Tag Archives: Verdi

highlights from WRTI’s “Day at the Opera” Act I

I’m listening to WRTI’s “Day at the Opera.”  Some wonderful selections thus far. Yes, you have to endure the fundraising pitches today, but the snatches of music in between have been exquisite. You can listen too at http://www.wrti.org/listenlive.html.

Because I love my readers, I’ll spare you their fundraising patter and just share some of the pieces they’ve played thus far. Here’s an extraordinary version of the “Ave Maria” from Verdi‘s Otello sung by Mirella Freni.

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Another delight this morning was hearing “Libiamo Ne’ Lieti Calici” from La Traviata. I know some think La Traviata is overdone and rightly so–there are many other operas worthy of production–but I never tire of the drinking song. Perhaps because I never tire of drinking. Here’s a glorious version by The Three Tenors.

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listen up . . . a day at the opera on WRTI

Know why they call Philadelphia “The City of Brotherly Love“? Because WRTI (Temple University’s radio station) is playing opera tomorrow, brah, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. during their Opera Extravaganza! on Saturday, November 20.

WRTI offers a  12-hour day of opera, featuring everyone’s favorite arias, choruses, and ballet excerpts, culminating in an unforgettable broadcast of Verdi’s Rigoletto at 1 pm, with Luciano Pavarotti and the late Dame Joan Sutherland, with Martti Talvela, Huguette Tourangeau, Riccardo Cassinelli, John Gibbs, Christian Du Plessis, Clifford Grant, Gillian Knight, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Josephte Clement, Sherrill Milnes, John Noble, the London Symphony Orchestra and the Ambrosian Opera Chorus conducted by Richard Bonynge.

You don’t need to live in Philly to enjoy a day at the opera. WRTI will be streaming live from their website at http://www.wrti.org/listenlive.html.

I can’t wait to hear what they have up their sleeve for opera aficionados. Makes me want to rise and shine. How about you?

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opera composers and literary counterparts

A few days ago, I sent a question out into the Twittersphere? Who are the literary counterparts to the greatest operatic composers? I got a nice response comparing famous cinematic directors to opera greats but no feedback regarding authors and composers.   

While I understood the comparisons between Puccini and Martin Scorcese and Verdi and James Cameron, I was still searching for a literary framework. Fundamentally, my first language is writing, not music composition. Cinema is a distant fourth or fifth. Finding no definitive work that likened composers to writers, I decided to create my own.   

Puccini

 

Puccini and Shakespeare    

Giacomo Puccini’s operas including La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot are among the most frequently performed in the standard repertoire. Shakespeare wrote heartbreakingly romantic tear-jerkers such as Romeo and Juliet that remain the most performed works in the dramatic repertoire. Puccini’s opera’s like Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted for modern audiences: Rent (Puccini), West Side Story (Shakespeare). According to The New York Times, Shakespeare, like Puccini, was “a notorious artistic poacher, so much so that tales of Shakespeare’s actual poaching of game have attached themselves to his legend.”   

Verdi

 

Verdi and Dickens  

 With 28 operas to his credit,Verdi’s operatic output is staggering, , many of which contain arias that have made their ways into popular culture and become mainstays. His mature period produced “Nabucco,” “Ernani,” “Macbeth” (after Shakespeare),” “Luisa Miller,” “Rigoletto,” “Il Trovatore,” “La Traviata,” “Un Ballo in Maschera,” “Don Carlo,” his most famous work: “Aida,” “Otello,” and “Falstaff” (both after Shakespeare).   

Charles Dickens wrote 31 novels comprising the mainstay of most-read works. References from many of Dickens’ works have infiltrated popular culture. Who doesn’t know what a Scrooge is? Who among us doesn’t recognize the Miss Havishams and Oliver Twists illuminated in contemporary literature? Like Verdi, he could do comedy and tragedy with equal aplomb.   

Wagner

 

Wagner and Homer   

 Of the top ten longest operas, seven of the epics are by Wagner. Götterdämmerung, the last of the Ring cycle, is 6 hours long. His operas are based loosely on characters from the Norse sagas and the Nibelungenlied. The four dramas, which the composer described as a trilogy with a Vorabend (‘preliminary evening’), are often referred to as the Ring Cycle, “Wagner‘s Ring“, or simply The Ring.  Wagner wrote the libretto and music over the course of about twenty-six years, from 1848 to 1874. He was not precocious. He was slow, thoughtful and philosophic; and music did not attract him so much as letters. His  four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen is gargantuan. It has also been said that the art of filmmaking would be set back 500 years, had Wagner not existed.   

 Homer was a legendary ancient Greek epic poet, traditionally said to be the author of the epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey. Homeric poems developed gradually over a long period of time. Many other works were credited to Homer in antiquity, including the entire Epic Cycle (comparable to the Ring Cycle?)   

Mozart and Kafka
  

Mozart

 

 Mozart was the most gifted musical genius in history, the most famous genius of any field in history, and is considered to be the perfecter of classical music. He wrote 41 symphonies, 27 piano concerti, a large amount of chamber music, 23 operas, 18 sonatas for piano, 36 for violin, for cello, church sonatas, organ pieces, 18 masses, including one Requiem, four horn concerti, 20 string quartets, serenades, divertimenti, and many others.   

Likeswise, Franz Kafka was a genius among literary geniuses. One Kafka expert claims that The Trial can be read “in any place, in any time, and it becomes about that place and time.” All his novels are classics, even minor ones. Vladimir Nabokov considered Kafka “the greatest German writer of our time.” Similarly, Mozart is considered the gold standard among musical composers. The entire ouevre of classical music is categorized around Mozart.   

So, there you have my framework for comparing opera greats to literary greats. How about it–those of you who are both literati and operaphiles? Do you agree with my comparables?

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Filed under 20th Century Opera, Classic Opera, Classical Composers

take me out to WNO opera any day! it’s a win-win-win!

For years now, the Pennsylvania Lottery has used the saying, “You Can’t Win if You Don’t Play.” So simple, it’s (almost) eloquent.      

Fact of life. You’ll never complete that slide to second base if you’re afraid to muddy your pants. Similarly, you’ll never win any kind of writing contest if you’re not willing to put your work, yourself, and your (oh *so* delicate) ego out there for public scrutiny from time to time.      

Just to clarify, I do put my writing “out there” regularly, querying agents, editors, and publishers, sometimes receiving a friendly “keep at it,” but more often incurring a) callous rejections b) snarky comments c) downright bitchiness and/or d) all of the above.  Generally, no one knows but them and me whether I’ve succeeded or not in my literary quest unless a snarky agent snarks about me on Twitter (which actually happened).      

masked revelers in Nationals Park

How lucky for me then that the Washington National Opera was sponsoring a really fun-sounding, heart-pounding, low-risk songwriting contest themed around a Simulcast of Verdi’s “Masked Ball” in Nationals Park. All entrants had to do was take one verse of the acclaimed “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” tune and adapt it with creativity and singability, while paying homage to the nature of the event: live opera in a major league ball park on the big screen.      

I had a week’s vacation and figured I’d give it a try. I agreed with this kind of event in principle. A noble idea! Finding corporate underwriters to make the event free for thousands of people (families, too) and holding it in a setting as comfortable as your favorite pair of slippers–lime green slippers with big floppy bunny ears.      

a shot from my video entry

Also, I have a high fun index, so this augured to be several hours of creative engagement–writing, editing, filming, and learning the movie works program on my laptop, for starters. Truth is, I utterly entertained myself by just writing and filming my entry, which I blogged about earlier this month. The making it was enough of a reward, if I’m being honest. And I like major league baseball–especially at Citizens Bank Park.      

So, pleased with myself for following through on a goal and because I liked the end results, I sent my entry sailing through cyberspace to the people at WNO.      

I waited a few days.      

And nice things began to happen. First, WNO posted my video on their website. Then I got an email saying I was one of three finalists in the contest, inviting me to come down to the park to receive my prize during the “7th Aria Stretch.”      

Sunday, September 19 was a breathtakingly beautiful day in the Mid-Atlantic States. Blue skies, wispy clouds, a hint of a breeze. It was a smooth drive to Washington, D.C.  despite being a  home game day for the Redskins. The staff at the park was friendly and upbeat–they had their game faces on–though their game had changed from nine innings to three acts.      

Luca Salsi as Count Anckarström

The picture on the Nationals Park Jumbotron is brilliant. It’s HD to the max. The sound was wonderful–and not so loud you couldn’t talk quietly to the person beside you. The air smelled like fattening, stadium foods. The sun was shining, the beer flowing.      

When the opera began, the singing was glorious–none more so than Tamara Wilson as Amelia. It was so easy to become enraptured in the production, I sort of forgot that the grand prize winner would be announced at the end of Act II and that I was a contender.      

Contest organizers gathered all the finalists in a VIP staging area just before Act II concluded. The reporter from the DC television station picked off the contestants, one by one. After the second and first runners-up were named, I was left standing. I had won first prize. What an honor. A talented singer from WNO’s young artists program along with the TV reporter warbled with me as my lyrics appeared on the Jumbotron.        

Being announced as the Grand Prize Winner

I remember feeling a little shell-shocked, mostly because I was surprised that I’d won–that my little entry was selected by none other than Placido Domingo, WNO’s general director. It was like someone dumped two tons of  glee on top of all the joy and attention participating in this event had already garnered me as a finalist from friends, family, and writing colleagues.       

A crowning touch was having the lyrics I wrote appear on the Jumbotron while everyone sang along–that sealed the specialness of the day for me (just click on the pic for the video). Oh, and I also loved the curtain call when the principals came onstage for their bows wearing Nationals red baseball caps.      

Though WNO has offered “Opera in the Outfield” for three years, this was the first year for the songwriting contest. If they offer it again next year, I have three words for you: Go. For. It.      

All my "booty" from WNO

They are a capable, friendly organization. I think their marketing department could sell sand in the Sahara. The prizes were are fantastic. In addition to the generous Target gift card and VIP tickets to Madama Butterfly, I got a tote bag, T-shirt, screen-printed baseball souvenir, and, of course, crackerjacks. Oh, and a mention in the Washington Post today (I just had to throw that tidbit in there).      

Fun. Glory. Prizes. Win. Win. Win.

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If it’s Tuesday, ask Richard about ‘Rigoletto’ filmed in Mantua

Dear Richard,            

I’ve  been so excited about the live TV film transmission from Mantua of Giuseppe Verdi‘s  Rigoletto, even though most of us in the States haven’t yet viewed the complete production. I watched one of the trailers prior to the live transmission. It was fantastic, like a microcosm of everything  this production had to offer–vibrancy, relevancy, and such fresh potential–in the way that it filmed opera not as a static stage production but as if it were cinema. Shooting a stage production in the conventional way would have been child’s play compared to the ambitious treatment of Rigoletto a Manatova. So, why are people who claim to like opera picking at this production like it’s a Thanksgiving turkey carcass? This was a watershed production for opera appreciation in the 21st century. It is living, breathing musical drama, dramma per musica, that has the potential to reach new audiences. Why aren’t people who say they love opera supporting this?            

Upset in Upsala            

Dr. Richard Rohrer

 

Dear Upset,          

I understand and share your concern. After all, some of the most accomplished and influential talents in the world of opera are associated with this production such as Plácido Domingo, internationally acclaimed performer and WNO principal; Andrea Alderman, producer; Marco Bellocchio, director; Zubin Mehta, conductor; and dozens  more talented and accomplished artisans. As the Classical Iconoclast has said in a recent essay on the production, “[Rigoletto a Montova]  is significant because it shows the possibilities of film in expanding the potential of opera to communicate.”            

I observed some of the nitpicking you refer to, reading comments posted on various opera blogs: “Zubin Mehta thinks he’s conducting Mahler;” “Grigolo screamed his part,” and so on and so forth, when in fact the production was impressive and nothing short of inspiring, on the whole.  And the whole is supposed to be greater than a sum of parts where drama is concerned. And in this case, the parts served the whole–admirably–despite the myriad challenges of filming live while attempting to convey verisimilitude more so than theatricality. Instead of feeling like I was watching from a box seat, I felt as though I was in the room with the Duke or standing beside Rigoletto in the thunderstorm.      

Unfortunately, so many conventional opera companies are hurting–my opera house in Hankey included. By tearing down brave new ventures like “Rigoletto” a Mantova, many self-professed opera lovers/cognoscenti insinuate that they would rather see opera as we know it die on the vine than support live opera  that doesn’t meet their high, unreasonable performance expectations in every piddling way.            

What the  creative team did, filming Rigoletto on site in Mantua, live, was an incredibly daring and artistically brave  and challenging endeavor. In every way that is significant, they succeeded. Promise me, Upset in Upsala, not to bend to the nattering nabobs of negativism in the operasphere but continue to support those who take risks in order to make opera a more accessible and a more relevant art form. If you bend to the naysayers, in less than 20 years, we are all doomed to viewing nothing but long-ago filmed productions, the historic record of a once-beloved live art form.            

Optimistically yours for opera’s future audience,            

Dr. Richard Rohrer            

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