Tag Archives: Washington National 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

my Spring Semester opera awards

Seance on a Wet Afternoon -- my pick for best of season / photo by © Carol Rosegg

Thus far this semester, I’ve traveled to various houses in major metropolitan areas in the Mid-Atlantic States to see seven professional productions–at the Kennedy Center, the Met, the Merriam Theater, the David H. Koch Theatre, to name a few. (A bit of explanation–I work at a college, and so everything from January to May is considered Spring Semester).   

Here are the shows I was fortunate enough to see:   

January – Puccini’s Tosca, Metropolitan Opera of New York, with Sondra Radvanovsky, Marcelo Álvarez, and Falk Struckmann. Performances spectacular; direction disappointing.   

February – Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet, Opera Company of Philadelphia, with Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello; this production was better integrated in the community than any other.   

February – Strauss’s Arabella, Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, with resident artists Corinne Winters and Chloé Moore– challenging work and well sung!   

March – Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Washington National Opera in Washington, D.C., with Ana María Martínez conducted by Plácido Domingo. Memorable, tasteful.   

March – Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love, New York City Opera, with David Lomeli, José Adán Pérez, and Stefania Dovhan. Quirky–selected stellar performances.   

April – Rossini’s Le Comte Ory, Metropolitan Opera of New York City, with Juan Diego Flórez, Diana Damrau, and Joyce DiDonato. Exceptional singing and acting.   

April – Schwartz’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon, New York City Opera, with Lauren Flanigan, Kim Josephson, and Melody Moore. Intense, scary, thrilling.   

And here are the awards dispensed by me, Queen of “Operatoonity”:    

Artist I most want to see again soon — And the winner is: Juan Diego Flórez. The man has major star quality, something you simply can’t measure from a recording or even by watching a Live in HD simulcast. I’d love to see him in a dramatic role, something of  a completely different nature the Count in Le Comte Ory, to see if I like him as much.   

Best aria — And the winner is:  “Vissi d’arte” sung by Sondra Radvanovsky. She took my breath away–literally. Near the end of the piece, I gasped following one of her high notes and lost my breath. Then as the aria was coming to a poignant close, bereft of air, I began choking and coughing, which everyone around me loved. It was however sensational–her aria, not my choking.   

Best breakout performance –And the winner is: David Lomeli, making his NYC Opera appearance as Nemorino in Elixir. His “Una furtiva lagrima” was a magical moment.   

Best performance overall — And the winner is: Falk Struckmann in Tosca. I was absolutely riveted by his performance of Baron Scarpia–the part could have been written for him–it fit him like a glove in every regard.   

Most fun — And the winner is: A tie between NYC Opera’s The Elixir of Love and the Met’s Le Comte Ory. I giggled throughout both of them. Loved the dustbowl diner concept of Elixir. Loved the show within a show premise in Le Comte Ory and the interplay between the three principals was side-splittingly entertaining.   

Most likely to succeed — And the winner is: Soprano Ailyn Pérez, who sang Juliet for the Opera Company of Philadelphia. She’s a winner in every regard, and it won’t be long until we’ll see her singing for the major houses.  AVA resident artist Corinne Winters is a close second–expect to see and hear her in prominent professional productions. 

Most moved — And the winner is: WNO’s Madama Butterfly. All the production elements were maximized to serve the story and propel the operagoer to experience Butterfly’s destruction. It was beautiful to see and hear as a complete, harmonious production.   

Most pleasantly surprised — And the winner is:  NYC Opera’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon — since I’d never heard any operas of musical theater composer Stephen Schwartz before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I also thought I preferred classic to contemporary opera. Boy, I was wrong. Or maybe I just loved Schwartz’s contemporary opera.   

Best of the season— And the winner is: NYC Opera’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon. Principals–stunning! Chorus–spectacular. Production values–solid. Story–gripping. Music and orchestration–beautiful and functional. It was relevant, immediate, and accessible. Being “accessible” in contemporary opera is definitely a good thing!   

Perhaps I’ll amend this list after I see the last two shows of the season in May: Don Giovanni at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Phila., and Ariadne auf Naxos at the Met in May. We’ll see. Oh, and if you’d like to see all my reviews thus far for Bachtrack, the world’s best way to find live classical performance, simply click on this link.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Best of Operatoonity, Reviews

murder at the opera?

a novel by Margaret Truman

Only on the page, I’m afraid.  

Though at least one opera singer in the US was believed to be murdered in the past year (according to one news story I read), real murder at the opera is merely the stuff of fiction. In fact, it’s a Capital Crimes Mystery by author Margaret Truman, set in Washington D.C., at the Kennedy Center, home to the Washington National Opera.  

Like Bel Canto, this opera-based novel is written by a North American. It also takes place in the capital of the United States.  

I found Murder at the Opera while searching for contemporary fiction that used opera or an opera house as a backdrop. Actually, the pickings were pretty slim, and, as a result, Truman’s Murder at the Opera surfaced quickly.  

After flipping through the book, I liked the amount and frequency of dialogue as a model for my own opera-based book. Also, almost from the opening line, the author Margaret Truman exhibits a gentle sense of humor about opera that makes the story more accessible. After discovering the book included scenes with members of the Washington National Opera’s volunteer guild, it jumped to the top of my list.  

Here’s the book’s premise: A rising star from Canada enrolled in the Washington National Opera’s Young Artist  Program is stabbed in the heart during rehearsals for a production of Tosca, the most famous opera for fatal stabbings. An opera guild volunteer and her professor-husband, once a defense attorney, set about trying to solve the murder on behalf of the WNO, alongside the Metro Police. Together working with a retired detective who is an opera buff and a supernumerary for Tosca, that set out to unmask a killer. The case quickly becomes more complex as the crime-fighting couple learns the deceased soprano had connections with international terrorists.  

Pretty scary–a scenario that includes a member of the company’s young artist program. After all, young people come from all over the world to participate in these accelerated opera training academies, trusting they will learn a profession, and not lose their life for their ambition.   

As the daughter of a president, Margaret Truman is very interested and skilled at showcasing Washington, D.C., and knows the area, Washington society and Washington restaurants well. She shows a formidable knowledge and appreciation of opera without pounding her knowhow into readers.  

I liked her dialogue attribution and her dialogue as  well. She worked back story in seamlessly. Right away, she introduces a sympathetic character in one of her main characters as we learn early on that his first wife and child were killed. His new wife is pretty, smart, cultured and very loving and easy for the reader to like.  

Truman has an economical but not sparing writing style which serves her genre well, occasionally lingering over a description here and there. She writes with confidence. She has a gentle sense of humor. She’s more hip than I ever imagined she would be from her name and her picture in which she looks ninety years old.  

I liked the first two-thirds of the book a great deal. Since mystery is a genre dependent on plot, I didn’t think the last third delivered the necessary punch. It became a little convoluted and the outcomes were disappointing.  

To set your mind at ease, unless you are talking about the butchery of a score or killing a production, an actual murder at the opera remains the stuff of imagination only. Let’s hope it stays that way. 

 

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Filed under Book reviews

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

a ‘Butterfly’ wing . . .

Circumstances–namely a full day’s work and a luncheon engagement,  followed by church choir practice–have prevented me from writing a review of the splendid Butterfly I saw at the Kennedy Center yesterday presented by the Washington National Opera (WNO) today. Instead, I’ll offer a piece of information on a tidbit from the opera program that intrigued me mainly because of its incongruity.

According to the program notes in the playbill, Madama Butterfly was not well received when it premiered in Milan, Italy, in February of 1904. Not well received? Really? In fact, it is said to have flopped.

What a surprise to learn this about the premiere of this opera, especially since Butterfly followed two great successes for Puccini in La bohème and Tosca. I consulted several of my favorites sources as to why this would have been so.

No one is quite sure why it was a resounding failure. Paul England suggests the following reasons:

  • the Italians didn’t like Japan as a stage setting–too unfamiliar;
  • the original cast of singers was inadequate;
  • originally the opera was only in two acts;
  • Pinkerton’s role was too thin–eventually Puccini added an aria for him in Act II.

Only a few months later, a revised work, slightly shorter with Act II  now in two parts, was presented in Brescia, and was a resounding success, and would continue to be regarded as such ever after.

According to Opera AmericaMadama Butterfly is the most performed opera in North America today. With performances like the WNO’s yesterday at the Kennedy Center, it’s no wonder.

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Filed under 20th Century Opera, Classic Opera, Premieres