Friday, November 17, 2017


Approaching another birthday, and with the years advancing and the returns diminishing, it's time to look at a Bucket List. I do so publicly to give myself a bit more impetus to make things happen.
Have a swimmer's body? Eat whatever I want with no concern? Never need to excersise? Those boats sailed long ago. I look my age. I've earned it.


Four Saints in Three Acts by Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein 

I've always loved the elegance and craziness of Stein's text and her love for "Saints and Avila" combined with Virgil Thomson's Southern Baptist hymnal influenced music.

Stein and Thompson stressed clarity (!) You might not understand the text, but the worlds are clearly set. This is a witty and strangely moving opera. I would love to immerse myself in Thomson and Stein's worlds. 

Four Saints in Three Acts is worth knowing better.  I don't understand why this isn't done more often, certainly its perfect for colleges.

All I need is a venue, a cast, an orchestra and money. Who's talking to me?

Transformations by Anne Sexton and Conrad Susa

Anne Sexton's take on Grimm's fairy tales became an opera in the 1970s. Renee Fleming, in her excellent book, The Inner Voice, the Making of a Singer (should be required reading for any young musician) describes of production of this work in which she sang very early on.. She maintains this was one of he great events of her career.

There's a wonderful production of Transformations, set in a mental hospital. I've seen the video and I can't imagine a better staging. What a wonderful challenge this would be!

Both works have large casts and make no horrendous demand on young-or not young-voices. These could be two "community" projects.


Never been. I'd like to sit in San Marco in Venice where Monteverdi was maestro di capella. I'd like to go to Milan and say a prayer at Verdi's grave in the Casa di riposo. I'd like to take a day off form sobriety and have a grappa. I'll settle for a gelato. I'd like to wander through the Sistine Chapel. Can you wander there?

I'd like to see the faded image of Leonardo's Last Supper at the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Just to stand in front of it for a minute:


Yeah, I know. Yadda yadda yadda.

I'D LIKE TO START A CHOIR made up of autistic children who don't have language. Music is a path to language. I'm inspired by the story of a fine singer who had a devastating stroke that robbed her of spoken language. Her voice was unimpaired. Not only could she sing beautifully, but she could sing the words she had always sung. Having a day to day conversation became challenging, but she could sing Mahler or Strauss to knock you on your ass.

I heard about this and thought, Bingo! Use music to cultivate underperforming areas of the brain! And spend your time with kids. What's not to love?

....and I'm still working on this list!

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Finally, I listened to a few recordings: DiDonato, Spyres, Yoncheva and Florez

The stack of new CD releases has been eyeing me with something like contempt for moths. I have scanned the walls of my office and am beginning to despair. What will I do with these shelves of recordings, many of which I've loved and cherished for years, when I'm no longer here? The days don't get longer when you reach 60, boys and girls.

But disposing of my collection is a problem for tomorrow.

For today, I want to talk a bit about a few recent releases.

Lately I've been listening to Scriabin.  The two poems, both divine and ecstatic. I'm enjoying the Boston Symphony's newly published complete Brahms symphonies with Andris Nelsons. I'm trying and not always succeeding in listening to artists who are still alive!

That's my rule for this post. For once, you can't be dead.

Arias by Handel, Purcell, Leo, Jomelli and Monteverdi

What a beautiful artist! Joyce DiDonato, like the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson leaves her own ego outside the stage door or the recording studio and subsumes herself into text and music. I couldn't keep my eyes off DiDonato during the recent Metropolitan Opera live-in HD Norma. Her Adalgisa listened and reacted in character to everything going on around her. Especially moving was her onstage support to Norma herself in the first act, long before Adalgisa has anything so sing.

This recording  gives us warriors and peace makers. There's Dido's lament and Handel's exquisite Lascia ch'io pianga. The warrior Sesto sings himself into avenging his father's murder. Monteverdi's Penelope cherishes the long awaited return of her husband Ulisse in Illustratevi o cieli. DiDonato uses a touch of chest voice which never interferes with the ability to float a gorgeous phrase. Listen to Purcell's They tell us that you mighty powers above for its shapely sweetness. For me the high point of the album is the aria from Jomelli's Attilio Regolo. DiDonato's brio and fearless coloratura remind me, of all people, of Beverly Sills.


Michael Spyres is a young American tenor enjoying quite a busy career, primarily in Europe. He already has an impressive discography complete with the robust tenor roles of Rossini that require a great deal of flexibility. I've enjoyed his work in Rossini's Otello, Guillaume Tell, and Le siege de Corinthe. In the latter he sings a role done in Italian versions (L'assedio di corinto) en travesti by  Shirley Verrett and astoundingly, Marilyn Horne.

Espoir is Spyres's tribute to Gilbert Duprez (1806-1896) supposedly the tenor who developed the High C delivered from the chest. The manly, squillante sound (ring) is greatly prized, and rare,  today.

Spyres sings arias by Rossini, Donizetti, Auber and Berlioz. Of special interest are two selections by Halevy, known today only for La juive, and that just barely. To all these he brings not only the aforementioned squillante, but a warm and attractive voice that combines sweetness with power. It's a wining combination and this disc is a winner.

SONYA YONCHEVA: Paris mon amour

If you'll be attending this season's live in HD presentations by the Metropolitan  Opera, you'll be seeing and hearing Sonya Yoncheva in Tosca, La boheme and Luisa Miller. So here's hoping that we'll all fall in love with Sonya, as the Met it seems expects us to do.

Paris mon amour pays tribute to the city of light, with selections from operas set in the French capital, many written during the belle epoque of the late 19th century. She sings arias by Massenet, Offenbach, Puccini, Verdi, Gounod, Messager and Lecocq

I appreciate the programming. Messager's Madame Chrysantheme lost its audience once Puccini wrote Madama Butterfly. Charles  Lecocq found himself competing with Offenbach in the light opera sweepstakes. The gentle waltz from Les cent vierges is captivating. yo gotta love a guy who writes an opera called The One Hundred Virgins.

Yoncheva's lovely voice suffers in comparison only to people like Scotto in an earlier time, whose recorded arias form La boheme, Le villi and La traviata broke your heart. Yoncheva does everything right. She's a light soprano, not a "juicy lyric" and she brings grace and style to a lot of this repertoire. What's missing is the dramatic tension and sense of the words that can elevate Massenet and Gounod. The arias from Sapho and Le cid  require more voice than Yoncheva can summon. This falcon repertoire is not the Yoncheva voice. Listen to Marilyn Horne or Grace Bumbry in the arias from Sapho and Le cid and you'll hear what I mean.
There's a lot of beautiful signing here but,  I don't hear the vocal chops for Tosca or Luisa Miller


Where's he been? Juan Diego Florez, our finest tenore di grazia was a fixture in New York. In recent years he's preferred to sing in Europe (where he continues to be very busy). He's expanding his repertoire away from the young man Rossini to Verdi's Duke of Mantua and Massenet's Werther. I hope he sings them in the States.

I was surprised to read that Mozart has never figured large in Florez's career. For a while he sang Donizetti and Rossini operas few others could or would. Mozart was well traveled. This new album of Mozart arias is a delight.  Florez's voice lacks the last bit of snap of Alfredo Kraus,  but he has all the flexibility and lovely tone necessary for this music.

 Idomeno's Fuor del mar opens this disc. Power? Check. Coloratura? Yes. It's fearless. I especially loved the selections from Cosi fan tutte  and Abduction From the Seraglio. The great concert aria,  Misero! O sogno K. 431 shows us that Florez is not leaving of a young man's charm in his singing, but adding the pathos and life experience of a mature artist.