The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Court victories favoring same-sex marriage equality and an extended Valentine’s Day weekend add up to a magical and loving mix for musical partners, including opera star Patricia Racette, who comes out as a lesbian.

February 16, 2014
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ALERT: If you are undecided about going to this afternoon’s concert at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall by the Madison Symphony Orchestra with Norwegian trumpet soloist Tine Thing Helseth (below), here are links to positive reviews by John W. Barker for Isthmus and by Greg Hettmansberger for Madison Magazine’s blog “Classically Speaking”:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42078&sid=4d977189e5be9d039af0d641c547219f

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/February-2014/Madison-Symphony-Gives-the-Large-Variety-Box-for-Valentines-Day/

Tine Thing Helseth big profile

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, when a holiday falls on a Friday – like Valentine’s Day this year — one can be forgiven for prolonging it over the weekend, don’t you think?

But it seems a good chance to blend two recent stories and trend lines that are increasingly coming together.

And coming out.

One is the recent various court victories for marriage equality, or same-sex marriage, or gay marriage. Whatever you want to call it, it seems to becoming more and more a legal and social reality with every week that passes.

gay marriage in suits

And those legal victories lead to more and more gays and lesbians coming out, including the star football player and top NFL draft possibility star Michael Sam (below top) and “Juno” actress Ellen Page (below bottom).

Here is a link to a New York Times story about Michael Sam:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/10/sports/michael-sam-college-football-star-says-he-is-gay-ahead-of-nfl-draft.html?_r=0

Michael Sam in football uniform

And here is a link to a Washington Post story about Ellen Page:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/juno-actress-ellen-page-comes-out-as-gay/2014/02/15/f3327800-9627-11e3-ae45-458927ccedb6_story.html

Ellen Page

As for Valentine’s Day, imagine what how rewarding it could be to work cooperatively in the performing arts with your life partner and love.

That is exactly what was documented in a recent story on NPR’s great blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

NPR highlighted various musical couples in classical music who met in a musical setting and fell in love while working, and who now get to work together.

And for good measure, they included the Metropolitan Opera star soprano Patricia Racette (below top, out of costume, and below bottom in the title role of Puccini’s “Tosca”), who openly talks about what a great marriage she has with her female partner. (You can hear Patricia Racette as the title character Cio-Cio-San sing the finale of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” at the Metropolitan Opera in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

Patricia Racette soprano

Patricia Racette in Tosca

Of course, most of the couples are heterosexual in the story just as they are in real life. And we have seen some of them – tenor Stephen Costello (below top) at the Madison Opera‘s Opera in the Park as well as cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han (below bottom) at the Wisconsin Union Theater, in Madison.

Fort Worth Opera 2008

Wu Han and David Finckel BIG

But it is both sensitive and brave of NPR, which is always under the gun and budget knife of the self-righteous and nutty right-wing extremists and homophobes, to do the story.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/02/11/273159447/classical-couples-sweethearts-sharing-the-stage

One can only hope and imagine the chain reaction that is to happen as each coming out brings several more, as bravery and tolerance build, and as the visible becomes visible.

Saint Valentine -– at least my Saint Valentine — would be very pleased.

Saint Valentine

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Classical music: Private letters reveal Leonard Bernstein the Man and the Maestro, the gay husband and the insecure, lonely celebrity.

November 10, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Ever since Leonard Bernstein (below) died at 72 in 1990, the world of classical music world has seemed to me a smaller and sadder, less joyful and playful place.

bernstein-new-york-city-nightlife-rmc-image-1001-bw

Lenny was the Real Deal.

Such talent and genius!

What energy and enthusiasm!

What a talker and bon vivant!

What a conductor and composer, pianist and educator! Just listen to Bernstein at the bottom conduct his own exuberant and lyrical music — the Overture to “Candide” — in a YouTube video that has over 1 million hits.

But who would have guessed at some of his personal demons and deep insecurities, or his awareness of his own faults and shortcomings?

Leonard Bernstein 1971

Now you can find out through a newly published collection of his letters.

They reveal the private side of Leonard Bernstein The Man and not just The Maestro.

Here is a story from NPR that includes excerpts and background and contexts, interpretations and assessments, by Bernstein’s daughter Jamie.

I found it fascinating reading and listening, and expect you will too.

http://www.npr.org/2013/10/27/240742186/energetic-intimate-letters-reveal-private-leonard-bernstein


Classical music: The new “LIVE From The Met in HD” season starts this Saturday. Will anyone boo or protest the Putin supporters singer Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev during the satellite broadcast of the opera “Eugene Onegin” by the gay composer Tchaikovsky? Here are links to the full season and its background.

October 4, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

You know the new concert season is well underway when the major opera houses rev up.

And this weekend marks the start of the new “Live From the Met in HD’ series. It features 10 new productions, including some very well-known work operas and some lesser-known one.

Met Live Eugene Onegin poster

The opening production by the world-famous Metropolitan Opera (below, the interior seen from the stage) in New York City is Tchaikovsky’s opera “Eugene Onegin,” which the Madison Opera staged to critical acclaim last season.

Met from stage over pit

The new production stars singers Russian soprano Anna Netrebko (below) and the Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien.

Met Eugene Onegin Anna Netrebko face

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra will be conducted by Russian globe-trotting conductor Valery Gergiev (below, in a photo from Getty Images), which is sure to give sparkling account of the tuneful Waltz, probably the most famous and popular moment in the entire opera (at bottom in a popular YouTube video) by that Melody Master of a composer.

Valery Gergiev Getty Images

It is a curious and sure-fire musical combination that may also be controversial, given how both Anna Netrebko and Valery Gergiev have been outspoken supporters of Macho Man Russian President Vladimir Putin (below), despite his oppositional defense of Syria’s dictator Bashar al-Assad and despite his human rights record, especially fostering the oppression of gays and lesbians in Russia. And how ironic it is that they will perform in an opera by Tchaikovsky, who was himself gay,

pro-gay march in russia with putin poster

Here are two popular  posts I recently did about that issue, posts that drew some great reader comments you should check out:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/classical-music-lets-boycott-them-if-music-superstars-anna-netrebko-and-conductor-valery-gergiev-dont-enlighten-vladimir-putin-about-gays-and-lesbians/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/09/29/classical-music-which-opera-villain-would-vladimir-putin-be/

vladimir putin barechested

One wonders; Will the singer or conductor hear any boos or jeers as they start the production, which the Met’s general director Peter Gelb has refused to dedicate to Russia’s gays and lesbians? It could be interesting. But given the cost of seats at the Met, The Ear suspects not. Art will probably win out over politics, at least on the expensive Mother Ship – though the reception might be more vocal and dissenting in local and more affordable cinemas.

But who knows? Still, one can hope.

pro-gay protest in russian with vodka boycott

Anyway, the “Met LIVE in HD” shows will be screened by satellite at the Point Cinemas on Madison’s far west side and the Eastgate Cinemas on the city’s far east side. The opera starts at 11:55 a.m. CDT and runs just over four hours.

Tickets are $24 for adults, $18 for children.

Below are some links with more information about this opening production and about the full season.

Here is a link to the complete season on 10 productions so you can check for conflicts, set aside dates (encore performances are usually the following Wednesday evening) and buy tickets in advance.

http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/liveinhd/LiveinHD.aspx

Here is a useful link to the notes with a synopsis of the plot of “Eugene Onegin”:

http://www.metoperafamily.org/uploadedFiles/MetOpera/8_live_in_hd/4_United_States/cast%20sheets/Onegin%20cast%20sheet.pdf

Here is a link to some videos (below is the ball scene) that may whet your appetite to see and hear the production:

http://www.metoperafamily.org/video/2013-2014/eugene-onegin?src=hdpage

Met Eugene Onegin ball

And here are links to two detailed an dwell researched stories in The New York Times that give the history of the Met Live in HD series and offers insightful critiques of what the series means for live opera and the opera scene in general in the U.S. and around the world.

Here is the link to the story with historical, demographic and economics background:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/arts/music/the-mets-hd-broadcasts-are-changing-opera.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Here is the analysis and critique:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/06/arts/music/met-operas-live-in-hd-series-outside-of-new-york.html?pagewanted=all

If you go, let us know what you thought of the production and whether something unusual happened -– be it a boycott or protest,  jeers or boos.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Which opera villain would Vladimir Putin be? Plus, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s last performance of its acclaimed opening concert is TODAY at 2:30 p.m.

September 29, 2013
2 Comments

A REMINDER: The last performance of the season-opening concert by Madison Symphony Orchestra (below in a photo by Greg Anderson) takes place at 2:30 p.m. today in Overture Hall. The program of Aaron Copland’s dance suite “Appalachian Spring,” Richard Wagner‘s “Love Death” (Liebestod) from the opera “Tristan und Isolde” and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov‘s symphonic tone poem “Scheherazade” celebrates the 20th anniversary of conductor John DeMain‘s tenure. And the performances have received rave reviews. Here are links to reviews by John W. Barker of Isthmus and Greg Hettmansberger of Madison Magazine:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=41041&sid=7853c5de52499cbd8d735576acaa10e0

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/September-2013/Demonstrating-What-All-the-Fuss-Is-About/

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

By Jacob Stockinger

You may recall that last weekend I asked whether we should boycott the performances and recordings of superstar soprano Anna Netrebko (below top) and globe-trotting conductor Valery Gergiev (below bottom) because they supported the election of Vladimir Putin, the thuggish former KGB agent who is the scheming and vicious President of Russia.

anna netrebko

Gergievin NY

There is a lot to complain about Vladimir Putin (below, pictured on a poster in a pro-=gay rights protest) and his record of injustice, human rights and political intrigues. In particular, putting aside questions of Syria and internal Russian dissent, I chastised Netrebko and Gergiev for not standing up to and not speaking out about Putin’s support of extremely harsh and oppressive anti-gay laws in Russia, especially both musicians no doubt work with and depend on gay and lesbian colleagues in performing artists.

pro-gay march in russia with putin poster

The comments led to some pretty heated responses from various readers.

Here is a link so you can see for yourself:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/classical-music-lets-boycott-them-if-music-superstars-anna-netrebko-and-conductor-valery-gergiev-dont-enlighten-vladimir-putin-about-gays-and-lesbians/

Then a god friend and loyal, knowledgeable reader of the blog, who is on a bicycling tour of Hungary, checked in and sent on a link to a piece about how opera houses – including the famed Metropolitan Opera in New York City — have been asked to sign petitions and at least dedicate their opening night performances against Putin and his supporters.

The Met’s general director Peter Gelb (below) refused, pleading that the arts are separate from politics, and some other opera leaders agreed with him. Well, what do you expect from management?

Peter Gelb

Here is a link to that fascinating story in the Wall Street Journal:

http://on.wsj.com/176cPgk

The whole idea of Vladimir Putin (below) as an opera villain got me thinking: Which villain in the opera repertoire best parallels or embodies Vladimir Putin, seen as a parody of himself as a real-life bare-chested macho man in the photo below top? (The beef-cakey baritone Nathan Gunn, below bottom) would be an ideal choice to cast int the role no?)

vladimir putin barechested

Nathan Gunn barechested in Billy Budd

Could Putin be the infamous Scarpia (below, as sung by Dmitri Hvorostovsky in a popular YouTube video) who tortures and kills opponents in Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca”?

Could he be the notorious Duke of Mantua who betrays his friend in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto”?

Or maybe Mephistopheles in Charles Gounod’s “Faust”?

Perhaps Modeste Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov as leader who runs astray of the law and the people?

And there many other villain who kill, torture and betray.

In fact, to help you decide here is a list – by no means complete – of the Top 10 opera villains as provided by the famed radio station WQXR FM in New York City.

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/167716-top-10-opera-villains/

Maybe you can think of others?

And just maybe we will see a contemporary opera composed that is based on Putin. Why not, The Ear asks, since recently world premiere of a commissioned opera ‘”Anna Nicole” based on the glittery and totally superficial life of the trashy Anna Nicole Smith recently took place at the Royal Opera in London?

anna nicole opera

Anyway, which opera villain do you think best embodies Vladimir Putin?

And could the real Vladimir Putin himself serve as a villainous role in a new and contemporary opera?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Let’s boycott them if music superstars Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev don’t try to enlighten Vladimir Putin about gays and lesbians.

September 22, 2013
10 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Like everybody else, I am pretty angry, disappointed and frustrated about Russia and the spoiler role it continues to play in defending Syria’s genocidal actions and in blocking justified moves by the United Nations against President Assad and his murderous regime.

Syria family-escapes from-fierce fighting-between free-syrian army-fighters and-government-troops in idlib northern syria in march 2012

But I am also very irritated, annoyed and angered by the way that Macho Man Russian President and former KGB agent Vladimir Putin (below) and the Russian right-wing politicians have stigmatized gays and lesbians and passed laws against the LGBT community.

Russia Armenia

Which is also why I was so proud of U.S. President Barack Obama for openly meeting with LGBT advocates in Saint Petersburg when he recently went there for the G-20 summit of economically powerful nations.

Obama and rainbow banner

So why can’t other important figures speak out about gay rights, as I bet the famous late cellist, conductor and outspoken dissident and defender of human rights Mstislav Rostropovich (below) would have done.

Mstislav Rostropovich

How about the opera superstar soprano Anna Netrebko?

anna netrebko

And how about the globe-trotting and critically acclaimed Russian orchestra conductor Valery Gergiev?

Gergievin NY

You may recall that in the Russian election both of those artists supported the strongman Vladimir Putin as their candidate. (Below top is a photo of Valery Gergiev, on the right, with Vladimir Putin, below bottom, Vladimir Putin greets Anna Netrebko with flowers)

Valery Gergiev and Putin

Anna Netrebko and Vladimir Putin

Isn’t that special? as The Church Lady used to say on “Saturday Night Live.”

Well, The Ear wonders why the two world-renowned classical musicians don’t go to their favored candidate and enlighten him about gays and lesbians? About gay rights as human rights?

I mean is it is not as if they are personally ignorant of or uninvolved in the important role that gays and lesbians play in the world of classical music and opera, and in the performing arts in general.

It is impossible to believe that both Anna Netrebko and Valery Gergiev don’t count gays and lesbians among their closest friends and collaborators.

Why are they holding back?

What are they afraid of?

They are being hypocritical and should be ashamed. (Below is a YouTube video, with almost one million hits, of Anna Netrebko singing the famous aria “Sempre Libera” — Always Free — from Giuseppe Verdi‘s popular opera “La Traviata.)

gay rights march in russia,jpg

Or could it possibly be that they actually support Putin’s oppressive and repressive policy – now official law – that makes it a crime even to speak about homosexuality openly for fear of spoiling and recruiting young people?

Why don’t they speak out against the violent and thuggish beatings that the intolerant Russians have inflicted on gays and lesbians? Why don’t they support gay rights protests and protesters in Russia? And if they have, who don’t we know about it?

It would sure be news, even if it meant bad box office in their native land.

pro-gay march in russia with putin poster

And if it is the case that Netrebko and Gergiev have remained silence and uninvolved, then The Ear says: It is time to boycott their productions, concert appearances and their recordings. It would be similar to the boycott of Russian vodka that gay rights advocates have called for (below).

pro-gay protest in russian with vodka boycott

What do you say?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Ear salutes marriage equality and the wedding of two close friends in Seattle.

August 16, 2013
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is a special day for two special people.

They are close friends of The Ear.

Their names are Rodney Hammer (below top), who is an accomplished professional interior designer, and the Rev. Michael Ingersoll (below bottom), who is the Communications and Creative Director of the expanding Center for Spiritual Living.

Rod Hammer

Michael Ingersoll

Today marks their 16th anniversary together.

It also marks their wedding day in Seattle.

Some of us have been waiting a long time for this kind of legitimate recognition to happen to gay and lesbian relationships. But when you think about it and compare it to other civil rights movements, it has not really been all that long.

Many of us never would never have guessed back in 1969, the year of the Stonewall riots and the beginning of gay liberation, that marriage equality – or same-sex marriage – would be accepted by the general public, sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court, endorsed by the President of the United States, enacted by more than a dozen states and remain a fast-rising tide by 2013.

So today I celebrate a private and personal joyous event, but also a social and historical event that these good friends, along with others, have brought me into and made me a part of. Thank you.

Cheers, I say, to them and to all the gay men and lesbian women who love each other and make a public commitment to that love, despite what various hate-mongers, bigots and misguided religious zealots try to say about that love and denigrate it as a “lifestyle” or “agenda.”

I am proud and fond of them, so I toast Rod and Michael with music.

Here is a little something as a “wedding gift” for them — a piece by George Frideric Handel that I chose precisely in order to use some of the same Christianity that has been so misused against gay and lesbian marriage to celebrate it. It is sung by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Chicago. For full effect and full fun, click on the FULL SCREEN icon so you can watch while you listen:


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