Category Archives: Sunday Best

Sunday Best — Oscar loves opera!

*This post was great fun to share on the day of the Academy Awards, and is applicable today. Hence, an Operatoonity Encore Post.

Psssst. Wanna know a secret? Oscar’s in love with opera. Operatic music is widely and well used in many excellent films: The Godfather, Life of David Gale, Fantasia, Black Hawk Down, and the list goes on and on.

Here are some of the Oscar-winning movies I’ve seen (and some of my favorite also-rans) with the classical music they incorporated into their soundtracks. Maybe that’s why Oscar adores opera.

1997: Life Is Beautiful – Best Actor (Robert Benigni) – “Barcarolle” from Les Contes d’HoffmannOffenbach (This is one of my all-time favorite movies, so it gets the first YouTube clip.

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1993: PhiladelphiaBest Actor in a Leading Role (Tom Hanks), and Best Music, Song (Bruce Springsteen for “Streets of Philadelphia“) – “La Mamma Morta” from Andrea Chénier – Giordano

1987: Moonstruck – Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress (Cher), and Best Supporting Actress – La Bohème – Puccini

1987: The Untouchables – Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Sean Connery, always have to give a nod to Sean Connery, wherever and however possible) – “Vesti la giubba” from Paliacci – Leoncavallo; also featured in a Seinfeld episode.

1987:  Wall Street – Best Actor (Michael Douglas) – “Questa O Quella” from Rigoletto – Verdi

1984 Amadeus – Eight Oscars, most notably Best Picture,  Best Actor in a Leading Role (F. Murray Abraham), Best Director (Miloš Forman), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Peter Shaffer) –  Don Giovanni  and “Sull’ Aria” from The Marriage of Figaro – by whom else by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

1980 Raging Bull – Best Actor (De Niro) and Best Editing (Schoonmaker) – “Cavalleria rusticana” – Mascagni

1979 Apocalypse Now – Best Cinematography and Best Sound – “Ride of the Valkyries” from Die Walkure – Wagner

Three of my favorite also nominated-but-didn’t-win movies with opera. (Hey! It’s my blog!)

1994: The Shawshank Redemption – “Sull’ Aria” from The Marriage of Figaro – Mozart. Here is the scene where Andy plays the aria for inmates (It is one of my favorite scenes ever–thank you, Mozart):

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1987: Fatal Attraction – “Un Bel di Vedremo” from Madama Butterfly  – Puccini

1990: Pretty Woman – Best Actress (Julia Roberts) La Traviata – Verdi

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Filed under Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Don Giovanni, Mozart, Sunday Best

Opera Music Broadcast, a treat for music lovers & resource for opera companies

Opera Music Broadcast.com

Editor’s note: Congratulations to Kelly Rinne and everyone at Opera Music Broadcast for for being recognized as one of the five best opera websites at High50Culture.com. In honor of their accomplishment, here’s a Golden Operatoonity post on the station everyone needs to enjoy–regularly.

Have you tuned into Opera Music Broadcast yet? If you haven’t, you don’t know what you are missing.

Opera Music Broadcast offers all opera, art song, and vocal music via an online format, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Plus they have news, reviews, live webcasts, audio. They stream opera online and offer Internet radio online. You name it. Opera Music Broadcast has it goin’ on.

At this time last week, I was listening live from my computer and headset.  The music was so beautiful–MISSA O REX GLORIAE (for four voices)- I. Kyrie – Westminster Cathedral Choir, James O’Donnell– I had to stop what I was doing and let it wash over me before I could continue my work.

As I write this I am listening to Ruggero Raimondi, Kiri Te Kanawa, etc.; Lorin Maazel: Paris Opera Orchestra & Chorus singing Don Giovanni highlights. Does it get any better than that?

Their tagline is “Music does not have to be understood. It has to be listened to.” — Hermann Scherchen

Kelly Rinne, music director, has kindly agreed to a little Q&A to help Operatoonity readers learn more about what they do. Hello, Kelly. Welcome to Operatoonity.com!

It appears you’ve been broadcasting since 2009. How much time did it require to develop your station prior to that?

Well, our “parent” station is Classical Music Broadcast.com, which debuted in Nov. of 2005 only playing for about 3 hours/day as we tweaked the technology and loaded a LOT of music in. Once that station was solidly up and running 24/7 in 2006, then it became MUCH easier to develop the opera station. One big thing I discovered early on is that the opera listeners are much more passionate and much more actively involved in the music. If they like something, they let me know, and if they don’t like something, I never hear the end of it….(grins).

Even though I say I’m the Music Director, I do take some direction from the listeners. Mostly suggestions – the big thing that helped  was to do a poll before we even launched. There had been another all-vocal Internet station called Viva La Voce, which was entirely subscription based.  I went on forums and newsgroups (this was before Twitter and Facebook were household names) and I asked people. They were bemoaning the loss of VLV, so I decided that a non-subscription based model was the way to go. Offer it to everyone.

Kelly Rinne, music director

So the original poll asked people what types of vocal music did they like? opera, concert song, choral, modern, lieder (fill in the blank). And we developed the original mission statement based on that, plus a dash of my personality.

Even though I’m a lot younger than many of my listeners, I really like historical recordings. I also like modern compositions, which drives everyone nuts. Until I get that one email that says – “Tabula Rasa – holy crap, I’m in love. I…* forgets what she was typing, reverting back to slack-jawed music trance*” and yes, I’m quoting directly.

So the station took about 2 years to develop before we went online.

What’s the best source of referrals and are most people finding you on Twitter?
Google keyword search, hands down. Some Twitter and Facebook, some direct referrals “Hey, I saw your post on XYZ and I’ve been listening”.  Mostly its folks typing in “opera streaming.”

What I notice compared to the CMB listeners is that they listen at very specific times of day. The folks listening to instrumental tend to put it on as “background” and leave it on all day.

Opera fans tend to listen in 2-3 hour blocks, and often send tweets asking for this or that request. I get a LOT of retweets of the playlist — folks who are listening who spread the word to their friends online. Twitter is tough because “opera” as a hashtag has to compete with the browser. (sigh)

One of the Twitterati that I love the most is david_m_wagner — he is a Rutgers law professor who is amazingly erudite about opera, and has a snarky sense of humor. I plan to start running his retweets on the site and in the stream because his commentary is priceless. Funny and educational all at the same time.

How many users do you have, would you like to have?

Not enough, and as many as the server can handle. The majority of listeners are from:

  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • Canada
  • Germany
  • Australia
  • Italy
  • France
  • Argentina
  • Spain
  • Belgium

How are you able to keep up with an ever-changing landscape of performing arts/music events?
Wow, its tough. The record labels help a LOT — they send me press releases and promo copies. It has been much harder to get opera    companies to do the same. I would love to throw them as much promotion as possible, but with my small number of volunteers it is difficult. HINT to all you opera companies: SEND ME PRESS RELEASES. Opera companies are not nearly as responsive on Twitter as I think they should be – they use it to promote “sort of”, but they do not reach out to the media directly. Yes, you can consider that a hand slap, but a kind one.

Another hint to opera companies – learn how to use a Twitter list, and broadcast to it.

Artist management and artists also contact me directly — this happens MUCH more on the instrumental station than on the opera station. I have a lot of performers on my OMB Twitter and Facebook pages, but they rarely tell anyone that they are performing anywhere. They talk about rehearsing more than performance. Performers should be part of their PR campaign…hint hint hint.

The scope of your project is seems enormous and growing. How many people work behind the scenes to bring this station to its listeners?
Not enough. I wish I could clone myself, or hire a few people, but the station is a long way off from having paid staff. I have less than 10 dedicated volunteers/board members who put in a few hours here and there, updating playlists, the database, (which is CONSTANTLY changing) logging music, writing reviews, sending music, suggestions etc.

What are your greatest needs right now, in terms of the site and or its management?
From a content perspective I would love an opera reviewer or two who could submit regular live performance reviews. and someone to review DVDs. Oh, and time. I don’t do this full time and wish I could. It seems like there is never enough time to implement what I want. Um a grant writer would be phenomenal — The parent station is a 501 3(c) non-profit, and OMB is a dba under that corporation filing. We are eligible for non-profit grants, and I have no one to spearhead that    type of project. (big sigh)

When will you feel as though the site has “arrived,” or are you already there?
I feel that way with the instrumental site, but not quite with Opera Music Broadcast — I definitely have a website facelift in mind. The section that is the daily playlist does not get nearly enough traffic, considering how many questions I get about what we are playing.

What are you most proud of about Opera Music Broadcast?
Last year we started live video webstreaming of opera — every performance we have broadcast has averaged about 60-80,000 viewers, from over 20 countries. In 2012 we will be broadcasting a Werther from the Minnesota Opera with James Valenti and Roxana Constantinescu as the star-crossed lovers Werther and Charlotte. We are in talks with some other US-based opera companies. My goal is to do for the regional companies what the HD broadcasts did for the Met — our station already has the built-in audience through our use of social media. We just need the opera companies to step      up and look to build their audience beyond the physical confines of the opera house. I want Opera Music Broadcast to pick up where PBS is failing the arts community. Less and less fine arts performance programming is played on PBS (and I like PBS, this is not a bash-fest) and that is a disservice to a loyal and growing audience.

Anything else you’d like to tell me?
If I can babble on a little more about the live webstreaming — when we broadcast an Ariadne from the Toledo Opera, the many emails I received all said something very similar which I will paraphrase:  “I/we had NO idea that Toledo had this level of singing. I/we bought tickets for the XYZ performance after seeing the webcast.” And to me, that justified all the hard work that OMB has done over the past 2 years — we made tens of thousands of people aware of a very small opera company that performs with high quality singers and musicianship, and helped them sell tickets. Yea to us.

If the station, whether through 24/7 radio broadcast or live video webcasting convinces 1 to 1 million people to add opera to their musical diet — well then, I might be doing something right.

* * *

You’ll find Opera Music Broadcast online at http://operamusicbroadcast.com, on Twitter @operabcast (where they take requests), and or Like them on Facebook.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Classic Opera, Classical Music, Interviews, opera news, Sunday Best

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?

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

it’s Wagner’s birthday: Hojotoho!

Klinger grove Wagner monument in Leipzig

Composer Richard Wagner was born today in 1813 in Leipzig, Germany. While one might expect a monument to Wagner to have been erected in his hometown (there are monuments to Wagner across Germany), one might also expect it to be finished. Such is not the case.  

In 1904, a sculptor and painter from Wagner’s hometown Max Klinger was awarded the commission but died in 1920 after completing the marble pedestal only, shown at right.  

The pedestal, into which have been carved characters from Wagner’s operas, was to form the base for a 17-foot high statue of Wagner. The sculpture will be transferred to its originally planned site at the Promenadenring, where the foundation stone for the Wagner memorial was laid in 1913, the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth.  

As competitive and nationalistic as musical traditions can be, one might not expect  too see a statue to Wagner in Italy unless one knows that during his last few years alive, Wagner lived in Italy, where he worked on his last great opera “Parsifal.”  

Wagner bust in Venice, site of his death

 

While on a trip in Venice, Wagner died of a heart attack in the Palazzo Vendramin on the Grand Canal. A statue was erected in Venice commemorating his life and work.  

In celebration of the anniversary of Wagner’s birth, here are a few clips of legendary Wagner heroine and Valkyrie Brünnhilde singing “Hojotoho” to choose from. Which is your favorite?  

Here is Norwegian opera singer and a highly regarded Wagnerian (dramatic) soprano Kirsten Flagstad’s early version of”Hojotoho” from Die Walküre, circa 1936:  

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Next is a short clip of Swedish dramatic soprano Birgit Nilsson (born 1918) singing Hojotoho–her way–at the Met in 1996. Her voice–at age 78–is simply a marvel. Just listen to the reception she received:  

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Here’s Swedish soprano Nina Stemme singing “Hojotoho” at La Scala’s Die Walküre in 2010:  

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Lastly, here’s American soprano Deborah Voigt singing “Hojotoho” (with Bryn Terfel) at the Met’s 2011 Die Walküre, part of their new Ring cycle conceived by Robert Lepage:  

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get to know Michelle Trovato, lyric coloratura

Michelle Trovato

“Spot-on.”  “A beautifully produced soprano.” “Already turning heads.” “A bundle of energy and vocal thrills.”   

 These are just some of the glowing comments reviewers have made about award-winning lyric coloratura soprano Michelle Trovato. Michelle received a bachelors of music in voice from the North Carolina School of the Arts School of Music in 2003. She trained with the New York Opera Studio, 2004-2005, and in 2008. She was a member of the Opera Colorado Outreach Ensemble in 2008, and performed with the Seattle Opera Young Artist Program during the 2008-2009 season.    

 A handful of Michelle’s recent honors include Grand Finalist  in the Concorso Internazionale di Canto Lirico, P. Cappuccili, Italy 2009; 3rd Prize in the Marie Kraja International Opera Competition in Tirana, Albania 2009; winner of the Opera Index, Inc Enouragement Grant Award 2009; and winner Concorso Lirico International Opera Competition, U.S. Division 2009.   

Welcome to “Operatoonity,” Michelle! So glad to have you.   

Lez Azuriales Competition Winner, France, 2007

Where did you grow up, what was your home life like, and how did it affect your life choices?
I grew up initially on Long Island, New York, which was very important because the arts are so active out there, and of course because of the close vicinity to NYC.  We were also bused into the city from school on a regular basis to see Broadway musicals, practice sessions with the NY Philharmonic….and operas!  I saw Aida at the Met when I was 13-years-old and cried during the tomb scene.  I had no idea what the opera was about, never saw a program, and there weren’t supertitles yet, so I had no idea what I was seeing or hearing! But I found it very moving, I just didn’t know why at the time.  And of course we were in the very last row, so I couldn’t believe the POWER of their voices!  I never thought that I could do that; it never even occurred to me.  But I was always singing and performing in musicals and plays both in school and in the community on Long Island.    

The big change came when I was 15-years-old, and my family relocated to Virginia, where I began immediately studying with a retired opera diva named Basel Landia Wowk.  We started out singing every legit soprano musical theatre song you can think of, and slowly she began introducing opera arias into my repertoire.  She would say: “You’re Italian, right?  Just TRY it!!” And she gave me books to read (most notably Bubbles, Beverly Sills’ autobiography), recordings to listen to and videos to watch.  The next thing I knew, I was hooked!   

When did you make the decision to pursue classical vocal performance as a career?
I pretty much decided to pursue singing as a career at around 18-years-old.    

singing Lucia for Center Stage Opera, CA / photo by vulia.com

How would you describe your voice? What repertoire do you sing best?   

I have that warm lyric sound with the upper extension and facility that works especially well in the bel canto repertoire.  I think this also helps in singing new music, which often calls for a large range and agility. Objectively speaking, I suppose that I sing Italian repertoire the best, especially works by Donizetti, Bellini, some Verdi, and Puccini (the lyric roles), but it is a big goal of mine to help promote new music.   

Favorite composer? Favorite opera? Favorite role?
I can’t even pick a favorite color!  I do have a dream of singing all the Donizetti Queens….I’ve already performed Anna Bolena in concert and really look forward to singing the others!  I would also love to play Baby Doe.  There is something about that role that really speaks to me…perhaps because she was an extraordinarily strong woman, just like the Queens.   

Do you have any opera role models?
Reading Sills’ autobiographies really gave me courage as a young singer, as did reading about Callas’ young life.  These women, coming from a poor background, who struggled for every bit of success that they achieved….amazing.  I would say that I identify with Sills’ brand of “good humor in the face of adversity” the best, but both women have inspired me a great deal.  My current voice teacher, Carol Kirkpatrick, is also a huge role model for me.  Not only as an artist, but as a human being, she is always striving to better herself. I admire her greatly for that and for many other reasons.   

“You’re Italian, right?  Just TRY it!!”
–Basel Landia Wowk, Michelle’s first voice teacher, encouraging her to sing operatic works
   

What was the single, most meaningful experience you’ve had as a performer or student of the classical arts?
Singing the Faure Requiem on the 1st Anniversary of 9/11 is something I will never forget.  There were thousands of people crammed into the sanctuary of a beautiful church, and even the basement, where they were piping in the concert, was full.  Singing the “Pie Jesu,” I had to remember that my job was to give comfort and to sing with joy, as we always should, even in the darkest times.  I can only imagine what 9/11/11 is going to be like, 10 years later.  I have hope that the event will be about honoring those who have died and bringing that same joy and comfort to those who are with us today.   

Michelle in 'La Traviata'

What would you like to be doing in five years? Ten years?
I would like to become more financially stable over the next 5 to 10 years by singing in larger and larger companies both nationally and internationally, but mostly I just want to keep SINGING.  Opera, of course, but I have already performed one recital program this year and am looking forward to a 2nd one in May.  There is a huge wealth of concert and recital repertoire out there and I have ideas for more programs than I can count!     

Do I have a dream to sing at the Met?  Yes, it would be wonderful.  But my goals are not focused that way.  I LOVE what I do and I just want to keep doing it and make enough money to live- not an easy task.  The way I view it, I want to continue to strive for artistic and vocal excellence and work with like-minded artists.  And pay my bills.  Beyond that, I am content.  (Even if I never make it to the “big house”!)   

When did you begin using social media to advance your platform and how has it impacted your career or visibility?
I developed a website back in 2007 after a big competition win.  (I finally had something to put online!)  Also, I was booked in YAPs for almost the following 2 years, so it was the perfect time to get my information on the web.  I also joined Facebook in 2007 to keep in touch with people I met at the competition (they couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it!) but I am quite new to Twitter.  I only joined Twitter a few months ago.  I am enjoying it so far, and am particularly glad to have made the connection with “Operatoonity!!”  Next is Youtube.  I have to learn how to edit video and get it up there; I am super technically unsavvy, sadly.  I WILL have more video online in the next few months, this is my Scarlett O’Hara “As God is my witness” declaration!    

As to how it’s impacted my career, of course it’s a huge help to be able to refer people to my website for further information about me and for sound clips, as well as production photos. I have definitely made some major connections on Facebook, and I have both gotten and helped others get work because I was able to connect with them there.  I have been contacted after performances from quite a few audience members who found me on Facebook (perhaps I should start a Fan page as well?) and have received numerous engagements from connecting with people online.  It’s amazing- you just never know.   

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your resume?
I’m on a pop album called “Incomplete Denial,” singing in the background on one track.  They paid me to go into the recording studio for an hour and sing the same phrase over and over.  I found the job on Craigslist!    

Michelle's Kennedy Center debut singing 'Mystic Odes' / photo by Robby Lamb

Where can we expect to see/hear you in 2011?
I have my 2nd recital of the year coming up, a program inspired by “Angels and Demons” at the Hudson Opera House in upstate New York on May 14th through Diamond Opera Theater.  This summer, I will be a member of the Caramoor Festival’s Bel Canto Young Artists program, the only program in the States (that I know of) that is focused on the bel canto repertoire, and then attend the International Vocal Arts Institute (IVAI) in Montreal.  And I’m fortunate that there are other engagements beyond that, which I can’t announce just yet.   

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You can follow Michelle on Twitter @michelletrovato or alternately friend her on Facebook  where she has posted some wonderful production photos. For more about her performances and for some wonderful audio clips, visit her website.

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Filed under Bel canto opera, Interviews, Performers, sopranos, Sunday Best