La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Today's Musician Birthday: January 19

Born on January 19:

1945 - Charles Amirkhanian, composer

Wiki Entry


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Friday, 18 January 2008

Today's Musician Birthday: January 18

Born on January 18:

1903 - Berthold Goldschmidt, German/British composer
Wiki entry
LSM article


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Thursday, 17 January 2008

Today's Musician Birthday: January 17

Born on January 17:

1925 - Annie Delorie, Dutch opera singer

Short bio



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Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Today's Musician Birthday: January 16

Born on January 16:

1943 - Gavin Bryars, composer

Wiki entry: Gavin Bryars
Personal website: Gavin Bryars

Gavin Bryars Cello Concerto played by Julian Lloyd Webber






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Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Canadian Opera Company's 2008-09 Season

Just returned from the COC press conference of the 2008-09 season, which will prove to be very interesting. Three premieres and the return of a couple of 'old standards'. Here is the line-up:

Fall Season (Oct.) opens with Don Giovanni, with Brett Polegato in the title role. He sang the Don successfully two seasons ago for Vancouver. Also starring Robert Pomakov (Leporello), Jessica Muirhead (Anna), Julie Makerov (Elvira) Virginia Hatfield (Zerlina), Gordon Gietz (Ottavio). Very interesting casting, although I thought Makerov and Muirhead could switch roles. William Lacey conducts. This is paired with War and Peace. When I interviewed Richard Bradshaw in 2006, he told me the COC had already 'bought into' the ENO production but didn't have the money at the time to do it. This will be an important premiere. Russell Braun will be Prince Andrei - inspired casting! Lots of Russians in the cast. It is good to have Judith Forst back as Akhrosimova. No conductor announced.

Winter Season (Jan - Feb) will have Fidelio with Adrianne Pieczonka and Jon Villars as Leonore and Florestan. Also back are Gidon Saks and Mats Almgren. Great cast! Also of interest is the Canadian premiere of Rusalka, starring Julie Makerov and Michael Schade. No conductor announced. I seem to recall this was done in concert form before, but I am sure it is the staged premiere.

Spring Season (April - May) Simon Boccanegra, last done by COC in 1979. No Simon announced. Amelia is Serena Farnocchia, a role tailor-made for her. Also back are Mikhail Agafonov and Philip Ens. Boheme is back in a new production - finally we are rid of the old Wolfram Skalici production that necessitated 3 intermissions! The cast is almost all Canadians, with Frederique Vezina, David Pomeroy, Peter Barrett, and Robert Gleadow. The season ends with Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream, with countertenor Lawrence Zazzo as Oberon. I think Zazzo was engaged for Rodelinda before but cancelled. He is someone to look forward to. A strange bit of casting is Wolfgang Holzmair as Demetrius. Also featured are Giselle Allen and Robert Gleadow. Robert Pomakov as Bottom - also a rather unconventional choice!

I am sorry some names are missing - such as Michael Colvin, Isabel Bayrakdarian, and Ewa Podles - regulars and audience favourites from past seasons. Also, where is Gerald Finley, Measha Brueggergosman, and James Westman? it's about time we have these great Canadian singers, who are singing all over, on our own stages.

> Canadian Opera Company Website

> LSM Spotlight: Other 2008-09 Season Announcements

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Today's Musician Birthday: January 15

Born on January 15:

1925 - Ruth Slenczynska, Sacramento, California, pianist

Wiki entry: Ruth Slenczynska

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Monday, 14 January 2008

Macbeth du Metropolitan Opera

par Pierre Marc Bellemare

Giuseppe Verdi : Macbeth

« Simulcast » du Metropolian Opera House de New York
Le samedi 12 janvier 2008, à 13 h 30

Distribution : Zelko Lucic (Macbeth), Maria Guleghina (Lady Macbeth), John Relyea (Banquo), Russell Thomas (Malcolm), Dimitri Pittas (Macduff), Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs (Dame de
compagnie), James Courtney (Médecin).

Production conçue et mise en scène par Adrian Noble

Choeurs et orchestre du Metropolitan Opera House de New York dirigés par James Levine

***

Verdi, comme Shakespeare avant lui, a conçu Macbeth à la fois comme un drame privé (l'histoire d'un couple de criminels dévorés par le remords) et un drame politique (une histoire d'usurpation et de guerre civile). En transférant l'action du Moyen Âge au vingtième siècle, Adrian Noble a accentué la dimension politique. Il a ainsi rendu un fier service à la musique en faisant valoir les scènes de foule, notamment celles du quatrième acte, où le couple maudit n'apparaît pas et que l'on a donc souvent tendance à négliger. Par contre, lorsque certains détails de costume ou de décor attirent trop l'attention sur eux-mêmes - que l'on songe à l'attirail ridicule dont sont attifées les sorcières ou à la présence incongrue d'une jeep militaire dans le finale -, sa « vision », si imaginative soit-elle, tombe dans l'anecdotique et, ce faisant, cesse d'intéresser.

Par bonheur, les scènes centrées sur Macbeth et sa Lady ne souffrent pas de ce genre d'encombrement visuel. Elles se déroulent dans un espace sobre organisé autour de quatre grand piliers qui, selon le contexte, deviennent les arbres d'une forêt ou les colonnes d'une salle de château gothique. C'est dans cet espace, et autour d'un panneau qui parfois y descend, que les deux protagonistes peuvent se livrer en toute liberté à l'exploration de leurs rôles respectifs – des rôles difficiles, complexes et tourmentés, ainsi que nous le rappelait le Maestro Levine, un instant avant la représentation.

M. Lucic et Mme Guleghina forment le couple Macbeth idéal, lui retenu, elle déchaînée.

Depuis deux ou trois ans, Zaljko Lucic se multiplie sur les grandes scènes lyriques. Il ne chante à peu près que du Verdi, et aucun des grands rôles que ce dernier a écrits pour les barytons ne semble lui faire peur. Serait-il l'héritier, si longtemps attendu, du manteau des Tito Gobbi et des Leonard Warren ? Il est trop tôt pour l'affirmer. Sans doute a-t-il une très belle voix et un sens indéniable du drame, mais il n'a pas encore acquis cette personnalité distincte, cette sonorité tout à fait personnelle sans laquelle un artiste, si doué soit-il, ne peut vraiment prétendre au titre tant convoité de baryton Verdi.

Les opéraphiles sont très divisés au sujet de Mme Guleghina. Il est révélateur que ces divisions tendent à opposer ceux qui ne connaissent la diva ukrainienne que par le disque ou la radio et ceux qui l'ont à la fois vue et entendue, soit sur scène, soit sur DVD. Les premiers ne manquent pas de souligner les imperfections de sa technique et les multiples approximations qui affectent son approche du texte musical. Maria Guleghina est une interprète inégale qui a ses mauvais jours et, même ses meilleurs jours, des moments difficiles, y compris le samedi du simulcast. Ses admirateurs le savent, mais cela ne les empêche pas de rétorquer à ses critiques : Sans doute avez-vous raison, mais quelle bête de scène ! En effet, on ne saurait le nier : la Guleghina est une actrice née, une tragédienne extraordinaire dont l'art doit presque tout à l'instinct et peu à la réflexion ou à la méthode. Ses DVD, de plus en plus nombreux, témoignent de ce que, à son meilleur, son Abigaille, à Vienne, en 2001 (TDK,) peut être aussi impressionnante que sa Lady Macbeth, hier au Met ou en 2004 au Liceu (Opus Arte). Mais sa Madeleine de Coigny, à Bologne en 2006 (TDK) et plus encore sa Tosca à la Scala, en 2000 (TDK), ont de quoi laisser songeur...

Le problème de la Guleghina, à plus ou moins court terme, est que Verdi n'a pas écrit vingt rôles comme Abigaille et Lady Macbeth. Quoi d'autre pourrait-elle chanter pour continuer à progresser dans ce style intensément dramatique et quelque peu survolté qu'elle a choisi d'adopter ? Verdi, son compositeur fétiche, n'a pas grand-chose de plus à lui offrir dans cette veine. Le belcanto est évidemment exclu (quoiqu'elle ait tout récemment tenté de s'attaquer à Norma). Le vérisme ? Ce n'est pas évident. Puccini ? On pourrait (peut-être) l'imaginer en Turandot, mais il n'y a qu'à l'écouter chanter « Vissi d'arte » pour douter qu'elle ait la subtilité et la finesse qu'exigent la plupart des autres emplois de sopranos pucciniens. Peut-être espère-t-elle finir, comme Rysanek, chez Strauss et Wagner, auquel cas il faudrait qu'elle solidifie sa technique pour mieux discipliner sa voix.

Entre-temps, son interprétation très personnelle du rôle de Lady Macbeth, « toute d'une pièce », demeure un spectacle sonore et visuel qui mérite d'être préservé pour la postérité. On espère que le Met aura la bonne idée d'en tirer un DVD.

Du reste de la distribution, il n'y a que du bien à dire. John Relyea et Russell Thomas se sont, comme toujours, montrés excellents dans leurs rôles de soutien, de même que très appréciés du public new-yorkais. Quant au ténor Dimitri Pittas, un nouveau venu, il a immédiatement séduit : on ne demande qu'à l'entendre à nouveau, alors même qu'on s'interroge sur ce qui a pu arracher une larme à son oeil gauche (en gros plan !) à la fin de sa grande scène. Un tendre et profond sentiment ou... un morceau d'oignon ?

Côté jardin et côté cour, on a pu constater que ce n'était pas pour rien qu'Adrian Noble a présidé pendant près de quinze ans aux destinées de la Royal Shakespeare Company : il sait comment transformer une masse amorphe de choristes et de figurants en un véritable acteur collectif.

Enfin, à l'orchestre, on continue de s'émerveiller des ressources que James Levine peut tirer d'un ensemble qu'il a lui-même dans une large mesure recréé depuis les nombreuses années qu'il le dirige.

Le prochain simulcast du Met aura lieu le 16 février. On présentera alors Manon Lescaut de Puccini.

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Today's Musician Birthday: January 14

Born on January 14:

1902 - Clara Kathleen Rogers, composer





















1956 - Ben Heppner, tenor
> Official Website

Canadian tenor Ben Heppner sings "Morgenlich Leuchtend Im Rosigen Schein" (Walther's Prize Song) from Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the gala honoring the retirement of Met General Manager Joseph Volpe, May 20, 2006.



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Sunday, 13 January 2008

Today's Musician Birthday: January 13

Born on January 13:

1973
- Juan Diego Florez, tenor

> Official Website
> Wiki Entry


Here is a video clip of Florez singing the aria "Ah Ritrovarlo Io Giuro" from Rossini's La Cenerentola just last week.







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Met Opera at the Movies: Macbeth

Last October, the Met unveiled a new production of Verdi's Macbeth to rather mixed reviews. Audience and critics praised the strong musical values, but the modern production didn't sit well with the more tradition-bound segment of the Met audience. Yesterday, the Met at the Movies audience got to decide for themselves. Once again, I saw the show at Sheppard Grande. I am not sure if everything was sold out, but the crowd appeared to be larger than the New Year's Day Hansel und Gretel. As a bonus, the new concessions with a more upscale menu opened just in time for the occasion. Judging by the huge line, it was more appealing to the mature opera audience than pop corn and soft drinks.

One of Verdi's early successes, Macbeth had its premiere in 1847, later revised by the composer in 1865. It is the revised version that is most often heard today. Macbeth is not staged all that frequently today because there simply aren't too many singers who can do it justice. The Met is fortunate to have the services of Russian soprano Maria Guleghina, arguably the reigning Verdian dramatic soprano, as Lady Macbeth. I first heard her in the killer role of Abigaille at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in the 1997-8 season. Now ten years later, she is still on top of her game, a remarkable testament of vocal longevity in this punishing repertoire. She is partnered by Serbian baritone Zeljko Lucic, a voice new to me, in the title role. (Italian Lado Ataneli and American Andrea Gruber take over the roles later on in the season)

To the more superstitiously minded, Macbeth is supposed to be cursed. Historically revivals of this opera were reputedly plagued by back luck, accidents, or assorted unexplained happenings. I remember vividly tuning into a Met broadcast of Macbeth around 1986. The second intermission seemed inordinately long. Just when I was wondering what was going on, the announcer Peter Allen said to the radio audience that there had been some sort of accident in the house, but he didn't elaborate, except to say that the singers were fine. I was looking forward to hearing Elizabeth Connell in her Sleeping Walking Scene, but it was not to be. There was no Act Four as the rest of the performance was cancelled. Later I heard that someone in the audience jumped from the balcony to his death.

Thankfully nothing that dramatic happened at the Met yesterday - at least all the drama remained on stage! Top vocal honours went to Maria Guleghina as a fearless Lady Macbeth. She threw herself into the role, giving a vocally and dramatically riveting performance. Her steely soprano certainly had the power and range, and she was in searing voice. She nailed her first two arias - "Vieni t'affretta" and "La luce langue" - as if it was child's play, combining ample dramatic weight with thrilling highnotes. Singing with such vocal force and acting with a surfeit of physical energy, a certain toll was perhaps inevitable. In the later acts, some of her high notes in the ensembles were flat. She tired noticeably by the Sleepwalking Scene - her high D-flat was probably a note she wished she could have back. But the audience loved her anyway and gave her a well deserved ovation at the end.

Given such a powerhouse Lady Macbeth, Zeljko Lucic (MCBETH) was somewhat over-shadowed. But the Serbian was an true Verdi baritone, with a pleasing timbre and a secure top register. He probably got carried away by the heat of the moment and didn't pace himself, tiring and turning raspy and strained at the very end. Canadian bass John Relyea, a stalwart at the Met the last few seasons, was a terrific Banquo. As Macduff, tenor Dimitri Pittas sang with strong, clarion tone. I think Pittas is a student of Bill Neill and the late Dixie Ross Neill. I heard his Rodolfo in a Santa Fe Opera La boheme last summer and was blown away. I would have liked a bit more mezza voce from him, but it is hard to argue with such a great voice.

Now the production. This show demonstrates that even the august, tradition-bound Met is slowly changing. Even a few short season ago, a modern dress production like this one would have been grudgingly accepted in something "far-out" like Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, but it would have been unthinkable in Verdi's Macbeth. To be sure, by Regietheater standards, this Macbeth is really quite mild. Adrian Noble's direction was eccentric but not offensive, and the audience seemed to have accepted it judging by the reaction at the end. The videographic work - all 12 cameras worth - was wonderful as usual. However, I am beginning to think this is a bit of a double-edged sword. Unlike a Romeo et Juliette production populated by beautiful people the likes of Netrebko and Alagna, the extreme closeups of the less photogenic Madame Guleghina straining for a high note didn't have quite the same audience appeal... The Act Three Witches' Gathering would have looked great from the far reaches of the Met auditorium, but the closeups of children repeatedly retching and vomiting into the silver chalice was, shall I say, more than we bargained for. All kidding aside, the best thing about the videography is the scene changes, giving the uninitiated a real taste of the enormous effort it takes to put on a show like this. The musical side of things got a boost from a newly rejuvenated James Levine, leading the superb Met orchestra and chorus in a vital reading of the score. He seems to have recovered from his various ailments the last two seasons, and the orchestra responded beautifully. And I must say the women's choristers, long the Achilles heel of the Met Chorus, is finally sounding less superannuated. I say, bring on Manon Lescaut!

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