La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Measha Brueggergosman on the cover of Chatelaine

The January 2008 issue of Chatelaine features a cover interview/profile of Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman who reveals details about her incredible weight lost of over 150 pounds over the last two years. Wrote Danielle Groen:
Now she's hooked on Bikram yoga, an intense, sweaty workout of 26 poses performed in a heated room. She has completed two 30-day challenges (90 minutes of yoga every day) and two double 30-day challenges (all that yoga, twice a day). "It doesn't require that I muster up my own self-discipline, which is great. With Bikram, my only responsibility is to show up." Whenever she travels, Measha seeks out a centre. "There's one in every major city in the world. It's like church." She credits yoga for her dramatic physical transformation.
Groen also writes that Brueggergosman is "Only 30 and already Canada's best-known opera singer..." Many in the Canadian operatic scene would probably wince at this statement given the singer's dearth of recent operatic performances. There is though some truth to the suggestion of "best-known" given Brueggergosman's frequent celebrity appearances on TV and radio.

Brueggergosman will have a chance to add to her operatic street cred when she makes her Mozart operatic debut singing Elettra in Mozart's Idomeneo with Opera Atelier, April 26, 27, 29, May 1, 2, 3, 2008.

Our Question of the Day: Who is Canada's best-known opera singer? Give us your comments.

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Friday, 21 December 2007

The sincerest form of flattery

My recent book, The Life and Death of Classical Music, contains an analysis of the 20 worst classical records ever made. Colin Larkin (see press release below) has appended the 100 worst pop records to his outstanding and important Encyclopedia of Popular Music, which goes online from next week (see below once more).

Among Colin's 100 worst are seven chilling Xmas albums. My list had room only for Kiri at Christmas, although a new compilation from Sony came tantalisingly close. Has there ever been a less festive track than Charlotte Church trilling Dong Dong Merrily on High with the London Symphony Orchestra? Or Bobby McFerrin's Ave Maria? Or Josh Bell's Ave Maria, with a ghostly background chorus? Oh look, and here's Kiri again with Andre at the piano...

You've heard worse?
Tell me about it, right here. Lines are open til Midnight Mass.
*
The Christmas jingles we love to hate...
'Once music publishers had heard the cash tills ringing there was no stopping them and since the 1950s things have been steadily declining into a bottomless pit of mediocrity that now asks the perennial question, what will be the Christmas number 1?'
No less than seven Christmas records have been included in music guru Colin Larkin's 100 worst albums of all time, part of the Encyclopedia of Popular Music, the critically acclaimed 10-volume work now available ONLINE for the first time this December through the subscription website www.oxfordmusiconline.com.
And, for the launch of the new online edition, Colin has charted the rise (or fall) of the Christmas record on Oxford University Press's own blog at http://blog.oup.com
'The celebration of Christmas in popular song must really be credited to the wise old men of Tin Pan Alley, USA; more specifically, the pre-Rock 'n' Roll market that existed in the mid-40s to the early 50s,' says Colin. 'Clearly there was a market for a 'great' Christmas single, but what the world would also learn, was that there was a market for terrible, wretched, awful, trite, saccharine-soaked, sentimentalist-nonsense, let-me-out-of-here rubbish.'
Colin looks at the all-time classic singles and albums ('White Christmas' by Bing Crosby and others, 'The Christmas Song' sung by Nat King Cole, and The Beach Boys' Christmas Album) and also discusses his all-time turkeys (Shakin' Stevens' 'Merry Christmas Everyone', Chris de Burgh's 'A Spaceman Came Travelling' and basically anything by Sir Cliff Richard).
'It is well over 40 years since the Beach Boys and Phil Spector albums were released, and yet nobody has come near them for quality or sheer feel-good factor,' says Colin. 'Or is it simply that we have milked this Christmas cow dry and nothing will ever match the likes of the soothing comfort of Nat King Cole or Ella Fitzgerald at Christmas?'
And Colin's greatest all-time Christmas song, ever, ever, ever? 'Father Christmas' by the Kinks, a 1977 single that never even made the charts, anywhere. Bah humbug!
Christmas culprits in Colin's Larkins' 100 worst albums of all time:
· Michael Bolton: This is the Time: The Christmas Album (Columbia 1996)
· Booker T. and the MGs: In the Christmas Spirit (Stax 1966)
· Father Abraham and the Smurfs: Merry Christmas with the Smurfs (Dureco 1983)
· Hanson: Snowed in for Christmas (Mercury 1997)
· New Kids on the Block: Merry, Merry Christmas (Columbia 1989)
· Lou Rawls: Merry Christmas Ho! Ho! Ho! (Capitol 1967)
· Jerry Jeff Walker: Christmas Gonzo Style (Rykodisc 1994)
For more details or to interview Colin Larkin, please contact Juliet Evans on 01865 353911 or email juliet.evans@oup.com.
Visit www.oxfordonline.com/epm for background information and resources or join the mailing list at www.oxfordonline.com/listserv to receive regular updates.

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Entre regard et voix : Maria Callas

par Pierre Sultan, psychologue clinicien, psychanalyste - Paris, France
« Enlevez-la, je ne veux pas la voir », s'écrie Evangélia Kalogeropoulos lorsqu'elle accouche le 4 décembre 1923. L'enfant attendra quatre jours avant d'être enfin prénommée Maria. Ici, tout est dit ou presque. La violence de ce rejet initial aura façonné ce destin hors du commun, celui de la Callas. La rencontre mère-fille est incontestablement manquée. Fragilisée par une accumulation de deuils insurmontables, Evangélia souffre sans doute d'une dépression majeure que l'arrivée de cet enfant ne fait qu'accentuer. Il y a initialement la mort de son père adoré. Un mariage précipité qui ne comble pas ses aspirations sociales. La disparition prématurée de son second enfant emporté à trois ans par la typhoïde. Enfin, le départ pour les États-Unis décidé par Georges son époux, qui la contraint à laisser derrière elle la Grèce, sa famille, sa langue maternelle. Alors une lueur d'espoir apparaît lorsqu'elle tombe à nouveau enceinte. Cette troisième grossesse est investie de façon disproportionnée. Elle viendra réparer la perte du petit Vassilios... Mais l'enfant n'est pas le garçon tant espéré.

Mise de côté, peu investie par une mère tout accaparée par sa dépression et ses deuils impossibles, Maria demeure une enfant solitaire. Elle a pris l'habitude de manger plus que de raison, sans doute aidée par une mère qui l'a gavée plutôt que nourrie. Le résultat ne se fait pas attendre, elle souffre rapidement d'embonpoint. À son allure disgracieuse s'ajoute le port de lunettes aux verres épais, car l'enfant souffre d'une forte myopie.

Très vite, la petite Maria montre un intérêt marqué pour la musique. Confusément, l'enfant doit avoir compris qu'il s'agit du moyen le plus sûr de nouer un lien avec sa mère. Or Evangélia, qui a raté son mariage et en partie sa vie, a des velléités de réussite par procuration au travers de ses filles, principalement Jacqueline, son aînée et sa préférée. Mais Maria est sans conteste la plus douée. À force de patience, l'enfant réussit à attirer l'attention si peu maternelle d'Evangélia.

Le peu d'intérêt de cette mère se meut alors en une sollicitude excessive où Maria se doit, à de nombreuses occasions, de pousser la note. On connaît la suite. Les tentatives infructueuses aux États-Unis, le retour en Grèce, puis la rencontre décisive avec la grande Elvira de Hidalgo, illustre Soprano devenue professeur de chant qui, coincée en Grèce pour cause de guerre, enseigne au Conservatoire d'Athènes.

Il y a donc d'un côté une femme - Evangélia - profondément dépressive, dont l'humeur la rend quasiment absente auprès de ses filles. Mais dès lors qu'une musique se fait entendre, ses enfants la voient s'animer un peu et reprendre vie. En vis-à-vis, il y a une enfant - Maria - peu investie par sa mère qui fera sien l'intérêt de celle-ci pour la musique. Une enfant qui, par ce tiers « musique », tente de capter l'attention d'une femme malade. La fillette devient alors en quelque sorte thérapeute de sa mère, à l'image de ces enfants parfois très jeunes, pour certains d'entre eux encore nourrissons, qui présentent une réactivité surprenante face à des mères très déprimées qu'ils paraissent tenter de stimuler coûte que coûte...

A posteriori on n'ose imaginer, si la petite Maria ne s'était mise à chanter, comment aurait évolué la pathologie maternelle... Mais surtout ce que serait devenue Maria Callas elle-même si elle n'avait pu transcender cette dure entrée dans la vie par la musique et le chant.

Cette inclination particulière, autrement dit ce don développé très tôt, s'était sans doute déjà étayée sur ce que le petit enfant avait confusément capté ou simplement supposé du désir maternel... La petite Maria allait alors commencer une seconde vie, tracée par ce soudain intérêt d'Evangélia pour ce nouvel objet d'amour, « l'objet-voix »...

Son destin s'articule précisément autour de deux axes majeurs : le regard maternel absent à la naissance et l'objet-voix auquel Maria sera identifiée de façon si marquée qu'il l'enfermera.

Elle va multiplier grâce à sa voix unique, reconnaissable entre toutes, les apparitions en public sur les scènes des plus grands théâtres. À défaut d'avoir été regardée par cette femme si peu maternelle, elle sera entendue par le plus grand nombre dans le monde entier. Or, malgré sa forte myopie, Maria Callas ne portera ni lunettes ni lentilles sur scène. Une seule et unique fois pourtant elle s'y essayera, mais se gardera bien de renouveler l'expérience, trop bouleversée sans doute par la vue de ces regards posés sur elle.

Le choix de son premier amour, l'industriel italien Battista Meneghini, qu'elle épouse à vingt-cinq ans, reste fidèle à ce principe. Cet homme de cinquante-cinq ans, passionné d'opéra, est plus fasciné par la voix de la jeune fille que par son physique qui, à l'époque encore, n'est pas des plus séduisants, loin s'en faut. On est en effet très tôt subjugué par cette voix si particulière, que l'intéressée elle-même qualifiait de « rebelle » et que son ami et producteur Michel Glotz appelle « voix de bête fauve ». L'individu s'efface derrière l'objet-voix et les hommes qu'elle croise s'intéressent plus à celui-ci qu'à la femme elle-même.

On a beaucoup écrit sur sa liaison avec Aristote Onassis. Retenons simplement que peu mélomane, il aura sans doute été le premier à regarder Maria Callas en mettant de côté l'objet-voix. Si cette relation houleuse aura eu des effets délétères pour Maria Callas, elle aura aussi été la plus aboutie, la plus satisfaisante pour la femme. Pour preuve, lorsque l'armateur grec entre dans sa vie, Maria ralentit son rythme professionnel, n'ayant plus la même attente vis-à-vis du public, comblée alors par ce regard qui lui donne une place de sujet à part entière. Le bonheur est de courte durée. Onassis a d'autres préoccupations, politiques et financières cette fois. Il épousera Jackie Kennedy, mariage qu'il regrettera dit-on peu de temps après... Qu'importe, Maria Callas doit remonter sur scène, pour tenter à nouveau de faire entendre sa voix, pour exister, tout simplement. Mais son corps montre depuis longtemps des signes de faiblesse. Ses sinus la font régulièrement souffrir. Sa tension est souvent dangereusement basse et « les nerfs n'y sont plus », confie t-elle à ses amis.

À présent abandonnée des forces nécessaires à faire entendre cette voix étonnante par la singularité de ses accents torturés et douloureux, et en l'absence du soutien d'un regard porté sur elle, quelle autre issue sinon la mort ? Seule depuis quelques années, recluse dans son appartement parisien où, repliée sur un passé perdu, elle écoute inlassablement ses enregistrements, témoins palpables de l'existence de cet objet-voix grâce auquel elle a survécu jusqu'alors, Maria Callas s'est éteinte, il y a trente ans, à l'âge de cinquante-trois ans.

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Wednesday, 19 December 2007

San Francisco Opera Joins HD Cinema Broadcasts

More arts groups will join the trend to show arts productions at the cinema in light of the Metropolitan Opera's successful Live in HD, as we reported in this blog last week. The San Francisco Opera announced yesterday that they will be showing 6 pre-recorded High Definition operas from March to November 2008 in a four-year agreement with The Bigger Picture, a subsidiary of Access Integrated Technologies, Inc. See their press release (PDF format).

According to an article in the New York Times,
San Francisco Opera officials said they would use the digital format increasingly chosen for Hollywood feature films, pointing out that the Met mainly uses projection systems used for advertising in movie theaters.
In publicity materials the San Francisco Opera said, "the quality is clearly better on digital-cinema-quality projectors," compared with the Met's broadcasts, but otherwise deferred comments on the issue to Jonathan Dern, a co-president of the Bigger Picture.
"It looks better, it sounds better and it is the standard for digital cinema," Mr. Dern said. The operas are expected to begin in all of the 50 leading markets, he said.
But the Met and San Francisco differ in one crucial area: The Met shows its operas live. San Francisco will transmit them after the fact.
"Being live is at the heart of our approach because we're creating basically satellite opera houses," said Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager. "That's what makes this more than a canned experience." Mr. Gelb also said the Met had gone into movie theaters before the Digital Cinema technology began spreading.
Showing operas at the cinema can be quite lucrative. Last Saturday's Met Opera: Live in HD of Gounod's Roméo et Juilette (the first of their 2nd season) reached 97,000 viewers and took in $1.65 million according to the company's blog. The question is whether San Francisco Opera and also Opus Arte's approach of presenting edited pre-recorded opera with a better picture quality can match this kind of turn out. The Met at the Movies has the advantage of being live events and benefit from free PR from the associated buzz, and as we hypothesized in our earlier blog entry, it's going to take some marketing effort to match the Met.
San Francisco Opera's 2008 lineup, with their own star-studded cast, are productions from the Summer and Fall 2007 season:
  • Giacomo Puccini - La Rondine
  • Camille Saint-Saëns - Samson and Delilah
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - The Magic Flute
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Don Giovanni
  • Philip Glass/Christopher Hampton - Appomattox
  • Giacomo Puccini - Madama Butterfly
Addendum: Meanwhile, The Globe and Mail reports that La Scala will also be getting into the act with their own 6-opera HD broadcast season, which will but available in North America only in the US. The series has already started in December 2007 with Aïda. The others are:
  • Tristan und Isolde (January 2008)
  • La Traviata (February 2008)
  • Maria Stuarda (March 2008)
  • La Forza del destino (April 2008)
  • Il Trittico (May 2008)
See the Emerging Pictures website for the list of participating theatres and cast info.


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Sunday, 16 December 2007

Met at the Movies: Romeo et Juliette

The second season of Met at the Movies got off to an auspicious start yesterday, with Romeo et Juliette. I attended the show at Cineplex's Sheppard Grande in Toronto, in Theatre 5, a large and clean theatre with a huge screen, very comfortable chairs and good sound. Last season's technical glitches appears to be a thing of the past - the satellite transmission was flawless yesterday. Although I didn't ask the theatre manager for confirmation, I believe the four theatres were completely sold out. The audience typically was older - I didn't see any young people, which is a shame. I imagine the New Year's Day show of Hansel und Gretel will be a different story.

It was very nice of Sheppard Grande to put on a wine-and-cheese tasting before the show, featuring cheese trays and very nice Jackson Triggs Red and White wines. I really wasn't expecting this, so my compliments to the management! The event was organized to promote the expanded cafe menu. Unlike typical movie theatre offerings of hot dogs and pop corn, now patrons can also purchase such items as chicken or veggie wraps or delicious sushi from Bento Nouveau. The promotion certainly got me to make a purchase that normally I would not have. I was also impressed with how clean the theatre was, free of the usual sticky spilled pop on the floor. These and other improvements made for a very enjoyable Saturday afternoon at the movies.

This performance of Romeo et Juliette starred Russian diva Anna Netrebko and French tenor Robert Alagna who replaced an ailing Rolando Villazon. While I was disappointed at Villazon's absence, Alagna proved to be a worthy replacement. Both took some time to warm up - Netrebko's opening aria had smudged coloratura, and Alagna sounded a little dry of voice. Near the end of Act 1, both were in fine form, particularly Netrebko whose gleaming voice was a pleasure. Her dark hued lirico-spinto sounded full and opulent, her irrepressible personality in full display. Romeo is a perfect vehicle for Alagna, who has sung this to great acclaim in the past. This afternoon, he was a suitably romantic and ardent Romeo. His "Ah leve-toi, soleil" was beautiful, perhaps just a bit too stentorian in his top notes while more chiaroscuro would have been preferable. The chemistry between the two was palpable - the "floating bed" scene was postively steamy, complete with "R-rated" body positions! It helps when you have two singers who also are such attractive people.

The production by Guy Joosten was strong on Renaissance themes - projections of the sun and planets, the zodiacs, and a small black circle at the bottom of the sun projection that I assume was the "transit of venus". Given that Venus is the planet of love, this is an interesting symbolic touch. Placido Domingo frankly exceeded my expectations in the conducting department. In past performances I saw, his baton could be a little rigid and he wasn't responsive to the singers - like the Boheme last season, when he was booed. Yesterday, he was really quite masterful. No matter how you look at it, Domingo is a phenom. In the interview with Fleming, he said that he has sung 43 roles at the Met, and a career total of 125 roles, a phenomenal number.

The supporting cast was generally strong. Bari-hunk Nathan Gunn did a star turn in the minor role of Mercutio, and Isabel Leonard was excellent as Stephano. Jane Bunnell, a Met regular, was a properly matronly Gertrude, while the celebrated British bass Robert Lloyd was a fatherly Friar Lawrence. The various fight scenes were realistically staged and stood up well to the camera. Indeed, the most impressive aspect of this show was the videography. The overhead shots and the backstage views were all stunning. I spoke to some friends and not everyone was happy with the intermission features and the behind the scenes cinema verite touches. Not me, I love it! If I were to nitpick, I think Renee Fleming tried a little too hard as the interviewer. All in all, this was a great show and it bodes well for the next seven telecasts this season.

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