Category Archives: Character from DEVILED BY DON

meet the soubrette, a stock soprano role

Soubrette is wonderful word I was introduced to last year from the world of opera. A term associated with stock characters in the performing arts/theater world, a soubrette is a minor female role in comedy, often that of a pert or flirtacious lady’s maid [from the French for maidservant, from Provençal soubreto]. A soubrette can also be a country maid or a character with beguiling country innocence, as illustrated in the accompanying painting. Soubrettish is the adjective form.

When I first heard soubrette, it reminded me of coquette, another word for a flirtatious girl or woman, that I was introduced to through the literary world–perhaps from reading Regency romance, but I’ve since forgotten. 

Soubrette by Depouilly

 The difference is that soubrette is more of a character type, just like an ingenue, the cad, or a romantic lead.

Famous soubrette roles in opera include Papagena from The Magic Flute, Adina in The Elixer of Love, Susanna from The Marriage of Figaro, and Zerlina, in Don Giovanni, which happen to be some of the most popular and entertaining soprano roles around and certainly have to be fun to play.

In my opera book, the character who wants the role of Zerlina is a soubrette herself–the pert, yet virginal type. This character, Oriane, who is twenty-nine when the story begins, whines that if she doesn’t get to sing Zerlina, she’ll be too old to play it when the next role comes around, which could be five years later. Many companies don’t repeat productions inside five years.

There is some truth to her complaint. A young singer may begin her career as a soubrette, but as she ages and her voice matures she may be reclassified as another voice type, such as a light lyric soprano. A singer rarely remains a soubrette for an entire career. Although in watching video productions of stage performances of Don Giovanni, I noticed a few Zerlinas who were too long in the tooth and wide in the waist to portray a pert country maid. More like madams, they were, IMHO.

So, Oriane is being mostly truthful when she claims that if she doesn’t get the role at twenty-nine, her voice might never be suited to the role of the soubrette again. What she neglects to mention is that she’ll now be eligible for different roles because of the mature timbre of her voice.

Here’s a You-Tube clip of the very famous seduction duet between Giovanni and Zerlina, “La ci darem la mano.” While the Giovanni is in fine (if heavy) voice, for my taste, he’s too old and oily to be very convincing as a seducer of woman of all ages–strictly my opinion. Zerlina is capably sung. Even though she’s clearly middle aged, her voice retains the proper timbre for a soubrette. By contrast, their are many, many YouTube clips of Zerlinas who need to put themselves out to pasture because their voices and bodies are too mature. I also chose this version of “La si darem la mano,” because it skips the recitative and gets right into the song. Let me know what you think of Angelika Kirchschlager as Zerlina. Is she a proper Zerlina, IYHO?  

YouTube Preview Image

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biceps that inspired a book . . . and a blog

Erwin Schrott / photo by Decca - Uli Weber

Guess what, sports fans? February is bass-baritone month on “Operatoonity.” And I simply have to kick off the month with the bass-baritone who inspired the book that inspired this blog  one year ago this very month.       

None other than the heart-stopping, jaw dropping, beautiful and talented bass-baritone Erwin Schrott.       

How did I end up writing a book because of Erwin Schrott?       

See, I had been advised by my literary agent (at the time) to write a my next book using classic opera as a backdrop. As I recall, she said, “I can sell it in a heartbeat.”       

Well, that hasn’t exactly happened. But I did write the book.       

But, as any writer can tell you, the problem with all books is how and where to begin. Once I decided that the novel should mirror the story line of Don G, I went looking for inspiration in the form of pictures, so my mind’s eye could settle in on a prototype of the man singing the role of  Don G for my small town opera company. That’s when I found this picture of Erwin Schrott. And as you might have guessed, my imagination raced to Alpha Centauri and back. Truly, my life hasn’t been the same since I laid eyes on this photograph of Erwin Schrott.     

Were these the biceps that launch’d three hundred pages
To scorch the world of blogs and books
Sweet Erwin, make me immortal with a flex.
        

If I said the book wrote itself I’d be lying, but I did flesh out a major character and made up a whole back story about my baritone who was a gaucho in Argentina discovered crooning to his cattle and went on to win an international singing competition called (what else?) “Operatoonity,” a victory that thrust him into the international opera circuit.       

At the time I wrote the book, I didn’t know a lot of details about Mr. Schrott. I hadn’t needed to know much. I saw his picture–it captured my imagination faster and more intently than a capable gaucho ropes a steer, and I wrote a book. It was almost as simple as that.       

Of course, that mean inventing many details about his life before my Erwin Schrott character became an opera singer  but especially while he was an up-and-coming talent –those really were the most fun concocting.       

If I hadn’t written a book about an opera company who begins turning into the characters in Don Giovanni, I would never had need for this blog.       

And if I’d never seen this picture of Mr. Schrott, who knows what my book would have been about? Probably an adaptation of Falstaff. Instead of having a “barihunk” to capture my reader’s interest, I’d have spent my writing time with an overweight bulbous-nosed, drunken gas bag filling my head, page in and page out, day in and day out.       

Now you can understand why I owe Erwin Schrott such a great debt.

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ask Richard about National Opera Week

Dear Richard,  

My sister-in-law said National Opera Week begins on October 29.  Here’s my problem. I’m going to be traveling out to see her that week, with stops in Pittsburgh; Columbus, Ohio; Quincy, Illinois; and finally, heading back toward Cincinatti, early on the 7th. What’s worth stopping for along the way?  

Alice in Altoona  

Dr. Richard Rohrer, self-proclaimed opera expert

 

Dear Alice,  

You have hit the jackpot, my dear. Get a load of just some of the fun things you can do in America’s heartland during this celebrated week.  

First stop is on Sunday, October 31 at Pittsburgh Opera Headquarters, 2425 Liberty Avenue,  at 2:00 p.m.  There you can enjoy “Opera Up Close: Lucia di Lammermoor,”  an in-depth look at the music and story of Lucia di Lammermoor — with Maestro Walker and a star-studded panel of opera artists. Free and open to the public. No reservations required. More information here.  

Next stop on Thursday, November 4, at Opera Columbus, 11 E. Gay Street, from 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m for Opera’s Greatest Hits at Sugardaddie’s Sumptuous Sweeties. For more information, contact Sarah Rhorer at srhorer@operacolumbus.org or visit www.operacolumbus.org.  

If you’re speedy, next you hightail it over to Quincy Illinois, on Saturday, November 6, to see Muddy River Opera Company’s  “Potpourri of Songs and Roses” at the State Theatre at 434 South 8th Street,  from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Enjoy a  special American Opera Week luncheon, strolling fashion show, entertainment with songs of past operas and musicals, raffle and door prizes.  Tickets are $25. Raffle tickets, which include a one half-hour plane ride over the city and the Mississippi River plus 15 other prizes, are six for $10. For information and tickets, contact abernzen12@gmail.com or 217-242-3829.  

The Turn of the Screw/photo by John Cahill

 

For the last official day of National Opera Week, hustle back to the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music on Sunday, November 7, for the final performance of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw (one of my favorites!) held at the Patricia Corbett Theater on W, Corry St, at Jefferson Avenue, on the UC Campus at 2:30 p.m.  This production is directed by Amanda Consol and conducted by Christopher Allen. Tickets are $15 for General Admission; $10 for non-UC Students (UC Students are free). For information, contact boxoff@uc.edu.  

There you go, Alice. A week jam-packed with opera because these organizations participate in National Opera Week.  

And if any of you, dear readers, want to know what’s on the docket in your neck of the words, you can use the nifty little search engine on the Opera America site to find the complete slate of events–from Alabama to Wisconsin.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Character from DEVILED BY DON, Live opera performance, Opera Marketing

if it’s Tuesday, ask Richard about Pandora . . .

Cut Bank, Montana

Dear Richard,

A co-worker recently told me about a personalized Internet radio service called Pandora that helps you find and hear music based on your favorite composers. Not sure why they called it Pandora, since she opened up a world of trouble. Is it worth investigating? Or nothing more than a world of trouble?

Curious in Cut Bank, Montana

 

Dear Curious,

Funny you should ask about Pandora. I only started using Pandora last month. Despite the name–almost a misnomer–I find it a very agreeable service. Lately, it’s almost impossible to load a whole day’s worth of music on the stereo. Sometimes, I never know what to choose–must be my advanced years creeping up on me.

With Pandora, all I do is plug in the composers I want to hear, and it supplies the artists and orchestras. It’s like getting a gift  you don’t expect,  as they trot out Renata Tebaldi singing Meyerbeer or the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse performing Carmen, which is what I’m listening to right now. I love getting pleasant little surprises throughout my day and not having to fuss whatsoever to obtain them. My dogs and my garden need daily attention, so Pandora is a pleasureable timesaver for me. As long as you don’t exceed forty hours per month, it remains free–perfect for someone on a fixed income or watching their pennies.

I say, give it a try. It’s easy to use and fun to be surprised by a recording you’ve forgotten about.

Sincerely,

Dr. Richard Rohrer

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If it’s Tuesday, ask Richard about ‘Rigoletto’ filmed in Mantua

Dear Richard,            

I’ve  been so excited about the live TV film transmission from Mantua of Giuseppe Verdi‘s  Rigoletto, even though most of us in the States haven’t yet viewed the complete production. I watched one of the trailers prior to the live transmission. It was fantastic, like a microcosm of everything  this production had to offer–vibrancy, relevancy, and such fresh potential–in the way that it filmed opera not as a static stage production but as if it were cinema. Shooting a stage production in the conventional way would have been child’s play compared to the ambitious treatment of Rigoletto a Manatova. So, why are people who claim to like opera picking at this production like it’s a Thanksgiving turkey carcass? This was a watershed production for opera appreciation in the 21st century. It is living, breathing musical drama, dramma per musica, that has the potential to reach new audiences. Why aren’t people who say they love opera supporting this?            

Upset in Upsala            

Dr. Richard Rohrer

 

Dear Upset,          

I understand and share your concern. After all, some of the most accomplished and influential talents in the world of opera are associated with this production such as Plácido Domingo, internationally acclaimed performer and WNO principal; Andrea Alderman, producer; Marco Bellocchio, director; Zubin Mehta, conductor; and dozens  more talented and accomplished artisans. As the Classical Iconoclast has said in a recent essay on the production, “[Rigoletto a Montova]  is significant because it shows the possibilities of film in expanding the potential of opera to communicate.”            

I observed some of the nitpicking you refer to, reading comments posted on various opera blogs: “Zubin Mehta thinks he’s conducting Mahler;” “Grigolo screamed his part,” and so on and so forth, when in fact the production was impressive and nothing short of inspiring, on the whole.  And the whole is supposed to be greater than a sum of parts where drama is concerned. And in this case, the parts served the whole–admirably–despite the myriad challenges of filming live while attempting to convey verisimilitude more so than theatricality. Instead of feeling like I was watching from a box seat, I felt as though I was in the room with the Duke or standing beside Rigoletto in the thunderstorm.      

Unfortunately, so many conventional opera companies are hurting–my opera house in Hankey included. By tearing down brave new ventures like “Rigoletto” a Mantova, many self-professed opera lovers/cognoscenti insinuate that they would rather see opera as we know it die on the vine than support live opera  that doesn’t meet their high, unreasonable performance expectations in every piddling way.            

What the  creative team did, filming Rigoletto on site in Mantua, live, was an incredibly daring and artistically brave  and challenging endeavor. In every way that is significant, they succeeded. Promise me, Upset in Upsala, not to bend to the nattering nabobs of negativism in the operasphere but continue to support those who take risks in order to make opera a more accessible and a more relevant art form. If you bend to the naysayers, in less than 20 years, we are all doomed to viewing nothing but long-ago filmed productions, the historic record of a once-beloved live art form.            

Optimistically yours for opera’s future audience,            

Dr. Richard Rohrer            

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