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Roberto Alagna

Friday, September 22, 2017


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September 14

Stage struck

parterre boxOn September 16, 1977 Maria Callas died in Paris at 53. That same day the San Francisco Opera presented a reigning prima donna in an opera based on the life of a legendary French actress who died at an even younger age. This fascinating confluence prompts “Trove Thursday” to present that performance from 40 years ago: an inspired Renata Scotto as Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur with superb colleagues Elena Obraztsova, Giacomo Aragall and Giuseppe Taddei. In addition to Adriana (her first on any stage, I think) and her first US Norma in Cincinnati (can’t believe I didn’t go but I did listen to the live broadcast), 1977 was a banner year for Scotto. She appeared with the Met over 50 times in the house and on tour including her loopy Berthe in Le Prophète, Cio-Cio-San and Leonora in Il Trovatore, the beginning of a ubiquity there which displeased more than a few. Most memorably though she starred that year with Luciano Pavarotti in the first live Met PBS telecast. Not a big lover of La Bohème at the time, I watched it in my dorm room and was destroyed by the end and grateful that my roommate was out studying at the library and didn’t catch me tearstained throughout. Adriana’s been a guilty pleasure of mine since a tape of this broadcast seduced me; it was also the opera in which I saw Scotto for the first time. From the nosebleed seats at the Cincinnati Opera in 1979, she was magical even with a less-than-ideal cast that included Harry Theyard and Beverly Wolff. I hadn’t realized how much Scotto’s interpretation had imprinted on me until I went to see Mirella Freni in Adriana in the 1994 Met production. I’d always been a big Freni fan but there was scarcely a moment the entire evening when I wasn’t missing Scotto. While Freni died beautifully in act IV, she lacked the grandezza, the verbal specificity, the mesmerizing intensity of her near-exact contemporary: they were born just a year and three days apart. Recently a friend was aghast when I ventured that I preferred this performance to the fabled 1959 Naples Madga Olivero-Giulietta Simionato-Franco Corelli-Ettore Bastianini performance. So I re-listened to it and while I’m usually a big Olivero-fan I find her worst mannerisms on display there, and the conducting is as slow and indulgent as the audience is impatient and rowdy. Gianandrea Gavazzeni’s work in San Francisco while exceptionally supportive of his singers also manages a vivid dramatic energy. Cilea’s 1902 masterpiece is based on an 1849 play by Ernest Legouvé and Eugène Scribe, the celebrated librettist of many of Meyerbeer’s grandest operas. Although now virtually ignored compared to the opera, the play, like Victorien Sardou’s Tosca, became a celebrated vehicle for Sarah Bernhardt. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=vhGP8SSeaU0 There surely aren’t many roles that have been shared among Bernhardt, Joan Crawford who starred in the widely unseen 1928 silent Dream of Love, and Yvonne Printemps, whose Adrienne is the centerpiece of a film by the great Marcel L’Herbier. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iIPoUEdZhA Nearly 300 years after her death, Lecouvreur continues to fascinate. Twenty years ago Mariusz Trelinksi, director of the Met’s recent Tristan und Isolde, made an intriguing film for Polish television of a pared-down version of the Scribe-Legouvé play. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UJdrK6RRbo And Cilea’s opera now must be more popular than ever. Anna Netrebko, who sang her first Adriana in St. Petersburg earlier this summer, repeats it in Vienna in November, next year in Baden-Baden and eventually at the Met. During the 2017-18 season Monte Carlo mounts a new staging with Barbara Frittoli and Roberto Alagna while the Angelas Gheorghiu and Meade perform it in Palermo and Frankfurt respectively. Although he’s principally known for Adriana, Cilea did write four other operas including L’Arlesiana which I heard beautifully done by Giuseppe Filianoti, Latonia Moore and Marianne Cornetti with Opera Orchestra of New York ten years ago. Next year Joseph Calleja and Dolora Zajick take on Federico and his mom in concert performances of it in Berlin. Cilea: Adriana Lecouveur San Francisco Opera 16 September 1977 Broadcast Renata Scotto — Adriana Lecouvreur Elena Obraztsova — Princesse de Bouillon Pamela South — Mlle Jouvenot Mildred Tyree — Mlle Dangeville Giacomo Aragall — Maurizio Giuseppe Taddei — Michonnet Robert Johnson – Poisson John Davies — Quinault Joseph Frank — Abbé de Chazeuil Gianandrea Gavazzeni – Conductor To mark its second anniversary, three more reminders of notable past “Trove Thursday” podcasts: Supplementing the recent run of New York City Opera performances of La Fanciulla del West Olivero embodies Minnie in her own inimitable way . Georg Solti has a great time with Falstaff and brings along Katia Ricciarelli, Kathleen Battle, Christa Ludwig, Wolfgang Brendel and Guillermo Sarabia. Thrilling early Mozart happens when Edita Gruberova, Ann Murray, Jill Gomez, Rachel Yakar and Philip Langridge square off in Lucio Silla under Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Adriana and last week’s Attila can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory. More than 90 other “Trove Thursday” podcasts also remain available from iTunes or via any RSS reader .

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August 31

Abendstern

One of the still-active artists who has meant the most to me during my opera-going life turns 57 on Tuesday. “Trove Thursday” celebrates the thrilling Finnish soprano Karita Matilla in the ultimate diva role—Emilia Marty in Janácek’s Vec Makropulos led by the fine Czech conductor Jirí Belohlávek who died earlier this year at 71. In the midst of all the Renée Fleming “‘will she or won’t she retire” brouhaha this spring I found myself thinking instead about Mattila. I have seen Fleming many times but rarely found her performances all that memorable, with a few exceptions: the Countess in Nozze; Armida with Eve Queler, the final scene from Capriccio with Antonio Pappano in Rome, “Marietta’s Lied” at the Met 125 Gala. I then recalled my Mattila-times of so many evenings burned into my consciousness. On a hunch I checked and discovered that the first time I saw this pair was just a month apart: in October 1988 Fleming as La Folie in Platée at BAM and then a month later Mattila as Donna Elvira at the Chicago Lyric. If I had been asked then, I’d have voted for Fleming who was dazzling and funny in the Rameau. On the other hand Mattila’s Elvira in my favorite Jean-Pierre Ponnelle Mozart production nearly got lost amid a spectacular cast—Carol Vaness, Marie McLaughlin, Gösta Winbergh, Samuel Ramey and Claudio Desderi with Semyon Bychkov conducting. What I remember most was Mattila’s Italian: at least I think it was Italian but there were almost no consonants and I need my Elviras to have lots of those. As I wasn’t so impressed I was disappointed when Mattila was announced for the Met’s new Meistersinger in 1993. But, boy, instead I fell and fell hard. For the next twenty years, Mattila performances were nearly always a high point of every Met season. With that irrepressibly girlish yet passionate Eva she began a memorable Met collaboration with Ben Heppner, her Stolzing. I saw them three different seasons in Meistersinger and at least three times in the occasionally perverse Robert Wilson Lohengrin in which her compelling theatrical flamboyance refused to be dampened by Wilson’s glacial poses. For me the most painful “should have been” in 40 years of Met telecasts was the first year of the Elijah Moshinsky Pikovaya Dama dominated by Leonie Rysanek’s electrifying Countess. Mattila and Heppner again made a marvelous pair with her febrile Lisa convincing us that his Ghermann was the most irresistible man in Imperial Russia even over the young and impossibly glamorous Dmitri Hvorostovsky. For many the prime Met Mattila revelations might be her Fidelio Leonore (again with Heppner) and Salome, both in Jurgen Flimm productions. Had there ever been a more convincingly boyish Fidelio who quivered with such resolute conviction? Although I didn’t much care for Flimm’s vision of the Judean princess, Mattila threw herself into it performing with such enthralling carnality that audiences at the performances I attended were almost too stunned to applaud but then shout and stomp they did! The Strauss opera that I never imagined would be a good fit was Arabella, but of course Mattila proved me wrong. I was planning a trip to Europe and noticed that Peter Mussbach’s Paris production would be coming to Covent Garden so I made a detour to London to catch it. She and Thomas Hampson were the wittiest, most moving, most romantic pair imaginable and her golden voice soared thrillingly declaring the rightness of her life decisions. Chrysothemis however pushed her to her limits; it wasn’t a role she sang very often but she was embodied it with an enveloping generosity that almost made me forget how much I dislike the character. Being opera-crazy inevitably leads to “wish lists”—roles that one hopes a favorite singer will undertake. Unfortunately many of mine for Mattila will not happen. I would have loved to hear her and Heppner in Weber’s Oberon but at least she recorded “Ocean, thy Mighty Monster.” What a marvelous Rusalka she would have made! That scintillating “Watch Duet” from Die Fledermaus with Håkan Hagegård at the Levine Gala made me yearn for a Mattila Rosalinde. Other than Eva and Elsa she tended to shy away from other Wagner roles—no exultant Elisabeth hailing the great hall and most especially no Senta transfixed by her fantasy Dutchman. Sieglinde came late but wonderfully and she repeats it next summer in San Francisco’s Ring cycles and Kundry finally happened just this month in Finland but will not, alas, seduce at the Met next season. Meanwhile I’ve heard mutterings that there’s an Ortrud in her future. While a local critic seems fixated on calling out the “cool Nordic colorings” of any female Scandinavian singer including Mattila, her voice sears “white-hot” for me. But it’s true it lacks the morbidezza so coveted in Italian roles which might explain why her Tosca and Manon Lescaut were the least successful endeavors of her Met career. On the other hand, she quite stole the show the night of Roberto Alagna’s Met debut as the least shrewish, most warmly vivacious Musetta ever. And then there’s Janácek. When I was out of commission and unable to attend the Met part of last season, what I most regret missing was her return as Kostelnicka. Over the years her achingly vulnerable Jenufa was nearly the vocal equal of Gabriela Benackova’s. But she acted it with more nuance and complexity than the Czech soprano whether at the Met opposite Deborah Polaski or Anja Silja or at the Chatelet with Rosalind Plowright. Friends I trust reported that her Kostelnicka was shattering, beautifully sung and acted with powerful restraint My most recent encounter (but not the last, I pray) was her transfixing final Met Emilia Marty, even better than an earlier one I attended. The fabulous diva hauteur melted for that glorious final monologue of letting go. During the tumultuous ovation she bent down, kissed her hand and patted it to the stage floor. Many of us feared that it might be her Met farewell but happily that wasn’t the case. But why did it take nearly five years for her to return, especially when we could have been seeing her Ariadne or Wozzeck Marie in the meantime. Apparently she won’t be Sieglinde in the upcoming revival of the Robert Lepage Ring (why?) but may be Mme de Croissy in a revival of the classic John Dexter Les Dialogues des Carmélites. Next though she adds Leokadja Begbick in Mahagonny to her repertoire in November at the Zurich Opera conducted by Fabio Luisi. Janácek: Vec Makropulos BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall 19 August 2016 Broadcast Karita Mattila — Emilia Marty Eva Sterbová — Kristina Ales Briscein — Albert Gregor Gustáv Belácek — Dr Kolenatý Jan — Vacík Vítek Svatopluk Sem — Baron Jaroslav Prus Ales Vorácek — Janek Jan Jezek — Hauk-Sendorf BBC Singers BBC Symphony Orchestra Jirí Belohlávek conductor For Mattila-lovers, “Trove Thursday” has also made available her glowing Tove in Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder with Johan Botha and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, and Jenufa with Sena Jurinac and Martha Mödl may still be heard or downloaded as well. Vec Makropulos can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory. Last week’s Norma and nearly 90 other “Trove Thursday” podcasts also remain available from iTunes or via any RSS reader .




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August 1

Babes in arms

Chances are you’ve been wallowing in Wagner all week, and I head up den Grünen Hügel tomorrow for eight days, so it’s time for some attractive and very young singers, coloratura with embellishments, and high notes galore: La fille du regiment from Wiener Staatsoper with Julie Fuchs and John Tessier. If Fuchs’ name sounds familiar she was the Zerlina in the Don Giovanni broadcast from Aix earlier this month. The petite French soprano is at the dawn of a most promising career: coming up are Nanette at the Bastille, La Comtesse in Le Comte Ory at the Opéra Comique, Morgana in Alcina at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Pamina in Hamburg, and Monteverdi’s Poppea in a Calixto Bieto production in Zürich. Canadian tenor Tessier already has 10 Tonios under his belt at Wiener Staatsoper, so he’s popped out at least 90 Donizetti high Cs to go along with those in Il barbiere di Siviglia and I Puritani. A master of the Mozart tenor roles, he’s sung them at New York City Opera and Opera Company of Philadelphia, as well as Pasquale in Haydn’s Orlando Paladino and Acis and Galatea at Glimmerglass Opera. Werther has been his most recent triumph, prompting an Edmonton critic to write, “There is something very special about his tenor voice: there is a colour, a kind of tiny musical accent, to his sound that is entirely his. Jon Vickers and Jussi Björling had something similar, with the result that their voices are instantly recognizable.” It’s hard for me to think of Carlos Álvarez as a “veteran,” but the Wiener Staatsoper Kammersänger made his company debut in 1995 as Rossini’s Figaro, and at the Met the following season as Germont père. He returns to Wien in the coming season as the High Priest in a new Samson et Dalila with Elina Garanca and Roberto Alagna, Mozart’s Figaro, Escamillo, and more performances as Sulpice, a role he’s sung in every performance here of Laurent Pelly’s well-traveled production since its 2007 premiere with Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez. While Wien counts Montserrat Caballé and Kiri Te Kanawa among its interpreters of La Duchesse de Crakentorp, another veteran and Kammersängerin, company mainstay Ildikó Raimondi, who debuted as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier in 1991, vamps up the cameo role with a Gershwin tune. (Gee, I wish Ljuba Welitsch had done the same in her Met performances!) Post scriptum: For those of you who can’t get enough, here’s the Bayreuth Meistersinger which opened last Tuesday, which I’ll be attending a week from today. And here’s Thursday’s Parsifal , too, which I’ll be seeing on Saturday.



Royal Opera House

July 15

Your Reaction: What did you think of Puccini's Turandot on BP Big Screens?

Lise Lindstrom as Turandot © ROH/Tristram Kenton, 2013 #rohturandot absolute masterpiece. Thanks for making this available the world over @RoyalOperaHouse @YouTube — Dan H. (@0ce4n_Bleu) July 15, 2017 Superb revival of #ROHturandot last night. Amazing cast living their role in this vintage but solid production@Alek_Kurzak @roberto_alagna — Julien Hasler (@JulienHasler) July 15, 2017 #rohturandot my review: lavish and intricate blend of costumes, dance and passionate voice. Bravo! — Camberwella ???????? (@camberwella) July 15, 2017 Wonderful, mesmerising, glorious performance @roberto_alagna #rohturandot #bigscreen @CityParkBD — Chris Housley (@lufcChris) July 15, 2017 The cast of Turandot © ROH/Tristram Kenton, 2013 Oh what a triumph. Be still my poor heart. Bravissimi tutti! #ROHTurandot — Misper (@akicviii) July 14, 2017 Tonight's #ROHTurandot was a thrilling human drama. I could share feelings of everyone on the stage. And of course shed tears for Liu. ???? — Yosh M (@yoshkosh10) July 14, 2017 Really enjoyed #rohturandot on the @bpbigscreens in Castle Square Swansea tonight. More next year please @EnjoySwansea — Jane Pritchard (@marinagirl29) July 14, 2017 #ROHturandot Thank you, @TheRoyalOpera , it was a joy to watch! Kudos to all involved, esp. the leads and @ROHchorus . Y'all were on fire! ???????????? — Fufi (@batched_fufi) July 14, 2017 Marco Berti as Calaf in Turandot © ROH/Tristram Kenton, 2013 #ROHturandot Fantastic 3rd act with a brilliant @Alek_Kurzak , mesmerising performances by @liselindstrom and @roberto_alagna . Bravissimo! ???????? — Fufi (@batched_fufi) July 14, 2017 Nessun dorma..., Nessun dorma... The best moment. Bravissimo Alagna. He nailed it at #ROHTurandot . Magnificent high note at "Vincerò". pic.twitter.com/B6rJNsJTnB — Koba El Tigre ☭ (@KobaElTigre) July 14, 2017 @RoyalOperaHouse I was at the 1st night of this one back in '84 - thanks for the #ROHTurandot stream ! ;-) — Stephanie Brooke (@manx_maid) July 14, 2017 #ROHturandot Not even football can move me like Opera!! — Thomas Knoll (@tom_knoll) July 14, 2017 What did you think of Turandot? Share your thoughts via the comments below. If you missed the livestream, watch it again on-demand for 30 days Turandot runs until 16 July 2017. Tickets are still available.

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