Category Archives: Mozart

Don G. in Philly gets a “B” review: Don Giovanni presented by Opera Philadelphia
Live performance: April 27, 2014
Academy of Music, Philadelphia, PA


Elliot Madore as Don Giovanni and Michelle Johnson as Donna Anna in DON  GIOVANNI at the Academy of Music | Photo by Kelly and Massa

Elliot Madore as Don Giovanni and Michelle Johnson as Donna Anna in DON
GIOVANNI at the Academy of Music | Photo by Kelly and Massa

During Opera Philadelphia’s new production of Don Giovanni, the performers made the grade. Unfortunately, the artistic direction pulled down the class average. Performers = A.  Direction = C. Final grade = B.

An opera is without a doubt music and is nothing when the music is wrong. At the same time, opera must be more than music. Though the period costumes shone and the lighting proved atmospheric, the direction was, well, sloppy. It lacked a clear vision, almost as if it didn’t know what kind of production it wanted to be or why.

I’m not anti-regie, not in the least. I’ve seen an experimental version of Don Giovanni directed by Christopher Alden at New York City Opera and adored it. It was twisted and irreverent but exceedingly carefully and consistent in its execution. Though there were bright and beautiful moments in this production, Nicholas Muni’s direction lapsed into the nonsensical at times, particularly in Act II, when the storytelling needs to be crisp and powerful enough to drive the audience to accept Don Giovanni’s horrific demise. For instance, instead of embarking on a manhunt for Don Giovanni, the characters plumbed their innermost feelings. Then the infamous banquet scene took place in a crypt. Since there were numerous details well attended in Act I, the failure to remove the Commendatore’s mausoleum from the stage for the finale simply confounded this reviewer.

Don Giovanni is a great opera that merits greatness. Producing it is a grave responsibility (pun wholly intended). Seriously folks, doing Don G. nearly warrants the creation of a contract with the audience that a company will do no harm. I was quite disturbed through the first scene of Act I because the overture was too leisurely and almost plodding as it lumbered into Leporello’s first stage appearance. If the tortured pace of the overture weren’t enough to dampen expectations, most of the singers struggled to be heard over a too-loud orchestra initially. Though there were rich voices onstage, they were not particularly big ones except for tenor David Portillo, who possessed plenty of ping.

– David Portillo as Don Ottavio and Amanda Majeski as Donna Elvira in DON  GIOVANNI at the Academy of Music | photo by Kelly and Massa

– David Portillo as Don Ottavio and Amanda Majeski as Donna Elvira in DON
GIOVANNI at the Academy of Music | photo by Kelly and Massa

Usually Don Ottavio is sung by a guy my age, well past his prime, with a *very* mature sound and a milquetoast presence. It was, therefore, such a pleasure seeing a young man sing Don Ottavio for a change, one who is believable when he expresses his deeply felt frustration from being denied love and intimacy with his beloved Donna Anna and whose long-suffering adoration is palpable. Portillo’s voice was strong and beautiful and more nuanced than any Don Ottavio I’ve ever heard, earning him an A+ in my book.

Another A+ performance was turned in by lyric soprano Amanda Majeski as Donna Elvira. Her voice has been tauted as possessing a silvery beauty, and indeed it does. The power and beauty of her tone found ample expression as the scorned Elvira and soared above the occasionally too-loud orchestra and lasered itself directly into the audience’s heart. I hope to see her again very soon.

As Donna Anna, soprano Michelle Johnson was warmly received by Philly audiences who have loved her for past performances at Opera Phila and the Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA). Sadly, she almost seemed overwhelmed by the singing required in the role of the woman Don Giovanni seeks to ravage. Johnson lacked the requisite intonation and technique to sing Mozart, seeming way out of her element, despite evocative acting skills.

Nicholas Masters as the ghost of the Commendatore and Elliot Madore as Don  Giovanni in DON GIOVANNI at the Academy of Music

Nicholas Masters as the ghost of the Commendatore and Elliot Madore as Don
Giovanni in DON GIOVANNI at the Academy of Music | photo by Kelly and Massa

As the rake himself, baritone Elliot Madore’s performance brought the audience to its feet at curtain call. That might have been because he was tasked to play a Giovanni beyond redemption, one whose need is nearly pathological, a need that forces him to couple with old women, fat women, and even smelly homeless women. Madore had exceptional acting skills and plenty of swagger. However, his voice lacked sufficient power to be heard over the too-boisterous orchestra at times. That being said, through the delivery of Giovanni’s “Champagne Aria,” Madore proved himself a  master of precision. I would love to see Madore perform with stronger direction and a real chance to sing with a controlled orchestra. (Try Glimmerglass Festival, Elliot!)

Wes Mason as Masetto and Cecilia Hall as Zerlina in DON GIOVANNI at the  Academy of Music |photo by Kelly and Massa

Wes Mason as Masetto and Cecilia Hall as Zerlina in DON GIOVANNI at the Academy of Music |photo by Kelly and Massa

The roles of Zerlina and Masetto were performed and sung well, with Wes Mason as Masetto edging out Cecelia Hall’s performance as Zerlina. Mason was ideal as the tortured groom, outclassed and outfoxed by a conniving, sociopathic cavalier. Mason was funny and charismatic as the wounded  hours-old husband of a nearly faithless bride. Hall sang beautifully but lacked an essential sensuality as Zerlina. It’s understandable when a country girl  becomes conflicted and is tempted to stray when seduced by a gentleman. I wanted Hall to succumb to either her boorish husband or her manipulative seducer with abandon, but much to my chagrin, neither happened.

Joseph Barron was a sturdy and entertaining Leporello. But the role gets loads of show-stealing assistance from both the score and the libretto. All Leporellos take advantage of this largesse though Barron, unfortunately, didn’t seize the opportunity to be a Leporello for the ages.

Despite this reviewer’s perceptions of its artistic limitations. the matinee audience gave the show a standing ovation–well deserved by the performers but an unearned gratuity for the director.

Don Giovanni continues through May 4 at the Academy of Music.

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Filed under Classic Opera, Mozart, North American Opera, Regional opera, Reviews

for opera lovers who also enjoy reading …The Fussy Librarian is here!

Fussy Librarian is a new free ebook matching service that comes right to your email inbox.

The Fussy Librarian is a new free ebook matching service that comes right to your email inbox.

If you’re like me, you LOVE when new sites and services emerge that make the most of the technology available to make our lives easier and more pleasurable!

That’s why I like THE FUSSY LIBRARIAN. it’s a new free email subscription service that sends you with ebook recommendations matching your precise (and I do mean precise) interests and content preferences.

This is one smart librarian, cats and kittens.

She remembers not only what genres you prefer but also your preferences about salty language, graphic violence, and explicit sexual content. If you like squeaky clean mysteries, she only sends you an email listing mysteries without sex, violence or profanity.

On the other hand, if you like everything, she sends you lots of suggestions each day.

I am a subscriber, so I’ll tell you how it works.

After entering your email address, you get a series of checkboxes to fill out. I checked All Fiction and All Audiobooks. Under fiction, there are 29 categories to choose from! I mean, you can really drill down on exactly what you like to read with this service.

Of course they offer nonfiction books, too–eleven categories.

Then you can set your preferences for language, sex, and violence. The whole thing takes but a minute or two.

Be as fussy as you like, friends. Believe me, The Fussy Librarian can handle it.

This is the perfect service for our day and age, when people enjoy being catered to and customers like me appreciate feeling valued as individual and (a bit) idiosyncratic readers.

My debut novel DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA loosely inspired by Mozart’s Don Giovanni is being featured today, Sunday, November 17, at The Fussy Librarian. So, why not subscribe to this service today? To arrive in your preferred email inbox would put a huge smile on my Don’s handsome face!

Yours in fussy listening and reading,

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Filed under Don Giovanni, DON JUAN IN HANKEY, Mozart, music and humor, opera and fiction, Opera and humor, opera and romance

Yo, next week Mozart has a new zip code — 90210!


Figaro 90210

Morningside Opera’s upcoming production: June 11-16

Morningside Opera is presenting a fresh, new multi-cultural take on Mozart’s The Marriage Of Figaro, set in present-day Los Angeles.

The debate over immigration reform takes center stage in ¡Figaro! (90210) as the title character from Mozart’s beloved opera is recast as an undocumented worker on a Beverly Hills estate. These concert performances showcase the original music note-for-note but with an entirely new English (and Spanglish) libretto that makes “the world’s most perfect opera” as fresh, as funny, as relevant – and as revolutionary – as ever.

‘Illegal’ immigrants Figaro and Susana can’t wait to get married, but on their way to the altar they’ll have to navigate a world of lecherous bosses, Botoxed starlets, bumbling human traffickers, ambitious hip-hoppers and pothead gardeners in an unpredictable adventure that turns The Marriage of Figaro into a thought-provoking comedy about citizenship in 21st-Century America.

Mixing classically trained voices with performers from more popular styles respects the integrity of the original, while allowing newcomers to appreciate the show like never before, as does the abbreviated running time, which cuts the nearly four-hour opera down to a brisk two-and-a-half, including one 15-minute intermission.

After sold-out performances in November 2012 at Dixon Place, ¡Figaro! (90210) is returning for a limited run of concert performances from June 11-16, 2013. The accomplished cast of opera and theater performers will be directed by emerging Latina director Melissa Crespo, and accompanied live onstage by a five-string ensemble under the direction of pianist and music director Raphael Fusco, whom The New York Times has described as “accomplished and winning.”

If you’ve never seen the opera before, ¡Figaro! (90210) offers the perfect introduction to this timeless work; if you know the music by heart, you’ll be surprised how fresh and relevant the show feels with words and settings that directly address the way we live today.

¡Figaro! (90210) will be performed from June 11- 16, 2013 at The NSD Theater, 151 Bank Street, New York.

Click here for in interview with librettist Vid Guerrerio.

* * *

Through tonight (Sunday, June 9) at 10pm, you can get discounted tickets by going to:

The discount code is: COMPANY90210
You can also visit them on Facebook.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Modern opera, Mozart, Opera Marketing

Love Mozart? Go see Branagh’s ‘Magic Flute’ Sunday, America!


Branagh’s ‘The Magic Flute’ will be shown in 1,500 theaters in the US this Sunday.

The stateside premiere of  legendary actor and director Kenneth Branagh’s version of The Magic Flute hits 1,500 theaters across the U.S. this Sunday, June 9, with selected encore presentations Tuesday, June 11. (Click here for the theater nearest you.)

The music is resplendent (of course), the voices soar, and the cinematography is worth writing home about if you have a Technicolor-loving sweetheart or know anyone else who likes bright, shiny movies.

While The Magic Flute has always been a showcase for some of Mozart’s most beloved music, this filmed rendition of the opera actually makes sense for a change–most of the time. You know how The Magic Flute always seems to be outside the realm of logic and possibility, even for someone with an imagination? Well, it is still that but to a much lesser degree in this version. So much so that I relaxed into the opera for the first time–ever, immersing myself in Mozart’s glorious music, the complete performances, and Branagh’s inventive retelling.

Silly, sexy, stirring–stunning. It’s a winner!

It’s also not a production for children–and that’s a blessed change as far as I’m concerned. Not everyone needs their opera Disney-ized and Disney-sized with giant, lumbering animal puppets.

Kenneth Branagh headshot

Kenneth Branagh, director ‘The Magic Flute’ | photo by Blake Gardner

While watching a review copy from the film’s LA distributor earlier this week, I couldn’t help think that Kenneth Branagh must have been intimately familiar with Mozart’s most sprightly opera, perhaps listening to it on end as a child after numerous readings of the poem  “In Flanders Fields”.

The film unfolds as though seeing the singspiel that Branagh may have conceived of in a dream state because of the colors, the surrealistic elements, the fantastical bits.  Striking azure blue uniforms give way to a battalion of violin players to a trio of buxom and besmitten ladies. Not to mention a powerful scene where Pamina’s mumsy-dearest ties her to a flaming windmill. Really.

Unlike another 2013 Academy-Award nominated big-screen musical in which only three or four cast members had the chops to actually sing the thing,  a flick which will remain nameless, the voices in this version are extraordinary.

Yes, Branagh knows how to cast a movie version of an opera! Joseph Kaiser as Tamino, Lyubov Petrova as the Queen of the Night, and René Pape as Sarastro were my particular favorites, followed by a spectacular showing by the three ladies: Teuta Koco, Louise Callinan, and Kim-Marie Woodhouse. You can see all the cast members here. Each one was first-rate vocally and very well directed–with love and care.

scene from Magic Flute

Papagena’s competition

I confess that I’m not the Magic Flute lover that many are, yet I adored this version. Fresh, fun, classy, artistically significant. Setting the musical during World War I worked. Blending realistic and fantasy elements in the same scene worked, too.

More information about the production is available at the Emerging Pictures website.

Here is the official movie trailer, which might whet your appetite for catching the movie in the theater this weekend. As a  special treat at selected theaters, a live Q&A with Kenneth Branagh via webcast will follow the showing. Yours to enjoy, America!

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, filmed opera, Mozart, North American Opera, Opera and humor, Opera Simulcast, opera webcasts, Previews, Uncategorized

Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ premiered today – May 1!

Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, an opera bouffe in four acts (my favorite opera overture) and a very fitting May premiere, was first produced at the National Theatre in Vienna on May 1, 1786, with Mozart conducting.

To celebrate the occasion, I’ll just listen to the opera today and pretend I’m there, watching and listening, on the very day it premiered.

According to, the world’s best way to find live classical music, there are a dozen performances of Le Nozze di Figaro worldwide this month from Bavarian State Opera and Opera Australia.

Did I mention Le Nozze di Figaro is my favorite opera overture?

“Mozart is sweet sunshine.”

~ Antonin Dvorak

Oh, Mozart, you’re so fine, you blow my mind. I get chills just listening to this piece:

YouTube Preview Image

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Filed under Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Mozart, opera firsts, opera overtures