Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Norma vs. Caballe

Last night David and I attended a very long performance of Bellini's Norma at Chicago Lyric Opera. I don't suppose it was any longer than any other performance of the opera, but is it a very long opera with very little going on except some incredible music.

The story unfolds very slowly with Norma feeling guilty about having broken her vow of chastity and producing two children with the Roman Pollione, his dumping her for her assistant Priestess  Adalgisa, and her threatening to kill first her two children, then herself, then Adalgisa and Pollione.

It just takes a long time to get there.

All the while there is this gorgeous music happening.

I have apparently spent too many years listening to Montserrat Caballe singing this role. Any other soprano just doesn't do it for me. Her amazing musical line, endless breath, clear sound, and faultless vocal ability is unique.

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Sondra Radvanovsky has a very large, somewhat covered voice, with the range needed for the role. Her production produces a pushed, unstable sound much of the time with occasional gorgeous soft high notes, messy runs, and some sensational climactic high C's. I have heard her previously and found that sometimes she sings just a little below the pitch. The covering of her voice makes it sound tremulous, especially at the beginning of the opera. Her inability to sing the chromatic downhill runs accurately is unfortunate. Caballe produced these flawlessly. The role is a killer vocally and I must say, she made it to the end in one piece.

Sound Bites feature in Opera News c. Dario Acosta

I preferred the singing of Elizabeth DeShong as Adalgisa. Her bright, clear voice was also sizeable, her runs accurate, and her sound very appealing. For me she stole the show.

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Russell Thomas as Pollione has a very good tenor voice which he used well though he sang at full voice most of the time.

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Jesse Donner, a third year member of the Ryan Opera Center sang his brief part with a beautiful, lighter tenor sound.

Norma opera tickets at Lyric Opera of Chicago

The set by David Korins was gloomy for the most part with a sort of Barn Door opening at the back that revealed silvery trunks of trees plus one (supposedly an oak) floating side wise in mid air for some reason. A large platform was wheeled on stage from time to time from which Oroveso, Norma's father, and Norma occasionally sang.

Oroveso was sung by Andrea Silvestrelli in a lugubrious basso that was not very attractive.   

At the end an enormous bull effigy was wheeled on stage. It was here that Norma was handed a small lighted torch to light the fire in which she and Pollione were to go to their deaths.

Some very good singing but I think cuts could be made in the opera allowing the actionless tale to flow more quickly.   

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

How we lost Love's Labor Lost

Last night David and I saw Love's Labor Lost  at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. This play was apparently very popular when it was first presented by the Bard of Avon, but fell to disuse in later centuries.

A rather thin plot involves the King of Navarre who persuades three friends to give up women, sleep, and quite a lot of food for three years, only to all fall in love with the Princess of France and her ladies, thereby forsaking their vows.

Probably because of our recent long weekend in Michigan, both of us found it difficult to stay awake through Act One. We decided to skip Act Two. I'm sure this is sacrilege and we will be sorely punished for giving the heave-ho to Shakespeare, but we really had no choice. As a result we were home by 9:00 in time to get the news that Betsy De Voss had been elected Secretary of Education. This probably means that no Shakespeare, or anything else will find its way into the Public Schools of our country!

 A wonderful set almost made up for the silliness of the plot. A large tree was at stage right, floating its branches to the ceiling.Great costumes and fine acting were also on display. But we still dozed from time to time.

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The cast included John Tufts as the King of Navarre, Jennie Greenberry as the Princess of France, and a large group of their courtiers.

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Taming of the Shrew it ain't!

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Salon Concert

This evening David and I attended a vocal concert in the home of Carolyn and Peter Pereira here in Kenwood.

The performers were the Fourth Coast Ensemble, a group of four young singers and pianist. The singers were Karen Ann Baron, soprano, Bridget Skaggs, mezzo-soprano, Zachery Vanderburg, tenor, and Michael Hawes, bass-baritone. The pianist was Mark Bilyeu.


 Karen Ann Baron   Bridget Skaggs     
                                 Zackery Vanderburg

Young, bright voices all, they sang musically and presented an interesting program with works by Lili Boulanger, Johannes Brahms, Franz Schubert, Jules Massenet, and a group by living American composers.

Picture  Michael Hawes

The group performs throughout the Chicago area and has another concert scheduled next week.

We enjoyed hearing these fine young singers in a very interesting program.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Rachel Barton Pine

Yesterday afternoon David and I attended a recital given by Rachel Barton Pine, violinist, presented by Chamber Music Albuquerque at the Simms Center for the Performing Arts.

Ms. Pine is a genuine virtuosa on her instrument, which is a 1740 Guarnieri del Jesu. Her flawless technique and musicianship brought forth a vibrant recital which included no end of musical fireworks. 

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Her program included Partita No.2 in D Minor, BWV 2004 Of Bach, Sonata Op. 27,  No.4 (Fritz Kreisler) by Eugene Ysaye, Recitative and Scherzo, Op 6 of Fritz Kreisler, Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001 of Bach, Asturias (Leyenda) by Issac Albéniz, arr. Pine, Tango Etude No. 3 of Astor Piazzola, arr. Pine, Deep River, Op.59, No 10 by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and Caprice No 24 by Niccolo Paganini.

This was an enormous undertaking and she brought it off sensationally.

In 1995 Ms. Pine was tragically injured when departing a Metra train in Winnetka, Illinois, near Chicago. Her violin case was caught in the train door as she was leaving the train, which closed on the instrument case which was on her back, dragging her a number of feet and finally pulling her under the train until someone pulled the emergency cord, stopping the train. As a result she lost both of her legs. After this accident the Rail company had to install automatic devices to stop trains in such emergencies.

Ms. Pine chatted with the audience between pieces giving interesting and amusing information about the composers and the compositions.For instance her violin (which she saved in the accident) was  chosen by Johannes Brahms for a young violinist whom he was mentoring.

The Coleridge-Taylor work was premiered by Albert Spaulding, famed violinst, whose pianist was André Benoist. He also performed with Heifitz, Tetrazzini, and Casals. Eleanor Benoist, André's daughter in law, and I performed together as Burtis and Benoist in the duo piano repertoire for many years.

The final work on the program, Paganini's Caprice, was the basis for Lutoslawski's Variations on a Theme of Paganini which Eleanor and I performed on our Carnegie Recital Hall debut in 1970.

There are always these interesting connections between music and musicians. All of this made for a memorable afternoon of music brilliantly performed.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Go west old man!

David and I arrived at our glamorous condo in the Sandia Mountains, near Albuquerque, where we will spend the month of January.

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We traveled through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle, into New Mexico. I never saw so much flat land in my life. All brown. You could see to the horizon in all directions. Amazing. 

We stayed the first night in Liberty, Missouri,a nice town, and the second night in Guymon, Oklahoma. Skip this place if possible!

We drove for fifty miles after leaving Guymon without passing a car!

Tomorrow we will be having breakfast with our friends Nancy and Geffen, after which they will take us on a tour of Albuquerque.

Very different from many Januaries spent in Puerto Rico. Too much Zika virus there.

Happy New Year to you all!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Magic Flute

Last night David and I braved icy temperatures to attend Mozart's Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera. It was quite an evening.

I hadn't seen the opera in a number of years. I think the last performance was at the Met with sets and costumes by Marc Chagall.

This was very different scenically. Dale Ferguson, the set and costume designer, decided to place the opera
in and around a house in the suburbs, say Oak Park, in contemporary times. A complete two story house filled center stage and revolved completely around as the opera advanced. It was an amazing set but I never quite got the reason for it. A young man, (non singer), supposedly got the idea to put on a show, a la Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, in his back yard. Neighbors gathered, bringing all sorts of chairs, to hear it during the overture. They were in modern dress. Then fully costumed singers and actors appeared from various directions to do the opera.

Once one accepted the premise, the singing was sensational.

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Tamino was sung beautifully by Andrew Staples, whose voice reminds me a bit of Fritz Wunderlich, light, high and very easy.

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Papageno was Adam Plachetka and he was simply wonderful. Great voice and a marvelous actor.

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Pamina was sung by Christiane Karg. She has a good voice but I would prefer a more limpid sound from Pamina.

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The Queen of the Night was sung by Kathryn Lewek. She is one of the best singers of this role I have ever heard. A sizeable voice with a very secure top. All of her high f's were perfectly in line with the rest of the voice.

The three ladies were Ann Toomey, Annie Rosen, and Lauren Decker. They sang very well and were good actors as well.

The Monostatos was Rodell Rosel and sang with a snarly voice that is perfect for this character.

Sarastro was Christof Fischesser. He had a resonant voice with the appropriate low notes. Between him and the Queen of the night they covered an enormous vocal range.

The conductor was Rory Macdonald and the stage director was Neil Armfield.  They kept the music and action moving at a fast pace making for a very enjoyable evening of musical theater.

I never did get the reason for the set but it worked out well in the end.