Tag Archives: Giacomo Puccini

Tenor James Valenti returns to Met Opera stage in April

James Valenti

American tenor James Valenti will sing the role of Pinkerton in Met Opera’s ‘Madama Butterfly’ | photo by Dario Acosta

When Operatoonity.com last spoke with American tenor James Valenti, he was learning the tango for The Dream of Valentino, a new production for Minnesota Opera.

James Valenti as Valentino, courtesy of Minnesota Opera | photo 2014 © Michal Daniel

James Valenti as Valentino, courtesy of Minnesota Opera | photo 2014 © Michal Daniel

Now, fresh from portraying the silent film star and marquee idol Rudolph Valentino, James enthusiastically reports that he has mastered the dance that Argentina put on the map. (Let’s hope Valentino comes east soon, so that we, too, can witness his ballroom dancing prowess. If like me, curiosity has gotten the better of you, you can watch James tangoing in this YouTube clip.)

In less than two weeks, he opens in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Madama Butterfly, which seemed like an ideal opportunity to catch up with him.

Welcome back to Operatoonity.com, James. You’re back in NYC to prepare for singing Lt. Pinkerton for four productions on April 4, 9. 12 & 15.
It’s always exciting being close to home. I get to see a lot of my old friends–my high school friends–and of course my family.

How are you preparing for your imminent Met appearance?
I’ve seen the Minghella production, and I just sang the role for Lyric Opera in Chicago this past fall. In fact I’ve sung the role many times. Of course, every theater has a different way they operate. Sometimes withe European companies, you don’t even get an orchestra rehearsal. I feel as though I have sufficient preparation time prior to that April 4 opening at the Met.

James Valenti in Madama Butterfly, courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago | photo by Dan Rest

James Valenti in Madama Butterfly, courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago | photo by Dan Rest

How are you different from the young artist who sang Pinkerton in 2008, when you won New York City Opera’s Debut Artist of the Year award?
I certainly feel differently. I have been working on a new dramatic repertoire, singing more lyric-spinto. My voice now takes on new colors. I got to sing Don Carlo and Valentino–Valentino was a milestone in my career, and I really grew a lot. So I am excited to bring my new technique to the role. I have a new way of singing, and I hope that I have a huge success and get invited back for the next ten years.

You sing a great deal of classic opera. Do you prefer more traditional versions or lean toward experimental interpretations?
Definitely more of a traditionalist. However, Anthony Minghella’s production is rather modern, and it works. The little boy character is actually a puppet. Puppeteers wearing black will be onstage manipulating him. This choice was controversial when Minghella first introduced it. But I have to say, it’s a stunning interpretation.

Will you have much down time while you’re in New York?
Certainly, I’ll have enough time to see other performances at the Met when I am not rehearsing or performing. I definitely want to see Werther and Andrea Chénier.

Any other fun things you plan on doing while you’re in the Big Apple?
There’s so much going on here. Great restaurants. I’ll do things in Central Park once it gets a little warmer. I love going to those nice hotel spas. I like to let loose a little, too.

James Valenti casualBesides a good tango, how do you kick up your heels?
My high school friends and I  head to Koreatown for a little karaoke. I like singing stuff from the 80s, like “Living on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi and a lot of Journey hits like “Don’t Stop Believing.” I sing a lot of Billy Joel, too. I love all his music, dating back to his earliest album Cold Spring Harbor.

According to the the performance schedule on your website, you are getting a little break this summer. Any special plans?
I’m taking  a little time off to record my first CD. All Italian and French music that will probably be available around August 1. You’ll definitely be hearing more about that project. But this is the beauty of my life. I’m not married. I don’t have children. I don’t have anything tying me down that keeps me from picking up and going to Europe. I still get to fly by the seat of my pants.

(And, to conclude, an Operatoonity Q&A staple) The Lightning Round

Cheesesteak or Cheesecake? Cheesecake (with ricotta, the Italian way)
Jeans or khakis? Jeans
Sweater or sweatshirt? Sweater
Dogs or cats? Dogs
Spaghetti or lasagne? Lasagne
House of Pizza or House of Cards? House of Cards

 * * *

You can  follow James on Twitter @James_Valenti or become his Facebook fan at https://www.facebook.com/jamesvalentitenor, where he regularly posts content and photos from around the world.

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Filed under Golden Operatoonity, Heartstoppers, Interviews, Italian opera, Q&A, tenors

for every season there’s an opera, especially autumn

Fall is my favorite season apart from the glorious month of May. (I’m a sucker for spring flowers. What can I say?) As fall blazes on in the Mid-Atlantic states, my favorite eclectic radio station plays the traditional fall tunes–covers and original songs. Just this morning, they played Eva Cassidy’s version of “Autumn Leaves,” Cheryl Wheeler’s medley, “When Fall Comes to New England/When October Goes,” Ralph McTell’s “A Leaf Must Fall,” and Iris Litchfield’s “Autumn Colours,” to name a few selections.

I’m very susceptible to seasonal influences in food, drink (all Octoberfest beers, for instance), and of course music. So, it occurred to me there may be operas that suit certain seasons better than others.

Autumn operas
Raisa Massuda of Baltimore claims that Purcell’s The Tempest is her absolute fall favorite! Purcell is generally regarded as the greatest English composer before the 20th century. Listen to this air from the Tempest and judge for yourself. There’s an appropriate solemnity to it–fall is the death of living things, after all.

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Tenor Mitchell Sturges suggested Tosca or anything Strauss as perfect operatic fare for fall. He went on to explain that, “Fall brings a gravitas with it that both Puccini and Strauss excel in.”

The story of Tosca is intensely dramatic–relentless tragedy. If like me, you mourn the end of fall because cold, cruel winter is sure to follow, then choosing Puccini’s Tosca, arguably the most Wagnerian of his scores, makes perfect sense.

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Another opera lover I met through Twitter who goes by the username Am Zénon,  lover of all great art and music and literature (Zénon is the fictional physician and philosopher from L’ Oeuvre au Noir by Marguerite Yourcenar),  claimed a favorite fall composer instead of a single opera. “Wagner, definitely Wagner in autumn, with his drama and music, stirring deep into inner life,” makes autumn the best time for appreciating his work. So many choices for listening to Wagner, so I chose a portion of the overture to Tannhäuser, which was first produced in Dresden on October 20, 1845. As I am listening to the work, looking outside my window, seeing red, gold, and orange-leaved trees, made more vibrant in the muted sunlight of late afternoon, it too seems a fitting homage to fall, blending minor and major keys and mournful strains of horns.

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What’s your opinion on the perfect opera for fall? All three pieces are perfectly evocative and make for rich and rewarding fall listening.

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Filed under Audience participation, Classic Opera

Puccini’s second opera ‘Edgar’ premiered today

This day in opera history, April 21, 1889, marks the premiere of Puccini’s Edgar in Milan, Italy, an opera that I’ve never seen on anyone’s season schedule here in the U.S.

There are no performances of Edgar listed on Bachtrack.com (the world’s best way to find live classical performance) either.

Me, being the inquisitive creature I am, set out to find out why.

It may not be Puccini’s finest work; however, it’s more likely the opera has languished because the opera world just doesn’t need another Carmen.

Similarities to  Bizet‘s Carmen abound. Both works feature a confused and then tortured young man (tenor: Edgar, Don José) struggling to choose between the pure home town girl (soprano: Fidelia, Micaëla) and the  exotic gypsy (mezzo-soprano: Tigrana, Carmen).

Interestingly, I have found a good film adaptation for you on YouTube and you can watch the entire opera if you have time.

If you love Scarpia’s dramatic entrance music in Tosca, you will also appreciate Tigrana’s entrance music only minutes into the opera.

Notable arias

Act 1

  • “O fior del giorno” — Fidelia
  • “Già il mandorlo vicino” — Fidelia
  • “Questo amor, vergogna mia” — Frank
  • “Tu il cuor mi strazi” — Tigrana

Act 2

  • “Orgia, chimera dall’occhio vitreo” — Edgar
Act 3

  • “Addio, mio dolce amor” — Fidelia
  • “Nel villaggio d’Edgar” — Fidelia
  • “Ah! se scuoter della morte” — Tigrana (4 acts versions)

Act 4

  • “Un’ora almen” — Fidelia

The production you are about to see features the following performers in the lead roles:

Jose Cura
Amarilli Nizza
Julia Gertzeva
Teatro Regio di Torino 07.2008

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What do you think? Puccini lovers will be happy to know it is very Pucciniesque–not like a composer taking on something and not sounding at all like himself. One critic said that Puccini “jumped across an abyss from Edgar to Manon Lescaut,” Puccini’s third opera and first great success.Edgar was a necessary, prepatory step full of redundancies flashes and hints, while Manon is the work of a self-confident genius” (The Autumn of Italian Opera).

However, is Edgar worth presenting more frequently than it is? Is is instructive to see works that illustrate an artist’s or composer’s growth?

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Filed under Classic Opera, Italian opera, Premieres, verismo opera

lend me a tenor?

all month on Operatoonity

I’d love to, but you’ll have to be more specific. That’s like a surgeon saying, “Lend me an instrument” when he needs a scalpel.

Since it’s Talented Tenors month, I thought I’d talk about the categories of tenors determined by the range, weight, and color of their voices. Within the operasphere, not only is there ample discussion about all the different vocal types, opera lovers also argue about which singers should be where, which I suppose boils down to which roles do they sing best.

One thing is for certain–tenors know what roles they can sing. They know their categories (their Fach, as its known in German) and so do the opera houses who hire them. Below is one popular categorization of tenors. Where possible I included an opera singer I’ve seen who has been associated with the category.

Juan Diego Flórez, 'Rossini' tenor

Light-lyric tenor–depending on the repertoire, these voices are often called leggiero tenors or “Rossini” tenors. Juan Diego Flórez is one tenor I’ve seen  in the Met’s Le Comte Ory whose name comes up frequently in this category. On his website he refers to himself as a bel canto tenor or one who is ideal for Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini operas. His website says that he has distinguished himself for his  “fluid, expressive singing and dazzling virtuosity.” Now that I’ve heard him in person, I can’t agree more.

Lyric tenor–with not quite the high register of the light-lyric tenor, this voice category is well represented by many beloved roles in opera such as:

Rodolfo, La bohème (Puccini)
Ferrando, Così fan tutte (Mozart)
Elvino, La sonnambula (Bellini)
Ramiro, La Cenerentola (Rossini)
Nemorino, L’elisir d’amore (Donizetti)

David Lomeli

Mexico City native and Operalia winner David Lomeli sings lyric tenor roles. He has garnered critical acclaim for his Rodolfo, which he’s currently singing at the Sante Fe Opera Festival. I saw him sing Nemorino for New York City opera last March, for which he earned rave reviews, including mine.

Lyric-dramatic tenor–while still lyric in nature, this category of singer demands a certain brightness or dramatic color to soar over the orchestra. Light dramatic tenors are often sought for these roles:

Cavaradossi, Tosca (Puccini)
Don José, Carmen (Bizet)
Florestan, Fidelio (Beethoven)
Canio, Pagliacci (Leoncavallo)
Max, Der Freischütz  (von Weber)

Marcelo Àlvarez

Some consider Marcelo Àlvarez a lyric tenor though the weight and color of his voice was ideally suited to singing the role of the artist Cavaradossi at the Met this past winter.

Dramatic tenor–also called tenore di forza in Italian. Dramatic tenor roles that require a spinto quality–an ability to push the voice–so that it sails over heavily-textured orchestral passages. Sometimes this is also called a robusto tenor. Depending on how they are cast, roles can include:

Andrea Chénier in Giordano’s opera of the same name
Don Alvaro, La forza del destino (Verdi)
Otello in Verdi’s opera of the same name

The title role in Verdi’s Ernani and Manrico (Il trovatore, Verdi) were originally considered part of the robusto tenor tradition even though these roles aren’t often cast that way these days.

Salvatore Licitra, tenore di forza

Tenor Salvatore Licitra is commonly identified as a tenore di forza among opera cognoscenti. I had the great pleasure of seeing him sing the role of King Gustav in “A Masked Ball” at Washington National Opera‘s “Opera in the Outfield” a simulcast of the Kennedy Center production in Nationals Park. Besides wowing the crowd with his singing, he proudly donned a Nationals cap at curtain call and will forever be adored by WNO fans who are also Nationals fans.

Stuart Skelton, heldentenor

Heldentenor–this is the dramatic tenor voice of the German repertoire that demands a distinctive ‘ring’ and weight for roles such as:

Siegfried, Der Ring des Nibelungen (Wagner)
Parsifal, Parsifal (Wagner)
Tristan, Tristan und Isolde ( Wagner)
Walther von Stolzing, Die Meistersinger ( Wagner)

Stuart Skelton is widely considered one of the pre-eminent heldentenors of his generation. Though I didn’t see Skelton in ENO’s Parsifal, David Karlin at Bachtrack.com did and said his singing nearly blew the roof off the London Coliseum. See David’s review here.

What about you, Operatoonity readers? Whom have you observed who define this classification? Any delights or surprises? Do you have a favorite type of tenor voice?

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Filed under Performers, tenors, Terminology

WNO’s ‘Butterfly’ simply glorious

WNO's elegant 'Butterfly'

In the spirit of full disclosure, I need to say that I was predisposed to write a generous review of Washington National Opera‘s ‘Butterfly’–I received two premium tickets for winning their opera songwriting contest last fall.  However, I  am not the most ardent Puccini fan, which I’ve mentioned on this blog, once comparing him to Nicholas Sparks, also on this blog, so there’s no shrinking from that comment. 

However, WNO’s Madama Butterfly was a synthesis of beauty and artistry–the best live opera production I’ve seen this year. And I’ve seen a bunch–more shows than ever. All the elements worked this time–music, direction, design, costumes, lighting–in tandem to produce a seamless opera experience that was nothing short of transcendent. 

I can scarcely describe the fulfillment I experienced as an audience-goer from such careful shepherding of all production elements toward a common end. 

Credit must go to WNO General Director Plácido Domingo and WNO management for selecting to present the Ron Daniels’ version that was so successful in San Francisco, despite the fact that it’s not a brand spanking new production. It’s a luminous treatment that deserves to be seen and appreciated by audiences on this coast. 

It’s no straight revival, but this version does honor the spirit of more traditional productions. All the artistic choices served the opera, and not the other way around, which, if I may say so,  is becoming annoyingly common  and tiresome these days. 

Audience members were wiping tears away by this scene, when Butterfly waits for Pinkerton

Ana María Martínez was a brave and graceful ‘Butterfly’–her voice was as strong and supple as a nylon string. Under the lithe and lively baton of Plácido Domingo, the orchestra supported the singers as if cradled in a gloved hand. We heard every nuance of Martínez’s performance, and there were so many to enjoy–the gentle trills, the beautifully controlled decrescendos on the highest notes the role demands. Her “Un bel di vedremo” was simply a triumph. She has a pure sound–never overdone–as some Puccini sopranos are wont to do. During a question and answer session after the show, I asked her what goes through her mind at the moment before she sings one of the most famous arias Puccini wrote and she said, “Of course, I’m in character. And after that I am only thinking how much I love singing it.” 

The curtain call was perfectly conceived. After the final scene, the curtain rose, and Martínez took a solitary bow. How fitting. It really is Butterfly’s show. Then the curtain fell and the traditional bows began. Though Martínez had already brought the audience to its feet, the standing ovation continued in sincere appreciation for the part that everyone played in making the production a stunning whole. 

Clearly, Plácido Domingo is that remarkable hand guiding each WNO production to its artistic zenith and will be sorely missed when he steps down at the end of this season. Here’s hoping the next general director will possess even half of his talent, taste, discretion, and maganimous spirit.

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Filed under North American Opera, Reviews