Sunday, July 31, 2011

Notable CD and DVD releases for the month of August

The month of August brings the recital album debut of Mojca Erdmann who impressed audiences and critics in Baden Baden in the role of Zerlina in Don Giovanni. The CD is entitled Mostly Mozart. It includes arias from Don Giovanni and Idomeno and music from Salieri and Paisello.

Idelbrando D'Arcangelo releases his second album for Deustche Grammophon and like Ms. Erdmann it is a Mozart album entitled Mozart. Coming off the same Baden Baden Don Giovanni performances, D'Arcangelo's album includes arias Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro and  Cosi Fan Tutte.


Alekzandra Kurzak who stars in Hansel and Gretel this year at the Met also makes her solo album debut for Decca entitled Gioia. It features some of Kurzak's favorite arias and includes the works of Verdi, Donizetti, Strauss, and Bellini.

Antonio Pappano continues his recording series with the Academia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia with William Tell. The opera stars Gerald Finley, John Osborn, and Malin Bystrom.

Rossini: William Tell (French Version)

The classic Francesco Rossi Carmen starring Placido Domingo and Julia Migenes is released for the first time on DVD.

The Royal Opera releases Anna Nicole on DVD on Opus Arte. An opera comission by the ROH follows the story of celebrity Anna Nicole and her turbulent life. The opera stars Eva Maria Westbroek who triumphed in the role and Gerald Finley.

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The Makropulos Case Preview 2011-12

The Makropulos Case returns to the Met starring Karita Mattila

The Production
This year, the Met brings back Elijah Moshinsky's production of Janacek's masterpiece "The Makropulos Case" for the first time since 2001. When last performed, the New York Times praised it for being "attractive in a spare, modernistic way." The production of course is most famous for its fatal premiere back on January 5, 1996 when tenor Richard Versalle suffered a heart attack moments after singing the infamous line "You can only live so long" and fell from a 20 foot ladder to his death.  I have never seen the Met's production which makes it difficult for me to comment further.

Photo: Cory Weaver

The Cast
The opera is known for its complex main character of Emilia Marty/ Elina Makropulos, a 337 year old opera singer who can best be described as every human contradiction of human nature. She is centuries old, and yet retains a youthful appearance; passionate and yet bored with her existence; filled with sexual desire and at the same time tired with it (one line during the opera has her saying that sex "isn't worth it"). Marty is also considered the greatest singer in the world and Janacek's writing for the lead soprano is uncompromisingly difficult. As a result, the soprano who takes on this role must not only convince the audience of the character's complexity, but conquer Jancek's tremendously difficult vocal writing. And by the way, the opera is written in Czech, a language with a limited operatic repertoire and even more limited stable of interpreters.  Last time the opera was brought to the Met, Catherine Malfitano triumphed as Emilia Marty. Now the task will fall to the increasingly polarizing Karita Mattila. In the early part of the decade, Mattila was looked upon as one of the great singing actresses for her tremendous portrayals of the German repertoire. In recent years, she has taken to the Italian repertoire with such complex roles in Puccini's Tosca and Manon Lescaut as well as Verdi's Ballo in Maschera. In my opinion, to call her ventures into this repertoire unsatisfactory is at best kind. Her voice, which is well suited to Wagner's "lighter" fare, hardly has the fluidity or flexibility demanded of Italian opera. She never sounded comfortable in these roles vocally (which may have negatively affected her strong acting abilities) and recently stated that she was retiring the role of Tosca. As much as her voice has disappointed me in recent years, I am not counting out her possibility of putting together a strong performance of Janacek's masterpiece. After all, she has shown past aptitude for the Czech master's music in such roles as "Jenufa" and "Kata Kabanova." Furthermore, her role debut as Emilia Marty was a resounding triumph last season at the San Francisco Opera where she was praised for  singing "with such searing clarity and ease that it cuts right through you like a cold North wind."   Other critics noted that Mattila's performance was all the more remarkable for her ability to maintain a secure vocal quality through all the "gymnastics" demanded of her. Judging from overpoweringly positive reception to her role debut, it is likely that Matilla's Emilia Marty will astound audiences at the Met.

The Met has also brought in Kurt Striet, Johan Reuter, and Tom Fox to support Mattila. Most importantly, Janacek specialist Jiri Belohlavek will be at the podium for this run. Belohlavek was handpicked by Matilla for her San Francisco Debut and it is likely that the request was also extended to the Met. Belohlavek was also praised for his musical account of Janacek's dense score. The Classical Review in particular stated that that Belohlavek had "an innate sense of how this challenging music should go, keeping firm forward momentum and supporting the singers sensitively, while forcefully bringing out the surging elemental power of Janacek's restless score."

Conclusion:  As stated before, "The Makropulos Case" is a seldom performed masterpiece. For hardcore opera fans, this may be the only opportunity in a few years to catch this underrated work. Furthermore, Mattila is on the heals of a tremendous debut in San Francisco and this may be a once in a lifetime opportunity to watch her carry over this success to the Met stage. However, this opera is really only for the hardcore or the adventurous opera fan. The music is very modern and the plot extremely dense and complicated.  More casual fans should definitely look elsewhere.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Recording Reccomendations for Tosca

Like La Boheme, Tosca has plenty of great recordings to chose from.

Puccini: Tosca (complete opera) with Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano, Tito Gobbi, Victor de Sabata, Chorus & Orchestra of La Scala, MilanThe Maria Callas, Giuseppe Di Stefano and Tito Gobbi recording is probably the greatest opera recording ever recorded. The three express every word and feeling that the music provides. Callas' Vissi d'Arte is showstopping and Di Stefano's Luevan le stelle is a breath of fresh air. While I listen to this recording I can envision them acting on stage. This is something recordings rarely do. However when you have three great artists who are capable of expressing like them, this is possible. The orchestra is conducted beautifully under Victor de Sabata.

Other recommendations for the role of Tosca include Mirella Freni's, Renata Scotto's and Leontyne Price's. All these interpretations are legendary and are accompanied by the great Placido Domingo who in my opinion is one of the greatest Cavaradossi's.

Giacomo Puccini: Tosca - Mirella Freni / Plácido Domingo / Samuel Ramey / Philharmonia Orchestra / Giuseppe SinopoliPuccini: Tosca

Puccini: Tosca / Scotto, Domingo, Bruson; Levine
Some great DVD's of Tosca include the Emmy nominated Met production with Placido Domigo and Hildgarde Behrens, Eva Marton's performance with Giacomo Aragall and Jonas Kaufman's heartbreaking Cavaradossi with Emily Magee.

Puccini: Tosca
If you want to get to know the artists Patricia Racette has no solo CD albums but like I stated in the Madama Butterfly  preview she is one of the greatest Madama Butterfly's. Check this DVD out

Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Aleksandrs Antonenko has no CD's.

Roberto Alagna's early recordings display his beautiful voice. This Duets and Arias CD displays the great chemistry that Alagna had with his wife Angela Gheorghiu.
Duets & Arias

To see the current Met production you can watch the Virgin Classics DVD of 2009's HD transmission. However if you want to hear great singing look elsewhere.

Puccini: Tosca [Live From the Met]

 For more infromation on Tosca check out the Tosca Preview.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hansel and Gretel preview 2011-12

Richard Jones hauntingly comic production of Hansel and Gretel is back for yet another Holiday run which include weekday matinees.

The Production 
Richard Jones' production opened in 2007 to rave reviews. Jones uses dark colors throughout the production and rarely do we see anything bright or colorful. Rather than being a typical children's opera, Jones explores the dark side of the opera and returns to the Grim brothers roots. Jones sets each act of the opera in an increasingly larger and more threatening room. The first act is a cramped, meager kitchen in Hansel and Gretel's home. The second is a banquet hall with anthropomorphic trees and arboreal wallpaper replacing the traditional forest of the middle act The third act is a vast, gray cinderblock-and-metal factory dominated by an enormous, red-glowing oven for the witch's house, haunted by the spirits of dead children. Another element that is changed from the plot of the opera is the witch. Instead of being played by a mezzo soprano, a tenor plays the role adding an unsettling feel. While the production is dark as it suggests cannibalism, it still keeps elements of comedy and fantasy. There are fairy tale chefs that are represented with huge masked heads instead of fairies. However, in my opinion the previous traditional production which presented the opera as a fantastical story rather than a grim one was better suited for the holiday season and for children. This is a co-production with the Welsh National opera and the Lyric opera of Chicago. A DVD of the production is available on EMI Classics

The Cast 
Alice Coote and Kate Lindsey will share the role of Hansel. Alice Coote returns to the role that she created in 2007. Hailed for her Handel and Mozart, Coote has made Hansel a staple of her repertoire. She is able to portray Hansel with boyish mannerisms and sing with ardor. Kate Lindsey makes her met role debut as Hansel. She is already well known for playing pants roles especially for her role as Nickclause in L'Contes d'Hoffman, a role she has triumphed in recently at the Met. Lindsey has a lush mezzo soprano voice with great top notes and agility. Like Coote, she is a convincing in her acting.       

Alexandra Kurzak returns to the Met after a highly disappointing Gilda in Rigoletto. Kurzak has an agile and sturdy voice that has tendencies of going sharp especially in her high notes. Since her Gilda, Kurzak's voice has grown in size, is no longer sweet and is much more darker. The result is a much more dramatic coloratura soprano. Even though all these changes having occurred, Kurzak is a convincing actress. I will never forget seeing her debut at the Met as Olympia. She was both sweet and charming as well as robotic and gave the impression of being a true doll. Kurzak should have no problem being a girl in the role of Gretel.

Robert Brubaker has the daunting challenge of surpassing Phillip Langridge's definitive interpretation of the witch. Langridge sang the role twice and caused a sensation because of his technical abilities and acting skills.  Brubaker will have to match Langridge's legendary performance if he is to succeed this year in the role.
Families will most likely enjoy this opera as they have in the past. However if you are a hardcore opera fan, look somewhere else.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Licitra out Giordani in

The Metropolitan Opera has just reported that Salvatore Licitra will not be singing this years run of Ernani. This is already the second high profile cancellation that Licitra is involved in at the Met. A few years ago Licitra also pulled out of a new production of Il Trovatore. Marcello Giordani and Roberto DeBiaso will share the role of Ernani. It is not clear yet who will get the HD performance. However from Giordani's track record at the Met, he will most likely be singing the HD performance.

This the third high profile cancellation for the New 2011-2012 season. Angela Gheorghiu already cancelled all engagements of Faust and Elina Garanca cancelled all performances of Anna Bolena.

Giordani will be singing the HD Performance on February 25, 2012


Monday, July 18, 2011

Madama Butterfly Preview 2011-12

Madama Butterfly Preview 2011-2012

Anthony Minghella’s production returns for the fourth time at the Met. Since its opening in 2006, the production has become a favorite to Met audiences. The production mixes Japanese theater with opera. The staging is minimal with little furniture. It is made up of sliding doors which change the scene and mirrors at the back of the stage creating double images and lighting effects. Cio Cio San’s son is represented by a puppet which is animated by three men dressed in black and there is also the use of traditional Japanese dance. Anthony Minghella's approach was to use Japanese culture as a way of further studying the opera and its characters. He also had minimal furniture because he believed it would help develop the characters and bring them closer to the audience. According to the singers Minghella’s approach to acting was the same as his approach to film. He would tell the singers to look into a box. Whatever was in the box was all that needed to be expressed. In other words his goal was to get rid of all big gestures usually expected on stage in order to create more realistic characters. The final product was one of beauty with breathtaking visuals and emotional weight not seen in any new production Peter Gelb has brought to the Met since his first season as general manager. The reason for this was that Minghella held a focus on his direction and knew exactly where he wanted to go with the opera. It’s sad that such an amazing talent passed away. He will surely be remembered by me and others for his magnificent opera production and his wonderful films. The production is a co-production with the English National Opera and Lithuanian National Opera. To see the complete production there is a DVD from Sony Classical.

The Cast

Patricia Racette returns to the role of Cio Cio San, a role which in my opinion is her calling card and her greatest role. As I stated in my Tosca preview Racette is best suited for Puccini as her voice is lush, expressive and dramatic. She can express every word and bring the audience through many different emotional sates. When I saw her two years ago her Madama Butterfly was the best performance I saw that year. I suffered with her character throughout the performance and also I felt happy for her at the end of the first act. Even though Cio Cio San is supposed to be 15 years old and Racette is 40, Racette showed her girlish side and it was fully believable. This proved that Racette is also a great actress. Because her performance was so convincing and garnered rave reviews the Met rewarded her with an HD transmission. This performance is now available on DVD. 

Liping Zhang alternates with Racette singing Cio Cio San. Having made her Met debut in 2004 Zhang has sang all throughout the world and is best known for her portrayal of Cio Cio San. Zhang was hailed for her soft tone and her great acting skills when she sang in Los Angeles. With these qualities Zhang should easily triumph in Minghella's production. 

Liping Zhang, as Cio-Cio-San, during a dress rehearsal of the first act of Los Angeles Opera's "Madame Butterfly" at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

Robert Dean Smith returns to the Met after a Wagner and a Strauss opera. He’ll sing Pinkerton and I suspect it may be a great one. I remember when he sang Tristan und Isolde, a heldentenor role which he sang surprisingly lyrically, and with great breath control. His voice is surprisingly lyrical and youthful.  His high notes are pitch perfect. There is no sense of strain and as an actor Smith is perfect. Smith may be the most appealing Pinkerton since Jonas Kaufmann.

 Marcello Giordani returns to the Met in a role he created for the production. Marcello Giordani is a good actor. However his voice is a different matter. He has a good mezza voce and pretty good low notes. However his high notes are of concern. He screams a lot of them and the ones he doesn't scream are strained and forced. His breath control is also of concern. After half an hour of singing he sounds tired and can barely sustain his phrases. Luckily Pinkerton is a short role and Giordani will be able to hold his ground.

Laurent Naouri makes his awaited Met debut in the role of Sharpless. His voice is very lyrical with good top notes. He is also a good actor. Without a doubt, he will make a youthful Sharpless. 

Racette and Zhang should triumph in these roles making this another highlight and a must see this year.  

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cornell MacNeil Dies at 88

One of America's greatest baritones has died today July 16, 2011 at the age of 88. Having sung all the leading Verdi roles and Wagner roles MacNeil had a beautiful voice that captured the emotions of each character he created on stage. To honor his death I want to share clips from his greatest roles.

MacNeil captures Rigoletto's suffering and anguish for his daughter Gilda. He captures the characters anger as well as his gentleness toward her. Best of all he sings with desperation. He represents what a Rigoletto should be.

MacNeil also knew how to represent evil in such a great way that at the end of the performance he was even likable. His Iago was powerful and charismatic. Most importantly he cast a spell on the audience in a way that Iago could be a likable character.

Rest in peace. We will certainly miss you and we hope that Maneil's legend lives on

Thursday, July 14, 2011

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Il Barbiere di Siviglia preview 2011-12

Bartlett Sher's production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia returns to the Met

The Production
Bartlett Sher's production returns with three of the original cast members. When this production opened, it provided a refreshing look at the Barber and also gave it a faster pace. The set is made of doors, orange trees, stairwells and most important of all, a  minimal set. The backdrop changes with lighting effects. Sher makes sure that what is on the stage is used and he leaves nothing that will distract the audience from the singers or the action of the show. Catherine Zuber's costumes are all period but are colorful and very detailed. Sadly these are the most original she made for the Met as she ended up copying these wonderful costumes for Le Comte Ory and Romeo et Juliette.  The most innovative part of the production  is the walkway that goes around the orchestra pit. However while innovative it muffled the singers' voices. The Met is made in a way where the best acoustics are on the actual stage. Taking the singers out of the stage only helped muffle their sound. However even though this is a shortcoming, the production is sexy, fast and best of all comic.

The Cast 
This year Diana Damrau headlines the cast and while Isabel Leonard sings the majority of the performances, Damrau's interpretation is unmissable.

Diana Damrau returns to the role of Rosina. Today she is one of the most dazzling and glamorous stars around. When Bartlet Sher’s production opened in 2006, Diana Damrau was a no name singer. However,   when she sang this production she was hailed for her vocal fireworks and her acting. She was fierce, flirtatious and most of all lovable.  She quickly became a household name at the Metropolitan Opera and EMI Classics immediately signed a record contract with her. She returned a few years later to the role of Rosina and results were as good as the first time. A year later she returned to the Met in the role of Marie in La Fille du Regmient and once again was hailed for her comic timing. Last year she sang another Rossini role Le Comtesse in Le Comte Ory, her first appearance since pregnancy. Her voice has become even bigger, more focused and her high notes even sturdier. Her acting was thrilling and exciting. Without a doubt Diana Damrau will once again prove why she is one of today’s greatest sopranos. She will dazzle and when all is said and done she will most likely steal the show as well.   

A recent winner of the Beverly Sills Award, Isabel Leonard makes her role debut as Rosina. Hailed for her Mozart repertoire, Isabel Leonard has yet to be heard in a Bel-Canto role at the Met, so this should be a treat. The first time I heard her was in Romeo et Juliette in the role of the Page. Her aria was beautifully sung with clean high notes and runs. In addition she convinced with her acting. It’s hard to predict how well she will do with the role as it is new to her repertoire. However with a beautiful, agile and clean voice like hers makes things look promising.

When Peter Mattei sang the Barber Figaro in 2006 he brought sexy back to the role with his charisma and vocal brilliance. Instead of coming on stage alone to sing the famous Largo al Factotum, he comes with a wagon pulled by a mule with women around. Like the New York times stated it gives the character of Figaro a "Don Giovanni feel." Peter Mattei's voice is robust and agile. While he is not perfect at top of his voice and can be a bit coarse, his presence and his acting help reduce these vocal problems. As an actor Mattei is agile, athletic and flirtatious. It also helps that he has good stage presence. While the Met has yet to headline the baritone, Mattei will definitely make another star turn in this role.    

Rodion Pogossov returns to the role he debuted in at the Met in 2002. While I have yet to see him on stage, the New York Times hailed him for his comedic instincts and his swagger. In addition he was hailed for his robust voice and his shiny and bright high G's and A's. Apparently his stage presence is also a amazing. I suspect he will be as good if not better with the experience in this role.

 Production photo

Javier Camarena and Colin Lee sing the Count. Both have beautiful lyric voices. However with two great Rossini tenors like Lawrence Brownlee and the great Juan Diego Florez having owned this role at the Met, it is going to be an uphill challenge for both. Comparisons to the other two are likely. Colin Lee made his debut in the role of Arturo in Lucia di Lammermoor and his voice's breath control and phrasing were questionablein my opinion. Javier Camarena has sung the role to great acclaim but from what I have heard he lacks the perfection and flexibility in the coloratura and cleanliness in the high notes. However, I don't want to take their credit away because they may surprise as many artists have done in the past.

John Del Carlo returns to the role of Bartolo after a star turn in the title role of Don Pasquale. Del Carlo may not have the most beautiful voice but he is agile and flexible and has unmatchable diction. He may have breath control problems at times but this mostly due to his acting. His voice is huge and this most likely due to the fact that he sung Wotan at the beginning of his career. When he created the role in Sher's production he was comic and unforgettable. After Don Pasquale, I gained even more respect and admiration for him as a singer and I have no doubt that he will recreate his great interpretation of Bartolo this year.

A trio of all-star veterans sing the role of Basilio. Samuel Ramey returns to the role he created in this production. After a career of great triumphs and being a Rossini specialist, today Ramey’s voice is wobbly and unstable. It still maintains its huge sound but it no longer has a natural ring. However Basilio has no legato lines and instead is filled with staccato runs and fast music. Ramey still has great breath control and therefore he’ll be able to pull it off excellently. In addition his comic timing is some of the best. He’ll most likely be as good as when the production opened. Ferruccio Furlanetto sings Basilio after twenty years. Furlanetto is renowned for his Verdi and Mozart portrayals in particular King Phillip in Don Carlo and Leoporello in Don Giovanni. But it is the dramatic Verdi roles that he has sung most recently and which have made his name. However when Furlanetto sang the role in '84, a role which was recorded and currently on DVD on Deustche Grammophon, he was hilarious and he sang all the vocal runs to perfection. It’s been nearly twenty years and his voice is no longer as fresh. It will be difficult to sing this role the same way again, but Furlanetto always knows how to give the music energy and surprise the audience. The last of the Basilio’s is Paata Burchuladze, a renowned bass who has sang many Verdi roles to acclaim and whose vocal range is exceptional. This year he also returns to Basilio, a role created back in the 90s. While I have never heard him in the bel-canto repertoire, his previous legacy leave me no doubt that he will succeed.

A great cast and great production will make this is one of the unmissable operas of this year.   

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Recording Reccomendations for La Boheme

It is very difficult to actually pick from the immense selection of recordings of this opera but I have a couple of favorites for La Boheme.

Puccini: La Boheme
This is without a doubt my favorite recording of the opera and regarded as the greatest ever. It features Jussi Bjorling and Victoria de los Angeles. Here their voices mesh beautifully and Thomas Beecham's conducting is lush bringing out all the colors in Puccini's beloved score.

Its hard to ignore Renata  Scotto's interpretation of the role as she is by far the most dramatic Mimi I have ever heard. Her third act is tragic from beginning to end and once you get to the fourth act one is already crying. This DVD showcases her acting and vocal skills. Pavarotti while not active on stage showcases his lush voice and his beautiful high Cs.

Giacomo Puccini: La Boheme

This is my favorite DVD recording. It showcases the original cast of Zeffirelli's production and Strata's versatility. Stratas in my opinion was one of the greatest actresses of that time and here she shows Mimi's frailty impeccably. Her singing while not perfect fits the role perfectly. Carreras sings ardently and Scotto while not at her vocal best shows her comic and coquettish side. (This is the Mets current production.)

In my opinion the greatest opera movie in recent times features the glamorous opera couple Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon. With beautiful cinematography, gorgeous sets and colorful costumes, Robert Dornhelm's evokes the wonderful streets of Paris and Mimi's tragedy. It also features great singing from the two leads.


As for the Artists that will be performing.

La BohemeHibla Gerzmava's acclaimed performance of Mimi is displayed in this highly acclaimed ROH production. Both these performers are compelling.

Korean Songs; Hei-Kyung HongHei-Kyung Hong's Korean album shows a new side to the diva. She traces her roots like Placido Domingo and Juan Diego Florez have done in recent albums they have recorded. The music is gorgeous and one that should not be missed.

Unfortunately Dimirti Pittas and Susanna Phillips do not have solo albums. To catch Dimitri Pittas you can see him in the Macbeth DVD the Met released. More on this for my Macbeth reccomendations.

The Met also has another DVD release of La Boheme. If your curious in seeing an HD performance the Angela Gheorghiu and Ramon Vargas version is also available.
Puccini: La Boheme (Live from the Met)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Aida Preview 2011-12

This year Sonja Frisell's beloved production of Aida returns with a starry cast.

The Production
The current production at the Met opened back in the 80s replacing a planned production by Franco Zeffirelli because Zefirelli's was supposed to be too big and threatened to "break the bank". The sets by Gianni Quaranta evoke the splendor of Ancient Egypt: detailed, evocative and on a colossal scale. For example, the Triumphal March of Act II is brilliantly lit, with onstage trumpets, horses, near-endless formations of troops, war booty, wagon loads of corpses, prisoners and much, much more. 

The Cast
Violetta Urmana returns to the title role which was recorded live in HD and this month will be released on DVD (For more information see the DVD and CD releases of July). Two years ago she sang the role to mixed reviews. The New York Times called her performance "breathtaking" while Opera Britannica stated that Urmana's "voice rarely cuts through Verdi's heaviest orchestration."  I for one saw the opening night of this run and enjoyed her performance. While her voice can be shrill at times and her high notes unsteady, her musicality is like no other. She is probably one of the best musicians in the business today adding dramatic power and beautiful phrases to the music. Her voice is not the most beautiful but it transmits the suffering of Aida. I would not rank her amongst the greatest of all time by any means, but she is definitely one of the best Aidas at the moment.

Marcelo Alvarez returns to the Met in a new Verdi role, Radames, which he debuted in London a year ago. Reviews for this Radames were mixed. The Musical Criticism stated that he "sang beautifully throughout" while the Classical Source stated that he "sounded taxed and that he lacks the trumpet-like tonal quality one would wish for at the soldier’s more heroic and desperate passage."  After lasts seasons run of Il Trovatore I wonder if he will survive this run of Aida. Critics stated that his singing did not “sound entirely comfortable.” In last season’s Trovatore, Alvarez sounded tired and his voice lacked power, weight, and high notes. Every time he had to reach for high notes he did his best Franco Corelli impression, but the results were unpleasant to say the least. His breath control was atrocious and as result he could not phrase. He seemed to find the need to place an odd accent in his phrase as a means of support and I never did hear him shift comfortably through the passagio into his high notes.  This was best displayed in his aria “Ah si ben mio.” With Radames, Alvarez enters more dramatic territory which needs even more power and weight in the voice. Breath control is necessary and phrasing is crucial, especially in his aria “Celeste Aida” which requires him to sing at the beginning of the opera with no warmup. The addition of these Verdi roles suggests Alvarez wants to enter into heavier repertoire such as Otello, which he previewed in his last Solo recital album "Verdi Arias." The problem with this is that Alvarez is not a true spinto tenor. He is naturally a lyric tenor (his Rodolfo in "La Boheme" in Japan was much better suited to his voice).  He artificially darkens his voice to achieve the spinto color and has progressively damaged every aspect of his voice. I am rather tentative about his success with Radames at the Met. 
Stephanie Blythe returns to the Met after an exceptional Fricka. She sings her first Amneris at the Met and she may steal the show from the two principals. Her voice is huge and powerful. While she is not the greatest actor, her voice is so gripping that it is impossible to take your eyes off of her. She expresses every emotion in the music and she phrases like no other mezzo around today. My only concern is that a few years ago I heard her sing a disappointing Azucena with suspect breath control and her spotty intonation. However, the Ulrica I heard from the Chicago Opera was outstanding. In addition, a few years ago she previewed the role of Amneris at the 40th Anniversary Gala where she sang the duet between Aida and Amneris alongside Maria Guleghina. Her voice soared with intensity. Blythe has the tendency to astonish and mesmerize, so I will hold off any precautions.

Lado Ataneli sings Amonasro. While his voice is not as good as the great baritones of the 70s and 80s, he is one of the few remaining Verdi baritones. Having already seen him in the role of Amonasro in 2005, I can attest that his voice is not that big. However, it does have a good ring and good high notes. His breath control needs a little work however. Last season he sang Rigoletto and lacked the emotional power and vocal strength.  
As I stated in my Tosca preview, James Morris is no longer in the prime of his career. His voice is weaker and a little wobbly. However, he still sings with great power and still has great stage presence. Ramfis is not a huge role, but it is crucial. Morris is not known for his Verdi repertoire but when he takes one on, it turns into glorious singing. This is best displayed in the Met performance of Otello with Placido Domingo and Renee Fleming. With Morris’s presence, Ramfis will most likely be a standout role.

It’s a shame that the two principals are the weakest in the cast. Still with a cast as strong as this one, this should prove to be an exciting run at the Met. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Recording recommendations for La fille du Regiment

The following is a list of recommended recordings for the opera La fille du Regiment. This is for people who have never heard the opera or want to listen to it before going to the performance.

Donizetti - La Fille du Régiment / Sutherland, Pavarotti, Malas, Sinclair, ROH Covent Garden, Bonynge

Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavaroti's legendary recording is spectacular vocally. Their voices match beautifully and their high notes are thrilling.

Gaetano Donizetti - La Fille du regiment / Dessay, Florez, Palmer, Corbelli, French, Campanella, Pelly (Royal Opera House 2007) Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez match vocal fireworks with spectacular acting. Laurent Pelly's production is refreshing, and funny. Its a breath of fresh air. This is the current production at the Met with the original cast.

Hear are some recording of the Nino Machaidze, Lawerance Brownlee and Kiri Te Kanawa so people can listen to their voices in case they don't know them.
Romantic Arias
This is one of my highlights of July as it is Nino Machaidze's debut on Sony Classical. It displays her ability as a Bel Canto singer and it also features Marie's aria so this should be a preview of what audineces may hear when she sings the role at the Met.

Lawrence Brownlee: Songs / Lieder / MelodiesThis is Lawerance Brownlee's only recital CD so it is one to check out no matter what. You may not hear bel canto but you will hear beautiful singing.

Kiri Te Kanawa Sings Mozart & Strauss
This is Kiri Te Kanawa at her prime singing her specialty Mozart and Strauss. She won't be singing Strauss or Mozart but this is something one has to check out to see the full range of the star soprano.

For more details on La Fille Du Regiment see my preview.