Category Archives: Video

on Carmen’s anniversary, a sing-off to celebrate

Bizet’s Carmen

Editor’s note: This is a Golden Operatoonity post.

Today, March 3, marks the anniversary of Bizet’s Carmen, which premiered on this day in Paris in 1875.

With one work, Bizet ushers in the verismo opera movement.

Carmen is hardly my favorite opera. As a storyteller, it’s damned hard for me to like Carmen as the central figure in this opera. She’s hard, calculating, cruel and fatalistic. Modern mores sometimes prevent other operagoers from engaging with Carmen as well, as evidenced  in comments such as, “Why is everyone smoking on stage? That’s ridiculous for a bunch of singers” or “A cigarette factory is a goofy setting for an opera.”

Whatever you think about Carmen or the setting or the preposterousness of the storyline, however much you might scratch your head or downright ache for Don Jose’s complete meltdown over a woman not worthy of him, it is Bizet’s soaring, riveting music that lifts the opera into the realm of exceptional works.

Today, in celebration of Carmen, rather than trot out the expected treatments of Habanera, etc., I’d like to offer you Don Jose’s “Flower” aria, “La fleur que tu m’avais jetee” as sung by various artists.

First we have a clip of  Jonas Kaufmann. Truly, this is one of the most exquisitely complete performances of this aria available on YouTube. He sings and acts the HELL out of it, and for me, I have to have more than a pretty sound to really relish opera performance. I think Kaufmann is the most complete male performer today. You will love this, that is, if you have no moral objections to a tenor voice with a unique baritone quality to it.

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Next we have Roberto Alagna’s “La fleur que tu m’avais jetee” which sounds exquisite, but he doesn’t exude that tortured spirit,the inner demons, that is so essential to the portrayal of Don Jose.

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Next is José Carreras from a 1987 Metropolitan Opera production. He certainly sings the dickens out of this. Truly, a world class tenor. His gestures, his posture are more gallant than tortured.  It’s amazing that Carmen (Agnes Baltsa) sits still as a statue and is unmoved by that performance. Also worth noting is how much the style of opera performance has changed in one generation, from Carreras to Kaufmann.

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While Carreras vocally is the strongest, Kaufmann’s is the best total performance, followed by Carreras, then Alagna. What say you, opera devotees?

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Filed under anniversary, Golden Operatoonity, Premieres, tenors, verismo opera, Video

happy anniversary, Carmina Burana, odd and disturbing creature that you are

Today in opera history marks the premiere of  Carl Orff‘s Carmina Burana, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany in 1937.  Not precisely an opera, it is more correctly defined as a scenic cantata and is based on 24 of the poems found in the medieval collection Carmina Burana.

Excalibur, 1981

The first time I heard “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana, I was absolutely mystified and stupified. It was 1981, and of course, I’m not going to tell you how old I was. But I will say that I was watching the major motion picture Excalibur in the theater. Suddenly, King Arthur and his knights ride onto the battlefield, underscored by Orff’s “O Fortuna.” En scene, the music terrified me then and has haunted me ever since.

Thank goodness for this video (below), brought to my attention by @verbiagent which demystifies the entire song. If you find Carmina Burana haunting or at the very least daunting, watch and nevermore be haunted nor daunted:

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Filed under oratorio, Premieres, send-ups, Uncategorized, Video

romantic arias for girls AND boys . . .

Want to listen to some romantic arias, sip some wine, and slip into a private little heaven?

In honor of Valentine’s day, I have two lovely arias for you:

First, for the ladies, Donna non vidi mai from Manon Lescaut, sung by the Argentine lyric tenor Marcelo Álvarez (whom I just heard in the Met’s radio broadcast of Tosca). Ladies, imagine you’ve just stepped out of a carriage, and Marcelo has fallen in love with you on sight and is singing this aria for your ears only.

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The last is piece is especially for the gentlemen, courtesy of @amzenon. Okay, for everyone. But gents,  if Maria Callas can’t melt your stony heart with her renditio of “Porgi amor” on the holiday devoted to romance, then you are a Scrooge. Stand by. Three cupids wielding arrows will be visiting shortly to help you claim your humanity, you heartless guttersnipe.

Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day!

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And the moral of this post is: Opera makes any Valentine’s Day more special!

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Filed under Performers, Video

bravo, COC: a blue-ribbon, 21st-century opera organization

Earlier this week, the Canadian Opera Company (COC) announced their 2012-13 season. In case you missed the slate of productions on tap, here’s the slick YouTube video they released on the announcement:

It’s a clean, fresh, energetic video–informative, too. I love all the personalities sharing with you in the video, as well. Everyone comes off as interesting and approachable, someone you’d love to sit down and have coffee and a good chat with.

The season is impressive–balanced. Watch the video and see for yourself.

But what I am most impressed with is their savvy use of smart technology to make their season announcement accessible and fun for fans. I give them a blue-ribbon for being a digital leader in every regard as North American opera companies go.

For instance, the news conference was broadcast via USTREAM, so anyone, anywhere in the world could watch and share in the event. How inclusive and wonderful!

Last February, I had a wonderful time in attendance at the Metropolitan Opera’s news conference to announce their 2011-12 season. And they had done a magnificent job– wonderful videos and photography, great remarks by Gelb and Levine, but only about 150 people could really experience that splendid event as we lucky few had. I wish more people could have seen and heard what I did. I told everyone I knew about it. By contrast, in using USTREAM to broadcast their news conference, Canadian Opera is welcoming the world to their announcement and made us all feel like fortunate insiders.

Also, during the USTREAM broadcast, the COC tweeted each new production and significant details as they were being announced. It was addictive. I was at work and needed to move off Twitter and onto something work-related but found it very hard to pull myself away. Masterful use of technology to engage anyone interested in opera and opera performance.

In the past, I have also participated in live chats during the intermissions of radio broadcasts. During the last one I took part it, Sondra Radvanovsky was answering questions to anyone registered to chat.  Did that make an impression on me? You bet it did. I felt privileged to have that opportunity to talk with the world’s reigning Verdi soprano.

The COC also has a blog and Alexander Neef, the general director, blogs, too. I just can’t say enough good things about Neef. He hails from Germany and has brought a level of sophistication (the whole ethos of German engineering isn’t far off the mark) with him that has infused the company, its hallmarks being innovation, high-quality, and forward-looking ideas that are implemented.

According to their website the Toronto-based COC  is “the largest producer of opera in Canada and the sixth largest in North America.”  Other companies, Lyric Opera in Chicago, for instance, and the Met, of course, are making performances available through live radio streams, all of which are fantastic.

Let’s see more coordinated use of technology to include operagoers, à la COC.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Audience participation, North American Opera, opera and technology, Opera Marketing, Video

Tosca premiered today and where would we be without it?

Today in 1900, Giacomo Puccini‘s Tosca premiered in Rome, Italy. And aren’t we glad that it did?

Why is Tosca so loved? It combines beauty and savagery. Both the evocative parts and the savage parts loom more powerfully juxtaposed against the other.

So it’s important to those presenting the opera not diminish the potential for beauty in it or else we don’t experience the inhumanity of it to the depth that operagoers are expecting and deserve.

I suppose that was chiefly my issue with the Metropolitan Opera’s production in 2011, which featured Sondra RadvanovskyMarcelo Álvarez, and Falk Struckmann, which I reviewed for Bachtrack. I won’t launch into another review here, but I will say in retrospect that restraint exercised in stage direction as in writing can be more powerful than succumbing to one’s impulses to add, expand, and heighten, the chief example for me being the director (Bondy) choosing to throw three scantily clad (we’re talking pasties, here) prostitutes into Scarpia’s chambers.

I have no objection to beautiful bodies or their use on stage, but if Tosca is Scarpia’s source of weakness and Scarpia can get sex he wants anytime he wants it however he wants it, his need to have Tosca is sorely and sadly diminished–the power and the aftereffects of that scene are diminished rather than enhanced by adding more sex.

Does that mean I wouldn’t see the Met production again? I’d see it in a heartbeat. Falk Struckmann’s performance as Baron Scarpia was my favorite of the season, despite the over-the-top things Bondy incorporated into his part. Seeing both Radvanovsky and Álvarez in one show added a notch to my opera belt. Of course, I probably wouldn’t have a chance to see this cast again, so I will recreate portions of my experience for you here.

Here then are my two favorite moments from The Met’s Tosca, breathtaking moments, literally. In “Vissi d’arte,” right around 3:12 in the video below, I gasped, so completely engrossed in Radvanovsky’s climatic note. Then of course the aria becomes tender and quiet. Unfortunately, since I’d lost my breath, I began coughing at that point. I’m sure people sitting around me wanted to choke me. Then I began digging in my purse for a cough drop to silence my coughing. Rattle, rattle, rattle. I’m very sorry to those around me for disturbing their enjoyment of this aria:

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And the other favorite moment I can share with you from the Met production is “E lucevan le stelle.”

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Viva, Tosca! You will live forever in our hearts.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Uncategorized, Video