Thursday, September 29, 2011

Don Jose's Downfall in Carmen

Don Jose has a good life before Carmen comes a long. By the time the opera ends, his life is ruined because he completely loses control of his emotions. Love can make people act in a way that they would not normally act. Check out his quote by Friedrich Nietzsche. “Love is a state in which a man sees things most decidedly as they are not." Nietzsche was a huge fan of Carmen during the time when it was premiered. In fact, he saw it over twenty times. This quote by Nietzsche is spot on in describing Don Jose's fate. After Don Jose encounters Carmen for the first time, and she gives him the flower, he has no mere crush on her. It is an obsession which leads to jealousy, which leads to murder. Don Jose absolutely sees things in a warped way when he meets Carmen, and especially when she tries to tell him to take a hike. Why is this? Well, it is because he does not know her from a hole in the wall. He falls passionately in love with her immediately without even knowing anything about her. Carmen's personality is such that she uses one man for something, and then moves on to the next. At least, that is how I personally view her. In Act I she uses Don Jose so that she can escape from prison. She loves him in exchange, but that is only for a short period. Carmen's affairs only last six months. Escamillo says it himself in the third act. When Carmen falls in love with Escamillo, Don Jose cannot except the truth, so he does not see the reality of the situation. He is also trying to be a gypsy smuggler, even though he was brought up by his mother as an honest man. Jealousy completely destroys him, because after all, he has a lot going for him. His mother loves him, he has a girl who loves him named Micaela, and he has a good upbringing. Tragically, his love for Carmen completely changes his personality. Carmen's presence is his first experience of love intoxicating him. That is how this honest man who has so much going for him ends up committing murder. The author of the story Prosper Merimee is being very realistic with this theme of jealousy. Think about it for a moment. Does Lorena Bobbit ring a bell? Or O.J. Simpson? How about other stories such as Othello? These stories are not the same situation as in Carmen. However, they involve harm or murder because of jealousy. Oh, jealousy, that toxic emotion. We have all experienced it. If you say otherwise, you are lying. John Lennon certainly did. He wrote a song called "Jealous Guy", where he is apologizing for being jealous. A lot of good jealousy does. A situation is the way it is for a reason. Carmen even says that to Don Jose. She tells him that he is better off going home with Micaela in the third act, and that she is through with him. But, it is too late for him. Jealousy, that toxic and tragic emotion defeats Don Jose, like it defeats a lot of fictional and real characters.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wayne Conner Tribute

This post is dedicated to the late Wayne Conner. His influence on me to become a better singer, musician, and person has been on my mind a lot lately. It has been over three years since this man who I considered a second grandfather to me died. I still miss him to this day. Wayne Conner was one of the most influential people I ever had the privilege of knowing in my life. I remember first meeting him when he greeted me at the door at my audition for admission into the Peabody Conservatory.  I was eighteen years old and was a nervous wreck.  Mr. Conner made me feel at ease right away.  The following April I was fortunate to be accepted into his studio.  It seemed like everyone knew who Wayne Conner was when I would ask about him because he was such a wonderful person.  That summer I took a lesson with him at his studio in Philadelphia.  His personality as a teacher was a perfect fit for me.  Therefore, the decision to attend Peabody was an easy one.  As my voice teacher he always had faith in me and I will never forget that.  When I used to complain in my lessons Mr. Conner told me not to worry countless times.  I used to complain a lot believe me.  So much so that Mr. Conner told me to shut up during one of my lessons.  Great teachers care about there students.  Mr. Conner was always there for his students and tried to help them as much as he could.  As a student at Peabody I also had the privilege of taking Mr. Conner's Opera Literature classes.  He was one of the finest lecturers mainly because he loved what he was doing so much.  I remember being excited every time I went to one of those classes because Mr. Conner's presentation of the subject matter just grabbed me.   His knowledge of the subject matter was so vast and it would pour out of him so easily and with tremendous passion.  The main thing I can say about Wayne Conner above anything else is that he was just a wonderful man who I will never forget.  I remember going to a recital with Mr. Conner with Jose Van Dam performing.  We both had tears in our eyes after the first half of the program.  I felt a deep connection with him at this point.   Luckily I had the privilege of knowing Wayne Conner and I am forever grateful to have had that opportunity.  I loved him not only as a teacher but as a man as well.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


So, how did this guy go from talking about Wagner to talking about dogs? That is an easy one because dogs are the most loyal companions in the universe. They are always there for you no matter what, they do not judge, criticize or argue. Although, some hide under the bed. My friend Nicole Zuraitis keeps puttin posts up about dogs being destroyed. How can that happen? Nicole is constantly trying to do something about it, which I admire. I have had two dogs in my life which mean a great deal to me. The first was a majestic English Springer Spaniel, who I had from high school until three years after grad school. He had this affinity for music. Whenever I would play music on the stereo on the porch of our old house he would sit down and listen as long as it was something profound. He really liked opera, and George and John's solo albums. He would lie down and listen, and be the loyal companion that he was. Let's face it, if something negative is going on, the dog knows. Same with the other way around. This dog's name was Andrew. I remember when we got him, he came up onto the couch and lay down on my lap. Andrew's sister was biting my dad's tie, so the decision was an easy one. Andrew was a calm dog, but he knew what he wanted. He would beg for food until the end of time. Also, when we first got him, we put him in the back of the car, and he was wailing like crazy, we moved him up, and all was quiet. He was very smart and knew how to escape even when we thought we had areas blocked off. His nickname was Hudini. He was famous for taking the garbage apart. This dog was special. Putting him down was heartbreaking. I very rarely cry my eyes out, but this did it. Old age and death are the inevitable, and there are other great dogs, such as the one we have now. He belongs to my sister, but I love him deeply anyway. He is a little guy, about 18 pounds. He is a Shih-tzu, or maybe a mix of some kind. Malfoy is different than Andrew was. He does not have the affinity for music, but he is less food crazed, and goes with the flow. However, if he hears anything that sounds like thunder he freaks out. Like Andrew he is loyal, but in a different way. He follows his owner and those close to him around on occasion. Sometimes, I cannot take a shower without him following me. Also, he loves the car, and gets super excited if I even say that word. Sometimes he jumps into my bed, and picks the wrong place to lie down. He lies down next to me, and if i try to move, he moves with me until i have no room left on the bed. You cannot top that loyalty though. Malfoy has good instincts. When my sister and I need love, he knows. When my father had a medical problem on christmas of last year, Malfoy knew something was wrong. I ended up watching him during that time because of the snow storm. He was a life saver for me during that hard time. One thing funny about him is that his size is only a technicality because he likes to take charge on walks. Unless, there is a loud noise that sounds like thunder, Malfoy has a confident demeanor. He will not hesitate to bark at dog literally five times his size. Malfoy had a rough early upbringing. He came from an abusive owner, and was given up for adoption. He literally looked like a rodent when we picked him up at Petco. He did not trust me at all at first. My sister was and is his owner from the get go. Malfoy can be needy, but we still love him.

The Brilliance of Bizet's Carmen

The opportunity to perform in Georges Bizet's Carmen in any capacity is an experience to cherish. Bizet was a genius, who like Mozart, died way before his time. His final opera Carmen is one of the most popular operas in the repertory. However this was not the case until several years after the first performance. This is a tragedy in a way because Bizet died three months to the day after the opera was first performed, so he never experienced the operas popularity while he was among the living. This is in part because people disliked the Wagnerian qualities of the opera, and thought that the orchestra played too big of a role. What is striking to me is that famous people of the day including composers such as Brahms, Saint-Seans, Tchaikovksy, and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche thought highly of Carmen. Nietzsche saw it over twenty times, and thought the world of it. He wrote about how listening to Carmen made him a better man, musician and listener. It does the same for me. However, I thought of that only after I read what Nietzsche wrote about the piece. I just cannot it any better then that. Bizet was only thirty seven years old when Carmen was premiered. The opera comique is where is was premiered. The opera comique wanted operas to be pleasant and have spoken dialogue, with no really big numbers. The first thing that was unusual about Carmen was that Carmen, the heroine is a lower class gypsy, who serves as a prostitute. Don Jose is a naive aristocratic soldier whose life is ruined because he takes Carmen seriously. Carmen likes him, and then moves on to Escamillo. Interestingly, Propser Merimee, who wrote the original story has it so that the towns people, workers in the cigarette factory, and others know about Carmen's reputation. Don Jose becomes so infatuated with Carmen, that he loses track of reality, and essentially loses his mind with jealousy. He becomes so jealous that he verbally and physically abuses her, and eventually kills her. Love sure can be a powerful thing when jealousy is involved. Having a sort of anti-heroine, and a stabbing at the end of the opera was not well received at the premiere. Bizet did not expect this, and it most likely contributed to the series of health problems that killed him. The opera comique withdrew the opera soon after Bizet's death, but as a few years went by Carmen became popular throughout the world. Today, it is one of the most popular operas of all time. Opera companies around the world are constantly putting on this show. Including the Opera Company of Philadelphia which I have the honor to be in. I have been continually listening to Carmen and getting something new out of it every time. Great works of art have that kind of unique affect on the listener or observer. Carmen is one of those magnificent works of art. The orchestration by Bizet is brilliant from beginning to end. He combines elements of Verdi and Wagner, yet he puts his own unique stamp on it. The orchestra either serves strictly to accompany, or it plays a larger role like in Wagner's operas. Bizet does use leitmotifs to identify certain characters and ideas. Carmen's is heard at the beginning of the opera during the overture, when she first enters before she utters a word, and at the end when she is killed. It is fantastic at the end. Don Jose has killed her, and the orchestra has this outpouring of emotion as he comes to his senses and realizes what he has done. I think we all have some understanding about how Don Jose feels as the opera goes a long, but not to the extreme of stabbing someone to death. Carmen just will not give him the time of day after Escamillo comes a long, and Don Jose absolutely refuses to accept that fact. Bizet gets the concepts of love and jealousy in Carmen like no other composers I have ever heard. Don Jose's mother, who we do not see wants Don Jose to marry the good girl, Micaela. Micaela is a pure soul, and talks to Don Jose about his mother in acts I and III. There is a theme for that, which she sings, indicating that Don Jose could be saved from having his life destroyed if he marries her. There is a strong message of hope when Micaela sings to him. However, the love he has for Carmen wins. Did I mention that love is a powerful thing? Micaela's aria in Act III sounds like Bellini or Verdi could have written it. The audience at the premiere did like this aria. However, they did not like Carmen's aria earlier in the act when she is dealt the card of death. I was listening to that aria back stage last night while we were rehearsing the show, and was struck by how it sounded like Mozart and Bach. It is just incredible. At the end of this aria the action continues without stopping. The two other ladies Frasquita and Mercedes start singing their charming song again attaca after the aria. The way Bizet constructs this is pure genius. Then there is Act IV where it could be a symphonic piece by itself. Georges Bizet was a great composer who luckily is getting the credit he deserves in the present time period.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Misunderstood Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the most misunderstood geniuses in history. He had a great fear of being misunderstood, which unfortunately came true. He is considered by some to be anti-semetic and the godfather of anti-semitism. I was doing a concert with my colleagues Patrick Durek, and Iris Chen a while back for the New York Composers Forum. We proudly have an ensemble called The Nietzsche Ensemble. However, certain composers such as Mira Spektor and Joyce Suskind were angry because we have this name. As a matter of fact Mira Spektor had been complaining about the name since we first met her. Nietzsche loved music, so I wondered what she was so upset about. Nietzsche said "life without music would be a mistake." That is an incredibly profound statement. So, why do some people hate this man? Well, they are misinformed. The issue is that his reputation is all out of whack. Let me explain how that happened. Nietzsche had two siblings. A brother who died at the age of two, and a sister named Elisabeth. Friedrich was a good brother to Elisabeth, and tried to teach her philosophy. She did not have the intellectual capacity that her brother had so I would assume she was jealous of him. Elisabeth outlived her brother by thirty five years and although she took care of him when he was mentally ill, she stabbed him in the back. People think that Friedrich Nietzsche was anti-semetic. Well, listen to this. Elisabeth Nietzsche married Bernhard Forster who was very anti-semetic. Her and Friedrich were close up until this point. When she married this guy, he drifted away from her. He himself wrote about this. "It here is a matter of honor to me to be absolutely clean and unequivocal regarding anti-Semitism, namely opposed, as I am in my writings… I have been persecuted [pursued; verfolgt?] in recent times with letters and Anti-Semitic Correspondence sheets; my disgust with this party … is as outspoken as possible, but the relation to Förster, as well as the after-effect of my former anti-Semitic publisher Schmeitzner, always bring the adherents of this disagreeable party back to the idea that I must after all belong to them…. Still think he is anti-semetic? If you do, wake up! Elisabeth treated him like dirt after his mental collapse and after his death. While he was mentally ill, she invited guests up to his room so she could show him off as a museum exhibit. Meanwhile, she was tampering with his writings and making up ridiculous stories about him. For example, Mussolini, she declared, was “the genius who rediscovered the values of the Nietzsche spirit... Nietzsche would have regarded him as the splendid disciple”. Nietzsche would have despised him and most certainly Hitler. Hitler and Nietzsche were polar opposites. Hitler was anti-semetic and hated Jewish people. Nietzsche hated anti-semitism in all its forms, not to mention any type of racism. Hitler believed in nationalism. Nietzsche was disgusted by it. Hitler believed in the superman, whereas, Nietzsche believed in the overman. These are very different concepts. The idea of the superman pertains to gaining power over others. The overman has to do with gaining power over yourself. Gaining power over yourself could be a wonderful thing, because it could be the key to getting out of depression. Philosophy is all about interpretation. Nietzsche's philosophy could be interpreted as anti-semetic. However, he clearly hated the idea of it. He said it himself. I do not think that Nietzsche would have appreciated having his name associated with a man who was responsible for the deaths of millions of people. Hitler and Elisabeth Nietzsche were friends. In fact, he attended her funeral. Nietzsche hated her guts. He called her "a vengeful anti-semetic goose.". Need I say more? When Nietzsche died in 1900, Elisabeth thought it would be good to have him buried next to his father in a church cemetery. Also, she orchestrated a Lutheran funeral for him, and during the funeral his name was regarded as holy. He specifically said that he did not want that, so therefore, he would have been deeply offended. His sister had herself buried next to him. She should be moved to a galaxy far far away.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Verdi/Wagner Rivalry Part 1

Verdi and Wagner did not get into boxing matches. However if they had met each other, they would have. They did not like each others music. Wagner referred to Italian opera as Donizetti and company. He was fond of Bellini, and even arranged a bass aria from Norma. Bellini was the big exception to Wagner's distaste for Italian opera. Bottom line is Wagner did not like opera that was contemporary with his. Especially operas that were successful such as those of Verdi. Verdi could not stand how long Wagner's operas were in length, and how long he spent developing an idea. The way Verdi and Wagner composed operas was very different from one another. Wagner used the orchestra as a separate entity to the voice, not purely to accompany the singers. The way Wagner composed operas can be compared to the way Robert Schumann composed lieder. The orchestra was a critical part of Wagner's operas. For example, in every opera in Wagner's ring cycle, the orchestra could play the entire opera without the singers as a long orchestral piece by itself. Schumann viewed the piano part as essential in his lieder. In his lieder, the piano parts could be piano solos. Verdi's writing was very different. The Italian style of opera views the singers as the most important entity. I am not sure if Franz Schubert had that view. However, when the voice is involved in his lieder, the piano purely accompanies. So, I assume that Schubert viewed the voice and piano as separate entities. Verdi's orchestra is much smaller than Wagner's, although he increased the size of the orchestra in his later operas. However, when singers are on stage singing the orchestra is purely accompanying the singers. Arias in Verdi operas are in the form of recitative and aria. The aria stops the action, and there is time for applause at the conclusion of the aria. In Wagner, there are arias, but they do not stop the action unless they are done in concert. Verdi's arias give the action a place to stop, because there is an important stopping point indicated by a gesture such as a high note, or important word to indicate the end. In Wagner that is more difficult because the action does not stop. Brunnhilde has a huge scene in Gotterdammerung called the Immolation scene. She throws herself into the fire at the end of that scene. It is magnificent, but if the audience starts applauding she would have to come back to life. Not very realistic. After Flying Dutchman, Wagner was strict about not having arias stop the action, and not being in the Italian style. However, he was an incredible genius, as was Verdi. Therefore, he could write an Italian recitative and aria with the best of them. Wolfram's song of the evening star is a big exception, because it is an Italian style aria with a clear stopping point. To prove this point even further, a lot of Italian baritones from the past used to sing this aria in translated Italian. Musically, Verdi and Wagner were wildly different. Although, the one thing they had in common was that they both improved with age. Verdi's operas were often based on events in history, or fictional plays by playwrights such as William Shakespeare. Wagner's were based on legend or mythology. Verdi always had a librettist with whom he worked closely. Wagner wrote all his own librettos. The use of the orchestra was completely different between these two giants. Verdi used it as an expressive tool to increase the tension of the drama on stage. Wagner used the orchestra as an essential element to the characters, ideas, themes and plot. It is astounding that these two giants lived at the same time.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Therapeutic Value of Music

It was a dreary day today, and a very long evening. Overall,I did not feel well physically due to congestion and some lingering pains. To top it off, I had a lot of noise in my head because I am in the process of making a lot of changes for the good. Changes are an amazing thing, but I am afraid of change, and the work required to make them is not easy. I was backstage before we started to rehearse act four of Bizet's Carmen, and told my friend Lourin that I was going to listen to the Verdi Requiem recording conducted by Herbert Von Karajan, that I had not listened to in ages. I had tried to listen to it while driving on I-95 south on the way to Philly. However, my mind kept running, and I could not focus on the power of this music. Music in general is very therapeutic. I am citing the Verdi Requiem as an example. So, I decided to listen to this again on the way home. It started playing, and my mind got quiet. The beginning of this exquisite work reminds me of being high up in the Swiss Alps a few months a go. The peacefulness of sitting on a bench up there and seeing the breathtaking view is hard to even put into words. When I got in the car and started to listen to the Introit of the Verdi Requiem, all the pains and fatigue disappeared, and my breathing got deeper and slower. For me, music is the ultimate tool for quieting my mind. If I am agitated, upset, or scared, all I have to do is think of a piece of music that I love, and tranquility comes into my being. I am alive, singing, healthy for the most part, I have friends and family who care about me, and I have beautiful music like the Verdi Requiem. Music creates various emotions in me such as hope, fear, happiness, tranquility and sadness. The beginning of the Verdi Requiem tells me that everything is just fine, and is going to be just fine. There is just this great deal of serenity and reassurance in it, which creates a good feeling inside of me. If anyone out there is in pain, stressed, upset, angry or whatever, listen to music you love. It is an awesome healing tool that I highly recommend.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Leitmotifs in Wagner and Movies

A leitmotif is a musical identification tag which is used to represent a person, idea, place or thing. The use of the leitmotif in opera is mainly associated with Richard Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungen. Wagner was an absolute master at using leitmotifs in order to continue the action from beginning to end. He used it to differentiate himself from the Italian style of recitative, aria, people screaming bravo or booing depending on the circumstances. The way Wagner uses this device influenced movie composers such as John Williams. People do not start applauding after a dashing rendition of the Imperial March from Star Wars while the movie is actually going on. In concert performance absolutely. Wagner's Ring is like a series of movies with a prologue and a trilogy. The whole thing is 15 hours, so it is wise to break it up. The use of leitmotifs was around before Wagner. However, he was the true master at using them in my opinion. Here is how he uses leitmotifs in the ring. There are hundreds of leitmotifs in the ring cycle, and it is absolutely astounding how he puts the cycle all together. He uses leitmotifs in the past, present and the future. Also, he presents them in different keys, he makes them longer or shorter, and with different instruments. Finally, he uses them even when the people, places, ideas or things are not present. Siegfried's horn call is a horn passage that a lot of musicians are familiar with. Since it is called Siegfried's horn call, it is a leitmotif. Wagner represents Siegfried with this horn call by presenting it in a variety of ways. For example, when Siegfried goes into the dragon cave to kill Fafner, the horn call is played at length to alert Fafner of Siegfried's presence. Of course this pisses Fafner off, so the dragon motif is heard at a frantic pace. These particular motifs are instrumental only, and there is always an unspoken message. Siegfried's horn call at this point represents his confidence and energy. Siegfried's horn call is heard during Siegfried's Rhein Journey, but he is not actually seen. It is played by various instruments in various keys, and at various lengths. Siegfried is jovial at this point, so the various instruments playing his theme represent that. Another use of this horn call, and the final one I am going to discuss is when Siegfried wakes up the sleeping Brunnhilde. This is the point where he says "das ist kein Mann" (that is no man). No shit, Sherlock. Seriously, he has never seen a woman before, so the horn call is played with tremendous excitement and passion. The idea of a motif being played at various speeds, in different keys, at various points in time, and to represent different emotions is a device used in movies. The Star Wars Trilogy is the ultimate example of the use of leitmotifs in movies. The composer of Star Wars, John Williams is one of many composers influenced by Richard Wagner. The imperial march is the theme associated with the dark side of the force. In The Empire Strikes Back, the imperial march is is introduced for the first time. It keeps recurring throughout The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi. It is mainly associated with Darth Vader's presence. It is used in different keys, at different speeds and with different instruments. For example when Vader dies at the end of Return of the Jedi, the theme is played very slowly and softly as Vader stops breathing. The love theme between Han Solo and Leia is a recurring motif also. It is not varied as much with instrumentation, but it does change keys. It always has a great deal of passion and confidence to it like the good guys are going to win. There are other films where leitmotifs are used. In the film Psycho everytime Tony Perkins kills someone the theme from the very beginning of the movie is heard. So, the audience knows the film is about a nut job. This theme is played in it's entirety when the main character finishes a killing when dressed as his mother. It is played in bits and pieces when he is committed at the end. I have focused on the leitmotif and how it is used musically. It is a symbolic device away from music as well. I think that everyone's life has a general theme which is used in varying ways.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Talk versus Action

There is a significant difference between talking about doing something versus just doing it. Talk is cheap. I try to focus on what I am doing everyday instead of what I am thinking or talking about doing. For example if I tell people that I want to go the gym and get into the best shape of my life, that is a fantastic idea. However, I have to ask myself what I am going to do to achieve this goal, and then do it. This sounds really simple, doesn't it? Ridiculously so. I do not know about all of you, but I am really good at talking about doing various things many times. If I talk about doing things over and over, then I have mastered the art of bullshittng myself and others. This art form is good some of the time. We all have to do it sometimes. However, if I procrastinate on life goals, and I bullshit myself, it hurts me. So, where does this tendency to procrastinate come from? For me personally, procrastination and fear go together. I'm not saying that I am afraid of cleaning my room. That's just procrastnation courtesy of being a lazy ass. Procrastination is a complex matter psychologically. In my experience fear is often a big part of it. Fear stands for fuck everything and run. I think face everything and reality is more positive. All this stuff goes into procrastination. Fear, perfectionism, frustration, laziness, being overwhelmed and blah, blah, blah. For some people procrastination is a major problem, and it is very hard for them to do anything about it. My heart goes out to those people. However, I personally am not like that. I procrastinate on the important tasks sometimes, especially if the end result might be a little scary. I tend to talk about doing certain things that I am not comfortable doing. Of course talking about doing things is important. I like to set goals. Talking to people about doing things and then not doing them is just torture, especially if they are going to be beneficial for your life. I would love to have some years back to do things I procrastinated on. That is impossible. Now is the time to take action. People have told me to just do it when I have been talking about things I am procrastinating on because I am afraid. Just do it is a Nike commercial is how I used to respond when people would say that to me. However the phrase is the truth. For those who procrastinate occasionally on certain things, I think working in small steps is the way to go with the more difficult tasks. Start now though, or you are in trouble. For those who have a serious problem with procrastination, just try your best. I would suggest working with a therapist or something. I was inspired to write this post, because procrastinating on a task and continually talking about it is safe at first, but is a self-esteem killer in the end. I will leave you with this inspiring quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and no I am not putting off a more important task by writing his blog. "Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true."

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Verdi Baritone

This is a shortened version of my insanely long essay on the Verdi baritone. I was inspired to write more about this, because I really don't know of any Verdi baritones around these days. There are a ton of lyric baritones, and quite a few bass-baritones. So, how is a Verdi baritone different from a lyric baritone, or a bass-baritone? I am going to explain this concept in this revised version of my original posting. The Verdi baritone became an actual baritone category after Verdi died. Verdi loved the baritone voice so much, so why not name a category after him. He wrote outstanding repertoire for the baritone voice. Baritones in Verdi's operas serve a significant purpose in the plots, and sometimes play leads. Also, they are often the trouble makers rivaling the tenors. A male singer who is categorized as a Verdi baritone is a very unique singer. Let me explain why. George Bernard Shaw called Verdi the Atila the Hun of the throat. The inside joke is that Verdi wrote an opera called Atilla. A lot of baritones who are not Verdi baritones try to sing Verdi's repertoire for baritone. Watch out. A Verdi baritone must sing in the upper portion of his range with tremendous strength and drive for long periods of time. In addition, he must sing lyrically with a dark tenor quality. Lyric baritones are similar in range, but do not have the voice size, stamina or timbre to sing Verdi baritone roles convincingly. The main issue with lyric baritones singing Verdi is that they do not sound convincing, plus they have to scream. A real Verdi baritone knocks people out of their seats. If you are falling a sleep, they will wake you up. Lyric baritones sound like a tenor on the higher notes, and can sing very softly on high notes.   The upper range of a lyric baritone has a pleasant sound, but it is not a huge sound. Whereas, a Verdi baritone has to let those high notes rip over a big orchestra. Verdi baritones do not have to yell in Verdi roles, but lyric baritones do. To sum this up, the main difference between the lyric baritone and the Verdi baritone is the size and quality of the voice.
      Bass-baritones have some similarities to a Verdi baritone. However, they should not be confused with one another. They are distant cousins. The main difference is the ranges of both voice types. A bass-baritone can sing with a lot of gusto in a baritone tessitura, but not as high, and certainly not for as long.  Verdi baritones cannot sing in the bass range, and they do not possess qualities of the bass-voice for the most part. There are exceptions. Quite often, bass-baritones sing Wagner roles such as Dutchman, Wotan, Hans Sachs, Amfortas and others. Most Verdi baritones do not explore this repertoire because it is too low. Bass-baritones do sing Verdi roles, but usually they sing the high bass roles, or secondary bass-roles. Most of Verdi's baritone roles will kill bass-baritones, except for Falstaff, Amonostros and maybe Iago. Count di Luna, Germont, Don Carlo equal death. Bass-baritones and Verdi's music are a bit tricky, because Italians do not use the term bass-baritone. They use the term basso-cantante. Basso-cante and bass-baritone are close to the same, but not quite. A lot of bass-baritones tend to have problems with the lower notes in the role of Phillip the second in Don Carlo. Both a bass-baritone and a Verdi baritone are types of dramatic baritones, but are distant cousins as far as range capabilities. Timbre wise the difference is not all that much. If a bass-baritone tries to sing Di Provenza, his larynx may have to be carried out on a stretcher. Ordering a new larynx is priceless with a 4.99 shipping and handling charge.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Favorite Beatle's Song

It sure is hard to pick a favorite Beatles song. One of the songs that always moves me is "Julia", which is off of the white album. Every time I go into Starbucks lately, I keep hearing the Beatles. It must be a theme right now. They are my favorite band of all time, so no complaints from me. I bought the white album in the summer of 2004, and I listened to "Julia" and wondered who John Lennon was talking about. It turns out he was talking about his mother. I also was struck by how much tenderness and sadness was in John's playing and singing. It was the sadness that struck me the most. John Lennon's life with his mother ended in terrible tragedy. When John was a child, Julia's sister Mimi insisted on having custody of John. John was an only child, and when he was born Julia and John's father Alfred separated. John was very witty, musical, thoughtful and humerous. Julia had these attributes as well, and she taught him how to play the banjo and other things. When John was just 17 years old, his mother got run over by an off duty police car. This affected John for the rest of his life as it would anyone. The level of sadness in this song is heartbreaking. Here are the words which show how great a poet John Lennon was. I really love the line about her hair of floating sky. "Half of what I say is meaningless But I say it just to reach you, Julia Julia, Julia, oceanchild, calls me So I sing a song of love, Julia Julia, seashell eyes, windy smile, calls me So I sing a song of love, Julia Her hair of floating sky is shimmering, glimmering, In the sun Julia, Julia, morning moon, touch me So I sing a song of love, Julia When I cannot sing my heart I can only speak my mind, Julia Julia, sleeping sand, silent cloud, touch me So I sing a song of love, Julia Hum hum hum...calls me So I sing a song of love for Julia, Julia, Julia."

Theme of Backstabbing in Wagner's Ring

The theme of backstabbing comes up in Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungen. During Wagner's second opera in the ring, Die Walkure, Siegmund and Sieglinde bare a son named Siegfried. Siegmund and Sieglinde are twins. They decide to have a kid anyway. That kid is going to need therapy. Holy shit. In the prologue of the ring, Das Rheingold, the villain Alberich steals the ring from the Rheinmaidens. Well, they shouldn't have teased him. The Rheinmaidens tell Alberich that the Rheingold can be turned into a ring, and the person who posseses that ring can rule the world. However, in order to accomplish this a person must renounce love. The Rheinmaidens think that no one will ever renounce love. Afterall, love is such an important thing. Not to Alberich, who renounces love without hesitation. Wotan, the chief God steals the ring from Alberich. Then the two giants Fasolt and Fafner fight over the ring and all the riches that Alberich had to surrender. As a matter of fact, Fafner kills his brother Fasolt. What kind of a way is that to treat your brother? This happens right after Alberich puts a curse on the ring. Alberich looks like Gollum in most productions, but he is a bass-baritone. Fafner then turns himself into a dragon by the magic of the tarnhelm, and sleeps in a cave and guards it. Tough life there, right? This curse messes things up royally, and the characters in the ring become really greedy and even stab other characters in the back. So, where does Siegfried come into all this? Siegfried is not a likable hero, but that is not his fault. Siegfried is like rebellious teenager, and he gets angry pretty easily. He is so strong that he can shatter a sword. Interestingly, he is near impossible to kill, accept that he is vulnerable in his back. This is because Brunnhilde has protected every area of his body except his back. Alberich has a brother named Mime, who ends up raising Siegfried for the sole purpose of getting the ring from Fafner. It is not Siegfried's fault that he is insensitive. He was raised by an evil dwarf for crying out loud. Eventually Siegfried realizes that Mime is not his father. He has no idea who his parents are until Mime tells him. Mime is trying to stab Siegfried in the back. After Siegfried kills Fafner, Mime tries to give him a drugged drink. Siegfried kills Mime by chopping his head off. So, now Siegfried has the ring. Little does he know that the ring has a curse on it. He is doomed. Now listen to this. Alberich bares a son by Erda the goddess of the earth. Wotan had Siegmund by Erde. She gets around a lot in this story. Alberich's son is the villain Hagen in Gotterdammerung. His job is to get the ring back from Siegfried and to give it back to Alberich. Brunnhilde and Siegfried are married at his point. As a token of his love Siegfried gives Brunnhilde the ring. Siegfried is going to go hunt for dinner, or do whatever it is he does and he ends up in the castle where Hagen and his half brother and sister Gunter and Gurtrune live. Hagen has a plan to trick Siegfried by giving him a potion to make him forget Brunnhilde and marry Gurtrune. Gunter wants to marry Brunnhilde for the sake of fame. Siegfried agrees to help him accomplish this after Hagen gives him the potion. Hagen essentially offers a toast to Siegfried, so therefore, he acts very friendly towards him. However, he is stabbing Siegfried in the back. While under this spell, which can only be broken by a reverse potion,he uses the tarnhelm to transform into Gunther's form and gets the ring from her. Also, he declares her as Gunther's bride. Brunnhilde accuses Siegfried of betraying her, but he has no idea he has done anything wrong. The potion is still working. She wants to get even, so she tells Hagen that a stab in the back will kill Siegfried. She thinks that Siegfried is stabbing her in the back, so now she stabs him in the back. Later in the story, Siegfried goes out hunting with Hagen and his buddies. While on this hunting expedition he gets lost and ends up running into the Rheinmaidens. They tell him to give the ring back to them, and that he is going to be killed if he does not. Siegfried refuses. Eventually, Siegfried does end up back with his hunting party. Hagen acts nice to him and wants to know all about his life. He gives him a potion to restore his memory. While Siegfried is telling the story, Hagen stabs him in the back with his spear. There sure is a lot of backstabbing literally and symbolically in the ring. I feel bad for Siegfried in this whole story. His parents are dead, he was raised by a freaking wacko who pretended to be his friend. He unfortunately has a big bullseye on his back from when he is conceived to when he dies. Hagen pretended to be his friend, and then stabbed him in the back. Hagen is also a victim of circumstance, because Alberich raises him for the sake of getting the ring back for himself. Alberich is the villain of the story without a doubt. The Rheinmaidens do get the ring back in the end. Hagen ends up chasing them trying to get the ring back for himself. So, his backstabbing comes back to haunt him in the end, and Alberich comes up empty handed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Positive Versus Negative Thinking

There are two ways to think. I am writing this because I was trapped in negative thinking this morning. Positive thinking is a better way to think during a lifetime. It works better for me at least. I will speak for myself here. I know that I could think positively all the time. Why don't I, and why don't other people? I cannot answer this question. Of course bad things happen. If someone close to me gets hurt or dies, of course I can and will feel sad. But, I can choose the way I think about it. I can either think of reasons this terrible thing happened. Or, I can be thankful I can help out, or if death occurs, be grateful for the time I did have with that person. The idea that we have the power to choose the way we think, is the key to defeating negative thinking. Both types of thinking have very different affects on how we live our lives. They affect how we feel, how we treat ourselves and others, our performance in work and school, how we see ourselves, and how others see us. All of the things I just mentioned apply to animals too. If you are thinking negatively, do not go into the forest where the big bad wolf is. Watch out. The way we choose to think is so important. Negative thinking equals waste of time, plus it makes other people turn the corner really fast. If I start ranting about something negative, people literally do not want any part of it. Whereas, if I am talking about the good things in life, people want to hear more about it. I have no great wisdom to give on any of this stuff. I know that if I am thinking negatively I can change it. Also, doing something positive for myself, or for someone else is helpful too. When I am in a negative state, life goes by and that time has been wasted. I am basing this post on my own experiences and observations. Let me close by giving an example. If I think about how terribly a date is going to go, it is a complete waste. Answer the following questions about how negative thinking serves as a distraction. How does it make me feel? How does it affect my ability to listen, be curious and stay in the moment? Finally, is it fair or helpful to the other person? Answers are, like crap, it messes it up, and no. Let's reverse that. If I am eager to meet a new person, and looking forward to having fun and using my assets such as sense of humor, it makes me feel empowered, I can listen and be present, and it is awesome for the other person. Even if a situation does not go well, thinking positive is always the better way to think.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Was the call against Serena justified?

In the US Open women's final between Serena Williams and Samantha Stosur, Serena got a point taken away from her for yelling come on after hitting a lethal forehand. Serena yelled come on immediately after hitting the shot before Stosur's racquet touched the ball. The fellow who commented below is correct about the rule. Yelling come on like that is obnoxious anyway. Serena has gotten a lot of bullshit calls in her career. This one was not really one of them because the umpire can make the call she did. She thought Serena's yell was trying to hurt Stosur. I could be wrong about that. I do not think that Serena was trying to hurt Stosur. Of course Stosur won the match anyway, because Serena was just simply not on her game. Congrats to Stosur. I wrote that she could not close out matches in my previous blog. Well, she must have read it. Yes, that's it. Yeah right, I'm kidding around. The match is over, but was the call against Serena justified. She did not think so, and she had some words for the chair umpire. In my opinion awarding the point to Stosur was not the right move. If I were the umpire I would have had them replay the point.. Since it is up to the umpire to make the call, Serena should not have verbally abused her. I love her charity work in Africa. The fact that she is starting schools for poor children, and puts that above tennis in importance is commendable. But, come on, her come ons are a bit excessive and she keeps exploding at chair umpires. Stosur had no play on that ball from what I saw. A robot would not have had a play on that ball, and no one on the men's side would have had a play on that ball. Serena has gotten so many bad calls in her career, I have lost count. Venus has too. Serena used to get more hurt by that treatment than angry. Now, she gets angry because she has had enough of the bullshit. After viewing the exchange a few more times, the umpire saw it a certain way, and made a call which she had the right to make. I did not sense any type of conspiracy or racism against Serena in this situation. That crazy call in the Capriati match a while back was messed up. That situation was very different than this one. The point should have been replayed, but the bottom line is Stosur pulled off a great upset and won the first grandslam for a female Australian player in over thirty years. It was her day today, not Serena's. I really liked Stosur's subdued reaction after winning. Excellent sportsmanship from her, and a well earned victory.

Friday, September 9, 2011

US Open Predictions

The US Open goes by way too fast. The top four mens seeds have made it into the semi-finals again. In fact the two semi-final matchups are identical to last years. On the women's side, Serena is back and kicking ass baby. Wozniacki and Stosur are playing pretty well too. So, who is going to win on each side? Can Serena and Federer regain the US Open title? These questions will be answered by Monday or Tuesday. Here are my thoughts. Ladies first, so I will start with the women. Serena is back, can Wozniacki beat her? I would say no, because she has no big weapon to test Serena. If she wants to have any chance, she must get a lot of first serves in and end points quickly. Serena will crush Wozniacki's second serve. My prediction is Serena in straight sets. Wozniacki needs a weapon in order to win a major. Serena has a lot of weapons. Wozniacki is a great player, but she is going bye bye. I am not familiar with Stosur's opponent, so I can't really comment on this match. If Stosur wins and plays Serena, it will either be a great match or a blow out for Serena. It depends which Stosur shows up. If it is a tight match Serena will still win. Stosur is not a good finisher. It is very tough mentally, I totally understand. Serena will regain the title and win her forth US Open. Andy Murray will probably not beat Nadal. Nadal is playing very well. Does Murray have a shot? He certainly does. He must serve out wide and play at net a lot. Also, he must be patient in rallies. If he has break chances, he must convert. He had chances last year and did not capitalize. Also Murray must attack Nadal's backhand. Nadal's forehand is ridiculously good. The amount of spin on it is insane. I think Nadal will take it in four sets. Can Federer beat Dvokovic again? He is one of two people who have beaten him this year. He can beat him again for sure. He absolutely must serve well. Also, he cannot play loose games. He did that against Tsonga the other night. Also, he must be in attack mode. This is going to be a war. I really have no prediction here. If Federer makes a lot of unforced errors, he will lose. Dvokovic could cause havoc by going to Fed's backhand which will force those errors. That is what he is going to try to do. Federer needs to prevent him from getting into a steady rhythm off the ground. Novak can out hit Federer from the baseline. Fed's net game is looking really good. He needs to attack. As for the final, Nadal would love to see Federer beat Dvokovic. Dvokovic has had Rafa's number as of late. Nadal creates all sorts of problems for Federer. Rafa kicks the ball up to Fed's backhand and beats him that way. If Federer does play Rafa in the final he must attack and keep attacking. Long ass rallies won't work. If Dvokovic beats Federer, I think he will win his first US Open. He can vary his speeds of play and throw Nadal off. It is going to be really tough for Federer to keep making history and win his 17th major. Nadal is currently the guy who had the best shot st catching him. If he wins this tournament he will have 11 major titles. Dvokovic would only have 4. It's going to be three awesome days of tennis.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Thoughts on 9/11/01

On September 11, 2001 it was a gorgeous and sunny day. I was a grad student at Peabody. I went to the Peabody bookstore to get my Starbucks coffee. I noticed that the woman who worked there who was such a sweetheart looked very distressed. I acted happy to see her. After all, life was good, I was a grad student where I wanted to be. She told me that one of the twin towers had been hit. I just didn't believe it. I had heard about threats of an attack, but the twin towers? No fucking way! Then the other tower got hit. It was real. Holy shit! I watched these events unfold on the tv in the Peabody lounge. My best friend Patrick Durek was there, so I stood next to him. My mouth just hung over. I couldn't believe it. Was I really seeing this? Thousands of people were killed who were just going about their lives. My teacher the late Wayne Conner, and my studio mate and friend Amy Bonn were standing by the tv as well. Of course the students were sent home. I wanted to cry for these people, but was too stunned to react. I went back to my apartment and asked my roommate if he had seen the news lately. I told him to turn it on. He was in disbelief. I called my parents to talk to them. My mom remembered that my sister was right near the attack. She could see it. Imagine seeing it live. I'm glad I didn't. What a tragedy, and what the hell for? Why people have to harm people is something I cannot grasp. I miss seeing those buildings. I still can't believe they're not there. They were such beautiful buildings. I have gone into NY a ton of times. I went in with Pat and my dad a whole bunch of times. I used to love seeing those buildings. I went inside once back in 1990 and sang with the American Boychoir. It was so exquisitely beautiful inside the building. Ten years have passed already. My heart goes out to those who have lost people in these attacks. I sincerely hope that no other tragedy of this magnitude ever happens again. Especially ones that were done on purpose like this one.

A Canvas of Colors from Jonas Kaufmann

Verismo is a style of Italian opera which depicts real life situations often associated with the lower classes in society. Verismo operas most often end in tragedy. Don't most operas? These operas get violent though. What is unique to me about this style is that each line of music and text gets inside the hearts of the characters and the audience. A singer must know how to spill their guts out if they want to sing this repertoire. Jonas Kaufmann knows how to sing from his gut, that is for sure. He has created a sensation over the past couple of years all over the world, and deserves the recognition he is getting. This cd of him singing verismo arias accompanied by Maestro Antonio Pappano and the famous Accademia Nazionale Di Santa Cecilia is incredibly well done. As a singer, Kaufmann has a canvas of paints that he uses to act with his voice. His vocal colors come straight from his heart. He is extremely versatile, and he makes every word mean something. Verismo repertoire fits his voice extremely well, and he knows how to sell these arias. A lot of these arias have been performed by tenors from Caruso, through Pavarotti, so selling them is a daunting task. Kaufmann makes each aria his own. His rendition of "Amor ti vieta" is really unbelievable. This aria is a famous crash and burn aria for tenors because of the difficult tessitura. Kaufmann makes it sound easy, and does the first phrase in one breath. Federico's Lament, is one of my favorite pieces for tenor. Kaufmann's dynamic range is impressive and well thought out, making his interpretation absolutely heart drenching. I was blown away by the performances on this disc. Maestro Pappano does an outstanding job as an accompanist for Kaufmann. This is one of the greatest aria recital CDs I have ever heard. Do not let the popularity of these arias, and number of tenors who have sung them turn you away from these great interpretations.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Salvatore Licitra

As I am sure most people in the opera world know by now, operatic tenor Salvatore Licitra has died at age 43. Unfortunately, Licitra crashed his scooter into a wall on August 27 and sustained severe head and chest injuries. He was in a coma for nine days, but was pronounced dead today. This is tragic news for anyone who knew this man, not just for the opera world. Based on what I have heard from people who knew him, he was a good friend and colleague. This was not my first impression of him, although I never met him personally. I only saw one interaction with him as a person. I remember seeing him on the Today Show in an appearance with Marcello Alvarez to promote their duet album. The two of them were flirting with the host of the show. I do not remember who the host was. I remember she did not look pleased, so I do not think this was a staged thing. I thought, man what a jerk at the time. I was completely wrong. Truthfully, I knew nothing about Licitra as a person except that until I saw this moving youtube video which sent prayers for the people of Japan during the tragic tsunami which hit there. I searched his name on youtube, because I wanted to pay tribute to him. I was going to put something up with him singing, but I think this is even better. I will post this video on facebook for those who want to watch it. Salvatore Licitra was a man in society, first and foremost. The fact that he was famous is secondary to the fact that he is dead way too young. Life is a fragile thing. This tragedy could have been avoided. Mr. Licitra was not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash. I'm not here to make a corny plea to people to wear a helmet. I will just end by saying that self care is critically important. We only live once and we are fragile emotionally and physically. My heart goes out to Licitra's family, friends, colleagues and fans.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

US Open Final Set Tiebreak

For those who do not know about tennis scoring and want to, please ask. However, if you want to know why it is scored that way, call the inventor and ask him. The US Open is the only grand slam tournament that has a final set tiebreak. That is the fifth set for the guys and the third for the women. Is this fair? Well, I am undecided. However, I think it should be the same at all four slams. If any match reaches 6-6 in the decisive match, it is a mighty impressive match. It is sad that a player has to lose in that situation. But, why does the US Open have a tiebreak, and the other tournaments not? Are there no roosters in Flushing Meadows? Do people need to go home and walk their dogs? I don't understand why only this slam has a different policy. Anyway, let me explain the pros and cons of having a tiebreak final set, versus not having it. The tiebreak benefits the winner of the watch. This point is obvious. Isner and Mahut played for over 11 hours in the first round of Wimbledon last year. Isner ended up winning and got his ass kicked the next match because he was so tired. He had to play the next day, I believe. The tiebreak has a definite winner. The winner is the winner. End of story. Poor Andy Roddick in the 2009 Wimbledon final had to lose. I think it was either 17-15 or 19-17 in the fifth. Federer deserves full credit, but the tiebreak would have been less of a heartbreak for either guy. I'm sure losing a final is devastating without a doubt. Perhaps it is less so if there is no overtime. Plus if it is not a final, the winner can gather up his or her energy for the next round. Plus at the US Open there is a day session, and there is a night session. Having a day match go on forever on Ash Stadium is not fair to the night crowd of the match takes place during the day. Although, the night crowd folks as a general statement are too busy talking on their cell phones to know the difference. Alright onto the cons. On the other hand, if a player screws up the tiebreak, they have another chance. That means they are down 7-6, and can tie it at 7 to force more overtime. The crowd always wants to see more tennis. I'll watch a long drawn out match as long as there is coffee. It is overtime, like in basketball, or extra innings in baseball. However the kicker is that if there is no final set tiebreak, a player must win by two games. It is cool for the spectators to watch final sets with no tiebreaks. They could go on forever. People at the Wimbledon first round match in 2010, witnessed history. I'm referring to Isner-Mahut playing that epic match at Wimbledon. Although, that match was all serve. Boooring! What if the Nadal-Federer 08 Wimbledon final had kept going? That would have been pretty awesome. Well, back to the question of whether there should be a tiebreak at the US Open. Not, if the other slams don't have it. The fans in NYC are getting screwed on chances to witness history. Not fair. People must investigate why there is a tiebreak in the final set at the open. I think the answer may be that the players up next on the respective court can get a chance to play that day. The players who followed Isner and Mahut must have opened a cigar shop with all the time they had. I vote yes on the tiebreak in the final set. Every other sport breaks the tie. The winner doesn't have to win by two. But, it should be the rule at all four majors. The US Open should not be exclusively unique.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Federer too old?

Roger Federer is past his prime. He is still great though, and could win another major. I've developed more respect for the guy lately. He helped the legendary opera great Caballe onto the stage. I thought he was arrogant before I saw that. I'll make this quick. He's 30, he's 3 in the world, and still in the mix. He can stay with Nadal and Dvokovic physically, but can he mentally? The media won't help him. Once a lengendary athlete gets older, they face a lot of questions from the media about retirement. Whether Federer wins another major or not, he is still great. I think he can win the US Open, but has he slipped mentally? He may have, and could beat himself. Any human being can relate to that. If they say otherwise, they are lying. Anyhow, I don't want to ramble here. He can steal another title. If his serve is on, he is an ace machine. I think to be 3 in the world at age 30 is pretty amazing. Federer's level of fitness is astounding. He can stay competitive for a few more years. He is not favored to win the 2011 US Open, but he can. Pete Sampras did in 2002. I sure as hell didn't expect that.

Jonas Kaufmann

Jonas Kaufmann can freaking sing baby. This tenor is a freak of nature because he is so versatile. How on earth can a tenor with this kind of vocal weight sing Tamino's arias? He certainly can sing them. Spinto tenor, Tamino? Well, in this case, ja wohl! This man sings with passion. Oh yeah, and he has a masterful technique, too. Listen to him sing the flower song from Carmen. He not only sings the high b flat piano, but also decrescendos it. But, yeah, what's so special about thus guy aside from his handsome looks and lion mane? His lion mane is more curly than Hvorostovsky's. What's special is that he is a genuine artist who sings from his gut. When he sings, he means it. Every word and note means something to him, and boy does it come across to the audience. I'll tell you, that kind of artistry is not found just anywhere. This man has special gifts. Since he is German, he naturally sounds Germanic. He lacks the forward Italian sound of Italian tenors. I don't give a rats behind because he can sell any aria. Plus he has an insanely easy upper range. As a singer myself, I am envious of this guy, but hey, people like him are around because God gave them a special gift. That gift is artistic abilities that can save the world. I was watching some youtubes of this guy and I got inspired to write something. He does have a baritonal quality in his timbre which is an acquired taste. I dig it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Latest listening.

Alright here comes another blog. I have been listening to a two disc set of Jose Van Dam singing various operatic excerpts. Well, it is a mixed bag. I tend to like Van Dam in French, some German, and some Italian repertoire. In French rep he is awesome because of his elegance. There are excerpts from The Flying Dutchman, Parsifal, Die Meistersinger, Salome, Boris Godunov, Don Carlo, Simon Boccanegra, Don Giovanni, Damanation of Faust, Pelleas and The Tales of Hoffmann.
The French excerpts are all exquisite. Van Dam's portrayal of the troubled Golaud in Pelleas is a work of art. Here we have a live recording from Opera Brussels of the hair pulling scene. Golaud becomes so jealous of the idea of his wife Mellisande and his half brother Pelleas having an affair, that he completely falls a part mentally as the opera goes on. He sings the two excerpts from Damnation of Faust and The Tales of Hoffmann like they were written for his voice. He was wonderful at portraying all four of Hoffmann's alter egos.
I am pretty happy with the German excerpts also. Van Dam's Dutchman is a little light vocally for me. There is something missing. This is a live performance. The same thing is true on the studio recording with Von Karajan conducting. Van Dam also sings Amfortas from Parsifal in a live excerpt. This is an heart drenching lament, sung exquisitely. I feel the pain of the wounded king. Amfortas sits higher vocally than Dutchman, so it works much better for Van Dam. Van Dam is a little light vocally for Hans Sachs. I do like his singing in both the monologues though. Works for me because he still sells the music through his expressive singing. Van Dam has always impressed me as John the Baptist in Salome. He continues to do so in this cd. I remember when I first heard him singing that role on the emi set for Karajan. I was in Tower Records in NYC. I thought to myself, wow, I didn't know or even think he could sing that. He sang it really well as a matter of fact. The two Boris Godunov excerpts after that simply do not cut it. His voice sounds way too light and the lower notes are too weak.
The Italian rep is a mixed bag. I think he does nice things with Fillippo's monologue in Don Carlo. However, the lower notes are simply not there. Phillip should be more of a bass than Van Dam is. The excerpt from Simon Boccanegra features Van Dam singing the title role. Very interesting, since that part is a high verdi baritone. Van Dam sings it pretty damn well. Although, I prefer his recording of Paolo under Claudio Abbado from the late 1970s. The Falstaff excerpts are sung very well, but lack the comic flare of Taddei, Gobbi, or Terfel, to name a few. The Rossini is just kind of a boring duet, so I didn't pay much attention. The Don Giovanni excerpts are well sung, but I feel like Van Dam does not fit that opera. Overall, this is a descent two disc set, but there is better Van Dam out there. For example, check out his disc of Duparc songs if you can find it. It is a gem. Both his recordings of Golaud in Pelleas are awesome too. Especially the EMI set with Von Karajan. The last one I will mention is his recording of Amfortas under Von Karajan in Parsifal. Unbelievably sung and expressive account of Amfortas. That is all for now.