singing is an exaggerated form of speaking, but not quite the same. Let me explain more about each voice type.
I will start with the tenor voice. Tenors are the lovers and/or heros in most operas, and they wow audiences with their high notes. Audiences love tenors because they are exciting to listen to. Do the three tenors ring a bell? They were a popular phenomenon pretty recently. The tenor voice has been around for several hundreds of years. Enrico Caruso was one of the first great tenors, and he was very famous early in the twentieth century. Recordings of Caruso survive which were recorded over one hundred years a go. These recordings were done by the gramophone. Caruso had to nail his recordings down in one take. Can you imagine that? One take? The tenor range is on average from a low C to a high C. By that I mean the third C on the piano to the 5th C on the piano which is two octaves. This is an approximation. Some tenors can sing higher than a high C, other tenors can sing lower than a low C, or some tenors can do both. I hope this is clear. It is hard to explain without an audio example. Most people come to see operas because they want to hear a certain tenor. Pavarotti was a huge hit at the Metropolitan Opera in New York for years. This is because his voice was exciting and recognizable.
The middle male voice type is the baritone. Counter-tenors are the highest voice, but they are unusual, so I will talk about that later. Most males are baritones whether they sing or not, because it is the average voice of a male. The baritone voice is the most common voice amongst opera singers. However, most of the leading roles are for tenors. Not fair is it? There are two different types of baritones in opera. They are the lyric baritone and the Verdi baritone. There are actually more than two, but these are the main two I will refer to. Lyric baritones almost sound like tenors, but they sing a few notes lower on the scale. I used to mistake lyric baritones for tenors before my ear was trained. Baritones have a richer and darker sound than tenors. The baritone voice has been an actual voice part for about two hundred years. Before two hundred years a go, singers who were baritones, but not called baritones sang higher bass parts. Baritones are popular these days, and baritones have the most competition in auditions and in schools. However, they do not hold a candle to the tenor in popularity at the opera house. Baritones usually play fathers, villains, romantic leads, comic characters, and aristocrats. Before I end my speech on the baritone here, I want to talk about the Verdi baritone. Please refer to my blog posting on the Verdi baritone for a detailed description. A Verdi baritone is a baritone with a big voice. A Verdi baritone has a darker sound then a lyric baritone. Lyric means light, whereas, a Verdi baritone is dramatic. A Verdi baritone specializes in operas by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, who lived from 1813-1901. If you want to get to know Verdi, listen to La Traviata, Aida, or Rigoletto, which are his most famous operas. Verdi baritones are rivals to the tenor, and often causing trouble in the stories.
The Verdi baritone has a cousin called the bass-baritone. A bass-baritone is a voice type that can sing in the bass range, and in a baritone range as well. Typically they cannot sing quite as high as a baritone, and not quite as low as a true bass. The term bass-baritone came into prominence during Richard Wagner's time during the 19th century. Most roles that bass-baritones sing are high and pretty dramatic, but they are not as high as roles Verdi wrote for baritones. The term bass-baritone does not exist in Italy. However, it is used in America, Germany and France as a voice category. The baritone role in "Carmen" is a prime example of a bass-baritone role. A baritone may sing it, but will lack a little bit of depth on the lower notes. There are many baritones who have sung the roles very effectively, but I would still call it a core bass-baritone role. There are several roles in Mozart's operas which are often done by bass-baritones, because the term baritone did not exist when Mozart lived. Mozart never wrote as high as what we know as the baritone range today. Bass-baritones often sing many of the roles in Mozart's operas. A bass-baritone has a darker sound than a baritone, and a stronger lower range. Bass-baritone roles often end at the forth F sharp on the piano. Baritones quite often have to sing above the forth G on the piano, and they have to sing high for longer periods of time then the bass-baritone.
The bass voice is the lowest of all the male voice parts. True basses are rare indeed. If a singer is a true bass, there are pretty good odds that he will get work. There are two types of basses, which are the basso-cantante, the singing bass and the basso-profondo, the deep bass. The basso-cantante, is a true bass, and not a bass-baritone, but it is a higher bass than the basso-profondo, which is the deep bass. Deep basses are very rare. The basso-cantante is the more common type of bass, and they tend to have a good upper range. Basso-cantante singers specialize in bel-canto opera, and some of Verdi's operas as well. They tend to play the lead bass roles in various operas. Also, they can play supporting or small roles if their voice is a little smaller. The term basso-cantante, literally means singing bass. By singing, I mean lyric, which means a light sounding type of singer. The term lyric does not mean small in size, but it means pleasant. Lyric basses tend to have a higher sound, and faster vibrato than the next category I am going to talk about, the deep bass. A basso-profondo, meaning deep bass can reach the lowest human notes. They are a bit stronger on the low notes than a basso cantante would be. A basso-profondo is a big and impressive bass voice. The statue in Don Giovanni should be sung by the most impressive bass voice in an opera company. That is the basso-profondo of the opera house. Basso-profondo singers are also very important in choral music. Especially, Russian Orthodox choral music. Some of that music goes down to a low B flat 2 on the piano. If you go to the piano and play the second b flat, then you will know how low this actually is. Singers like myself can growl on it, but no one wants to hear that. A true basso-profondo, which I am not, has a good sound on this note. Search "A basso-profondo am I" on youtube, and you will find Glenn Miller singing the song. He is a perfect example of a basso-profondo.
A counter-tenor is an amazing voice type, which took me a long time to get used to sound wise. Now I think it is a very effective voice type. The role of Oberon in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by Benjamin Britten is sung by a counter-tenor. This opera is based on Shakespeare's play, and Oberon sounds great as a counter-tenor. A long time a go, men had their family jewels cut off so they could sing roles which were written for castratos. Castrato and castrate go together here if you get my drift. These roles were often written in Baroque operas. That is why some of Handel's phrases are so long. When men had their family jewels cut off, they could sing for longer periods of time without breathing. These days men sing in their falsetto voice, and that is how the counter-tenor sound is produced. The last recording of a real castrato was done at the beginning of the 20th century. Do not bother listening to that one. You will not be the same, trust me. I have not heard of any castratos since then. Some counter-tenors sound more natural than others, in that their falsetto sounds like it is not being manufactured, and therefore, it is a very beautiful type of sound. The ones who sound natural sound the most authentic to my ears. Each voice type is unique and fascinating, and every male is one of these voice types whether they sing or not.

Tara and Bella, what are the odds?

We all have heard the expression, a dog is man's best friend. It has been a common expression for who knows how long. Now, we can add the expression, a dog is an elephant's best friend to our list of english phrases. This is because I saw a story about a dog and an elephant being best friends on the news recently. I was shocked and moved at the same time. Tara is a retired circus elephant, that migrated to the elephant sanctuary outside of Nashville, TN. Normally, elephants join each other in pairs. However, Tara instantly befriended a stray dog named Bella. Stray dogs and elephants normally do not mix. This unusual pairing was an anomaly to say the least. A few years back, Bella got injured and could not walk. Tara stayed at the fence near the office where Bella was being nursed back to health. There are over two thousand acres of land on this elephant sanctuary. Tara stayed in one spot the entire time. How devoted is that? Bella was brought out to visit with Tara when she was healthier. Despite her weakness, she got very excited and so did Tara. The relationship between these two animals involved so much trust, that Tara would scratch Bella's stomach, just like a human would scratch a dog's stomach, give or take several tons. However, Tara was very gentle with Bella. Bella eventually was nursed back to health, and was reunited with her friend. Bella was a stray dog though, and there is a high risk factor for the dog being in two thousand acres of land as a stray. I am now referring to Bella in the past tense with great sadness. This morning, through a youtube video of the CBS evening news, I learned that Bella was killed by a pack of coyotes. Tara carried her body a mile. The proof is that Tara had blood on her. A heart breaking story for sure, but the time they had, which was over a decade seemed priceless. Losing a pet is very sad for humans. In this case it is sad for a gentle giant named Tara. She is depressed, but will recover. Believe it or not, other elephants are trying to cheer her up. This is according to the news report. Even the newscaster who covered the story was very upset about this, and could barely hold back tears. Newscasters are used to sad things, but this is a touching situation, so anyone would have feelings for it. I am sure Tara will be alright, despite the void. Death must occur, and there is no escape from it. It is a part of life for any living thing. The ones who experience the loss move on, as I am sure Tara, the gentle giant will.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How Faerie Tale Morals Relate to Real Life

I have been revisiting some of the episodes of Faerie Tale Theatre from the 1980s lately. Those movies are still great even though I am grown up now. I remember warching some of these movies when they first came out. Vanessa Redgrave used to scare me in her portrayal as the wicked Queen in "Snow White and the seven dwarfs." She's pretty cool in real life as it turns out. The moral of that story is that the queen's jealousy comes back to haunt her in the end. Snow White's innocence prevails. Another moral I like is in "The Frog Prince.". Robin Williams and Michael Richard's are hilarious in that by the way. To make a long story short, a witch helps a couple have a baby, and in exchange the couple promises to invite her to the christening. They leave her off the list, and she turns the baby into a frog. Keeping promises is the moral. The frog does turn into a prince at the end as the title suggests. The moral in "Rapunzel" is to take heed of warnings. A poor man named Claude sneaks into a witches garden to pick radishes for his pregnant wife. However, the second time he is caught. An owl warns him, but he ignores the warning, and she ends up taking the baby. The story ends happily of course. The "Princess who had never laughed" has a good moral too, which is to not take yourself too damn seriously. That is a good one for me. Being overprotective of children is not a good thing either, as the moral in "The Dancing Princesses" suggests. There are seven princesses who sneak out behind their father's back and go dancing in a dream kingdom. Overprotection results in rebelling in this case. These faerie tales are simple stories, but they all have important morals.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sleep is Important

Sleep is important. If my sleep is affected for one night I can get by, but if I lose sleep two nights in a row it starts a downward spiral in my mood, and ability to function. It also makes things I normally love to do into a chore. Plus, when I do not sleep enough my attitude sucks in situations where I normally have a good attitude. Well, it can be complicated. There is no need to go into the facts about sleep. Anyone can look those up online. Some people can function on very little sleep. I am not one of them. All the more power to them. Back to the complicated part. Those jitters about upcoming games, performances, presentations, tests, or whatever we are doing can shorten our sleep. Fear of the unknown, or fear of humiliation keep many people up at night until the event is over, and then it's cool again. Tough issue to deal with. I have lost sleep over presentations, tests and performances many times. Why? I have no clue. They are after all just events in time. The big bad wolf isnt coming after me. Our 18 pound dog may be the big bad wolf, but I don't think so. Point of all this is to be careful with lack of sleep, because it certainly can catch up with you later. When I sleep well I am much more alert and more pleasant to be around. Plus, I perform better in work, school, performances or whatever. Key thing is to be wise. Not drinking too much caffeine late in the day is a big one for me. It keeps me up, or gets me up later in the night. Eating too much or exercising late at night don't seem to work either. Exercising a reasonable amount does help, and so does breath work, meditation etc... Over exercising affects my sleep because it feels like flu symptoms. Reading certainly helps, as does a serene piece of music. Listening to Ozzy Osbourne will not get the job done. Finally if there is a pressing issue on your mind, talk to someone so you do not lose sleep over it. Also, if there is an unresolved issue, resolve it. Unresolved issues get worse. Well, sweet dreams everyone. I enjoyed writing this, and I hope you all get something out of it.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Life's Everyday Lessons

 I was driving earlier and another car was tailgating.  That driver was beginning to drive me nuts.  Pun intended.  But then I realized that whoever it was who was driving was one of my life teachers.  I have no control over whether a driver tailgates me or not.  There endeth that lesson, although tailgating pisses me off, despite the fact that I do it myself sometimes.  There is always someone going ten under the speed limit when I am running on the back end of my time.  There is lesson number two right there.  There is a reason why they are going slow.  I am not talking about them.  They could be spaced out on Neptune for all I know.  The lesson for me is that I need to chill out and slow down.  There endeth that lesson.  
   Drivers are only the beginning of the teachers of life.  School teachers are awesome too, but I am talking about something a little different.  Like if a cop pulls me over because I have not changed my license plates or whatever, the lesson is do not procrastinate especially when it comes to the government.  They tend to win, and certainly there endeth that lesson.  Next lesson is when I play out future events in my mind and am completely wrong.  That is one of the most humble lessons of all.  My higher self learns that lesson.  For example if I project a rehearsal or audition going sour, and it does not happen that way, I have wasted a whole bunch of energy which could have gone into the rehearsal or audition.  There endeth that lesson.  There are so many of these life lessons that we learn everyday, that the list could go on and on.  I have learned a lot from these lessons, although they can be tough ones sometimes.  Last year I was looking at my phone while driving.  There was a problem though.  Another car was stopped at a light.  How dare he, right?  I hit him and totaled my car.  Luckily no one was hurt.  I learned to put the phone away while driving.  There endeth that lesson. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. This was one such example. If we make mistakes we are learning another one of life's lessons. The lesson there is to not beat ourselves up for the mistake. There endeth that lesson, and here endeth this blog post.   

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bullying in School

  The very idea of children committing suicide because of bullying is disgusting. Look what happened at Rutgers recently with that 18 year old violinist who killed himself.  He was tormented because he was gay.  Also, there was that story in Ohio where this 17 year old kid blew his head off because the bullies told him to.  They literally told him to shoot himself in the head and not come back.  Bullying can do permanent damage to innocent people.  It is a tough situation for the victims because they want to tell an adult, but what if the bullies find out they were told on?  I remember doing that, and it only made the bullying worse.  These bullies cannot possibly feel secure with themselves if they are bullying.  Maybe they do, I will be damned if I know.  But, these sensitive kids who are targeted by bullies are being destroyed emotionally.  I saw it first hand in an ally in Baltimore when I was living there.  I was walking to school from Cathedral Street, and I saw something that just disgusted me.  It has been ten years, but I still shudder when I think about this sometimes.  This girl was being tormented by these two bigger girls, and they had her pinned to a wall.  It drove me up the wall to watch it.  They were calling her names and threatening her.  I wish I had done something.  I wanted to start screaming at them to leave her alone.   I had it done to me.  Not at that level, but still I was a target.  I dont know what made me think of this, but I know that bullying still goes on in schools, and it is very hard to stop it.  Also, I give a damn, especially when the teachers do not care.  I love teachers and am the ultimate supporter of what they do.  Please do not misunderstand me here.  All I am saying is that a select few of them do not give a damn what is going on.  If children are committing suicide over bullying, and afraid to go to school, I just think that is really messed up.   

Fall? Winter? What is this supposed to be?

What do you call this weather anyway? Snow in October? I see the winter wonderland, but the leaves are on the trees with various colors. I would like to call up mother nature and ask what the fuck we all did to deserve the confusion. Friday was in the mid fifties, seasonable for middle of autumn. Then yesterday I walk outside and the windchill is like 20. The temperature was 32 at one point. Powerlines went out because parts of trees were falling down. I am still wondering if I fell asleep for two months one night. No, it's October 30th and I have to scrap bleeping snow off my car. Grrr... This is an evil, evil joke by mother nature. In January and February, snow storms captivate my eyes because mother nature is doing her standard thing. March is the joke month! Not October! October is one of my favorite months so leave it alone. Well, anyway, I am trying to win a pointless argument with mother nature, and whatever power told her to play this joke on the Northeast. Call me self centered, but I love my autumn weather the way it is supposed to be in each respective area. I look outside, and see leaves that are red, orange, yellow, green or whatever. It looks gorgeous. Mother nature is laughing so hard she feel off the sofa right now. I say, ha ha, very funny, stop playing these cruel jokes.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The man and all his money

The man and all his money

Walter was a billionaire who worked himself up from the absolute bottom in order to earn his fortune. He grew up poor in the deep south, and came from an abusive background. Walter first earned his fortune as a professional basketball player, but he was also trained as a business man. He really let fame and money get to his head when he was a young man. He had been drafted as the first pick in the NBA draft, and he led his team to five championships. Now he was the owner of his team, and his team was still a successful championship contender. Walter had extravagant riches such as five mansions, ten cars, recording studios, game rooms. You name it, Walter had it. He even owned several beach resorts all over the country. Walter had been married three times, and he had a supermodel wife who was twenty years younger than him. Walter was forty five at this point, and had retired from basketball ten years earlier. He had it all, but he was materialistic and therefore, unhappy. Something was missing in his life. He wondered what it could be, because he only thought about himself.
Walter was racing one of his fancy cars one day, and he lost control of the vehicle. His crash destroyed the car, but Walter managed to escape from the crash. Luckily he was driving in a secluded area and there was no one he could have hit with his car. He thought about how glad he was that no one was hurt. Where did this thought come from, he wondered. Then he had tears in his eyes and began to cry because he had an ephiphany. A light bulb went off in his head which was like a stroke of lightning. He had all these riches and material things, and he had been keeping it all to himself. He made a decision then and there on the side of the road, car smashed to pieces, that he was going to give back to the world. 

    It was December and it was time for the holidays. So many people were going bonkers shopping. Walter started giving money to charities all over the world. Millions of poor children got fed for Christmas and Chanukah because of Walter's newly found selflessness. He gave some of his cars to his friends. Some of those friends were people he ignored since his high school days. Most of these people were still very poor. Walter was extremely lucky to have good fortune throughout his life. Now, he had a deeper soul because he nearly got killed because of his reckless behavior. He sold his mansions and moved into a more modest sized house. He left his young wife on good terms, and married a woman whom he loved who was closer to his own age. He realized this was true love, and they had two children whom he put through college. He did everything he could for them. Walter did keep his job as owner of his former team, but he was now a mentor for young players, and he helped the players families. When Walter died he was at peace with himself and the world. He was given a second chance, and he took full advantage of it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

We all hurt sometimes

We all hurt because we are human. Hurting is a part of life. Things in life happen that cause us to hurt, or we simply hurt because we feel lonely, or something in our soul is temporarily missing. I see people every day who are obviously hurting a great deal on the inside. Also, people hurt other people which I don't get. Although I have done it myself. I do not want to sound like a hypocrite. If I do hurt someone I try to amend the situation as quickly as possible because it really will not sit well with me otherwise. Sometimes people just need a hug or to be told something kind. I feel a bit of a chocked up feeling writing this because there have been times when I have hurt very deeply. A loved one or friend gets sick or dies, someone says something nasty, someone takes advantage of another person or treats them like an object. These things happen, and people hurt as a result of them. You know the good news about hurting? It passes. When the pain is there it feels like it will never go away. This happened to me two summers a go. I was hurting terribly. Guess what, it did pass. It has happened since then, and it has passed. There is always light at the end of every tunnel. There is always light at the top of a well. If someone is hurting perhaps they will read this and gain some comfort. It may be hard to talk to someone, but it is worth telling someone if you are hurting. Putting it out there will help the pain get better. That is the beginning to finding the end of the tunnel.

Poisonous Villainy

  Poisonous Villainy
      I am not referring to when the wicked Queen poisons Snow White, although the Queen dressed as the old lady scares the hell out of me.  Poisonous villainy is the kind of poison which makes a normally good character act in ways which are unnatural.  Often the result is a good characters demise, although sometimes the good character can overcome the poison.  Poisonous villainy can be a real tragedy in various plays, movies and operas when it is used on innocent characters.  Poisonous villainy often comes from flat out hatred, or relying on passions such as lust for power, jealousy, envy and many more.
     The emperor in Star Wars (yes the Star Wars geek is back) uses villainous poison in Anakin Skywalker.  He plays with Anakin's mind and tells him various lies which Anakin is manipulated into believing.  The emperor manipulates Anakin into believing that the Jedi counsil does not trust him.  Also, he convinces Anakin that the powers of the dark side can save Padme.  This is of course common knowledge, but the poisonous villainy is the key focus of this post.  A good character is destroyed because of it.  Of course the emperor takes a nice tumble at the hands of Anakin when he tries to kill Luke.  Luke is close to being poisoned like his father in episode VI, but is able to overcome it.  The poison administered by a powerful villain brings out the worst in any good character because the purpose is to exploit their weaknesses.  Anakin totally gets nailed, because the emperor exploits his fear.
     Othello goes down hill really fast when Iago uses villainous poison on him in the play and the opera.  Scarpia also poisons Tosca in the same way in that both villains bring out jealousy in Othello and Tosca respectively.  Iago does it more than Scarpia.  Scarpia's main purpose is to possess Tosca.  Iago wants to destroy Othello because he was promised captain and it went to Cassio instead.  Cassio is the bait for the poison.  Tosca is tortured by Scarpia into believing that Cavaradossi is cheating on her.  Otello is tortured big time by Iago throughout the entire play.  Iago does such a good job of pretending to be Othello's best friend and confident, that he really exploits Othello's jealousy.  Iago survives, and Othello kills himself.  Scarpia certainly gets his in the end when Tosca murders him.  So does the Emperor when the redeemed Anakin kills him.  Why Iago survives is beyond me.  Othello stabs Iago at the end of the play, but he lives and is arrested.  A villain as bad as Iago should have to live with the guilt if he even feels it in the first place.  
   The queen in Snow White aims to kill snow white immediately with actual poison.  Hey, queen, snow white is prettier than you, get over it sweetheart.  My point is that it is the villainous poison that slowly tortures normally good characters that makes a villain powerful.  Twisting another person's mind with various deceptions is the ultimate way to torture them.    However, the villains better watch it, because it will come back like a boomerang in the end. Although my post is about fictional characters who engage in poisonous villainy, I will relate it to real life. In real life there is karma. Karma is the boomerang. If I treat people poor me in will come back to bite me in the ass. Here ends today's post.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Changing the things I can change

Changing the things I can change

     There is this really awesome prayer which says "God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.". The words "us" and "we" can be changed to "me" and "I" if a person sees fit.  There is also the short version "fuck it." The dude's approach in "The Big Lebowski" does come in handy sometimes." The longer version which I quoted above which is not the whole thing does carry a lot of weight.  We cannot change the events which took place in the past.  I cannot change the fact that people made fun of my weight or that bullies picked on me.  I can change the way I look at the past by forgiving.  Hard to do, but it is essential to try.  If you want to stop trying, keep trying anyway.  It is essential to forgive for the sake of emotional health.  I cannot change the fact that I am not going to be the next Roger Federer.  Too bad, right?  Courage to change sure is a tough concept to put into practice.  I can totally be the cowardly lion sometimes even though that is a temporary easy way out.  Well, I do not want to be the king of any forest.  That is a big responsibility.  

     Having courage to make positive changes is scary because it is unfamiliar territory.  Knowing the difference is pretty straight forward.  I can make positive changes which are within reasonable bounds.  I just need to have the courage to make them.  Easier said then done.  Sometimes, I need to call instead of email, or talk in person versus on the phone.  Not easy, but making changes like that make me useful  I can totally change the way I look at things.  I can change what I eat, my attitude towards things, my weight etc...  I cannot change how people think of me or how they react to me.  I often think I can.  Talk about a bullshit story.  I can change how I view other people.  If I can make a change that will result in my being useful to myself and others, that is a pretty good change.  If I say that I cannot do something in the present that I am capable of doing, I shut off all possibility.  I cannot change the fact the people get sick and die.  That word accept can be inconvenient sometimes because it can be hard to swallow.  What other choice is there?  Life has it's ups and downs and curveballs, fastballs, sliders and sinkers, and change ups.  I can change how I deal with those situations.  I can accept what happens versus sitting in a timeout chair with my arms folded.  Accepting what I can and cannot change is a long process.  As I learn it, I become more and more serene.  Most of all, I become a useful person.    

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Gianandrea Noseda Brings His Leadership to New York

An opportunity to see Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem" is an event that music lovers should not let slip from their finger tips. Also, if you want a strong message on how war tears people apart on the inside and outside, then look no further. Benjamin Britten was waiting for an opportunity to mourn the spoils of war, and he does not hesitate in this work, which is one of the most important of the twentieth century. Britten was a pacifist through and through. War clearly hit his insides very hard, and he uses the interval of the tritone to alert the listener to his ill feelings about war. Also, the ending has this peaceful tranquility to it, until Britten presents the unsettling resolution to F major from the chorus, and ends the piece there. It is a monumental work throughout with a very powerful message.

Every field needs strong leaders, whether it be in the work force, sports, volunteer work or the arts. The arts are suffering, so us artists need leaders like the conductor Gianandrea Noseda. Mr. Noseda is an awesome leader who showed his leadership skills by conducting an extraordinary performance of Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem" at Avery Fischer Hall earlier this afternoon. Maestro Noseda was joined by soprano, Sabina Cvilak, tenor, Ian Bostridge, baritone, Simon Keenlyside, the London Symphony Orchestra and chorus and the American Boychoir. This performance blew me away from the very beginning until the very final chord. Noseda conducted like a master, and was very clear in his gestures and pacing.  The London Symphony chorus did an impeccable job in important tuning moments.  This was especially true in the chilling resolutions to F major at the end of several of the movements.  The audience showed their appreciation when the chorus was acknowledged by Maestro Noseda.  The performances by Ian Bostridge and Simon Keenlyside were great works of art on both accounts.  They are two artists, and most of all they are sophisticated and humble human beings who know how to give to the world through their art.  Their accounts of Wilfred Owen's poetry were absolutely chilling.  Both artists are very intelligent, and made every word mean something.  Sabina Cvivalak is a soprano from Slovenia who I had not heard of until today.  She has a full lyric soprano which carried well in Avery Fischer. But is the soprano solo in this work a lyric?  I would say no.  It should be a spinto or light dramatic soprano in my opinion. Ms. Cvivalak's lower register was a little underpowered for my taste. But in all fairness, the vocal writing for the soprano is less even than for the other two voices. Benjamin Britten challenges every single performer in this work whether it be the orchestra, soloists, chorus, boychoir or the conductor.  The American Boychoir sang from backstage in this performance.  The American Boychoir did a good job serving as the angels from above.  Although their sound had a little bit of a lack of balance with individual voices sticking out.  The choir does have a very good sense of rhythm though. The rhythmic energy was one of the strongest aspects of this performance.  Mr. Noseda is very demanding about details in rehearsal.  I remember being in Verbier, Switzerland and singing in the chorus of Puccini's "Tosca" under his direction.  I was in awe of his genius in rehearsal, but he sure was tough.  He demanded the best out of each performer, and he knew how to get it.  His apparent tough demeneur was there, but underneath I saw a gentle and sensitive soul, and both of those characteristics came out in his leadership today. His sense of passion and commitment intertwined with precision worked very well this afternoon.  I thank the powers that be for bringing the arts leaders like Gianandrea Noseda.    

The Man and His Dog

     It was a gorgeous fall day in New York City.  The leaves were turning and falling off the tree.  Plus, the temperature and light winds were just right.  A man was walking his dog in central park with no particular destination in mind.  He had a stubborn dog who only liked to be walked sometimes.  However, today he wanted to go for a long walk to keep his master company.  As they walked, they passed many benches and trees where various types of people were sitting with their families, spouses, girlfriends or boyfriends, pets, or alone by themselves.  Suddenly, as the man and his dig were walking, the man began to feel a pain in his chest like a hammer hitting it.  He realized he was having a heart attack, and he begged his faithful companion for help.  The dog went up to a strange couple and was barking very nervously.  The couple initially told the dog to shut up, but then they realized that something was seriously wrong.  Dogs are masters at sensing danger, so the couple followed the dog.  They found the man struggling for his life, and they called 911. The man did survive of course and loves his dog more than ever.  This story is fiction, but dogs save lives all the time.  They even save other dogs as demonstrated on the news last week.  If you have a chance to rescue a dog do it.  Do not let them be destroyed just because their previous owner was an unfit owner. A dog could save your life.  They can even save your life emotionally, and not just physically.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

War Requiem

My first experience with the "War Requiem" by Benjamin Britten was in 1988 when I was in forth grade. I was in the American Boychoir and singing in the balcony at the Trenton War Memorial. It had a very powerful impact on me even though I was ten and had no clue what was going on in the piece. Benjamin Britten was a pacifist, meaning that he hated war and violence of any kind. The "War Requiem" was premiered in 1962 for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral which was destroyed in the Battle of Britain during World War II. The work is a strong outcry against war. Britten lost several friends in the war, and this work is dedicated to their memories. The soloists represent people from Russia, Britain and Germany. The tenor is English, the baritone is German, and the soprano is Russian. This work is a very large scale work involving a large main orchestra, a chamber orchestra, an adult chorus, a boychoir and an organ. The texts are a mixture of poems by Wilfred Owen, and the Requiem mass for the dead. The tenor and baritone soloists sing the English texts by Wilfred Owen, and everyone else sings the Latin text. The only exception is during the Agnus Dei when a poem and the Latin text are put together. Wilfred Owen was a soldier during World War I who was killed a week before the war was over. He was a brave soldier who fought hard, but he still was disgusted by war. He describes the noises of guns and bodies laying all over the fields. The deaths of these men are meaningless until they are brought home to their families. Wilfred Owen wrote some of his most famous poems in the hospital where he was being treated for shell shock. The doctor recommended that he transform his experiences into poetry. The "War Requiem" is a work of genius from beginning to end. Britten stabs the audience in the heart with the harsh interval of the tritone. That interval represents the fear of fighting in a battle where you could get shot at any moment. Britten makes a powerful statement in this work to signify how pointless war actually is. My last experience or this piece was when I attended Peabody, and there was a workshop conducted by Britten's friend bass-baritone John Shirley-Quirk. John Shirley-Quirk was about 70 years old when this workshop took place. The last two baritone solos were so hard for the participants that Mr. Shirley-Quirk started singing them himself without a score. It was just incredible. Tomorrow this worked is being performed at Avery Fischer Hall. It has been ten years since I have heard any of it live. The conductor Gianandrea Noseda has a big job to do tomorrow. He is the guy to do it. Hopefully if anyone who reads this is going, this little introduction was a helpful too.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Spectres of the past

A man was walking through a park in Paris. The park was so beautiful that the man could not believe what he was seeing. It was as if he was inside the painting in the movie "Mary Poppins.". As he walked he became more and more focused in the present. It was as if there was a circle with a red dot in the center of it helping him focus on his surroundings. He saw a carousel with parents and their children playing on it as he continued his stroll home from work. All of a sudden as his walking meditation grew deeper, he saw himself walking with the spirit of his child self, and they were holding hands. This man had a childhood which started as a very joyful one. He was a musician by trade, and his grandfather used to play whatever he requested when he was a child. This spectre of the mans past whom he was walking with was little, innocent and happy. The innocence of a child is indispensable, he thought. Oh, how he wished he could have that back. As he walked with his past spectre that child started to get older. He remembered being a young child in an all boys school where he got to travel a lot. He remembered how he had a tough time in this all boys school. As he continued to walk holding hands with the phantom, the phantoms hands became colder. It was as if that innocence was going away, and he was beginning to face the growing pains of adolescence. As they walked the child grew more, and the child began to become more reserved and distant. The man felt a chill down his spine when these pains of growing up came back to him. As he continued to walk with the spectre, the boy was now in high school. He remembered having a good time in high school, but the spectre was now angry. The wounds were deep on this boy, and it was hard for him to trust people. As the man held hands with his past self, there was a feeling of disconnect and depression from the boy. Then the boy was in college. As the man continued to walk in the park, he remembered doing well in college and grad school, but he remembered having to drink a lot at parties just to feel comfortable. Then all of a sudden before the flash of his eyes, he was holding hands with a grownup in his late twenties. That was his grownup self from ten years a go. Here was someone who was in great pain, and drinking constantly to try to hide from it. He also had depression and was drinking to hide from that too. The grip at which the spectre was holding the mans hand was so tight, that it was painful. This man remembered himself holding on for dear life ten years a go. He could not continue drinking the way he was drinking and live a meaningful life, let a lone live at all. All of a sudden the grip loosened, and the man remembered surrendering. So, as the man's consciousness came back into the present, it was just himself walking in the park. His life had improved immensely. He got on a train to get back to his chateau, and there was a young woman sitting across from him who was very drunk and in a lot of emotional pain. The man knew what that felt like. He saw himself from ten years a go through the eyes of this person. The pain in this persons eyes was unmistakable. The man had great compassion for this complete stranger who was in such pain. But at the same time, a great sense of gratitude came over him. He gained a new perspective on his life, and realized that he never had to feel pain in that way again.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Happy belated birthday John Lennon

John Lennon would have been 71 on October 9th had he not been robbed of his life at the age of 40. It is hard to imagine that we have lost 31 years of greatness. John Lennon stood up for what he believed in, and that was peace. He despised war and hatred of any kind, and referenced that in several of his songs. He also stood up for civil rights and women's rights. I will not talk in detail about his murder in this post. The anniversary of his death is not until December 8th. John was killed that evening by an obsessed fan named Mark David Chapman. All John did was sign an autograph for him despite having recorded all day. The murder of John Lennon was an unspeakable tragedy. This completely unnecessary tragedy was announced during a football game which Howard Cossell was announcing. Cossell was absolutely crushed by the news, and he did not think the game should have continued. My friend Patrick and I were watching the movie "Imagine" a while back, and we were moved to tears by the fact that someone killed this great man. Here was a man who dedicated his life to making a difference in the world taken away by two swift gun shot wounds. John had a rough upbringing for sure. His father left him and his mother at a very early age after his parents had separated. John's father left permanently when he was five, and only came back into his life when he was famous as a Beatle. John was put into the care of his aunt Mimi because she thought that Julia (John's mother) was unfit to raise him. However, Julia was a big part of John's life until she was run over when he was in high school. Her unfortunate death hit John very hard, and effected him for the rest of his life. The first song on his first solo album "Plastic Ono Band" has funeral bells at the beginning of it, and it is called "Mother." Everytime I listen to a song that John wrote whether it is on a Beatles album or one of his solo albums, there is always a meaning behind them which makes me think. He had a such a deep soul inside of him, that it is absolutely remarkable. He loved his wife Yoko very dearly, and was a terrific father to Sean and his son from his first marriage Julian. Both of his sons were robbed of their father, especially Sean who was three when the murder took place. John wrote a song called "Beautiful Boy" for Sean. Only a person with a very good heart would think of something like that. It is amazing how John was able to live such a unique life despite his rough upbringing. He wanted peace in the world above all else. It was more important to him then fame. "Imagine all the people living life in peace." How a human being can write something like that is beyond me. John shared so much with the world in his brief 40 years on this planet. Although his time was short, I for one am glad that we had him at all. "I hope some day you'll join us, and the world will live as one." I could not agree more, and I certainly could not say it any better. Violence, war, hatred, and discrimination have no place in this world. John expressed emotions through music in a powerful way. I am thankful that he was a part of this world.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The aria/cabaletta form from bel canto to Verdi

The aria form established during the bel canto period of Italian opera is known as the aria/cabaletta form. Arias starting with baroque opera usually has recitative where the action is going on, then aria. The aria stops the action. A cabaletta is a follow up melody to an aria, and it is fast. The character gets excited about going to battle, going to kill the SOB, winning someones love, gaining something or whatever. Bellini and Donizetti always used the aria/cabaletta form in their operas. Bellini and Donizetti kept the orchestration relatively light in their cabalettas. The main object of the game during the bel canto period was the beauty of the voice. Verdi continued to use this form, but eventually he cut it out entirely. In his early operas Verdi always used the form because it was common practice. The main things he did were to kick the orchestration up a few knotches, and write higher for the voice. Kind of him to do that wasn't it? I am just joking of course. He wrote brilliant cabalettas, and he always used the form until 1851, when his middle period began with Rigoletto. The composition of Rigoletto was paramount in the history of Italian opera because Verdi got rid of the Rossinian code, and also used the aria/cabaletta form in a new and unique way. The Rossinian code was the formula by which Giacchino Rossini's operas were constructed. Every major character had an aria, and there was a concerted finale with all the characters and chorus on stage at the end of each act. Verdi's genius was absolutely remarkable. He changed all this, and here is how he accomplished that. Verdi abolished the Rossinian code in 1851 when Rigoletto was premiered. What he did in "Rigoletto" was fascinating. Act three ends with just Gilda and Rigoletto. There is no concerted finale. That is the first thing. At the beginning of the second act, the Duke sings an aria and cabaletta in the traditional form. In Rigoletto's aria the big change occurs, because Verdi writes and aria/cabaletta in reverse. No it is not a cabaletta/aria, I am calling it an aria and cabaletta in reverse because the tempos are fast/slow instead of slow/fast. Rigoletto begins in an absolute rage demanding his daughter back, and then there is the cantabile section of the aria where he is begging. Verdi's changing of the guard in this aria really heightens the emotional intensity. Verdi would go back to the old form in his next operas when he wanted to. Both "Il Trovatore" and "La Traviata" have arias and cabalettas for the major characters. Verdi's cabalettas always have more weight and intensity to them like I said before, so they do have his own stamp on them. The duet "Teco io sto" in "Un Ballo in Maschera" has a cabaletta with an awesome intensity. The last time Verdi used a cabaletta was in his opera "La Forza del Destino." In his last four operas Verdi abolishes the aria and cabaletta form completely. Interestingly Stravinsky went back to it once in his opera "The Rakes Progress" with Anne Truelove's scene. It has rarely been used aside from that. Puccini and the verismo composers who followed him never used this form to my knowledge. Twentieth century opera is mostly recitative. Verdi really changed the course of opera with changing the form and eventually abolishing it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

First opera for those looking to be initiated

Those who are new to the art form of opera might want to take a look at this so as to get initiated with a good introduction. So, what is a good first opera? There are many opinions on this matter. I would say that a good first opera should be three hours or less for the most part. There should be a lot of action which is quick moving, and memorable. There should be beautiful arias. That is a must, because that is what people who are new to opera are going to expect to be hearing. Chances are that newbies are going to be more familiar with sopranos and tenors then the lower voices. Before I was familiar with opera, that was the case for me. The story needs to be easy to follow. It does not necessarily need to be happy per say. How many operas have happy endings anyway? Most of the time someone freaking dies at the end. That is the nature of the beast. I will name a few operas that could be a good starting place. It may result in a new hobby. Who knows, right? Carmen is certainly a good one. The overture is from the TV show "The Bad News Bears.". Also, the Toreador song is so famous, that people will probably recognize it. The arias and ensembles are easy to listen to, and the action keeps moving and is easy to follow. La Boheme and Tosca are two other good starting points. La Boheme features great arias, duets and ensembles, it is easy to follow, and the music has an awesome simplistic beauty to it. The ending is heartbreakingly sad though. A good introductory opera none the less. Tosca has famous tenor arias which are well known. Tosca has a dark plot with murder and suicide. The music is sublimely beautiful, and this opera is one of the most popular of all time. For children I would recommend the Magic Flute or Hansel and Gretel. In my personal experience of doing both these operas for children, the children responded more to Magic Flute. Both of these are good for adults too. Rigoletto and La Traviata are the final two I will recommend. I am recommending these two simply because they are so famous. Both are relatively short and easy to listen to. The tenor in Rigoletto sings the aria "La Donna e mobile", which is a very famous aria. I used to sing it myself aloof with Pavarotti when I was a little kid. For those new to opera, I hope you got something out of this posting. Remember, opera is a play set to music. Singing is a supported form of talking. Also, do not be intimidated by the foreign languages. Think of it as a foreign film with subtitles. The subtitles are right in the theatre. At the Metropolitan Opera House they are right in front of your seat. If you see an opera at the Met, check out those chandeliers. They are pretty cool looking. They go up to the ceiling right before the conductor comes out and takes a bow.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

May the road rise up to meet you

One of the bloggers I subscribe to, Sharon Longworth talked about an experience of listening to a song while driving to work which brought back past memories for her. I had a big blank going through my head on what to write about today until I saw that. It is amazing how inspiration can come out of left field sometimes. So, here is how this post has unfolded. I thought of this unison choral arrangement of the Irish prayer "May the road rise up to meet you." It is a simple arrangement in D flat major which used to make me cry every time I sang it. I went to camp Albemarle nearly twenty years a go. It was a music camp located on Lambert Drive in Princeton, NJ. The name of the mansion was Albemarle, and it used to belong to the inventor of Listerine. The six summers I spent at this camp was a great time in my life. I remember always enjoying my summers there. The staff even let me board an extra session one year because it was just a wonderful camp. There were various musicians playing different instruments. Everyone had to sing in the choir though. Dr. Anton Armstrong was in charge of the camp when I was there. He always picked this song as the last one on the concert program as a way to say goodbye through song. This song meant that it was truly over. Kids are most often sad when camp is over. I know that I was. I was waiting for the track announcement for my train from NYC back to Princeton Junction, after having read the post from the blogger I follow. This song came to my mind. It made me remember the garden at Albemarle mansion. It had a well right in the middle of it. There were also brick walls that I used to climb and jump off of. We also used to play capture the flag, and I would hide in the garden. I used to love pool time, and I remember walking through the garden to get to the pool. Songs sure do bring back memories don't they? This song is not anything too profound as far as the music itself. It's simplicity is effective though. Thinking of it now, I sense the theme of optimism in the song wishing everyone a safe and fulfilling year. Camp used to be once a year. We were wishing each other a safe and prosperous year with the power of song. Those times as a child at that camp were special. As an adult, and with my busy life it is easy to forget how special those times were. I remember feeling accepted at Albemarle. Here are the words to this Irish prayer which moved me in song. "May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand."

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Choosing a Path and Following It

I am mainly writing this so I can share quotes by various thinkers on not giving up on dreams, hope etc... Do not give up. We only live once. There will always be critics inward and outward. Outward critics are sometimes trying to help, sometimes not. It is how we feel on the inside that counts the most. I'm no expert on this by any means, so I will go right into the quotes here. This first one is just dead on, so check it out. Savor Emerson's words. “Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”. Here is another one by Henry David Thoreau.      “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”. Now, a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt. "You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience by which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along." Fear can really bite us in the ass if we let it rule our lives. Have some freaking faith. You can quote me on that. See if you recognize this one. It is really inspiring." First off, I am thirty-five years old. I am divorced. And I live in a van down by the river! Now you kids are probably saying to yourselves "hey, I'm gonna go out and I'm gonna get the world by the tail, and wrap it around, and pull it down and put it in my pocket!" Well, I'm here to tell you that you're probably gonna find out, as you go out there, that you're not gonna amount to jack-squat!". Alright, back to being serious. Here is an inspiring quote by Harriet Tubman. "Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” That patience thing sure can be tough sometimes. Nothing comes over night, so patience is an important virtue to have. Living in a hopeful and optimistic state is better then that fear state which is like being pinned to a wall. William Blake sums that up pretty well, and this quote by him will be my ending point. Action is the prescription for the fear state of being stuck in life. With this quote by Blake, I wish everyone a good evening. "Father, O father! what do we here In this land of unbelief and fear?The Land of Dreams is better far, Above the light of the morning star."

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Dark Versus the Light Side of Anger

Anger is an emotion. Let's start there. It is fine to angry, but it can either wreck havoc or bring peace. Anger can be used as a poison for the person who is angry, or for the victim on the receiving end. Or it can be used constructively to make peace in a situation. One of them is terribly unhealthy, the other is just simply more logical. I am talking about emotions a lot lately, because they all have good and bad ways of being used. It is important to distinguish between both sides. In this case I will talk about the dark side of anger first. Toxic anger is used in a lot of ways, and it does serve a purpose. There is explosive anger, violent anger, vengeful anger, and anger turned inward. Anger turned inward results in depression because the anger remains inside. Toxic anger also causes various illnesses. Strokes and cardiovascular disease are two examples. I know that I get depressed when I turn the anger inward. Toxic anger ruins friendships and relationships. Explosions of anger leave permanent damage on the recepient even though they might say that the outburst is forgiven and forgotten. Our dog was beaten before my sister adopted him. He is happy now, but I see that the damage is still there. Toxic anger releases endorphins, but why not release them doing something like working out? Toxic anger repels people and animals away like the wind of a hurricane. It also makes people sick. If people engage in the toxic form of anger, there is a price ti be paid. I had Lyme Disease in 2009. I still have symptoms from time to time in that I feel fatigue, aches, and minor arthritis when I am angry in a toxic way. When I get my chill back on, the symptoms go away. How do you think that works? Well, I either relax or if another person did something I did not like, I have the option of using the healthy or constructive way of expressing anger. It is all about choices. Easier said then done of course. The light side of anger is keeping the emotion under control. Yes, I do like Star Wars analogies. Anyway, I call the light side of anger, constructive anger. This is because, constructive anger is helpful way of expressing anger just like constructive criticism is helpful. Helpful is the key word for constructive anything. Constructive anger is about talking to the person that upset you versus exploding at them. Talking the situation out often has some good results such as creating a deeper relationship with the other person. Plus, it is helpful to myself and the other person because that person can get a better understanding of what the deal is. Of course how the other party reacts is out of my control, and none of my business. Usually relationships can improve by talking versus exploding. That can even apply to myself, if I am angry at myself over something I can improve my relationship with myself. Anger is most certainly a toxic emotion, but it can be expressed constructively, and then it cools down. At least that is my stance on it. Usually it starts out with the intensity of the anger turned all the way up to overdrive. At least that tends to bs my experience. But if I restrain myself when the intensity is high, I can pause and wait for the intensity to go down, then the result is anger used the right way. When the initial temperature on my anger intensity scale is hot, my thinking is irrational. When I calm down, I must deal with whatever is bothering me and then forgive the other person and move on.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Importance of Friendships

Friends are such a critical part of living a complete and healthy life. Living without them is a miserable way to go through life. Friends spend quality time together, and when they ask me how I am, they care what the answer is. If I am not doing well and I try to pretend I am, true friends can see through that because they care that much. Friendship is love for another person, but not in a physical way. A good way to make friends is to be a friend. Everyone needs friends they can talk to and lean on for support. People who think no one cares about them are wrong, and that perception leads to depression and sometimes suicide. Animals need friends too. I know that our dog certainly needs my friendship, and I need his. His friendship helps me tremendously when I am down. All I have to do is pet him, and it lifts my spirits. I know for sure that I function better when I have people I can lean on. Facebook is great, but talking with friends results in intimate relationships, technology does not. My main point in writing this post is that it is plain unhealthy to isolate. Plus, it is a waste of time. Trust me on that. People who isolate are at higher risk for alzheimers, obesity, lack of excersize, and smoking. Isolating results in the slowing down of cognitive functioning, and it just feels plain shitty. Isolating is a dangerous thing because it is a trap. When I isolate something is wrong, and isolating leaves me trapped in the problem. Do not get me wrong. Alone time is a great thing, but that is not the same as isolating. I think people isolate when they actually need friends the most. Isolating makes it awfully hard to make friends because isolating equals being trapped in your own world. Isolating is a choice, but not the wise one. Here are five things that I think make true friendships work. 1. Friends need to love each other unconditionally, 2. Friends need to listen to each other and try not to judge each other, 3. If a person is at risk of making a foolish decision, the friend needs to tell them, 4. Friends need to work it out if they have a disagreement if the friendship is worth saving. Relationships take work. 5. Friends need to show support for one another. The theme of friendship comes up all over the place. Many famous thinkers write about it, and it is a popular topic in movies, plays, musicals and operas. I will leave you with a few of my favorite phrases about friendship. "A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud." Ralph Waldo Emerson, "A true friend stabs you in the front." Oscar Wilde, "The most I can do for my friend is simply to be his friend. I have no wealth to bestow on him. If he knows that I am happy in loving him, he will want no other reward. Is not friendship divine in this?" (Henry David Thoreau) "I get by with a little help from my friends." (John Lennon) "The bird a nest, the spider a web,man friendship." (William Blake). Blake's quote Is saying that man needs frienship like a bird needs it's nest, and a spider needs it's web. A person can survive physically without friends, but their soul cannot.

My Tribute to Jose Van Dam

Have you ever had an experience of seeing one of your favorite performers live? In my mind this type of experience is untouchable. I have been fortunate enough to have this kind of experience in my life. Since I am a musician and I got to see my favorite singer in person, it was a spiritual experience for me. The singer whom I saw was the great bass-baritone Jose Van Dam. I was sitting quietly and thinking of something to write about. I was also looking for some inspiration. I thought of the few times when I got to hear Van Dam, and it reminded me of why I love singing so much. Hearing him took me to a realm where I was completely drawn to him because he had such unbelievable artistry. He was capable of singing a hauntingly beautiful pianissimo anytime he wanted, but he could also roar like a lion. He sang repertoire from the baroque period through late twentieth century, and he has done it for around 50 years. I am not going to go into details about when and where he performed such and such. Boring, as Homer Simpson would say. I got to hear this great artist in both opera and recital. Both were surreal experiences. My father was with me on both occasions, and he agrees. Life is about experiencing, so I want to talk about the experience of hearing this amazing artist. I remember buying Van Dam's recording of Duparc songs, which I happened to find by chance at the old Tower Records in Philly. That was the first recording I heard of him. I was just blown away, and thought to myself, I have to hear this artist So, I looked through the met season for the 2000-2001 season, and there was Van Dam's name, and he was cast as Golaud in Pelleas et Melisande. What a night it was. My dad and I were sitting in the balcony level in the Metropolitan Opera House. James Levine conducted and Suzanne Mentzer, Dwayne Croft and Robert Lloyd rounded out this great cast. I remember when Van Dam starting singing in the first scene. It was very delicate, but I was wondering if that was all he had. I sure was wrong to ask myself that question. He was taking out his watercolors of vocal colors and was pacing himself like the singing sage that he is.. As the show went along I just remember being captivated by his presence on stage. When I am at a show, I am distracted very easily most of the time. When I saw this performance, it was as if I was in the room alone with Van Dam. I had never had that experience before. He sang with an astounding dynamic range considering how big the stage is at the Metropolitan Opera House. Also, the beauty of his soft singing in the final act is something that is hard to put into words. It was pathetic, yet hauntingly beautiful. Golaud is consumed with jealousy. Even when Melisande is dying in childbirth, he is still pressing her on whether she loved Pelleas or not. Pretty sick isn't it? At the beginning of my final year at Peabody, Wayne Conner told me that he was doing preconcert lecture for a recital that Van Dam was giving at the Perleman Theatre at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. I managed to get two, so my father could go too. We were sitting about 10 rows from ten front. Van Dam was 62 years old at this point and he did the Kerner Lieder by Schumann and Dichterliebe for the second half. The first half blew me away. It is amazing how vocally healthy he sounded at that age. There were tears in my eyes during some of the songs because of the gorgeous sounds Van Dam was making. So, he performed an hour and a half worth if music, then he encored with "Extase" by Duparc, which is an intimate and soft song. After that he sang "La Calunia" from "The Barber of Sevile", during which Van Dam cranked up the volume. I really wasn't expecting Van Dam to be as good as he was in this recital. If you need inspiration, seeing your favorite artist is always a good way to find it. I remember feeling very inspired after these two experiences of hearing Van Dam in person.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Rigoletto (The Ultimate Challenge for Baritones)

Verdi once said that the title role in "Simon Boccanegra" is a thousand times more difficult than Rigoletto. Simon Boccanegra is insanely hard, but I still think Rigoletto wins the title for the ultimate challenge in the baritone repertoire. He sings a lot, and has to sing very high constantly. Perhaps not as much as Simon Boccanegra, but still a lot. There are several high G naturals written in the duet with Gilda in Act I. Also, there are a lot of interpolated high notes which are not written in the score. Verdi was very in favor of interpolated high notes because they strengthen the drama. Most singers go up to the tenor range at the end. Verdi did not write that. The roles difficult tessitura is only the beginning of why the role of Rigoletto is so challenging. First and foremost, he is a Verdi baritone, and nothing less. He must have a darker and more powerful voice than a lyric baritone. Lyrics sing the role, like Fischer-Dieskau. I respect his musicianship, but his type of voice does not cut it for Rigoletto in my opinion. Rigoletto needs to sing with tremendous power, but also lyricism. His act two aria "Cortigianni" is an example of those two qualties. The lyrical singing in a Verdi baritone has a darker quality than that of the lyric baritone. Verdi is very big on expressing various emotions such as anger, sadness, desperation etc.. in his vocal writing. Rigoletto goes from intense anger to tearful begging in this aria. The lyrical section is the tearful begging section. That section must be sung lyrically with a darker vocal quality that lyric baritones simply do not have. I cannot stress that enough. There are still more challenges to this role which cannot be overlooked. Rigoletto is a hunchback, and has to stand in a hunched position. An obvious point, but what about singing in that position? Normally standing in a hunched over position puts the neck in an outward position, which means that the neck and spinal cord are not straight. Baritones singing this role have to be smart about maintaining good posture, but still be in character. Sherill Milnes remarked in the series "A Homage to Verdi" that if a singer performing Rigoletto is not careful about maintaining his posture to support his vocal mechanism, he will not be able to vocally get through the part. This is a challenge for anyone singing the role. If my neck is out, my larynx goes up, which equals not good. It is certainly possible to be this character and sing it. I have seen several singers perform this part, and they are careful with their posture when they are actually singing, and obviously walk like a hunchback when they are not singing. Rigoletto gets to sing some of the greatest music ever written for the baritone voice. The role sure is tough though. So is portraying this dark character. Rigoletto is a very emotional man who compares himself to the assassin Sparafucile. Sparafucile kills people in a literal sense for money. Rigoletto does it by mocking people. Slandering people verbally may actually be worse than killing people. Unfortunately it is Rigoletto's fate. It is his occupation, but he has a conscience. Plus, Gilda is his daughter, and the only family he has left. Obviously, he has had a difficult past which we know really nothing about. He does have fond memories of it, and he loves his daughter. That is his good side. He is a villain for the most part. The character is tough emotionally to portray, which is tiring on the singer performing the role. Rigoletto has to be sung by singer who is a Verdi baritone, a good actor, and a smart musician and vocal technician. Pretty challenging for sure.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Rigoletto's Big Mouth

Rigoletto is a dark opera to say the least, and Rigoletto himself is a dark character. His job is to be a court jester for the Duke. He makes fun of people, but he ends up going too far which results in his demise. Although he is actually doomed from the start. He is a hunchback, and is at the mercy of the Duke. Rigoletto is conflicted between good and evil, as are a lot of Verdi baritone characters. When he makes fun of people, he tends to go too far. When he makes fun of Monterone he gets cursed. He mocks Monterone for complaining that the Duke fooled around with his daughter. If anyone should know better than making fun of that, it should be Rigoletto. I find the fact that he made fun of Monterone like that quite ironic. Whenever there is a curse on someone, they are done for. Here is the twist. Monterone initially curses the Duke and Rigoletto, but eventually the Duke is let off the hook. The curse on Rigoletto remains and does end up being fulfilled. It actually results in Rigoletto's daughter Gilda's death. This is very tragic because Rigoletto does have a good quality to him, and that is his love for Gilda. Unfortunately, that good quality does not prevent the curse from becoming a reality. Here is how the curse is fulfilled, and how Rigoletto loses big time. Gilda is literally all Rigoletto has left aside from his house. His wife died, and I assume he has no other family. Plus, he is very unpopular among the noble man. Rigoletto mocks various people in the court, and there is a rumor started by Marullo that Rigoletto has a mistress, so they can get back at him. That mistress is Gilda, because they do not know he has a daughter. The noblemen end up abducting Gilda to play a joke on Rigoletto. Rigoletto begs them to give her back, and he really puts some beg into it. He pleads for her sincerely. Here is the problem. The Duke gets a hold of Gilda too, and she falls for his bullshit. He does not know that Gilda is Rigoletto's daughter because he has been following her to church dressed as a student. Rigoletto is very private about his life in general. He hardly gives Gilda any information when she asks about his family history. Rigoletto is insanely overprotective of her too. So much so, that she does not tell him that she has been talking to Gualtier Malde (the Duke). She falls head over heals for the Duke, and when she finds out that he is to be murdered, she steps in and sacrifices herself for him. She does this despite the fact that he cheats on her with Maddalena, the assassin Sparafucile's sister. The Duke is such a good con-artist, that Gilda still feels compassion for him despite his dishonest behavior. It is not her fault that she is naive. She is just sixteen, and was practically imprisoned by her father's overprotective ways. In the end, the curse comes true, and Rigoletto is left completely alone. It is a sad ending to this opera in that the one innocent person Gilda is killed. Rigoletto's sharp tongue gets the best of him, and he ends up with his daughter in a sack mortally wounded. His love for her does not work as an escape from Monterone's curse because a sharp tongue is the ultimate weapon, and Rigoletto pays dearly for going too far with it. By the way "Rigoletto" is one of the greatest operas ever written. I highly recommend it to anyone. My father was playing a recording of it about 15 years a go, and it got me liking opera.