Saturday, February 22, 2014

What a difference a day makes!

Tonight David and I went from the slightly ridiculous to the sublime, musically speaking. From last night's tepid, under-sung Barbiere to tonight's brilliant concert by the Apollo Chorus and Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra in Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago, just down the street from our condo. The excellent Chorus and Orchestra were conducted by the wonderful Stephen Alltop, who seemed to be having a ball all the way through the concert.

The Great Mass in C Minor  of Mozart and the Te Deum  of Dvorak made up the exciting program. The excellent chorus and orchestra played and sang with musical enthusiasm and great enjoyment.

Two angelic sopranos who proved that what I said in my last blog about singing OUT when singing runs works, sang the difficult solo parts in the Mozart Mass. Sarah Gartshore has a very beautiful spinto  voice and was able to cover the role wonderfully. 

Alyssa Bennett is more of a coloratura, I would think, and is equally able in singing this music to perfection. Both women need to discover what lies below the passaggio, especially when singing the athletic jumps Mozart hands them and Ms. Bennett does not need to push the top. It's already there! But I quibble.

Barber of Seville . Ryan Opera Center (photo: Jaclyn Simpson)The tenor, John Irvin and the bass-baritone, Richard Ollarsaba, were equally good in the small parts Mozart grants the men in this work. Ms. Gartshore and Mr.Ollarsaba were just fine in the Dvorak.

The balance between orchestra and chorus and soloists was perfect throughout. The acoustic makes it difficult to get the chorus's words in this room, but the soloists diction came through beautifully.

All in all, this was a great evening of great music, sung to perfection. Bravi to all concerned. Chicago Lyric could take some lessons from these solo singers about how to project freely and beautifully, no matter how complicated the music may be.

Shave and a haircut!

Perhaps it was because we were seated in row NN, though this is where we sat twice before; perhaps the house just has really poor acoustics; perhaps the singers had been told 'Sing this opera sotto voce.' Whatever,- until Alessandro Corbelli as Doctor Bartolo and Kyle Ketelsen as Don Basilio strode onstage at the Chicago Lyric Opera last night I thought I was losing my hearing.

It was the Lyric's production of The Barber of Seville, which garnered rave reviews from the Chicago critics. Apparently they were seated a lot closer to the stage than we were. Isabel Leonard as Rosina, Nathan Gunn as Figaro, and Alek Shrader as Count Almaviva, seem to have made a pact, or were told, to sing everything at half voice.  Corbelli and Ketelsen obviously didn't get that memo because they sang with good projection and fine sound. Perhaps it was the idea of the conductor, Michele Mariotti, because even the Overture seemed under played.

 Alessandro Corbelli

Each of the other singers seems to have a perfectly fine voice, capable of filling this house, but for some reason they chose to hold back vocally. In Act 2 they sang out a bit more, but all of their fioratura was sung to themselves.

I know that some voice teachers tell singers to cut back on their sound when singing fast runs but that has never been my method. My theory is that long runs require more, not less, energy. And require good, full sound. When Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and I were working on roles that required fast, complicated singing, I always told her that she must sing INTO a run, not shy away from it. Nobody sang runs any faster or clearer than Lorraine; and she could be heard at the back of any hall.

I was perplexed by this production and a little bored. I expect to be blown away with this kind of singing and was left disappointed. 

Tracy Cantin as Berta also did not get the sotto voce memo and sang very well. A beautiful clear voice unafraid to be heard. Several of the other male singers also sang well, sending their sound to the back of the room.

Next time I will try to get a seat in row G.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Tosca in Indiana

Last night David and I attended a performance of Puccini's Tosca at Bethel Church in Crown Point, Indiana. It was presented by the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Kirk Muspratt was the conductor and the chorus was prepared by Nancy Menk. David usually sings in this chorus but sat it out last night having been in Puerto Rico all of January.

Presenting a concert version of any opera presents dramatic problems and this was especially true in this case. Much of the drama in Tosca is revealed in the acting and staging of the work. Leading singers standing behind music stands, some of whom never took their eyes off the music, leaves something to be desired. The film of Maria Callas placing the candles around the dead body of Scarpia is an opera in itself.

Having said that, most of the solo singing was quite good. The cast included Ryan de Ryke as Angelotti, Andrew Bawden as the Sacristan, Dominic Armstrong as Mario Cavaradossi, Helen Todd as Tosca, Yohan Yi as Baron Scarpia, Joshua Blue as Spoletta, Thomas Olsen as Sciarrone, Chrystal Mae Chandler as the Shepherd Boy, and Rex Hume as the Jailer.

Helen Todd, as Tosca, is apparently a former coloratura soprano who has taken on dramatic roles. As a result, her lower range was weak and tremulous while her high notes were brilliant. The role of Tosca, as with many Puccini soprano roles, lies in the middle of the voice for much of the time. This requires a voice that can comfortably handle this tessitura. Ms. Todd was in her element by Acts 2 and 3 where she has some high notes to sing. She might be better advised to take on more lyric roles if she has decided that the life of a coloratura is no longer for her.

Dominic Armstrong has a fine tenor voice but often slights the high notes. He even did some falsetto singing in a few places where I have never heard that done before. His very top seemed pushed.

Yohan Yi has a good baritone voice but, again, the top notes are not secure and at times he was covered by the orchestra.

The other men singers all were quite good and the chorus sang very well in their two moments in the work.

Slides were shown on two large screens hung above the stage which attempted to show what the action on stage would be had there been any. Getting stuck in the music kills connection with the audience. Tosca kept her eyes glued to the score even in 'Vissi d'arte'. 

All in all it was good to hear this wonderful score again with a good orchestra and some good singers. Mr. Muspratt does not seem to feel the need to cue the singers but they all made their entrances without help from him.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Home to Chicago

David and I have returned to frigid Chicago after a wonderful month in Isla Verde, Puerto Rico. This year we had a different condo from the one I have rented for the past two years. We didn't like it as well as the other one which faced north and the sea. We spent the first week getting help for the sliding doors to the balcony, which refused to slide, the TV and Internet, which didn't work, and the air conditioners, which didn't work well either.

 Isla Verde sky.

Also, the condo faced east instead of north, as my previous one did, bringing in lots of traffic noise from Avenida Isla Verde instead of the sounds of the sea. Oh well!

One of the many painted lions (Leon) in the town square at Ponce.

Eventually we got things working and explored the Island. David is an intrepid driver and we went to the east coast, to El Yunque- the rain forest, to Ponce (remember Ponce de Leon?), to Arecibo, and to Rincon on the western coast. We feel we have really seen Puerto Rico now.

The Cathedral in Ponce.

Peggy and Jim came to stay with us and joined the trips to El Yunque and Ponce.

 A drive in El Yunque, the rain forest.

 The amazing Arecibo Observatory.

Now back in Chicago briefly, we fly to San Diego on January 6th to visit David's niece, then back here for concerts by the Northwest Indiana Symphony (Tosca), two Music of the Baroque concerts and two operas at Chicago Lyric Opera: Clemenza di Tito and Barber of Seville.

Then it's back to the Berkshires for me on April 1st for the spring, summer, and fall. David will follow along a bit later for the summer.

Life is pretty good at age 84!