Tuesday, December 19, 2006


All the opera boards are clamoring about the incident last week at La Scala, Milan, when the tenor Roberto Algana was booed at the beginning of a performance of Aida, just after his difficult aria 'Celeste Aida'. Alagna, a decent French born tenor is a few sizes short of being a Radames, but I heard the previous performance on line and he sounded fine. This night however, as the booing began he flipped off the audience and walked off the stage. His understudy, in Reebok's and jeans walked out singing and the performance continued without a pause. Opera loves a good scandal and this one has some impressive mileage, thanks to the endless posts on opera-l and the event itself all over YouTube.

The consensus is Alagna behaved like a brat, and ultimately did himself no good. He's been fired from all the performances of Aida, and law suits and press conferences are flying back and forth all over Milan. Just before the third performance, from which he'd been fired remember, Alagna instead sang OUTSIDE La Scala to the amusement of the crowd who no doubt thought him just another panhandler, albeit better dressed.

Did anyone tell Robertino that everyone gets booed at La Scala?
The great tenor Carlo Bergonzi was booed thirty years ago, also in Aida. He too flipped off the audience but continued to sing.
By Act 3 the audience was screaming at him "Perdona Carlo! Bravo!"

And then there's Maria Callas.
Yeah I know we all talk about her too much.
Herbert Breslin is his loads of fun book about working with Pavarotti (The King and I)
says that EMI markets her recordings so aggressively and people buy 'em up so much that everyone's convinced she's still alive, and she'd been dead for thirty years.

Anyway, Callas was Queen of La Scala for years.
Not bad for a Greek girl from 178th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.
One night she was singing Medea. One of her signature roles.
She was in poor voice. The audience began to hiss. 4,000 people hissing.
Then the boos started. Callas came to the line in the opera that she was supposed
to address to Jason: "Crudel! Ha datto tutto a te!" Cruel one, I gave you everything.
What did she do? She ignored Jason, strode to the footlights, lifted her fist to the audience and sang that line in their faces. And the cheering went on all night.

That kids, is how you sing at La Scala.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

MESSIAH: Which to buy?

It's the time of year when many listeners call in saying, Y'know we just realized that we don't own a recording of Handel's Messiah-so which should we buy?
Yikes! How do you like your pizza? The choices are many and varied.
You can spend $5 and you can spend $50.
Here are some that I've enjoyed over the years.
amazon.com or arkivmusik.com should have these

In no particular order

The Robert Shaw Chorale and Orchestra, with Judith Raskin, Florence Kopleff, Richard Lewis and Thomas Paul. This was new to cd in 2005. It features the bracing, clear choral singing in the smaller forces we think Handel would have used (who really knows? everybody's dead)
and exemplary soloists, especially Richard Lewis and the sublime Judith Raskin. A 2 cd set at mid price.
RCA RED SEAL 82876-62317-2

Boston Baroque, conducted by Martin Pearlman, with Karen Clift, Catherine Robbin, Bruce Fowler and Victor Ledbetter. Pearlman's forces are similar to Shaw's in number, but he uses more appogiature and ornaments, again what Handel would have expected for a nice, varied sound texture, well recorded. A 2 cd set from TELARC, CD-80322

The Trinity Church Choir and Orchestra, Owen Burdick, conductor
Messiah had its first performance in the New World in 1770 at New York's Trinity Church,
near Wall Street. This recording was made there 225 years later. The vocal soloists are chosen among the members of Trinity's exemplary choir. This 2 cd set from Naxos (8.554511-2) is a fine performance, hard to pass up at a budget price.

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra U.C. Berkeley Chamber Chorus, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Janet Williams, Patricia Spence, Drew Minter, Jeffrey Thomas, William Parker. This three cd package is set up in such a way that the listener may program one of several different versions of Messiah. It can all get a bit fussy and is not for the casual listener-its also expensive. BUT McGegan and his forces are magnificent musicians who for all thier pedantry don't forget that Handel himself called Messiah "an entertainment".


Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham, with Jennifer Vyvyan, Monica Sinclair, Jon Vickers and Giorgio Tozzi. This over the top orchestration by Eugene Goossens features large choral forces, no decorations whatsoever, and instruments Handel had never heard of. Saxophones, xylophones, they're all here. As far from the current Historically Informed Performances as you can get, this is the recording with which many of us grew up. Fantastic and musicologically wrong. There's a one cd of highlights available: RCA RED SEAL 9026-68159-2

English Chamber Orchestra, Ambrosian Singers conducted by Richard Bonynge with Joan Sutherland, Huguette Tourangeau, Werner Krenn and Tom Krause. This set attracted a lot of criticism when it came out in 1970. It is sumptuosly decorated, the choral work is clipping and fine, the orchestration is fussy, its fantastic to hear Joan Sutherland sing "Rejoice greatly o daughter of Zion!" and contralto Tourangeau is so awful she's fascinating. But I do love this performance. 2 cds on LONDON 433 740-2