Saturday, November 21, 2015

Not a very Merry Widow

The Merry Widow isn't all that merry anymore. I'm sure I saw it years ago somewhere, but though the production at Chicago Lyric is sensational as to scenery and costumes, it leaves something to be desired in the singing.

Image result for renee fleming   Renee Fleming

Both Renee Fleming and Thomas Hampson sound a little frayed vocally. She still has the high notes, though one came off as more of a scream, but her voice disappears in the middle range. As Anna Russell once said, 'Sopranos reach that age when they have one or two very loud notes at either end of the voice, and nothing much in between.'

Image result for thomas hampson   Thomas Hampson

He still produces what used to be a smooth, beautiful sound from time to time but not consistently. 

Heidi Stober has the same problem as Renee, good high notes but often inaudible in the middle voice.

Image result for michael spyres    Michael Spyres

The best singing of the evening was by Michael Spyres as Rossillon. His tenor is secure and brilliant and he has the requisite top to his voice.

Several others of the men were also very good.

The tired Libretto just doesn't hold up. You know what is going to happen even if you've never seen the opera before.

The sets by Julian Crouch and the costumes by William Ivey Long were fabulous.  I wish the singing had come up to this level.

There are a number of memorable melodies that you can go out whistling but overall I don't need to see this Widow again in my lifetime.

Monday, November 16, 2015


Tonight David and I saw a remarkable production of Alban Berg's Wozzeck at the Chicago Lyric Opera.

Image result for tomasz konieczny Tomas Konieczny

The stellar cast included Gerhard Siegel as The Captain, Tomasz Konieczny in the title role, David Portillo as Andres, Angela Denoke as Marie, Jill Grove as Margret, Brindley Sherratt as The Doctor, Stefan Vinke as the Drum Major, and Zachery Uzararaga as Marie's son.

Image result for angela denoke Angela Denoke

The lead singers have all performed tonight's roles in previous performances of Wozzeck and sang with fervor and excitement. I would class all their voices as 'Nordic'; several have also sung Wagnerian roles. Ms. Denoke in particular sang the brutal tessitura of Marie with ease, and all the men covered their roles equally well.

Vicki Mortimer designed the amazing set and Paul Constable did the lighting. Sir Andrew Davis was the admirable conductor, smoothly handling Berg's difficult score, getting every ounce of drama from it.

I may have seen Wozzeck at the Met years ago but I'm not sure. At any rate this production is world-class!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

O brave new world!

'O brave new world, that has such people in it!'

And I am referring to the entire cast of Chicago Shakespeare Theatre's production of the Bard's The Tempest.

Seldom have I seen a more brilliant production of any play, much less one of Shakespeare's. 

Among those responsible for this masterpiece are Teller (no first name) of Penn and Teller, and Aaron Posner, who created this extravagant production, Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennen, who wrote the imaginative songs and music, Pilobolus, who was responsible for the movement, especially that of Caliban, Dan Conway for the scenic design, Matt Kent, for the choreography, Thom Weaver for the lighting, Paloma Young for the costumes; and on and on and on.

Every detail of this production was amazing and perfect.

Image result for larry yando     Larry Yando

The wonderful cast included Larry Yando as the superb Prospero, Luigi Sotille as the handsome, sexy Ferdinand, Nate Denby as the magical Ariel (he started doing magic tricks before the play started and just got better and better including levitating Miranda in the second act), Manelich Minniefee and  Zach Eisenstat, who together, and I mean together, (entwined in every imaginable way) evoked the four legged, four armed, two headed Caliban, stopping the show several times, and the rest of the splendid cast.

Image result for luigi sottile    Luigi Sotille

My only complaint was the Miranda of Eva Louise Balestrieri, which was too monotoned for my taste.

Image result for nate dendy actor  Nate Denby

Magic was the key word throughout the production. In addition to levitating Miranda, Luigi Sotille was able to lean forward to the point of falling down, Nate Denby has a sleeve full of card tricks and every other magician's trick available and used them to great effect.

It is one of the best productions of anything (including Shakespeare) I have ever seen.

I hope that the Bard was laughing heartily in the Poet's Corner. I certainly was!!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Plus ça change....

Today I had a great lesson with a soprano who has worked with me for many years. It was a combination of 'True Confessions' and 'Same old, same old'.

This soprano has a glorious voice which she confessed she has not been using very well for a while. She wanted a re-tread.

Image result for herbert burtis photos

I have been espousing the same vocal ideas for lo, these many years, but even students who haven't  dropped by for a while need a reminder or two.

My idea of beautiful free singing always begins with the inhalation. If this isn't correct, lots of luck with what comes out. Today we started from scratch. Unless one decides there is only one way to take a singing breath, there is no point in singing a song or aria.

Anyone who has read one of my books on singing can stop right not. My methods have not changed. Probably over the 65 years during which I have been working with singers I have had new ideas and made changes, but not in the last 30 years or so.

Let me illustrate with lesson 1.

1. Blow out all your air.
2. Inhale, listening to the sound of 'aw' as the air passes down your throat.
3. Immediately, blow out all the air again.
This is the singing breath. Nothing else works.

1. Blow out all your air again.
2. Inhale the 'aw' breath. 
3. Release the air through an 'H' and add a vowel. This is making use of the Bernoulli effect, starting the free air and adding a vowel. This allows no time to fuss around with how you make the sound.  
4. Now repeat parts 1 and 2 and sing the vowel without the Bernoulli effect. Allow no time between the inhalation and the sound. I often use a tennis ball to demonstrate this technique. Inhale (aw) as the ball hits the floor and sing the second you catch it. This is the timing from breath to sound. 

This is so simple that many people feel they have to do something more in order to sing. You don't.

Olga Averino, my mentor, used to say 'Sing from the impulse!' That is what this vocalise is all about: Impulse!!

Buy yourself a tennis ball and try this. You will like it and sing more freely!