Monday, March 18, 2013

Holy Smoke!

In my continuing tour of the cultural life of Chicago, last night my friend David took me to see The Book of Mormon. It is outrageous, hysterically funny, bawdy, noisy, sexy, and absolutely captivating! I don't remember when I have seen a musical I enjoyed this much.

I doubt very much if it is being funded by the Romney family.

The insane book, which follows the trail of several young Church of Latter Day Saints elders who are sent to Uganda, is non-stop hilarity. No tern is left un-stoned. The large and very talented cast is headed by Nic Rouleau and Ben Platt. They are irresistible.

Ben Platt - Joe Iconis and Robert Emmett Maddock's The Black Suits ...There are several huge dance numbers and the closing numbers of both Act I and Act II are show-stoppers.

I took ear-plugs, just in case the audio engineers decided to crank up the sound to painful levels, but they didn't. It was loud but within sensible auditory acceptance.

We enjoyed every minute of the show. As a voice teacher, I do need to mention that the singing, while exciting, uses the kind of vocal technique that will probably limit the lifetime of these young voices.

But, by all means, go see it!

Sunday, March 17, 2013







 I am visiting a friend in Chicago, and last night, after a splendid dinner at Osteria Via Stato (State Street), we attended a very good concert at St. James' Cathedral. The choir, under the direction of Bruce J. Barber II, with Jonathan Ryan at the organ, sang a concert of music by Maurice Durufle.

(I apologize for my lack of accent marks, but that keyboard is back in Sandisfield)

The program opened with Notre Pere, Opus 14, #4, followed by the Fugue sur le Carillon de la Cathedrale de Soissons (organ solo), Opus 12, then the Quatre Motets sur des Themes Gregoriens, Opus 10, an organ Scherzo, Opus 2, ending with the Requiem Mass, Opus 9.

The program was beautifully sung by the Cathedral Choir of about 30 voices. Their overall sound was sweet and accurate. Their pitch was commendable. Mr. Barber conducts with elan and clear gestures. Mr. Ryan plays musically and with a splendid technique. At times the organ over-shadowed the choir, especially in forte sections of the choral works.

Evan Bravos was the excellent baritone soloist and Alexandra Tanico was the mezzo.

The room itself is worth a visit with or without music. The walls are covered with stenciled Christian symbols, in the way some old French cathedrals had entire walls painted, displaying biblical scenes.

I think that the balance problem was caused by the fact that the very large organ (Electro-Pneumatic) had chambers placed in various parts of the room. Essentially, the choir sang in the north crossing and the bulk of the organ is placed in the south crossing. Without someone listening in the center of the nave, it must be very difficult to achieve a balance.

The music of Durufle reflects that of some of his predecessors; Louis Vierne, for example. It is mild-mannered, with occasional bursts of joy. It is not too far removed from Gabriel Faure.  It was a very pleasant evening. We were happy to be there.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Rainy Afternoon with Phyllis

Special cheers today for my Mum, @[1282672557:2048:Phyllis], who has defined grace, love, generosity and courage for 91 years.  As always, I am blessed and humbled.  Happy Birthday!!!!!!!  <3Today I had the great pleasure to spend an otherwise rainy and unpleasant afternoon chatting with my dear friend, Phyllis Curtin. Phyllis is looking radiant these days after a spell of poor health.

Sitting in front of a blazing fire, our topic, as usual, was mostly singers and singing and teaching people how to sing

We talked about choral conductors who expect forty year old women to produce a vocal sound similar to that of a six year old boy, with what the late Anna Russell called, 'A good cutting edge!'

Then we talked about the current epidemic of wobbles that is rampant among many operatic sopranos. This brought us to a discussion of the late Maria Callas, whose wobble is legendary. Phyllis told of the time when she was singing in London that she and her husband went to hear Callas sing in a concert. Gene said, 'You know how it will be', but Phyllis had never heard Callas live and they went. She said that when she saw her pushing down on the chest with shrugged shoulders, she thought, 'No wonder this woman is having trouble singing.'

Then I spoke about my dear friend, the late, great dramatic soprano, Lucilla Udovich. John and I met Lucille in 1982 in Rome. Her brilliant career in Europe was halted by continuing problems with her back, forcing her to leave the operatic stage.

We visited her in her apartment in Rome. John persuaded Lucille to sing for us and we were blown away with the voice, the artistry, the artist. I said, 'Lucille, you must perform! She answered, 'How can I? I can't stand for that length of time'. And I said, 'Then sit and sing!'

And that's what we did. We persuaded her to perform a number of concerts with her seated on a throne-like chair. I would be seated at the piano. The curtains would be closed. Then they would open- and there we were. And she sang! It was a beautiful experience for me. Her singing in a video on RAI of Turandot with Franco Correlli, has been hailed as one of the great Turandots of the century.

Lucille died in Rome in the early 2000's, and when John and I were in Rome after her death, we wanted to take her sister, Annie, to dinner. Annie had been a loyal companion to Lucille throughout her career and in her time of incapacitation.

We met at Scolio di Frisio, a restaurant where both John and I and Lucille and Anne had dined many times. Anne and Lucille used to live in an apartment right across the street from the restaurant. Sometimes when dining there, the owner would entice Lucilla to sing an aria or two, replacing the standard 'O Sole O Mio' tenor, who was the usual dinner music.

We sat with Anne in a private booth and laughed and cried, talking over Lucille's life and death. We ordered everything on the menu. It was wonderful.

After several hours, I finally thought it was time to ask for 'Il conto, per piacere'. The waiter went away to add it up and when he returned, he whispered something in Annie's ear.

'They won't take any money', she said.

Then the owner came to the table and we all hugged and wept a little more over Lucille and I thought, 'This is a first in my lifetime.' They were so fond of Lucilla and Annie that this was a tribute to their friendship. It still takes my breath away.

I'm proud to be an Italian. We think with our hearts!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Orff we go!

I first heard Carl Orff's Carmina Burana in the 1950's when a combination of the New York City Opera and the New York City Ballet did a choreographed version in the City Center on 55th Street.

That may be the best way to do it.

I played the two-piano and percussion version a number of times years ago.

I really don't like the piece all that well. There are a couple of orgiastic climaxes that raise the roof, but Mr. Orff falls in love with a melodic and rhythmic theme and beats it to death.

Having said this, tonight the Smith College Glee Club and the Virginia Glee Club did a commendable job with the work. There is as lot of mumbling and quite a bit of screaming, so the work is taxing on young voices.

The three soloists, Karen Smith Emerson, soprano, Rockland Osgood, tenor, and Sumner Thompson, baritone, were all fine in their 'off the wall', and sometimes, 'off the ceiling' solos. Ms. Smith Emerson, after singing everything in the mezzo-soprano range, has to suddenly produce a D above high C on the word Dulcissime. I am happy to report that Ms. Emerson, who happens to be a student of mine, did this to great effect.

Probably the most ungrateful role is that of the tenor, who must sing everything at the very top of the tenor range. Mr. Osgood did most of this in falsetto, which, frankly, is the only way to bring this off without strangling.

Mr. Thompson, the baritone, did a remarkable job with an equally 'out of range' role, by blending falsetto here and there and then descending into a wonderful low voice with ease.  

The three conductors (yes, three) each did his section very well. Of course, with three men leading this large group, you get three different interpretations. They were Joseph Baldwin, Frank Albinder, and Jonathan Hirsh. They were all excellent. Mr. Hirsh was especially effective in the final section.

Not having heard or performed this work in many years, I am puzzled at how my view of the piece has changed. I would rather have had these forces and talents and energies put into a greater work, say Walton's Belshazzar's Feast, which I think holds up better with time.