The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho discusses her opera “L’Amour de Loin” on NPR. Its premiere production at the Metropolitan Opera will air this Saturday on “Live From the Met in HD” and on Wisconsin Public Radio

December 9, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday will see the “Live From The Met in HD” transmission to area cinemas of the popular 2002 opera “L’Amour de Loin” by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho (below, in a photo by Maarit Kytoharju).

The show starts at 11:55 a.m. at the Point Cinema in Madison’s far west side and the Palace Cinema in Sun Prairie. The running time is three hours with an intermission. (It will also be broadcast live on Wisconsin Public Radio starting at 1 p.m.) It will be sung in French with English supertitles.

kaija-saariaho-maarit-kytoharju-for-met

Based on the real-life story of the 12th-century French prince and troubadour Jaufré de Rudel, the opera will be the first one by a women composer to be done by the Metropolitan Opera in 113 years.

It must also be a landmark for Finland, since both the composer and the acclaimed conductor, Susanna Mälkki (below, in a photo by The New York Times), are Finnish. Mälkki is making her Met debut.

susanna-malkki-ny-times

And the cast sounds terrific: Bass-baritone Eric Own (below left, in a photo by Ken Howard) plays the troubadour.

eric-owens-plays-the-12th-century-french-prince-and-troubadour-jaufre-rudel-cr-ken-howard-met

Susanna Phillips (below right) plays his love Clémence, who hails from what is now Lebanon.

eric-owens-and-susanna-phillips-in-mets-%22lamour-de-loin%22-cr-ken-howard-for-met

It sounds like the production, by French-Canadian theater director Robert Lepage – who worked with the Cirque du Soleil and did the Met’s recent controversial “Ring” cycle by Richard Wagner, is appealing on several scores. (You can hear Robert Lepage and Kaija Saariaho discuss the production briefly in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a link to more information about the opera and cast at the Met’s website:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/2016-17-Season/amour-de-loin-saariaho-tickets/

The appeal has been added to by a story that Jeff Lunden did for National Public Radio or NPR.

It is good background for seeing and hearing the production.

Here is a link. You can read the summary in print, and you can hear the longer broadcast version – which The Ear recommends — with the voices of the composer and others, by clicking on the big red button on the top left:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/12/03/503986298/half-of-humanity-has-something-to-say-composer-kaija-saariaho-on-her-met-debut

Do you know the opera “L’Amour de Loin”?

Have you seen or heard it already?

Whether you saw a previous Metropolitan Opera production or this one, let us know what you think of the opera as new music and a fetching love story. Will it “have legs” and survive long into the future?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Madison Opera’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” excelled in singing, orchestral playing, drama and other aspects that redeemed a largely unmemorable work. Plus, what is good music for Veterans Day?

November 11, 2016
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ALERT: Today is Veterans Day. What piece of classical music should be played to mark the event? The Ear suggests the War Requiem by Benjamin Britten. Leave your choice in the COMMENT section.

By Jacob Stockinger

Today’s post features a guest review of Madison Opera’s “Romeo and Juliet” by Larry Wells. Wells has been enjoying opera since he was a youngster. He subscribed to the San Francisco Opera for nearly 20 years, where he last saw “Romeo and Juliet,” sung by Alfredo Kraus and Ruth Ann Swenson

More recently he lived in Tokyo and attended many memorable performances there over nearly 20 years. These included Richard Strauss rarities such as “Die Ägyptische Helena” and “Die Liebe der Danae” as well as the world’s strangest Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner and a space-age production of Puccini’s “Turandot,” featuring Alessandra Marc singing “In questa reggia” while encased in an inverted cone.

By Larry Wells

Last Sunday’s matinee performance of Charles Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” by Madison Opera at the Overture Center was a feast for the eyes. The costumes, sets, lighting and staging were consistently arresting. (Performance photos are by James Gill.)

But we go to the opera for music and drama.

The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is well known. Gounod’s opera substitutes the tragedy with melodrama, and therein lies one of the work’s flaws. Despite sword fights, posturings and threats as well as one of opera’s lengthiest death scenes, one leaves the theater thinking that a vast amount of theatrical resources have been squandered on something insubstantial.

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-sword-fight

However, despite its dramatic flaws, the opera’s music has somehow endured. And Sunday’s performance milked the most out of the music that could have been expected.

The star of the show was the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the expert direction of Maestro John DeMain (below). He knows how to pace a performance, how to build an exciting climax and how to highlight a solo instrument.

He is an incredibly intelligent conductor, and we are fortunate to have him in Madison. I want to make special mention of the beautiful harp playing, which, according to the program, was accomplished by Jenny DeRoche.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The second star on the stage was the Madison Opera Chorus (below). The chorus plays a significant part in many of the opera’s scenes, and the singing was stirring when it needed to be and tender when it was called for.

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-chrous-and-set

As for the soloists, highest praise must go to UW-Madison alumna soprano Emily Birsan (below right) for her portrayal of Juliet. Her solo arias, particularly her big number in the first act as well as her subsequent lament, were stunning.

Her Romeo, tenor John Irvin (below left), sounded a little forced during his forte moments, but he sang magnificently in his quiet farewell to Juliet after their balcony scene. (You can hear the famous balcony scene, sung by Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-john-irvin-and-emily-birsan

Their voices blended beautifully in the opera’s multiple duets. And the wedding quartet, where they were joined by Allisanne Apple’s nurse (below, rear right) and Liam Moran’s Friar Lawrence (below, middle center), was a highlight of the performance.

madison-opera-romoeo-and-juliet-friar-and-nurse

The opera abounds with minor characters, all of which were ably portrayed. Special mention should be made of Stephanie Lauricella (below, far right) for her fantastic moments as Romeo’s page; Madison’s Allisanne Apple for her amusing portrayal of Juliet’s nurse Gertrude; Sidney Outlaw (below, second from left) as a robust Mercutio; and Philip Skinner as a powerful Lord Capulet.

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-sidnay-outlaw-left-and-page-right

I have wondered why this opera is still performed. Its music is lovely but unmemorable, and its dramatic impact is tenuous.

I left the performance thinking that it had been a good afternoon at the theater – certainly more interesting than the Packers’ game – but wishing that one of a couple dozen more meaty operas had been performed in its place.

Since we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, how much more interesting would have been Benjamin Britten’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”? 


Classical music: Opera diva Deborah Voigt comes clean in her new memoir about her weight-loss surgery as well as her addictions to food, online dating and alcohol.

January 23, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Talk about living a life that sounds like an opera.

Take opera diva Deborah Voigt (below).

Deborah  Voigt

Voigt is supremely talented.

And now it turns out that the opera star is also supremely honest. And boy, does she have some great stories to tell — stories that don’t always reflect well on the opera world, let alone herself.

In her new memoir, “Call Me Debbie: True Confessions of a Down-to-Earth Diva,” the opera star talks about her childhood, her career, her gastric by-pass weight-loss surgery in 2004 and other problems including her abuse of alcohol, her dangerous relationships with men she met online and of course her relationships with food and music.

deborah voigt memoir book cover

Here is pre-surgery Fat Debbie:

Deborah Voigt fat in 2013

Here is post-surgery Thin Debbie, playing Brunnhilde in Richard Wagner‘s “Ring” cycle for the Metropolitan Opera:

Thin Deborah-Voigt as Brunnhilde

Voigt also comes off as a thoughtful woman who does not shun her own individual responsibility for her problems, but who sees them in a social and even sexist context, such as the double standard in opera for heavy men like the legendary and obese tenor Luciano Pavarotti (below) and heavy women like herself.

Luciano Pavarotti

The Ear offers you a roundup of reviews and interviews about the new book.

Here is an interview with Scott Simon on NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/2015/01/17/377503009/a-down-to-earth-diva-confronts-her-flaws-and-good-fortune

Here is a piece from The Wall Street Journal with a Q&A interview:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/opera-singer-deborah-voigt-an-anti-diva-bares-it-all-1421358335

Here is the take in the popular People magazine:

http://www.people.com/article/deborah-voigt-memoir-call-me-debbie-food-addiction

And here is a nitty-gritty account in The New York Post:

http://nypost.com/2015/01/11/too-fat-opera-singer-lost-the-weight-but-found-a-world-of-troubles/

But let’s not forget the talent and great voice that make all these other things noteworthy. So here is Deborah Voigt’s most popular video on YouTube:

 


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