Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Festival theatre/Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh The fiery Italian mezzo owned the stage as Bellini’s vengeful priestess, while the Australian Chamber Orchestra went all out with MahlerThe first glimpse of Cecilia Bartoli’s Norma with her back to us, hunched over a desk, scribbling away, seems a quaint tantaliser given the whole night is built to showcase La Bartoli and La Bartoli alone. Bellini’s bel canto masterpiece has long been a playground for divas; powerhouse sopranos of the 20th century (Callas, Caballe, Sutherland) made the title role various degrees of their own. Now it’s the turn of Bartoli – that supremely fiery and coquettish Italian mezzo who conceived this production for the Salzburg Whitsun festival of which she is artistic director – who unquestionably owns the stage from modest opening image to ecstatically intense final immolation. Related: Edinburgh festival planner: three shows to see today Continue reading...
Detail of Rehearsal on Stage, Edgar Degas, 1874 Musée d'Orsay, Paris Painting dance is an almost impossible feat. How do you capture movement in a brush stroke that will, inevitably, lie still? How do you hear music through a canvas? For centuries artists have felt compelled to try. Here are our favourite dance paintings of ballet and beyond: Manet The Spanish Ballet (1862) The Spanish Ballet by Édouard Manet, 1862 Édouard Manet captured Marioano Camprubi’s Royal Spanish dance troupe before a performance at the Hippodrome in Paris. The group, which included the famous dancer Lola Melea, toured Paris during 1862. Degas Ballet Rehearsal (1873) Ballet Rehearsal, Edgar Degas, 1873, The Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts During the 1870s, Edgar Degas spent hours at the Paris Opera , chronicling rehearsals and performances and capturing intimate backstage moments – both quiet and flustered. A part of the Impressionist movement , Degas wanted to paint ‘the now’, capturing the characters of his contemporary Paris. He painted dancers true to life – strong and sweltering under layers of tulle. Sargent El Jaleo (1882) El Jaleo, John Singer Sargent, 1882 American Artist John Singer Sargent ’s El Jaleo depicts a Spanish Gypsy dancer performing with a group of musicians and is one of his most theatrical. The enlarged shadow creates a dramatic light effect that evokes a sense of intensity at the performance. Knight Ballet (1936) Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970), The Ballet Shoe c1932, Courtesy of The Laura Knight Estate / Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove British artist Dame Laura Knight captures the Bolshoi Ballet in rehearsal at the Royal Opera House, the first time the company performed in London since the Russian Revolution. In 1919, she chose the Russian prima ballerina Lydia Lopokova to sit for her, an image which became one of Knight's defiant images of strong women. Griselda Pollock , Professor of the Social & Critical Histories of Art at The University of Leeds , argues that Knight's portrayal of women presented a significant shift in the ways in which women were seen during the century, saying 'The trained and tuned body of the adult ballet dancer exerted a different kind of fascination for many artist-women seeking to represent the bodies of women in non-erotic but not asexual modes. The dancer shows a woman’s body as athletic, strong, creative and capable of expressing emotion by powerful movement and delicate gesture.' Oppler Les Sylphides (1915) Les Sylphides (Hinter den Kulissen) by Ernst Oppler, 1915 German artist Ernst Oppler created many sketches and paintings for various companies around the world. In 1912, he spent time at Covent Garden drawing ballerina Anna Pavlova . In the 1920s Oppler began depicting the Swedish Ballet as well as working on a large publication, 36 etchings of The Russian Ballet. Fini Le Palais du Cristal (1952) Design for Le Palais du Cristal, Watercolor & Ink on Paper, 1952 by Leonor Fini © The Estate of Leonor Fini, CFM Gallery, New York Argentine Surrealist Leonor Fini was known for her strong portrayals of women. 'Fini used her fluent and pure line to emphasize a muscular form of the dancer’s body in her work,' explains Pollock. She designed for the Paris Opera, George Balanchine ’s ballet Palais de Crystal and for Maria Callas at the La Scala theater in Milan. In 1949 Frederick Ashton choreographed a ballet conceptualized by Fini, Le Rêve de Leonor (Leonor's Dream) with music by Benjamin Britten . Longhi The Dancing Lesson (1741) La lezione di danza (The Dancing Lesson), ca 1741 by Pietro Longhi, Venezia, Gallerie dell'Accademia For centuries dance has been an integral part of society, a key element of ceremonies, rituals and celebrations in all cultures. Jane Austen writes in Pride and Prejudice : ‘To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love’. The dance scenes in her novel are pivotal for the love to bloom, where couples could snatch intimate moments and enact longing gazes across crowded rooms. Pietro Longhi ’s The Dancing Lesson shows a young girl practising dancing in preparation to attend such social occasions. Titian Bacchus and Ariadne (1520-3) Titian, Bacchus and Ariadne, about 1520-3 © The National Gallery, London Painting also captures dance in a broader sense, as a key part of the language of being human. Dr Minna Moore Ede, Associate Curator (Renaissance Painting) at The National Gallery , explains that 'Paintings can be full of movement and dance even if this is not their subject. Take Titian ’s Bacchus and Ariadne for example, in which Bacchus leaps most balletically out of his chariot, having fallen in love with Ariadne on sight, followed by his retinue of drunken, dancing revellers.’ Matisse La danse (1909) La danse (first version) by Henri Matisse, 1909 The human impulse to dance has been distilled by many artists throughout time. Take Henri Matisse ’s La danse (1909) Despite its simplicity, there is a rhythm implied through the continuous succession of the figures, which evoke a sense of the liberating effects of dance. Brown Proscenium Works (1979-2011) Trisha Brown, Floor Drawing/Performance, 2008 © Gene Pittman for Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Taking dance paintings to new mediums is choreographer and artist Trisha Brown . Brown creates work as performance, using her body to create the painting. In this way, her artwork embodies dancing as its subject and inception. Above she performs her work Proscenium Works 1979–2011 in 2014. Do you have a favourite dance painting? Let us know in the comments below.
August 18, 1991. First performance at the Colón of the revival of Mozart´s "The Marriage of Figaro" in a new production by Sergio Renán. An Argentine-Spanish cast except for the Countess: a beautiful young American called Renée Fleming at the start of her international career. With a crystalline lyric soprano timbre and impeccable line, she proved to be a charming actress as well. Unfortunately, that was her only operatic role in BA. We missed her in such operas as Massenet´s "Thaïs" and Dvorák´s "Rusalka", but especially in Straussian parts (the Marschallin in "Der Rosenkavalier", Arabella, the Countess in "Capriccio"), for she was a leading interpreter of all the mentioned operas. It´s useless to speculate about the reasons, but the Colón has had strong ups and downs and established artists want reliable theatres. After two decades, she finally came back during the García Caffi years; however, it was for a recital. It was quite successful and varied, and the voice was still in good condition. And now she came back, inaugurating the so-called Abono Verde. This time the charm and the savvy are still there, but her career has entered the autumnal phase, as demonstrated by what´s happening at New York´s Met, her home for so many years: last season she didn´t sing a difficult opera but an operetta, Lehár´s "The Merry Widow"; and now she has announced her goodbye to opera, with May 2017 performances at the Met of "Der Rosenkavalier" (fortunately it will be seen here on the Met´s direct transmissions at the Teatro El Nacional organized by the Fundación Beethoven). In this recital she was admirably accompanied by Gerald Martin Moore (debut), an expert singing teacher who has worked with Fleming for many years (and with several other famous artists) and has prepared operas for the Met, Covent Garden, Opéra Bastille, La Scala, and such festivals as Glyndebourne and Aix-en-Provence. What a coincidence that his first name and his surname should be the same as those of the ultra-famous Gerald Moore, the greatest accompanist during golden decades. Anyway, G.M.M. gave precious support during the Colón evening. I have my reservations about some of the choices in the programme. First, I was sorry that there were no Lieder, not even from Richard Strauss. Second, I believe that singers in recitals should stick to their sexes: a woman should sing texts clearly designed for women, and a man those that are evidently masculine; self-evident, the reader may think, but often disregarded by artists; and there were several instances in this case. Third, she is a singer for joyful or melancholy music, but not for stark drama: the terrible content of "L´altra notte in fondo al mare", from Boito´s "Mefistofele", in which the mad Margherita , imprisoned, says that she was wrongly accused of killing her baby and her mother, needs a true tragedian such as Callas was. Finally, there was a bit too much Broadway in her gestures on certain pieces, in themselves rather crossover. A moot point is whether you like or not that artists should speak to the audience; I think it is a wrong trend, concerts are just that, music played or sung. She talked a good deal in a very American way (like Joyce Di Donato). She started with, yes, "Porgi amor", the initial aria of the Countess in "The Marriage of Figaro", in evident reminiscence of her Colón debut; the result was tasteful but the voice was not settled yet. Two Händel arias followed: a fast, humoristic one from "Agrippina", early and Venetian-influenced; and the lovely "V´adoro pupille" sung by Cleopatra in "Giulio Cesare in Egitto"; she did well in both. Then, two welcome Massenet items: "C´est Thaïs, l´idole fragile" from the homonymous opera (neglected by the Colón since 1952), and the sad "Adieu, notrre petite table" (with its previous recitative) from "Manon". She felt quite comfortable in both. Saint-Saëns wrote 120 songs but they are little-known; "Soirée en mer", strophic, on a Victor Hugo text, seemed to me beautiful and fluid; both artists were fine. And then, a tribute to that delicious 1930s singer, Yvonne Printemps: the sensual "Je t´aime quand même" from the operetta "Les trois valses"; in it Fleming waltzed, singing with abandon. The pithiest part of the night was the fine selection of Neo-Romantic songs by Rachmaninov, who deserve wider recognition; of the five songs I mention three: "Oh cease thy singing, maiden fair", an orientalised melody (I have the recording of tenor John McCormack); "Lilac" contrasts a fast piano segment with an airy soprano tune, and "Spring waters" is expansive and better-known as a Russian miniballet. Fleming was really good in all this group, her voice firm and brilliant. Apart from the Boito, the Italian pieces were light and though agreeably sung not idiomatic: "O del mio amato ben" (Donaudy), "Aprile" (Tosti) and "Mattinata" (Leoncavallo). I liked Fleming in the famous song "Estrellita" by the Mexican Manuel Ponce (the tune fits her like a glove) but she was over the top in "La morena de mi copla" by Carlos Castellano Gómez. Encores: lovely in the "Moon aria" from Dvorák´s "Rusalka" and melting in "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini´s "Gianni Schicchi", but not convincing in "I could have danced all night" from Loewe´s "My fair lady" (Julie Andrews was the right one for this). A nice sweet evening. For Buenos Aires Herald
US mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato has been elected 2016 Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year at Dallas Opera. She created the role of American opera singer Arden Scott, the central character in Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s new opera Great Scott which premiered in Dallas in October 2015 and was voted by subscribers as their outstanding debutante. Joyce writes: I am sincerely and deeply honored to receive the Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year Award from The Dallas Opera, for my role as Arden Scott in Jake Heggie’s world premiere, GREAT SCOTT. Of course it is the dream of any singer to be mentioned in the same breath as Maria Callas, so I will very proudly carry this mantle associated with so many of my dear colleagues from years past! But perhaps the most sublime part of this, is that the award comes from this incredible journey of a world premiere, which The Dallas Opera championed so beautifully, and one that celebrates our art form so victoriously. We created a glorious “GREAT SCOTT Family” within the beautiful “Dallas Opera Family,” and for this, I feel so very grateful. I’d like to imagine that Maria is smiling down on us all, proud for carrying on her philosophy of singing from a place of truth—for without any doubt, we all know how much she continues to matter! A million thanks for this most special award! Joyce DiDonato Past winners include: Susan Graham, Cecilia Bartoli, Denyce Graves, Patricia Racette, Latonia Moore and Ben Heppner.
Slipped Disc is privileged to present an extract from the newly published memoirs of veteran artists manager, Jacques Leiser. When I saw Maria Callas it was love at first sight. The first LP of hers that I heard – I still recall my excitement when I think about it – was her “Puccini Heroines” recital recording in which she sang “In Quelle Trine Morbide” from Manon Lescaut. I was bowled over by it. Callas recorded a large quantity of operas for EMI at La Scala during this period. The recordings usually took a month approximately, sometimes less, sometimes more. The recording sessions often had to be inserted during different periods, on account of Callas’s already heavy touring schedule throughout the world. In April 1954 she sang La Sonnambula at La Scala. It was the first time I heard her live. I was there for the premiere. Without a free ticket, I could never have afforded to attend. After the performance I went backstage, was introduced to Callas, and congratulated her. Two days later there was a second performance, and I went back again. She looked at me and asked, “Didn’t I see you here at the premiere?” and I said, “Yes.” Then she said, “And you’re back again?” to which I replied, “Yes, and I’ll be here tomorrow as well.” She was simply astounded. I attended all ten performances; I couldn’t get enough. Each performance was unique, a new experience each time. Maria Callas was my absolute idol and one of the most inspiring artists I have ever met, one who gave everything for her art. In time I became friends with her, and she was always very gracious to me. In addition to her extraordinary singing voice – which was easily recognizable even on the radio – Callas’s speaking voice was incredible. When I received telephone calls from her, I would be captivated by the first word she said. Her voice had a timbre like none other I have ever heard. I will never forget the mesmerizing impression she made with its smooth, velvety and warm quality, the beauty of her magical voice, her unforgettable nuances, as well as the power of her voice and incredible dramatic projection on the stage. She was absolutely unique and could not be compared with any other singers of her time. The Callas I knew was very different from the temperamental diva portrayed by the media; I remember her as an artist totally dedicated to her art, thoughtful and kind to others, even people she knew only casually. She was thoroughly professional, always willing to redo recording takes or whatever was required of her, very cooperative, rarely temperamental without just cause, and a perfectionist. During the tiring Norma recording sessions in the mid 1950s, for instance, one of which lasted until 2 a.m., including a major shift in venue when the stage at La Scala was needed for something else, she didn’t complain, but her colleagues – some of whom were not as committed as she was – did show their irritation. EMI was obliged to order nearly fifty taxicabs to get the musicians home after this marathon session! On one occasion, before a rehearsal at La Scala, she was asked to wait until the eminent pianist Wilhelm Backhaus finished going over a concerto on stage. Callas refused adamantly, saying, “I don’t care if it is Backhaus! I’m supposed to start my rehearsal at 3 o’clock. Tell him it’s over.” This was not temperament. As a professional she did not want to lose five minutes of her working time. She needed every minute of it. She was a true perfectionist. Callas was mesmerizing, a far greater artist on stage than any of her colleagues. She immersed herself in her roles. As an example, while rehearsing Medea at La Scala we would go to a nearby café, where once during a break from a dress rehearsal, someone asked, “Maria, what are you holding in your hand?” She was still holding a dagger! Even during a coffee break her mind was still on the stage. A rather poignant incident illustrates a side of Callas that is rarely mentioned, her emotional warmth. During her 1962 German tour with the conductor Georges Prêtre, she was singing when Prêtre cued both the singer and the orchestra incorrectly. Callas signaled him, calmly and unobtrusively so as not to embarrass him, to go back several measures. After the performance, Prêtre disappeared into his hotel room and avoided the reception. Callas inquired, “Where’s Georges?” and asked me to take her to his room. We left the reception and went to Prêtre’s room, where she called out, “It’s Maria! Open the door.” He opened it, dressed in his bathrobe; he was very upset. She sat him down on the bed and lectured him in a motherly fashion, “You’re an excellent conductor… it could happen to anybody.” I was profoundly moved: she was consoling him; a typical prima donna would have been screaming that he had ruined her performance. I was witness to another instance of her kindness during that German tour. One day I brought some mail addressed to her including a letter from a former member of the La Scala chorus, whom she did not know, who had sung in some performances with Callas. The singer had since married a German and was living in Hamburg. She had never forgotten those La Scala performances and had tried but failed to buy tickets for the gala concert that was scheduled for Hamburg during the tour. Not only did Callas request two free tickets for her former colleague, but she replied personally with a friendly note. When I left EMI in 1964, I wrote personal notes saying goodbye to various artists and all my friends and associates, including Callas, mentioning that I was no longer associated with EMI. Shortly afterwards, Callas sang Norma in Paris before a glittering audience including political dignitaries and celebrities such as Brigitte Bardot, Yves St. Laurent, and others. At the end of the performance I went backstage to congratulate her. She was still on stage, not in her dressing room. When she saw me, she embraced me – while she was still going out to take curtain calls – and said, “Oh, I kept your note and I’m so sorry to hear you have left EMI! What are you doing now?” It was as if we were sitting together alone at a café. At such a moment of success, how could she remember if I had written her a note three or four months before? She was a generous, caring person. Unfortunately, despite her great talent and dedication, Callas frequently experienced vocal difficulties. EMI had brought its most advanced recording equipment to Italy, but La Scala had no provisions for a control booth with a direct view of the performers on stage. If Walter Legge, the legendary British chief producer for EMI records (and the husband of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, another of the great sopranos of the time) heard something unusual occurring, he would ask me to go on stage to investigate. One day he asked, “Who is that mezzo or alto making those awful noises down there? Go and tell her to leave.” Unfortunately, it turned out to be La Divina herself in a moment of vocal crisis. The fact was that some days Callas wasn’t in voice. It just wasn’t there. She knew it – and we knew it. At those times she would just pick up her bag and say “Ciao!” Again, it was not a matter of temperament. We knew she couldn’t perform, so we simply worked on some other section of the recording. Although I was not at the 33 infamous Rome performance of Norma attended by the Italian president – the performance that Callas abandoned after the first act – I am quite certain that her voice simply left her. Of course the press seized upon this to portray her as temperamental. Throughout her career, Callas struggled in trying to control her voice with its unusually large range. She suffered considerably, being aware of her inadequacies. Her voice sometimes was uneven between the registers, but she compensated for all the vocal imperfections and persisted where others would have given up. Callas used to phone me late at night from her hotel room when she could not unwind or fall asleep. She would sometimes talk for nearly an hour, about herself, her life, her problems, etc, then would say that we had better get some sleep. Invariably she ended these conversations saying, “Pray for me that I’ll awake tomorrow with my voice.” (c) Jacques Leiser
Florence Foster Jenkins, the Hollywood biopic of the eponymous American amateur soprano, opened in UK cinemas this week; American movie-goers have to wait until August before being able to appreciate Meryl Streep’s commanding performance in the title role. Acting performance, that is. You may be new to the legend of FFJ (1868–1944), so we’ll start with a brief introduction to the lady that will also act as a prologue to the focus of this week’s blog. Some of the details of FFJ’s life and recording tally remain a bit fuzzy, but some things about the lady are quite clear: she loved singing, was bad at it, but was rich enough and socially connected enough to be able to bypass the challenges of self-awareness that most of us have to grapple with, projecting herself to the top of a ladder that very few can aspire to. To set the scene, here’s an extract from her recording of the technically demanding Bell Song (8.120711 ) from Delibes’ opera Lakmé. If that was like taking a cold shower in an igloo, let’s refresh by taking a pleasanter dip into the pool of brave ladies who fearlessly strut their stuff, centre stage, before an arena of critical listeners who come to get their tingle factor from fiendishly difficult, high-lying vocal lines dispatched with disarming ease: welcome to the world of the operatic dramatic coloratura soprano. The music that composers wrote with these singers in mind created a select super-class of exponents whose names live on. One who is very much alive, however, is the Chinese soprano, Dilbèr. She was born in Kashgar, a trading centre on the ancient Silk Road, in what is now the Uighur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang in northwestern China. But here she is in the 19th-century world of Italian opera, taking the role of Lisa in Bellini’s La sonnambula (The Sleepwalker) (8.660042-43 ). Spoiler alert: put away all valuable glassware to avoid possible shattering. Last month, the celebrated Russian soprano Anna Netrebko announced that she was pulling out of her engagement to sing the title role of another Bellini opera, Norma, at London’s Royal Opera House later this year. She said that her “voice has evolved in a different direction.” One can sympathise; walking this high-wire role has no hiding place. In contrast, Maria Callas (1923–1977) was a reliable champion of the role, performing it scores of times during her career. Here’s the diva in an extract from a 1953 performance of the aria Cast diva (8.110325-27 ). The German soprano Erna Berger had to endure a difficult and improbable prologue to her career as an opera star. Although her talent was recognised early on, her father decided to move the family to Paraguay where, following his death, the young Erna was forced to take on a job as a governess. She saved up enough money to return to Germany, however, where she studied singing in her spare time and worked in an office to keep the wolf from the door. She was eventually hired by Fritz Busch at the Dresden State Opera before joining the Berlin State Opera in 1934, where she remained for the next twenty years. She excelled in a comprehensive repertoire. Here she sings the Laughing Song (8.110733 ) from Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus. Coloratura passages were often used to colour the evil or demented nature of female characters in opera. Mozart incomparably employed the technique in the role of The Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute (8.660030-31 ). The aria Der Hölle Rache provides a clear example of someone at the extremes of normality, both in vocal technique and character, as sung here by Hellen Kwon. Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor (8.660255-56 ) perhaps provides the ultimate for the unhinged in its so-called Mad Scene. Since the work’s première in 1835, the title role has always attracted the top coloratura sopranos of their day. Here is Dilbèr again as the terrified Lucia , bereft of reason, a blood-drenched dagger in hand (short synopsis only here!), leaving the listener thinking that a singer must indeed be insane to tackle such music, in costume, under the lights, and constrained by dramatic demands. And so we end where we began, with Florence Foster Jenkins, who died a few months after she took the leap from giving small-scale entertainments to taking to the stage at Carnegie Hall when, we are told, people were turned away in their thousands and scalpers were raking in their booty. It’s a bittersweet way to end this Thought for the Week, with a reprise of Mozart’s Queen of the Night aria , performed by the Diva of Din. I propose a toast to all eccentrics, everywhere, eternally!
Great opera singers