Tuesday, April 2, 2019

A Love Affair

As anyone who has followed this  blog for a while will be aware, I have been conducting a one-sided love affair with Jane Glover. She is simply the best conductor I have ever seen; and I have worked with some of the best.

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In my student days in New York City I sang under the likes of Robert Shaw, Dmitri Metropolis, and Leopold Stokowski. I studied conducting under Elaine Brown and Margaret Hillis. I saw the major conductors that appeared in the New York Concert halls.

Jane Glover beats them all.

Last night at the Harris Theatre we saw her conduct  Music of the Baroque in a sensational concert of music by Bach and Haydn. The program included Symphony No. 59 in A Major (Fire) and Symphony No. 22 in E Flat Major (the Philosopher) by Haydn and Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor and the 'Coffee Cantata' by Bach.

The excellent flute soloist was Mary Stolper and the singers were Joelle Harvey, soprano, Josh Lovell, tenor, and Neal Davies, baritone. The singers were all very good and had fun with the cantata.

Ms. Glover doesn't simply conduct the music, she is the music! You can see it emerge from her hands and body and go directly into the performers and out to the fortunate audience.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

La Traviata

Last night David and I saw an unimaginative production of Verdi's  La Traviata at Chicago Lyric Opera. The stage director was Arin Arbus and the set designer was Riccardo Hernandez.  Both should have checked out other productions of the opera before doing what they did to poor Verdi.

The set for most of the acts was a semi-circular wall. In act One it was helped by an elaborate chandelier and a long table filled with food and drink. In act Two it was helped by a false background that brought the stage to a more intimate size. Acts three and four were back to the semi-circle.

In acts one and three the very good but overly large Chicago Opera Chorus was stuffed on stage making it difficult for the principals to have any place to perform. I have mentioned this happening previously in productions in this theatre. Either get a smaller chorus or a bigger set.

In act four the huge space contained only Violetta's bed, a chair and a table with sillouettes shadowed against the back wall. As in Act two Violetta and Alfredo spent a lot of time on the floor. The father, the doctor and Annina stood across the back of the large expanse like the 'three trees': here a tree, there a tree, and there a tree.

The singing? Oh yes, the singing. It was all quite good. Albina Shagimuratova as Violetta received rave revues from the Chicago critics. It is a good sized voice and her downhill runs were very good but some of her singing left a bit to be desired. She was directed to sing the first half of 'Sempre Libera' standing behind the food table for some reason. She then was unable or unwilling to take the high E flat at the end of the aria. I checked on You tube. All the sopranos I listened to took the high note at the final cadence. There is even one recording you can listen to that has twenty minutes of high E flats from various sopranos.

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Mario Rojas covered for Giorgio Berrugi, who was ailing, and did an excellent job with just one mis-entry in the last act. But he can be forgiven for that. Covers never get very much rehearsal time in any opera house. It is a very good voice. He is a slight man and was out-sized by nearly everyone else on the stage.

Zeljko Lucic sang the elder Germont with a rough, loud sound.

Go onto You Tube and listen to some other sopranos sing the aria. Anna Moffo in her prime was amazing. She studied with Eufemia Gianinni, the sister of my late friend, the incomparable Diva Dusolina Gianinni and of the composer Vittorrio Gianinni, who was also a friend.

I have seen a number of Traviatas. This was not my favorite.

Saturday, February 23, 2019


Last night David and I saw an amazing production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Chicago Lyric Opera. Stellar singing by the entire cast led by Nina Stemme in the title role. Ms. Stemme has a voluptuous voice with a wide vocal range and portrayed the tragic heroine perfectly.

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Equally fine was Alexandra Lo Bianco who filled in for Eliza Van Den Heever as Chrysosthemus.You would never have known that she was not a part of the original cast. Another very beautiful voice.

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The part of Klytamnestra was sung by Michaela Martens whose amazing range and volume was unique.

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Strauss apparently loved the female voice. In several of his operas the leading characters are women, or, in the case of Octavian, a young male who is sung by a woman.

In any case, it leads to some extraordinary singing, as it did last night.  

The rest of the cast was equally fine but the poor men don't get much of a chance to sing. It was a great night at Chicago Lyric!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

An Inspector Calls

Last night David and I saw Chicago Shakespeare's production of J.B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls. The play which was written in the '40's was first produced in Russia. Priestley was a life-long socialist and the play contains elements of that philosophy.

It is a strange work, made even stranger by the production given by Chicago Shakespeare. The play began with very loud music and the action taking place in front of the curtain. When the curtain rose, revealed was a small house center stage with people inside. The first part of the action took place in this structure with someone occasionally coming out on the small balcony. An engagement celebration was taking place. You could hear them but it was distracting not to see the action.

From the audience a tall man comes on stage and asks the maid (who is outside the house) to announce him to the owner. (The maid, incidentally was played by 90 year old Diana Payne-Myers) 

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The front of the house unfolds and we see a dining room with several people bunched around a table. A set of stairs is brought up and attached to the floor of the house. Eventually everyone comes down to the stage level where the inspector questions them about the suicide of a young woman.

At first each denies knowing her but finally confesses to the knowledge. Guilt is rife on stage.

I began to feel that I was watching a new translation of a medieval 'Morality Play'. The Inspector in the role of God and the family the sinners. In the end, after the Inspector leaves, they all go at each other with accusations and admit to knowing the girl.

In a dramatic stage effect, the house tips forward crashing everything from the table to the stage floor, denoting, I guess, the collapse of the family. I wondered if they break a new set of dishes each performance or simply place the shards on the table after each performance.

Years ago, the second play I ever directed was Everyman, the German morality place that is still performed each year in Garmisch. It had a similar message.

The cast seemed fine in their roles but I couldn't quite get involved in what seemed an artificial premise. Old age, I guess!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

A Chicago Miracle!

Last night, in freezing weather, David and I braved the cold to hear Jane Glover and the Music of the Baroque perform a miracle.

It was Mozart's Serenade No. 10 in B Flat Major. This work is comprised of seven movements and was played by a virtuosic ensemble of woodwinds, horns, and a double bass.

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Watching Ms. Glover shape each musical phrase and hearing this amazing ensemble fulfill each measure following her amazing leadership is a joy! She reminds me of what was once said when a critic was asked what made Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler such an unbelievable pianist. He replied 'She's a witch!'

And a good one!

My piano teacher, Carolyn Willard, studied with Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler.

The way Mozart uses the various instruments in different groupings and the brilliance of the writing is witchlike, as well. One's ear is drawn right into the work and one experiences incredible delight.

In other words I loved every moment! 

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It's a hard act to follow and the Piano Concerto No. 27 in B Flat Major as performed by Angela Hewitt didn't quite make it. It's not my favorite concerto and Ms. Hewitt will never be my favorite pianist. She plays with a dry sort of sound that sometimes is lost in the orchestration. Her fingers work fine; good runs and the occasional burst of sound, but, to my taste, not world class playing.

But the Serenade was worth braving the icy cold.

On our drive home on Lake Shore Drive, a car in front of us did a 180 on the ice and wound up facing us. A large truck that was sanding the road did a similar maneuver, both of them crashing into the wall at the side of the road. Somehow we got around them and arrived home safely.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

La Bohème

Last night David and I saw Chicago Lyric's production of Puccini's La Bohème. This would never be my favorite production of this opera for various reasons.

The cast were all strong singers but were hampered by poor stage direction and impossible scenery. 

Zachery Nelson as Marcello, Michael Fabiano sang the role of Rodolfo, Adrian Sampetrean was Colline, Ricardo Jose Rivera was Schaunard, Maria Agresta was Mimi and Danielle de Niese was Musetta.

My favorite production of this opera was one I saw at the Met years ago. Mimi was sung by Dorothy Kirsten, one of the most beautiful voices and beautiful women to grace the operatic stage. Ms. Agresta doesn't begin to match this kind of singing. Possibly no one does. 

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Kirsten made her debut at the Met in 1945 and sang there for the next thirty years. She was in her sixties when I heard her heart-breaking Mimi. There is an amazing recording of her on You Tube singing 'Depuis le jour' at age 71. It's worth listening to!

Last night's staging and sets bothered me. The garret in Acts one and four was about as minimal as could be. Mimi had to die lying on the floor.

Act two was a mish mosh of three separate sets that filled the stage forcing the large cast and chorus to hug the footlights. It was often difficult to find the principals in this setting.

In Act three the stage director had a tall male standing with his back to the audience completely blocking Mimi, who was singing at the time. Really dumb stagecraft.

The opera got rave reviews in Chicago papers. Maybe I'm just too old- or the Chicago reviewers have never heard Ms. Kirsten or seen another production of the opera. It would be good if they did this!