What posts have people come to Operatoonity.com to read most? Since Operatoonity.com just passed its four-year anniversary, I thought it was time to trot out some sexy stats for y’all.
In the last four years, I’ve created 388 posts and logged more than 3.4 million visitors on this site! Not too shabby, eh?
Since I use WordPress, I can also corroborate the most popular posts using my analytics plugin and a nifty report that WordPress sends me each year.
#1 best opera singers in the world today – male persuasion 42 COMMENTS
#2 best opera singers in the world today – female persuasion 45 COMMENTS
#3 today’s top tenors 48 COMMENTS
#4 100 greatest operas . . . really? 7 COMMENTS
#5 Puccini’s best opera? 21 COMMENTS
(Funny thing about the “Best Opera Singers” lists. I created them because I couldn’t find any up-to-date lists online to blog about.)
A goal for 2015 is to update some of my “Best Singers” lists, taking into account all the suggestions in readers’ comments. A lot can change in five years, even in the opera world though I can say, categorically, Roberto Alagna belonged on my original list.
Not convinced? Then you need to watch this aria:
Opertoonity.com Review: “Two by Victor Herbert”
March 22, 2014
Presented by Concert Operetta Theater, Philadelphia, PA
Composer Victor Herbert is perhaps best known (and only known?) for his two-act operetta Naughty Marietta. As the Concert Operetta Theater of Philadelphia (COT) demonstrated this past weekend, they are keenly aware of dozens of other Herbert’s works–operettas, revues, musical comedies, and songplay because they have been presenting these pieces for years, most recently with their 2012 program Thine Alone! The Music of Victor Herbert.
So faithful patrons gathered at the Academy of Vocal Arts in downtown Philadelphia were primed for Two by Victor Herbert, ready for lush melodies and intricate harmonies and, dare I say, toe tappers?
And they most likely were startled to hear the first piece on the bill–Madeleine, a lyric opera in one act that had a very limited run of six performances at the Metropolitan Opera when it premiered in 1914. Definitely not a toe tapper.
The storyline, based on a French play, is droll: it recounts the disappointment of Madeleine Fleury, an opera prima donna who can’t persuade anyone who cares about her to dine with her on New Year’s Day. Yes, that sums up the plot. And yes, it is hard to take her chagrin seriously. If the opera is so dated as to be hard to appreciate, why not let it wither on the vine? Why resurrect it at all?
If Artistic and Executive Director Daniel Pantano can assemble a cast of talented singers and musicians like he did, well, why not resurrect it? Yes, this Herbert opera was panned in its time and cast off as a thinly-veiled Strauss for the excited and fragmentary manner in which it was written. But poor-man’s Strauss is not such a bad thing, is it? Some of the orchestration was sheerly lovely.
Also, Madeleine offered a splendid showcase for voices, particularly female voices. Soprano Jessica Lenick as Madeleine sang an inspired “O Perfect Day,” turning in a commendable performance overall, though she occasionally strained to hit some of the opera’s high notes. Soprano Christina Chenes was a delight from her first steps on the tiny stage. Chenes has a warm quality to her soprano that wraps around the listener like a velvet shawl. Jonas Hacker and Paul Corujo sang solidly as Francois Duc d’Esterre and Didier, respectively, earning accolades of their own.
But ultimately the show belongs to Madeleine and, at least in this performance, perhaps the musical director and pianist Tim Ribchester as well, who together with violinist Philip Kates, played the opera as if it had been lain across their hearts to render well. On the whole, Madeleine was a good effort.
Much more to my liking, and the rest of the audience’s apparently, was the second-half of the bill, a pocket opera called Cyrano de Bergerac, based, of course, on the famous French play by Rostand, never before performed in Philadelphia. When it premiered on Broadway in 1899, it was criticized as being nothing more than a burlesque of the original play, but 21st century audiences found it delightful. Here was the Victor Herbert we knew and loved for his lilting and stirring melodies bolstered by a clever new libretto by Alyce Mott of the Victor Herbert Source.
Number after number was delightful, from Roxanne’s lament “I Must Marry a Handsome Man” to Christian’s big number “The King’s Musketeer” to the utterly winning company number “Cyrano’s Nose.” The famous balcony scene when Cyrano feeds Christian with sweet nothings to woo Roxanne was so cleverly composed. And it wasn’t just novel composition on the page. It worked in performance, too.
Mezzo-soprano Evelyn Rossow sang beautifully as the impetuous Roxanne, distant cousin to Cyrano. She had the uncanny talent of appearing sweet and sultry at the same time.
However, my favorites in this half of the bill were Brian Ming Chu as the homely Cyrano and Jonas Hacker as the handsome Christian.
Ming Chu, a baritone, was appropriately cheeky and debonair and sang with resonance and power. The operetta is not as broadly comic as other more contemporary versions of the story, and he brought just the right sensibility to the Cyrano needed in this production.
Hacker, a first-year resident artist at the Academy of Vocal Arts, was simply a marvel. His strong tenor–a spinto–carried to the rafters. He has stage presence in spades.
All three leads blended to splendid effect throughout. Robert Finkenaur was appropriately oily as Comte de Guiche. Melissa Dunphy guided the audience through a great deal of exposition for a pocket opera with style and class.
COT’s interpretation of Cyrano de Bergerac was a great effort, from the first notes of the overture played by a gifted quintet under the baton of Tim Ribchester to the curtain call that everyone clapped along to.
Philly is chock full of musical talent–vocalists and musicians, a magnet for seasoned professionals and exceptional students alike. How wonderful that Concert Operetta Theater provides another showcase to appreciate all their gifts.
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COT’s 2014 season continues next on May 17 & 18 with My Vienna, the music of Emmerich Kálmán and Franz Lehár, sung in English and German. More information is available at 215-389-0648.
When Operatoonity.com last spoke with American tenor James Valenti, he was learning the tango for The Dream of Valentino, a new production for Minnesota Opera.
Now, fresh from portraying the silent film star and marquee idol Rudolph Valentino, James enthusiastically reports that he has mastered the dance that Argentina put on the map. (Let’s hope Valentino comes east soon, so that we, too, can witness his ballroom dancing prowess. If like me, curiosity has gotten the better of you, you can watch James tangoing in this YouTube clip.)
In less than two weeks, he opens in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Madama Butterfly, which seemed like an ideal opportunity to catch up with him.
Welcome back to Operatoonity.com, James. You’re back in NYC to prepare for singing Lt. Pinkerton for four productions on April 4, 9. 12 & 15.
It’s always exciting being close to home. I get to see a lot of my old friends–my high school friends–and of course my family.
How are you preparing for your imminent Met appearance?
I’ve seen the Minghella production, and I just sang the role for Lyric Opera in Chicago this past fall. In fact I’ve sung the role many times. Of course, every theater has a different way they operate. Sometimes withe European companies, you don’t even get an orchestra rehearsal. I feel as though I have sufficient preparation time prior to that April 4 opening at the Met.
How are you different from the young artist who sang Pinkerton in 2008, when you won New York City Opera’s Debut Artist of the Year award?
I certainly feel differently. I have been working on a new dramatic repertoire, singing more lyric-spinto. My voice now takes on new colors. I got to sing Don Carlo and Valentino–Valentino was a milestone in my career, and I really grew a lot. So I am excited to bring my new technique to the role. I have a new way of singing, and I hope that I have a huge success and get invited back for the next ten years.
You sing a great deal of classic opera. Do you prefer more traditional versions or lean toward experimental interpretations?
Definitely more of a traditionalist. However, Anthony Minghella’s production is rather modern, and it works. The little boy character is actually a puppet. Puppeteers wearing black will be onstage manipulating him. This choice was controversial when Minghella first introduced it. But I have to say, it’s a stunning interpretation.
Will you have much down time while you’re in New York?
Certainly, I’ll have enough time to see other performances at the Met when I am not rehearsing or performing. I definitely want to see Werther and Andrea Chénier.
Any other fun things you plan on doing while you’re in the Big Apple?
There’s so much going on here. Great restaurants. I’ll do things in Central Park once it gets a little warmer. I love going to those nice hotel spas. I like to let loose a little, too.
Besides a good tango, how do you kick up your heels?
My high school friends and I head to Koreatown for a little karaoke. I like singing stuff from the 80s, like “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi and a lot of Journey hits like “Don’t Stop Believing.” I sing a lot of Billy Joel, too. I love all his music, dating back to his earliest album Cold Spring Harbor.
According to the the performance schedule on your website, you are getting a little break this summer. Any special plans?
I’m taking a little time off to record my first CD. All Italian and French music that will probably be available around August 1. You’ll definitely be hearing more about that project. But this is the beauty of my life. I’m not married. I don’t have children. I don’t have anything tying me down that keeps me from picking up and going to Europe. I still get to fly by the seat of my pants.
(And, to conclude, an Operatoonity Q&A staple) The Lightning Round
Cheesesteak or Cheesecake? Cheesecake (with ricotta, the Italian way)
Jeans or khakis? Jeans
Sweater or sweatshirt? Sweater
Dogs or cats? Dogs
Spaghetti or lasagne? Lasagne
House of Pizza or House of Cards? House of Cards
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You can follow James on Twitter @James_Valenti or become his Facebook fan at https://www.facebook.com/jamesvalentitenor, where he regularly posts content and photos from around the world.
Opertoonity.com Review: Dialogues of the Carmelites
March 9, 2014
Presented by Curtis Opera Theatre, in association with Opera Philadelphia and Kimmel Center Presents
The Perelman Theater, Philadelphia
Voices carry, the saying goes. But can they carry an entire production?
Several of the young voices representing the Curtis Opera Theatre program tasked to sing The Dialogues of the Carmelites at Philadelphia’s famed Kimmel Center were nothing of short of extraordinary. But expecting them to carry a show when the staging and other production elements lacked cohesiveness was asking too much.
The Curtis Symphony Orchestra led by conductor Corrado Rovaris played Francis Poulenc’s capstone opera heroically. Alas, even supremely talented musicians couldn’t rescue a flawed show.
That’s because theater is part of opera. It’s even in the company’s name—Curtis Opera Theatre. If staging, lights, sets, and costumes aren’t as strong as the voices and the orchestra, the whole production suffers. Theatrical elements shouldn’t supersede the voices (and we’ve all seen those operas), but they must inform and lift up the integrity of the whole work.
The selection of Carmelites as the next offering at the Perelman Theater held all the promise for a stunning production. It was the right size show for the space—a 650-seat venue with a modern affect. Curtis Opera Theatre had august partners in Opera Philadelphia and Kimmel Center Presents. However, the devil is certainly in the details for a nuanced masterwork like Carmelites. Critical artistic choices on which the success of the show hinged handicapped this production.
The show lacked artistic coherence. The stage was annoyingly dark most of the time. To open the show, there were three large avant garde looking set pieces layered on the stage, which left little room for natural movement. Despite the modern design introduced, the first costumes seen were completely in period. Between acts, the big trendy set pieces were removed, leaving only one by the end of the show. In the middle of Act II, folding tables like those used at a flea market were hauled out for the scene featuring all the nuns working and singing, and turquoise-colored fiberglass chairs were set out, like those you might see in a local junior high school classroom. In the middle of this act, French soldiers stormed the convent to terrorize the sisters, but the soldiers wore modern dress, wielding hand guns, looking like a street gang from a rough Philly neighborhood. Why this choice was made—to mash up 18th Century French Revolution with 21st Century Street Gang—was hardly evident to this reviewer.
By casually slipping into the modern period midway through the second act, many in the audience were robbed of the power of story at its core: during the Reign of Terror, the Catholic Church was denounced as an enemy of the Revolution. The Church’s properties were confiscated to fill Revolutionary coffers, and women and men religious were branded as traitors. This included an order of devout Carmelite nuns who refused to renounce their faith and are guillotined in a breathtaking scene at the end of the opera. A modern opera set during a brutal and tumultuous period in history past hardly needs updating to remain meaningful.
As the show progressed, clerics came onstage dressed conventionally and came back wearing modern street clothes. It was also never clear that Blanche returned home to find it ransacked, which informed her decision to choose martyrdom. The final pivotal scene in the opera– the execution of the sisters–was even diminished by its staging. The sisters were executed onstage while facing the audience while customary staging of this scene leaves something more to the imagination, yielding significantly greater dramatic impact.
To sum up, director Jordan Fein (and by association, all the other creatives on the bill) simply missed the mark with this one.
Absent an integrated artistic interpretation, the Curtis students left to bring off the show shone like the future stars they surely will be, very nearly succeeding. Tenor Roy Hage who sang the Chevalier for the closing performance was a magical talent on stage. As Chevalier, his stage time is limited, but his ovation at curtain call was not. In character, he has a luminescent quality about him. His lush lyric tenor enraptured the audience.
Also commendable was soprano Rachel Sterrenberg as Blanche, Chevalier’s sister, who grows up in privilege but abandons it for a life of servitude with the Carmelites. She began a little stiffly in the first act. Once she shed the cumbersome period panniers for a simple nun’s habit, she warmed to her role, becoming a powerhouse by Act III. This was despite some illogical staging that was highly distracting to audience members-yes, a fifth wall was introduced.
Show-stealing honors must go to soprano Sarah Shafer as Sister Constance. Shafer is a gifted actress, and her voice was ideally suited to the role of the novitiate with a lighthearted, readily excitable manner.
As Mme. de Croissy, mezzo Shir Rozzen needed a bed for her death scene but was denied that simple set piece which would have helped tame her character who could only bust out all over the stage singing her dying aria.
Did the careless direction detract from Poulenc’s masterful score? Unfortunately it did, which might be the single worst shortcoming of this production, that it lacked a proper showcase for a seminal work.
Kudos to all the performers and musicians–you tried valiantly to carry this production. But in a perfect opera world, you shouldn’t have to do all the heavy lifting.
by Gale Martin