Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Unique Conception of "Carmen"

Come see a cool approach to Bizet's "Carmen" tonight and Saturday night at 8, at the East 13th Street Theatre in New York City. You know what is cool about this theatre, and production? It is a black box theatre, and therefore, and intimate performance experience for us performers and the audience. The performance is being put on by dell'Arte Opera Ensemble, an opera company in NYC commited to very high level performances. For more information, and ticket information, check out Please help support the Arts by attending two great performances with us singers and crew who have worked hard on this show.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Verdi/Wagner Rivalry Part II (The Music)

It is surprising that Verdi and Wagner were both born in the same year, but it is not surprising that they were musical rivals.  The music of these two Romantic geniuses could not be more different from one another.  The musical language of Verdi versus Wagner is basically like the difference between night and day when compared side by side.  Both composers were melodic, but entirely different as far as text setting.  It is fair to say that Wagner was more into the text, Verdi more into the melody.  That is not to say that Verdi was not interested in the text.  It is just a matter of what had priority.  The same comparison can be made with the lieder or Brahms versus Wolf.  Brahms was first about the melody, Wolf was about the text.     The use of the orchestra in the drama could not be more different with Verdi versus Wagner.  A Wagner opera could be one big symphony if the voices were not included.  The voices tell the story over the symphony in Wagner's operas.  Mahler's 8th symphony is like a condensed version of a Wagner opera.  Verdi's orchestration is almost strictly an accompanying device.  Verdi's overtures are excerpted in concert, because they are written for the orchestra to introduce the action and mood of the opera.  Wagner was perfectly capable of writing an Italian melody with the orchestra serving as an accompanying device.  Wolfram's famous song of the evening star from "Tannhauser" is a prime example of that.  So is Wintersturme from "Die Walkure." An aria normally has a beginning, a middle and a end, and there is applause at the end of the aria.  Verdi sets things up in exactly that way.  Wagner keeps the music going after "Wintersturme", right into Sieglinde's continuation of the scene.  Wagner did not write arias as big show pieces from 1843, the year that "The Flying Dutchman" was premiered until the end of his composition career with "Parsifal", with the exception of the Tannhauser aria I mentioned.  The character of Wolfram is a lyric baritone.  A lot of Italian baritones used to record that aria in Italian.      As far as vocal writing, both composers were extremely demanding of their singers.  I would imagine pitch was lower in their life times.  Verdi liked to write very high tessitura for singers, especially baritones and mezzo-sopranos.  Wagner did not write as high, but his roles can be extremely long.  Wotan is the longest role in all operatic repertoire.  Both composers are voice killers for singers who are not cut out to sing their operas.  A tenor that is too light for "Siegfried" will have vocal problems pretty fast.  Same for a light tenor who tries to sing Verdi's title role in "Otello." Verdi constantly challenges the singer's upper range.  Pitch is very important in Verdi's music, and that is why he wrote so high for singers. When I am looking at a Verdi aria, or listening to one, I notice that most high notes are on words that are adjectives or nouns.  The climax is the high note in Verdi's arias and ensembles.  With Wagner's vocal writing this is not necessarily the case.  Occasionally it is, but not often.  That is not to say that Wagner did not write high tessitura, because he certainly did, but he did not confine singers up there like Verdi did.   Wagner's use of the leitmotif in his Ring Cycle is unbelievable.  Verdi very rarely used leitmotifs.  He used one for Amneris  in "Aida" but does not vary it in totality or invert it like Wagner.  Verdi wrote great music to set up arias or scenes, but did not use identification tags for characters or ideas like Wagner did.  Verdi wrote a great clarinet solo which proceeds the tenor aria in Act II.  That solo is describing how the character of Don Alvaro is feeling.  Or, better yet tells the audience that he's sad or whatever.  Wagner's leitmotifs introduce characters and ideas, and foreshadow future events, or reflect on the past and present.     Both Verdi and Wagner were tremendously influential on later composers.  Both Verdi and Wagner influenced Puccini.  Puccini uses leitmotifs in "Tosca." Scarpia's leitmotif is right smack at the beginning of the show.  Verdi's use of the chorus strongly influenced a number of composers after him, such as Puccini, Mascagni, and Britten to name a few.  Wagner's influence carries into movies.  Movies such as "Psycho", "Vertigo", and "Star Wars" use leitmotifs.  It is abundantly clear with the Imperial March in "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi." John Williams uses leitmotifs a lot in his music.  Luke Skywalker has a theme, and there is also a force theme.  Verdi's influence was instrumental in defining the baritone and mezzo soprano voices are their own separate categories.  Both composers wrote music that could not be more different.  The one thing they did have in common was their incredible influence on other composers.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Erwin Schrott Impresses In Latest CD Release

I walked into Princeton Record Exchange and started browsing the classical cd section, and found this latest cd release from bass-baritone Erwin Schrott.  After seeing him and hearing him in "Don Giovanni" at the Metropolitan Opera in 2008, I was wondering what happened to this handsome guy with tremendous potential.  Fortunately this latest recital of arias from the bass-baritone repertoire represents Schrott living up to his potential.   Schrott opens with "Scintille Diamant" from "Les Contes des Hoffman." Vocally, he is very impressive, singing both optional high G sharps.  This aria is even high for a lyric baritone, so it is quite impressive that Schrott recorded it in the original key.  However, his French is not good at all.   He stresses wrong syllables and songs e instead of schwa sounds.  The Toreador song which follows is solid from bottom to top, but also has bad French.  Schrott is well cut out for the bull fighter Escamillo in voice and stature.  Like most singers who record Don Quichotte's death scene from Massenet's score, Schrott sings both Sancho and Don Quichotte in the recording.  It is a very moving performance with a nice contribution from Rinat Shaham.  Schrott's performance of "The Song of the Golden Calf" from Gounod's "Faust" is good vocally, but I found myself looking for a darker voice like Samuel Ramey.       Recording early Verdi on this recital was a wise choice for Schrott.  He fits the excerpts from "I Lombardi" and "Atilla" very well.  Both of these early Verdi operas represent Verdi continuing in the style of Bellini and Donizetti, but increasing the size of the orchestra and raising the tessitura in the vocal line.  Schrott's voice has traces of the baritone and bass voices, which is the definition of the bass-baritone fach.  Schrott sounds very at home in this repertoire because of his impressive vocalism and legato in Italian.  There are some bizarre key modulations in the excerpts from "I Lombardi" from A major to C major.  The role of Atilla works surprisingly well in Schrott's voice. My surprise is based on the fact that although, Atilla is high, usually true basses sing the role. Bass-baritones and lyric basses are slightly different.  Great dark color at the beginning of the aria, representing the fear behind it.  I also enjoyed all the excerpts from Boito's "Mefistofele", including the chorus "Ave Signor." Schrott's voice is very powerful in these excerpts, but I am looking for more of a real bass voice for this role.  There is no such thing as a bass-baritone in Italy, but some of the repertoire fits the bass-baritone voice quite well.  The early Verdi excerpts fit Schrott's instrument extremely well, whereas, he sounds a little too much like a baritone in the "Mefistophele" excerpts.       The best performance on this CD is "Di Sposo di Padre" from "Salvator Rosa." I am not familiar with this work by Gomez at all, but love this aria, and the passion Schrott puts into his rendition.  Schrott sounds like he would be a convincing Scarpia based on his performance of the "Te Deum" here.  Certain people at the Met need to retire the role of Scarpia, and let younger people take over.  I think Schrott could do it, if he sings to his potential, like he does on this CD.  I have seen other excepts of Schrott on YouTube which do not impress me very much at all, but this CD is quite impressive indeed.  I recommend it. The complete track listing is as follows:  1 Scintille, diamant (from Les contes d'Hoffmann)  2 Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre (from Carmen)  3 Le veau d'or (from Faust)  4 2nd Interlude (from Don Quichotte)  5 O mon maître, o mon grand! (from Don Quichotte)  6 A te nell'ora infausta (from I Lombardi)  7 Sciagurata (from I Lombardi)  8 Mentre gonfiarsi l'anima (from Attila)  9 Ave Signor (Chorus) (from Mefistofele)  10 Ave Signor (from Mefistofele)  11 Son lo spirito che nega (from Mefistofele)  12 Ecco il mondo (from Mefistofele)  13 Di sposo, di padre (from Salvator Rosa)  14 No te acerques no me persigas (from La Tabernera del Puerto)  15 Despierta negro (from La Tabernera del Puerto)  16 Tre sbirri, una carozza... (Te Deum) (from Tosca)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Learning To Say No

It's funny how the word no has two letters in it, yet it is scary to say sometimes. But, sometimes it is necessary to say no. When I am potentially overworking myself, or giving too much of my time to something, I need to say no so I can have some breathing room and be human. Why is it so hard to say no sometimes? Well, I want people to like me. The only way they will have a real issue with me is if I say yes, and then do not follow through. If I say no in the first place, I am in the clear despite the other person's reaction. They may not be thrilled at first, but will respect my assertiveness. Assertiveness is another big word. What does being assertive mean? Well it means several times. Asserting myself is making my opinions or ideas heard without getting dominated by another person. It also means standing up for myself. Saying no is very assertive. Saying yes to be nice is not assertive, plus it results in passive aggression, which is also unassertive. The problem with the inability to say no is that it hurts me. I have to take care of me, not please other people. People pleasing is a sorry attempt to get to manage the way people see me. If I say no it doesn't mean that people have to like me for it. Saying no is indeed better then making a commitment and backing out of it. That certainly upsets people, but it happens all the time. There have been times where I have agreed to do something with a self seeking motive of pleasing others. OIt does not feel good to do that. I am talking about things that are not essential to do. Of course I have to do things I do not want to do in life. There is no escape from that. People pleasing is totally different than facing responsibilities. People pleasing is saying yes so the person asking me for the favor will be happy. I like doing favors but sometimes I should not say yes, because I have much going on, or it is something that is toxic for me to do. When I am able to say no, I realize that it is not as hard as it seems. If a person is being used or taken advantage of, saying no is much more effective than people pleasing. People pleasing is answering in the affirmative against my will. People pleasing in harmony with my will and the powers that be is proper use of the will. Again this is not a post against helping others, but it is a post against doing it just simply to get the other person to like me. If I have to even worry about that, what is the point? Friends and loved ones help each other, but the love is not if you do this I'll still be your friend. Bottom line is that if I people please aginSt my will I put myself in a position to be hurt.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Thoughts on Falstaff and Gianni Schicchi

Giuseppe Verdi and his successor Giacomo Puccini rarely ventured into writing comic operas in their careers. Both composers were very dark composers for the most part in that their operas had very dark plots with lead characters dying at the end. Well, I suppose that is the case with a lot of operas, but Puccini and Verdi really stand out in this regard in that they preceded the verismo period of operas. I should say Verdi did, Puccini crossed into it with "Tosca", "Il Tabarro", and "Suor Angelica" specifically. My point in writing this is that even though "Falstaff", and "Gianni Schicchi" are comic operas, there are a lot of dark elements to both shows. Not only is this the case musically, but also in terms of the various characters. Falstaff and Gianni Schicchi are comical dark characters. They are not good people in my opinion. The subtle darkness of both shows are very apparent musically. When Schicchi is plotting his plan of how to change Buoso's will there is a march in the music similar to when Scarpia lies to Tosca about having a fake execution for Cavaradossi. In both cases the marching drum rolls signify a deception. Buoso's relatives do not know that there is a theft involved in Schicchi's plans. But, if the audience hears that drum roll, they know. Similarly Falstaff's supposed rendevu with Alice Ford has the 12 chimes which are very dark in nature. Both Gianni Schicchi and Falstaff are bums for lack of a better word. Falstaff gets what he deserves, but Schicchi runs free. Schicchi does love his daughter Lauretta. I don't know if Falstaff has any rejuvenating qualities. Schicchi justifies his behavior claiming he did it for his daughter. The end of the operas could not be more different. In "Falstaff" everyone gangs up on Falstaff. In "Gianni Schicchi" the relatives are screwed, and Schicchi gives a big speech. Verdi writes a big fugue in "Falstaff" with a moral. It is almost like the "Cosi fan Tutte" finale and "Don Giovanni" epilogue in that there is a moral. There are noticeable similarities between both operas. They are both dark comedies, they are both strong ensemble operas, and complex ones at that, they both have the lovers singing together, and things pass quickly musically. There are not many arias in either opera. Schicchi relies more on the ensembles than "Faldtaff". Verdi still includes duet scenes, including a large one between Falstaff and Ford. One interesting difference between the two plots is that "Falstaff" involves lack of trust. Ford does not trust his wife Alice. Jealousy is a huge theme in Falstaff. Verdi follows in Mozart's footsteps by using the horn section of the orchestra to signify jealousy. In "Gianni Schicchi" the relatives trust Gianni, and I do not understand why. Both sides are incorrect in both operas. Ford gets taught his lesson, as does the Count in "Le Nozze di Figaro." The relatives in "Gianni Schicchi" are a naive bunch, and they pay for it. Musically there are fast ensembles in both shows. In " Falstaff" the men and the women are singing about entirely different things. In "Gianni Schicchi" the relatives are singing about similar things, a lot of times at the same time. Puccini and Verdi are different musically. Puccini gravitated towards Wagner, whereas Verdi hated Wagner. There is a spot in "Gianni Schicchi" where three of the women are singing as if they are the Rheinmaidens in "Das Rheingold." Puccini's orchestration has more of an individuality to it, in that the orchestra could almost stand alone. Verdi's is strictly accompanying. This difference is much more obvious when comparing Verdi and Wagner, but it shows up in Puccini. Puccini liked Wagner, and sometimes used leitmotifs to identify characters. In Tosca he uses a strong leitmotif for Scarpia's entrance right smack at the beginning of the opera. Scarpia, Falstaff, and Gianni Schicchi all have similarities. They all have selfish motives. Scarpia's is sex, so is Falstaff's, and Schicchi's is materialistic. The ending of "Gianni Schicchi" is not happy like a typical comedy because Gianni Schicchi gets away with theft. Verdi ends "Falstaff" with an upbeat fugue, but Falstaff has only learned his lesson for the time being. There are a lot of dark comic characters in opera. Falstaff and Gianni Schicchi are only two of them. Bartolo, Mustafa, Basilio, Leporello, and Dulcamara are a few examples. It's the demeanor of these characters that make the audience laugh, not what they are all about. Bartolo is vengeful, Dulcamara is a hack job, and Basilio is a sleezy gossip who likes to cause trouble, Leporello is the comic version of Don Juan, but lower class. Most operas are dark, including comic operas.