Category Archives: Bel canto opera

Donizetti operas — ‘Lucia’ plus three score more

'Lucia di Lammermoor' --Operatoonity readers favorite Donizetti

Editor’s Note:  Today’s Golden Operatoonity repost is in celebration of the anniversary of the Premiere of  Donizetti ‘s Lucia di Lammermoor, on September 26, 1835, in Naples, Italy.

In this century, it’s generally agreed upon that only a dozen of Donizetti’s operas are worth producing. Arguably some people would quibble with even that figure. According to the Donizetti poll I posted yesterday, Operatoonity readers favor Lucia di Lammermoor.  Some opera fans I know consider Lucia not only their favorite Donizetti, but their all-time favorite opera.

According to one of Opera Pulse’s polls, in which I voted, Lucia is also the second best opera character to be for Halloween (she was my first choice). I also had a blast writing about Lucia on this blog last June. Whoever schedules Lucia during the most popular marrying month in North America must have a wicked sense of humor. Don’t expect to see Lucia on the cover of Bride Magazine anytime soon.

After one of my readers mentioned that some of Donizetti’s lesser known operas featured some of the silliest plots ever, I decided to give them a look-see. According to The Penguin Opera Guide, Donizetti wrote 65 operas in total. Other sites say 60. Sixty operas? Verdi wrote half that many. True, most of Verdi’s works endure today where as only one-fifth of Donizetti’s works are regularly produced. But 60? That’s a lotta opera!

Did any other composer write as much as Donizetti? Apparently, depending on how you define opera, several composers are credited with more than 100 each, one surpassing 250, but how many composers whose work is produced today? Good question. Donizetti would have to be right up there.

According to Bachtrack’s 2010 League Tables, Donizetti ranked 7th of composers with most opera performances worldwide with 240 after Verdi with 824, Mozart  with 771, Puccini  with 681, Wagner  with 273, Rossini  with 259, and Richard Strauss 246. More Strauss than Donizetti?  A surprising statistic, per moi.

I can’t say which of the following Donizetti works are so silly they aren’t worth producing, but I can tell you which one would drive the marketing department crazy:  Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali   Just how do you fit that title onto a poster?

Anyhoo, here’s one list of his complete works:


* L’ajo nell’imbarazzo
* Alahor in Granata
* Alfredo il grande
* Alina, regina di Golconda
* L’ange de Nisida
* Anna Bolena
* L’assedio di Calais


* Belisario
* Betly


* Il campanello
* Il castello di Kenilworth
* Caterina Cornaro (opera)
* Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali


* Il diluvio universale
* Dom Sébastien
* Don Gregorio (opera)
* Don Pasquale
* Le duc d’Albe


 * L’elisir d’amore
 * Elvida
* Emilia di Liverpool
* Enrico di Borgogna
* L’esule di Roma


* Fausta (opera)
* La favorite
* La fille du régiment
* Francesca di Foix
* Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo


* Gabriella di Vergy
* Gemma di Vergy
* Gianni di Calais
* Gianni di Parigi


* Il giovedì grasso
* Imelda de’ Lambertazzi


 * Linda di Chamounix
* Lucia di Lammermoor
* Lucrezia Borgia (opera)


* Maria de Rudenz
* Maria di Rohan
* Maria Padilla
* Maria Stuarda
* Marino Faliero (opera)


* Olivo e Pasquale
* Otto mesi in due ore


 * Parisina (opera)
* Pia de’ Tolomei
* Pietro il grande
* Il Pigmalione
* Poliuto


 * Rita (opera)
* Roberto Devereux
* La romanzesca e l’uomo nero
* Rosmonda d’Inghilterra


 * Sancia di Castiglia


 * Torquato Tasso (opera)


* Ugo, conte di Parigi
* Una follia


* La zingara
* Zoraida di Granata


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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Audience participation, Bel canto opera, Classical Composers, Golden Operatoonity, North American Opera, Poll

have you read ‘Bel Canto’?

Editor’s Note: Since I will soon be publishing my own opera novel, I thought I’d repost a review of a very fine, award-winning opera novel.

I don’t do many book reviews on “Operatoonity,” but since we are featuring North American opera this month, I wanted to mention a beautiful read by a North American author that employs classic opera as a backdrop. 

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

The book is called Bel Canto, and for me it was a life-changing read. Bel Canto is a highly acclaimed novel by Ann Patchett that bridges literary and suspense writing. It won both the Orange Prize for fiction and also the Pen/Faulkner Award in 2002. An opera motif is a major thematic thread in the story. 

As you most likely know, “Bel canto” is a term from opera that refers to a style of singing that emphasizes beautiful tone, good phrasing, and a clean articulation of words, popularized in the 19th Century in Europe. 

More than any other single work, his book conveyed to me the importance that opera holds in some people’s lives. Granted, that could be because I’m a writer, and I respond to the language of words before the language of music. 

If you don’t know the book, here’s what it’s about:  

Bel Canto revolves around a famous opera singer who is taken hostage by local insurgents while singing at a private birthday party for a Japanese businessman. The siege takes place in the home of the vice president of an unstable South American country. The kidnappers’ plan is foiled from the beginning—their target—the president of the country is a no-show; he decided not to attend the party after all. So the guerrillas make a list of demands, which neither the police nor the government intend to meet—none of the hostages are very valuable, except for the opera singer. 

This is a character-driven piece of literary fiction with a strong plot. The inciting incident, the siege, is a riveting plot point, setting the stage for deep character development. The end is also gripping. What’s interesting about this book is that language is always in the foreground—that’s what makes it literary. The author doesn’t care whether the reader has any knowledge of opera in building the story—it’s only used as a tool for developing character and plot. 

Bel Canto does an exquisite job conveying there are people around the world with a fervent, even reverent love for opera—that the human voice is a powerful seductress and may be the best and the finest instrument in the world as “played” by some. That listeners have a deep and visceral connection with opera. That certain composers and arias can awaken things in the human soul that other forms of art cannot. And of course, opera celebrates the human voice. No one comes to the opera primarily to hear the orchestra. Opera is also an acquired taste, and I like the way Ann Patchett showed how these characters acquired their love for opera, when it applied, and what about opera and opera singers other characters less familiar with opera came to love. 

If you haven’t read the book and you enjoy both an engrossing read and classic opera, you absolutely must put it on your reading list.


Filed under Bel canto opera, Classic Opera, North American Opera, Opera fiction

Spanish tenor Albelo replaces JDF in Bellini’s ‘I Puritani’

Celso Albelo replacing JDF in 'I Puritani' this month

Tenor Celso Albelo will travel to Japan this week to take the lead role in the opera I Puritani  vacated by Juan Diego Flórez.

According to his website, Flórez broke a small blood vessel on a vocal cord after swallowing some sea water which is not a serious injury but does preclude him from singing.

Albelo will be touring Japan with the Bologna Teatro Comunale alongside Italian soprano Desirée Rancatore.

The production, written by the quintessential composer of bel canto opera Vincenzo Bellini, will be directed by Pier’Alli and conducted by Michele Mariotti. It will premiere at the Biwako Hall in Otsu on September 11 then on to the Bunka Kaikan in Tokyo for two performances on the 17th and 21st.

Albelo’s tour of Japan precedes a season of European debuts including  performances with the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London (La Sonnambula), the ABAO in Bilbao, (Spain, L’elisir d’amore) and the Valencian Palau de les Arts (Spain, Thäis).

Celso Albelo in I Puritani / photo c. P. Stanzione

Other upcoming performances include a return to Tokyo to give a concert and a trip to Tel Aviv to perform Rossini’s Stabat Mater, as well as returning to La Fenice in
Venice, also with Elisir d’amore.

* * *

For more information about Celso Albelo, visit his website, available in three languages.


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Filed under Bel canto opera, opera news, Performers

up close & personal with tenor René Barbera, 2011 Operalia triple-winner

Bel canto tenor René Barbera, 2011 Operalia triple-prize-winner

On July 24, 2011, two days after his mother’s birthday, American tenor René Barbera made Operalia history in Moscow, becoming the first male performer to win three prizes in the world’s most prestigious competition for young opera singers. What an extraordinary achievement!

(What a fabulous birthday present for any mom, anywhere in the world!)

After all the prizes had been distributed, René had won first in opera, first in zarzuela, and first in the audience prize. He’s still getting used to the feel of a Rolex on his wrist. (That’s the audience prize by the way–a shiny new Rolex watch.)

If you’ve seen the YouTube video of the Operalia Awards ceremony, René looks unbelievably calm and collected, like he was born to compete internationally. The real story is that he was having a hard time understanding who’d won what–because the winners were announced so quickly and in multiple languages. When no one else stepped  forward, he realized he’d won, he explained in a recent phone interview.

Quite an accomplishment for someone just 27-years-old and a serious student of opera for only five years.

As a third-year member of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center, he is swiftly establishing himself as a young artist on the rise. He triumphed as Tonio in The Daughter . . . of the Regiment for Opera Theatre of St. Louis.

“Tenor René Barbera…has a thrilling voice…His account of ‘Ah! mes amis’ the one with the famous nine high Cs, was tossed off with such apparent ease that some might wonder what all the fuss is about.”–St. Louis Post-Dispatch

He is a 2008 winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and was a member of the San Francisco Opera’s prestigious Merola Opera Program that same year. He studied at the North Carolina School of the Arts from 2004 – 2008 and further studies include the the American Institute of Vocal Arts in Graz, Austria, and the Vocal Arts Symposium of Colorado Springs.

Welcome to Operatoonity, René!

René, wearing a logo jacket of his favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys

Can you tell me a little about your childhood (did you grow up in San Antonio?), how you grew up, and how it affected your decision to become a classically trained singer?
I was born in Laredo, Texas.  I lived there for nine years where I took piano lessons for a good bit of time.  I moved to San Antonio at 9 and my third grade teacher attached a sticky note telling the music teacher of my next school to get me into choir because she thought I had a pretty singing voice.  (We used to sing the national anthem daily if I recall correctly).  I grew up with one brother who was 10 years older than me.

My parents were both teachers and were always very supportive of any decisions I made.  I remember being told at a very early age that they will love me no matter what I decide to do with my life and will support me as long as it makes me happy.

When I auditioned for the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) I had planned on majoring in education as I wanted to be a high school choir director.  My choir director in high school, Gordon Ivers, was a great influence.  He pushed me to keep singing and never told me to hold back. always wanted me to sing more and sing out.  I’ve found that to be pretty uncommon among choral directors.  He has always been and remains a very supportive friend.  After my audition at UTSA some of the voice faculty suggested I change my major to performance . . .  I thought to myself, “Why not . . . let’s see what this is all about?”  Turned out to be  Opera. Who knew!

After struggling to wrap my head around the idea, I dropped out of UTSA and moved to Colorado to live with my brother and find work while I figured out what to do with my life.  Eventually I ended up at the North Carolina School of the Arts (again largely because of how supportive my family was and continues to be) where I studied for 4 years before starting my career as a young artist.

René Barbera, competing at Operalia, from the Operalia FB page

You were invited to compete in Plácido Domingo’s Operalia in 2011, representing the US. How did that invitation come about?

The application process is fairly simple.  I sent an application form along with a CD with 2 recordings (if I remember correctly) and waited.  I received the email on April 1st letting me know that I was officially invited to participate in Operalia 2011

How was your Operalia experience—the first ever winner of opera, zarzuela and audience prize? All high points? Any low points (nerves, catering, whatever)?
I had a great time at Operalia. I made some great friends and some excellent connections.  Being the first ever winner of all three prizes was pretty spectacular and VERY unexpected!  Mostly high points. I was disappointed with my semi-final round performance . . . I didn’t feel that I sang my best and, as a result, felt that I wouldn’t be going on to the finals.

Your impressions of Moscow? Of Plácido Domingo? Of the competition?
Moscow is a lovely city with some seemingly nice people.  I don’t speak the language but never ran into trouble with people being frustrated or impatient with me.  Domingo is truly a great man who has done and is still doing so much for the opera world.  He is truly trying to help the young singers of the world in any way he can and I am thrilled to have made a connection with him.  The competition itself is incredible.  The level of talent this year was unbelievable. The prizes truly could have gone to any one of the singers that were there!

René Barbera, The Girl of the Golden West, Chicago Lyric Opera c. Dan Rest

You’ve just won Operalia. What are you going to do next?
I’m going to Disneyland!  Okay . . . kidding.  I’m going to finish up my final year with the Ryan Opera Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and then I’m off to the races with some outside gigs.  Starting with Barber of Seville in Vancouver and Gianni Schicchi in Toronto.  After that… we’ll see!

What has been the greatest thrill in your career thus far? Greatest challenge?
Operalia is certainly way up there.  I don’t know that I can choose one thing . . . singing Nemorino for the student matinees at the Lyric Opera was incredible and getting to sing my first leading role ever (Tonio in Daughter of the Regiment) at Opera Theater of St. Louis was definitely up there.  Greatest challenge has to be the distance from my friends and family back home and dealing with how little I get to see them.  Also missing being the best man at my best friend’s wedding a few years back and missing my grandfather’s funeral.  We have to sacrifice a lot in this business.

Singing in Millennium Park 2009 / c. Robert Kusel

Do you have any favorites? Composer? Opera? Role? Venue?
I’m quite fond of Donizetti and lately have found myself really liking Rossini! Favorite Opera though . . .  really is anything I’m currently doing!  (might be strange to say that)  I LOVE Nemorino . . . such a great character.  The Lyric Opera of Chicago has to be my favorite venue . . . it is home to me after all of this time.

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your professional bio?
People who know me know this but I am a motorcycle rider.  I’ve been riding for a year now and really enjoy it!

Where can we see you in 2011-12? (A few gigs)
I will be singing Arturo in Lucia and Brighella in Ariadne auf Naxos at the Lyric followed by Barber of Seville in Vancouver and Gianni Schicchi  with the Canadian Opera Company Toronto.

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You can learn more about René at his website. You can also “like” him on his Facebook page. Here is the link to his winning performance in Operalia.


Filed under Bel canto opera, Best of Operatoonity, Interviews, Opera Awards, opera milestones, Performers, tenors

today’s top tenors

I put the task off until today. But since it’s the last day of Talented Tenors month, it was now or never.

(It being the list of top tenors singing today.)

Strangely, there’s lots of information on the best tenors of yesteryear. Just not the best tenors performing today. What’s the cause of that? Recordings, I suppose, are infinitely more accessible than live opera performance though I much prefer to see them and hear them.

These singers range in age from 38 (Juan Diego Flórez, the youngest) to age 70 (Plácido Domingo, the oldest). Apart from Domingo, there’s no more than ten years’ difference in the ages of the other tenors selected. This is important because it presumes a requisite level of experience and exposure that can only be gained over years of time, which is why there are no twenty-somethings on this list.

So, in alphabetical order here they are–the best tenors in the world–today.

Roberto Alagna

Roberto Alagna — born June 7, 1963, a French operatic tenor of Sicilian descent. He made his professional debut in 1988 as Alfredo Germont in ‘La Traviata’ with the Glyndebourne Opera touring company. His performances as Romeo in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Covent Garden in 1994 catapulted him to international stardom.

Marcelo Álvarez

Marcelo Álvarez — born February 27, 1962, an Argentine lyric tenor. He achieved international success starting in the mid-1990s, his first role being Count Almaviva in “The Barber of Seville” by Rossini in Córdoba in June 1994. Four years later, he debuted at the Metropolitan Opera La Traviata in the role of Alfredo.

Plácido Domingo

Plácido Domingo — born January 21, 1941, a Spanish tenor and conductor.  His launch into international stardom occurred in February 1966, when he sang the title role in the U.S. premiere of Ginastera‘s Don Rodrigo for New York City Opera. In March 2008, he debuted in his 128th opera role, and as of July 2011 his 136 roles give Domingo more roles than any other tenor.

Juan Diego Flórez

Juan Diego Flórez — born January 13, 1973,  a Peruvian operatic tenor, particularly known for his roles in bel canto operas. Flórez’s first breakthrough and professional debut came in 1996, at the Rossini Festival in the Italian city of Pesaro, Rossini’s birthplace.

Jonas Kaufmann

Jonas Kaufmann — born July 10, 1969,  a German tenor, particularly known for his spinto roles. He was a prize-winner at the 1993 Nürnberg Meistersinger Competition. One of his breakout roles occurred with the 2003 Salzburg Festival for the role of Belmonte in Mozart’s “Die Entführung aus dem Serail.” Another significant step in his career came about in February of 2006 with his début as Alfredo in “La Traviata” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, at the invitation of James Levine.

Rolando Villazón

Rolando Villazón —  born February 22, 1972, a Mexican tenor. He came to international attention in 1999 when he won both first prizes awarded in Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, an international competition for emerging opera singers – in opera and zarzuela. He made his European debut that same year as Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon in Genoa. swiftly followed by further debuts at Opéra de Paris as Alfredo in La traviata; and the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin as Macduff in Verdi’s Macbeth.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing both Álvarez and Flórez at the Met in the last year and seeing Domingo conduct a beautiful Butterfly at WNO. I sincerely hope to see Alagna, Kaufmann, and Villazón in the near future.

What say you? Would these singers be on your list of top tenors?


Filed under 21st Century Opera, Bel canto opera, Opera Awards, Performers, Sunday Best, tenors