Sunday, October 23, 2016
Maria Callas, 1958. By Houston Rogers. Courtesy WikiMedia Greek-American soprano Maria Callas was one of the most talented prima donnas the world has ever seen – but despite her artistic achievements she faced relentless scrutiny about her personal life and was dogged by journalists at every turn. Headlines and memoirs weave together a sketchy outline of her longstanding affair with the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis . The billionaire was said to have relentlessly pursued the singer, reportedly sending buckets of red roses to stage door before performances, surreptitiously signed ‘the other Greek’. Callas first performed Bellini 's Norma at the Royal Opera House in 1952 – a performance described in the press as resulting in a ‘tumultuous ovation’. She returned to the Covent Garden in 1957 to reprise the role, her appearance much altered, after her much-remarked weight loss. Maria Callas in Norma © 1952 Roger Wood/ Royal Opera House The role of Norma became the part she performed more than any other, touring the finest opera houses across the world until her last full performance of the part at the Palais Garnier in Paris in 1964. Her final known performance of the work was during a masterclass at Juilliard in 1971, where she sung the aria 'Sgombra è la sacra selva', six years before her early death at the age 53. ‘Norma resembles me in a certain way. She seems very strong, very ferocious at times’, Callas said. ‘Actually, she is not – even though she roars like a lion.’ Giacomo Vaghi, Maria Callas and Mirto Picchi © 1952 Roger Wood/ Royal Opera House Onassis and Callas never married. Instead, Onassis wed another of the world’s most famous women – Jacqueline Kennedy , the widow of President John F. Kennedy who was assassinated in 1963. They married five years later on the Greek island of Skorpios and Callas retreated from public view to her apartment in Paris. But this was far from the end of the affair – months later, Onassis was photographed dining out with the soprano and a tabloid frenzy ensued. In a twist of fate, Jaqueline Kennedy or ‘Jackie O’ as she would later become, had long been an admirer of Callas. The singer initially caught her attention when she performed in a concert for her husband’s birthday in 1962. After the performance at New York’s Madison Square Garden , Jaqueline wrote to Callas inviting her to sing at the Winter State Dinner at The White House . ‘We would do everything to make it perfect for you’, she implored. ‘It would really be a great moment of history for this great house.’ ‘I thank you for having thought of me,’ replied Callas, ‘especially as being an American, I would feel deeply honoured to sing at the White House.’ But the singer was locked in a tight recording schedule and so was forced to decline. They were unaware of course how their later life would become intimately intertwined. In November 1973, Callas briefly discussed Onassis. Speaking on CBS’s '60 Minutes' she revealed, ‘I think we understand each other as nobody does.’ ‘We had a wonderful life. I don’t regret any bit of it. But I do regret when I stopped singing,’ she answered. The interview marked her return to the stage after an eight year career break embarked upon in 1965. Despite her many artistic accomplishments, the focus of interviews fixated on the Onassis and what Callas made of his new marriage to the former first lady. In April 1974, she told Barbara Walters on 'The Today Show ' that she refused to be painted as a victim, saying ‘I left him of my own accord. We agreed to that.' ‘We loved each other maybe too much. Men usually want to completely domineer a woman and I want to be dominated by my own accord.’ Despite relentless attempts by journalists, we will never know the truth of the Callas/Onassis affair. It is a story that speculation has transformed into a modern myth, much like the operas that Callas starred in, a tale of two lovers – doomed and unforgettable. Norma runs until 8 October 2016. Tickets are now sold out . The production is a co-production with Opéra national de Paris and is staged with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE and The Tsukanov Family Foundation.
Shakespeare´s "Macbeth" is one of the blackest tragedies he wrote and the most concise. It matters little that this Medieval Scottish drama disregards history, for in fact Duncan was the villain and Macbeth a good ruler. What counts is its terrible denunciation of murder as the route to absolute power, the psychological complexity of the ruling couple, the corroding strength of remorse, and the memorable phrases that stay in the mind. One of the mysteries of music is that the best operas on Shakespeare weren´t written by Britishers but by an Italian: Giuseppe Verdi. He only knew the great playwright in translation, but that was enough to heat his imagination and understand that he had found golden material. And indeed, Verdi´s "Macbeth", "Otello" and "Falstaff" are the most important Shakespearean operas in history. The first version of "Macbeth" is dated 1847 and is by far Verdi´s greatest opera prior to the so-called popular trilogy ("La Traviata", "Rigoletto", "Il Trovatore"). Although he revised it in 1865, most of the material stayed as it was, the basic changes being the addition of Lady Macbeth´s aria "La luce langue" and a new triumphant ending. Francesco Piave´s libretto (with some additions by Andrea Maffei) is extremely faithful to Shakespeare, though some scenes are excised. And the witches´ crucial two scenes are respected, for the underworld is essential both in Shakespeare and Verdi. As the original was premièred in Florence and the revision in Paris, the latter had to have a ballet for the witches, and this is currently cut. Verdi was only 34 when he created his tenth opera, and in it what he did was unique for he explores new grounds: the singers rarely have to deal with virtuosic writing but need to involve themselves with the characters to the point of total identification: you need great artists rather than outstanding singers. And the orchestra creates ambiences of disquiet and terror. At the Colón it was offered only in 1939 before the great performances of 1962 and 1964 established it in the repertoire: Shuard, Colzani/Taddei, conductor Previtali, and the truly innovative production by Pöttgen. Unfortunately by 1998 the production by Jérôme Savary was contaminated by the distortion trend that has ruined European production ever since. And last year something even worse happened: a South African company presented a total travesty with a "Congolese Macbeth" where snatches of Verdi could be heard and poor Shakespeare was torn to pieces. The opera is Medieval and Scottish, but in this operatic season Marcelo Lombardero´s production happens in the Nineteen Fifties in a vaguely Balcan location. So the references to Glamis, Birnam Wood, Cawdor, Fiffe and the English go for nothing. Ah, but you have to resignify it for our times, for we are so silly that we can´t understand Medieval struggle for power. So at the end you see a modern bombarded town and not an inkling of the Birnam wood advancing. Banquo is killed in a train station. Why a barbed wire in "a deserted spot near the border with England" ? And why after the final chorus of peace are people repressed? But we have plenty of red blood. Granted, the massive stage designs of Diego Siliano are well executed, and the apparitions of ghosts are effective (also by Siliano). Costumes by Luciana Gutman follow the producer´s instructions. The lighting by Horacio Efron is skillful. Lady Macbeth is a fearsome role, and Callas´s record of the arias set the standard. Chaira Taigi (debut) is beautiful but that´s not a plus in this role: she has to inspire dread with her acting and singing, and she doesn´t. The voice is middling, for she neither has a firm top nor solid lows. However, she found her best form in the Somnambulist scene. The Argentine Fabián Veloz, replacing the announced Jorge Lagunes, was admirable, a true Verdian baritone with timbre, volume, musicality and dramatic presence. A plus: for the first time at the Colón, we hear Macbeth´s farewell to the world (from the 1847 version). Aleksander Teliga (debut) was a Banquo of little vocal presence, but Gustavo López Manzitti was very expressive and accurate as Macduff. The rest were in the picture. Excellent work from the Colón Choir (Miguel Martínez). And a welcome return of conductor Stefano Ranzani, who gave full dramatic impact to the music with a collaborating orchestra. For Buenos Aires Herald
Sonya Yoncheva as Norma in Norma, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper ‘Casta diva’ is an aria from Vincenzo Bellini ’s 1831 opera Norma . It takes place in Act I, shortly after the title character’s first entrance. Bellini originally wrote the role for his friend Giuditta Pasta and the part is considered one of the most challenging roles in the repertory – for a variety of reasons, although particularly the music. It requires a flexible voice that also has tremendous power over a wide range. ‘Casta diva’ is a prime example not only of bel canto (the generic term for a style of music popular in early 19th-century Italy, where high importance is placed on vocal beauty), but also of Bellini’s own distinctive style. Where does it take place in the opera? ‘Casta diva’ takes place in Act I scene 3. Before the aria, we have encountered Norma’s father Oroveso and his followers. They’re eager for war, but they have to wait for approval from Norma, who as priestess has the final say. We then meet Norma’s secret lover Pollione, an enemy of her people. We learn that he’s fallen out of love with Norma and wishes to abandon her and their two children. Then comes ‘Casta diva’. In the preceding recitative Norma argues with Oroveso about the need for war; in the aria itself she leads her people in a serene prayer for peace. This calm doesn’t last long, though – soon Pollione’s outrageous behaviour will lead Norma to give the signal for war. What do the words mean? Read our line-by-line translation of librettist Felice Romani ’s original Italian text, created in 2016 by Royal Opera House surtitler Kenneth Chalmers: Recitative: ‘Sediziose voci, voci di guerra’ Norma Sediziose voci, voci di guerra Avvi chi alzarsi attenta Presso all’ara del Dio? V’ha chi presume Dettar responsi alla veggente Norma, E di Roma affrettar il fato arcano? Ei non dipende, no, non dipende Da potere umano.Oroveso E fino a quando oppressi Ne vorrai tu? Contaminate assai Non fur le patrie selve E i templi aviti Dall’aquile latine? Omai di Brenno oziosa Non può starsi la spada.Chorus Si brandisca una volta! Norma E infranta cada. Infranta, sì, se alcun di voi snudarla Anzi tempo pretende. Ancor non sono della nostra vendetta i dì maturi. Delle sicambre scuri Sono i pili romani ancor più forti. Oroveso and Chorus E che t’annunzia il Dio? Parla! Quai sorti? Norma Io ne’ volumi arcani leggo del cielo, In pagine di morte Della superba Roma è scritto il nome. Ella un giorno morrà, Ma non per voi. Morrà pei vizi suoi, Qual consunta morrà. L’ora aspettate, l’ora fatal Che compia il gran decreto. Pace v’intimo E il sacro vischio io mieto. Norma Are there those who would call for rebellion and war at the altar of god? Would some put words into the mouth of the prophetess Norma and hasten Rome’s unknown fate? It does not depend on human might.Oroveso How long would you have us oppressed? Have our woods and the temples of our ancestors not been tainted enough by Roman symbols? The sword of Brennus cannot now lie idle.Chorus Raise it up! Norma And it will shatter and fall. Yes, shatter if any one of you tries to unsheathe it before time. The time of our revenge has yet to come. Roman spears are still more mighty than the axes of the Sicambri Oroveso and Chorus What has god told you? What is our fate? Norma I read the secrets in the stars. Proud Rome’s name is written on the page of death. One day she will die, but not through your doing. She will die eaten away by her own vices. Wait for the fateful hour when this will come to pass I counsel peace, and gather sacred mistletoe. Aria: ‘Casta diva’ Casta diva, che inargenti Queste sacre antiche piante, Al noi volgi il bel sembiante, Senza nube e senza vel!Tempra, o Diva, Tempra tu de’ cori ardenti, Tempra ancora lo zelo audace. Spargi in terra quella pace Che regnar tu fai nel ciel. Chaste goddess, you cast a silver light upon these age-old, sacred trees. Turn your lovely face to us unclouded and unveiled.O goddess, calm the fire that burns in these hearts Calm their fearless zeal. Spread across the earth that same peace that rules the heavens by your power. What makes the music so memorable? Verdi once praised Bellini’s ‘long, long, long melodies; melodies such as no one had written before him’. ‘Casta diva’, along with several other passages from Norma, exemplify this trait. In the aria Norma sings in incredibly long, smooth lines, embellished with the intricate ornamentation that is a distinctive feature of bel canto. The accompanying orchestration is initially quite light, with lilting strings and a flute obbligato in counterpoint to Norma’s voice. Bellini gradually thickens the orchestral sound and adds in a sotto voce chorus, to build the aria in a long crescendo that is a superb intensification of this ardent prayer for peace. Take a look at the full score of ‘Casta diva’ (from p.115 for the recitative, from p.123 for the aria), from IMSLP . Norma’s other musical highlights Norma is one of Bellini’s greatest works and the piece as a whole makes for thrilling drama. The love triangle of Norma, Pollione and Norma’s rival Adalgisa requires three exceptional singers, and Bellini draws on their skills to the full in the intense trio ‘Oh! di qual sei tu vittima’ that ends Act I (an innovation of Bellini’s, replacing the more usual chorus number). Norma and Adalgisa share two wonderful duets ‘Sola, furtiva, al tempio’ and ‘Si, fino all’ore estreme’, their voices entwining in rapturous beauty, while the fiery Norma/Pollione duet ‘In mia man alfin tu sei’ is irresistible in quite a different way. The war-hungry chorus sing a violent hymn in ‘Guerra, guerra! Le galliche selve’, while the long Act II finale ‘Qual cor tradisti’ brings the opera to its overwhelming climax. Classic recordings Maria Callas is Norma’s most famous exponent and made it a signature role. She made numerous recordings but musicologist Roger Parker for Radio 3 selected her recording with Tullio Serafin for La Scala, Milan , as his favourite. Montserrat Caballé is probably the only other 20th-century singer really to challenge Callas’s dominance, but recordings by Joan Sutherland , Shirley Verrett , Beverly Sills , Renata Scotto and Anita Cerquetti also have their merits (and I've probably missed out somebody’s favourite). More recently, Cecilia Bartoli has made the role her own, particularly in an acclaimed recording with Giovanni Antonini and the period-instrument band Orchestra La Scintilla. More to discover If you’ve gobbled up ‘Casta diva’ then other Bellini works will be worth a look, particularly I puritani and I Capuleti e i Montecchi . Other bel canto works that probably influenced Bellini include Spontini ’s La vestale and Donizetti ’s Anna Bolena . The influence of Norma itself stretched far and can be seen in many of Verdi’s operas – difficult to pick just one but you could choose Ernani , Luisa Miller , Stiffelio and the trio of Rigoletto , La traviata and Il trovatore . Even the notoriously picky Wagner was a Norma fan, and that influence can be seen particularly in the early Das Liebesverbot . Into the 20th century ‘Casta diva’ is strikingly quoted in Hans Krása ’s Verlobung im Traum – a superb but sadly overlooked work now available in recording . Norma runs 12 September–8 October 2016. Tickets are still available, and every Friday until Friday 7 October further tickets will be made available through Friday Rush . The production is a co-production with Opéra national de Paris and is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE and The Tsukanov Family Foundation.
The Paul Hamlyn Hall Champagne Bar in the Royal Opera House © Royal Opera House Restaurants Welcome to the new Season which has truly opened with a bang. Bellini ’s Norma has not been seen at the Royal Opera House for a very long time and whenever performances of this opera at Covent Garden are mentioned, it is usually in the context of Maria Callas or Joan Sutherland's iconic performances of the role. This week saw Sonya Yoncheva take on the mantle, giving a stunning opening night performance which was very much her own. If you've seen the production, do add your reaction to our round-up of press and audience opinions . If you aren't able to attend a performance of Norma at Covent Garden, I would strongly recommend seeing it live in cinemas around the world on 26 September. We also recently live-streamed an Insight event with Antonio Pappano exploring Bellini's score, which is now available to watch on-demand via the Royal Opera House YouTube channel . Following the return of our much-loved production of Il barbiere di Siviglia starring Javier Camarena and Daniela Mack on Tuesday (which opened to stellar reviews from audiences and critics alike ), we soon look forward to the premiere of Jan Philipp Gloger 's new production of Così fan tutte . One of the great pleasures of working at the Royal Opera House is listening to the stage tannoy, which relays the sound of performances and rehearsals from the auditorium around the building. We've thoroughly enjoyed listening to the production's exciting young cast preparing for opening night and I can't wait to experience the full production. For a first glimpse of the production, we'll be live-streaming an Insight event via YouTube on 15 September . Do also keep an eye on our website, which will soon feature an interview with Semyon Bychkov , as well as rehearsal photography. Preparations for the opening of The Royal Ballet's Season are also underway, with less than two weeks until the first performance of Frederick Ashton 's charming La Fille mal gardée . The upcoming run features some very exciting casts, featuring both debuts and Company A-listers alike. I'd expect many of our ballet audience will be coming back throughout the run to experience the various interpretations offered by the many casts on show. In the ballet rehearsal studios high above the stage, Wayne McGregor has been busy developing his new (as-yet untitled) work , set to a score by influential minimalist composer Steve Reich . As many of you will be aware, the 2016/17 Season marks Wayne's tenth year working with the Company. He has truly pushed the boundaries of what a classical ballet company can be in this time, and we look forward to celebrating his association with the Company both during his upcoming mixed programme in November, and with the revival of the Olivier Award -winning Woolf Works later in the Season. I would like to thank everyone who joined, renewed or upgraded their membership in the last few months. Your support is greatly appreciated. Please note that The Royal Opera House Magazine for the Spring 2017 has now gone to print, and will be posted to you in the first week of October.
Sonya Yoncheva in Àlex Ollé's Norma, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper One space-hopper, two sets of Beats by Dre and a LOT of crucifixes #ROHNorma pic.twitter.com/OQezWXtjbF — Alice Jones (@alicevjones) September 12, 2016 Brave attempt for the principals' role debut. They did not disappoint in showcasing their voice and techniques beautifully.#ROHnorma — Wisdom Hill (@Scarlet2046) September 12, 2016 I suppose that just one opera staged as the composer intended would be too much to ask for? Just one? #rohnorma #rohlucia #rohlescaut — Charles Tansley (@SquareAlbert) September 12, 2016 Set in different time/place/religion but emotions are all there and it works, well, rocks actually. #ROHnorma — Yosh M (@yoshkosh10) September 12, 2016 Production photo of Àlex Ollé's Norma, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper Clever, inspired & visually striking ROHnorma production by Àlex Ollé & team. Didn't sugar the pill by setting it in a cozy mythical past. — David Cloke (@DavidCloke) September 12, 2016 Newsflash @sonyayoncheva does not sound like Maria Callas and surely never meant to.That being said she is fabulous in the lead of #ROHnorma — Martin L. (@bkkml01) September 12, 2016 Really enjoyed #ROHnorma despite being a little distracted by Watership Down on tv. But great stuff. Congrats to all! — Chrissie Bates (@ChrissieBates_) September 12, 2016 Visually stunning, beautiful singing from @sonyayoncheva but overall impact short of potential - let's give it time #ROHnorma — adm (@alandmclean) September 13, 2016 Sonya Yoncheva in Àlex Ollé's Norma, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper Less convinced by this production than by the Caurier/Leiser, but #ROHnorma is visually striking, and who doesn't love a space hopper — Jamie Henderson (@jsdhenderson) September 12, 2016 Basic idea of converting druids to Catholics also makes lot of the libretto nonsensical. Will be an insuperable problem for some...#ROHnorma — Ed Beveridge (@dredbeveridge) September 12, 2016 @RoyalOperaHouse amazing, I'm sure #ROHnorma will be quoted as a classic for generations to come — Dave Thornton (@thornton_dt) September 12, 2016 #ROHnorma can't wait to see this again. Got a return for 4 October! Amazing luck. Totally adore this production. Beautiful and brilliant ☺ — Mark Richards (@MarkRic85498153) September 12, 2016 Press reviews: Bachtrack ★★★★ Evening Standard ★★★★ The Arts Desk ★★★ Guardian ★★★ The Stage ★★★ iNews ★★★ What did you think of Norma? Let us know via the comments below. Norma runs until 8 October 2016. A limited number of tickets are still available . The production will be relayed live to cinemas on 26 September 2016. Find your nearest cinema and sign up to our mailing list .
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