Tag Archives: Don Giovanni

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


Filed under Character from DEVILED BY DON, Classic Opera, DEVILED BY DON, Don Giovanni, Mozart, Performers, Terminology

Opera Atelier offers new Don G, partners with Glimmerglass in 2011-12

Don Giovanni is designed by OA’s award-winning design team of Gerard Gauci and Martha Mann.

Toronto is going to be one hot spot for opera in 2011-12.  

Opera Atelier, Canada’s premier baroque opera/ballet company,opens its 2011-12 season with a period production of Don Giovanni and features Canadian baritone Phillip Addis (the Count in OA’s 2010 production of The Marriage of Figaro) as the rakish Don.  The production also features soprano Carla Huhtanen (Zerlina), baritone Vasil Garvanliev (Leporello), soprano Peggy Kriha Dye (Donna Elvira), soprano Meghan Lindsay (Donna Anna), baritone Curtis Sullivan (Masetto/Commendatore), tenor Lawrence Wiliford (Don Ottavio) and the full corps of the Artists of Atelier Ballet.
Italian conductor Stefano Montanari makes his Opera Atelier debut conducting Tafelmusik Orchestra.  Don Giovanni will be directed and choreographed by OA’s Co-Artistic Directors Marshall Pynkoski and Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg respectively. 
Don Giovanni runs October 29, 30, November 1, 2, 4 and 5, 2011.
For the first time in the company’s history, Opera Atelier will embark on a co-production with The Glimmerglass Festival. OA’s acclaimed production of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Armide will first be produced in Toronto prior to making its debut at North America’s most prestigious opera festival.   

In collaboration with Glimmerglass, Armide will be the most lavish production in OA's history

In Lully’s Armide – the operatic masterpiece of the 17th century – Muslim and Christian worlds collide. Christian knight Renaud and the Muslim warrior princess Armide play out their doomed love affair against a backdrop of hopeless obsession, jealousy and magic.
“Glimmerglass has long had an association with baroque music, especially Handel and the Italian repertoire, but I wanted to present a French baroque work to our audiences,” said Francesca Zambello, Glimmerglass Festival Artistic & General Director. “To produce Armide properly, we would need collaborators who could bring us the right style, as well as an eye to historical craft. I thought [Opera Atelier] would be an ideal producing partner.”
According to OA Co-Artistic Director Marshall Pynkoski, “Armide is a seamless melding of opera and ballet into a unique form of storytelling. As such, it promises to be the perfect showcase for Opera Atelier’s Glimmerglass debut.”
Armide will star soprano Peggy Kriha Dye in the title role, tenor Colin Ainsworth as the Christian knight Renaud, and bass João Fernandes as Hidraot, with the full corps of Artists of Atelier Ballet. Opera Atelier’s Music Director David Fallis conducts the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir.
 Armide runs in Toronto in April 14, 15, 17, 18, 20 and 21, 2012 and at The Glimmerglass Festival July and August 2012.
 Performances for Opera Atelier’s 2011-12 Season will take place at the Elgin Theatre (189 Yonge Street) in Toronto with evening performances at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday matinee performances at 3:00 p.m.  Subscriptions start at $90 and are on sale now by calling 416-703-3767 ext. 222. Single tickets for Don Giovanni go on sale on August 2, 2011.  For more information visit www.operaatelier.com.

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Filed under Classic Opera, North American Opera

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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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Character from DEVILED BY DON, DEVILED BY DON, Don Giovanni, Performers

Mozart no word mincer in this microtale

Mozart monument in Vienna


Spanish composer of opera buffa Vincente Martin y Soler (once dubbed the Valencian Mozart) was the  most popular composer during the time that Mozart lived in Vienna.  About Martin, Mozart said, “Many of his things are pretty, but in ten years’ time, no one will pay any more attention to him.”  

As it turned out, this was not entirely true, for one of Martin’s melodies from the opera Una Cosa Rara is one of the most frequently heard tunes in opera today–because Mozart used it in the banquet scene of Don Giovanni.   

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Filed under Classical Composers, Microtales, Mozart, Opera and humor

who decides what’s art?

I’ve been fascinated by all the reactions in cyberspace regarding the darkly provocative Don Giovanni presented by English National Opera that simulated gang rape by masked men wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the image of Jesus Christ.

Someone asked the question, “What do we think about this?” as if those of us looming in cyberspace were a  Greek chorus that should answer in unison, on cue.

I don’t think that’s the right question to ask. I would prefer the question be restated, “What do you think about this?”

Why? Because opera is art–especially the performance of it. Who decides what is art and what is not art?  It would easy to say, “Well, the critics do.” But that’s not an authentic response, and you are selling yourself short if you believe that.

Art can be understood as something different from science. Art affects a different area of your brain than science does. Who gets to decide what is art? You do. You get to define what art is and what it is not, based on your preferences.

The ability to perceive or take in art isn’t located on the same side of the brain as science. Science is left brain and rational. Art is right brain, where creative imagination, serenity, global view, and capacity of synthesis also lodge.

If you want to be liked or have a defined need to feel like you fit in, you can allow others who regularly exercise both hemispheres of the brain to tell you what you should think about this production or about that one.

But ultimately it’s up to you. Someone’s art is another’s kitsch, desecration, violation–you fill in the blank.

Think about it. Have you ever had anyone tell you that you had to read a certain book because you’d love it. You pick up the book and can’t get past the first chapter? Like literature, live theater and opera performance are also subjective. You might like it or you might not. Someone’s say so won’t change your organic, individual experience with that art.

Need another example. How about love? People can suggest whom you ought to love, but it’s a much more organic right-brain process than the matchmaker is suggesting. Who chooses whether you fall in love? You do. 

When you are going to take in an art form–a gallery show, a concert, an opera–it behooves you to investigate what you’re going to be seeing. If you are in touch with how you feel art should be interpretated in order to be appreciated, then you can choose not to participate in that art form as an audience member.

I’d have been reduced to viewing a production like ENO’s Don Giovanni using my left brain, completely detached from my right brain. Because I don’t like art that aims to be shocking or disgusting because the interpretation is intended to shock or disgust. If the shocking content is integrated into the text or the work and can be understood rationally, that’s a different story.

For instance, terrible things are likely to happen to a persecuted people in captivity. If you’re heading off to watch a movie like Schindler’s List, you’d better be prepared to be shocked and disgusted. The horror is essential to the story. Not to have it (aka Hogan’s Heroes) diminishes the suffering and slaughter of millions of people.

But if you are witnessing art being degraded in its interpretation, that’s another matter entirely.

I don’t care for sensationalism. I have no appreciation for shock value for its own sake. Nobody has to tell me that particular interpretation of Don Giovanni isn’t art. Because then we’re talking about art, and in that instance, I get to decide. It’s all up to me.


Filed under 21st Century Opera, Op-Ed