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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Kristine Opolais's Butterfly

Last night I had the privilege of attending the remarkable Butterfly of Kristine Opolais. My review is at parterre box. An amazing singer and performer.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Vintage Balanchine

VAI has released an absolutely essential DVD for all ballet and dance lovers -- vintage performances of two of Balanchine's most important works, Orpheus and Serenade, danced by Balanchine's legendary "first generation" of New York City Ballet dancers.

These films were made in 1957 (Serenade) and 1960 (Orpheus) but the first thing you notice is how absolutely no caveat needs to be made about when these films were made. The dancers and move in a completely modern manner. When Balanchine was alive there was criticism that he preferred "pinheads" -- tall, thin women with small sleek heads. A cursory view of both films shows that this was a fallacy. Violette Verdy (Eurydice) had a rather womanly figure, and the corps de ballet of Serenade also shows a sea of unexpected curves.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Joan and Peggy's Thoughts on Boheme

I walked into the Metropolitan Opera to see the matinee of La Boheme and who do I see but Joan and Peggy also walking towards Lincoln Center. Afterwards I followed them to a local bar and recorded their conversation surreptitiously. We all witnessed the historic last-minute substitution of Kristine Opolais, who had just sung in last night's Madama Butterfly. (The scheduled Mimi, Anita Hartig, was ill.) I could say what I thought of the performance but Peggy and Joan's conversation is just so much more interesting.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Melanie Wilkes reviews Arabella premiere

Mrs. Melanie Wilkes went to the Met's Arabella last night, and offered her thoughts in a letter to her dear sister Scarlett. Here is her review at Parterre Box. As you can see, Miss Melanie did not enjoy the performance.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Claire Rutter

A friend of mine has sent me a couple links of a soprano I had not previously heard. They were so good I uploaded them to soundcloud.

Here's La Mamma Morta:

Her voice sounds very "right" in this music, very dark and rich. She also manages the climactic top B without any screaming. In contrast with the off-pitch, wobbly screaming of Patricia Racette in the current Met run of Andrea Chenier, every note seems completely centered and secure.

Here's her in some very different music, the act one finale of La Traviata:

Again, note the richness of the timbre, along with the surprising flexibility she has while negotiating the rapid coloratura of "Sempre libera." The high C's pose no problems for her, and she even caps it off with an old-fashioned interpolated E-flat.

This is Rutter in the final duet of Thais:

This opera isn't really done very often and the often treacly music of this duet kind of explains it, but I think Rutter sounds heavenly, with a totally easy negotiation up to top D, as well as a feeling of the voice "leaving the body" as Thais's soul leaves her body.

Finally, Caro nome:

Love this. Hard to believe someone who can sing "La mamma morta" can lighten her voice so much to negotiate "Caro nome." There's just the right amount of portamento to avoid making the aria sound mechanical, but every note is hit with accuracy.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Happy Birthday to Me!!!

Tonight as a birthday present to myself I went and saw La Boheme at the Met. I reviewed the performance for Parterre box but the after-show was even more fun!

Here are some of the pictures:

Me and the absolutely lovely Mimi, Anita Hartig. She's been singing in Vienna for several years but run, don't walk, to see her Mimi in HD on April 5th:

The delightful Musetta, Jennifer Rowley:

And when Vittorio found out it was my birthday look what he did, how sweet:

Happy birthday to me!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Paul Taylor Dance Company's Trip Down Memory Lane

I made two trips this weekend to see Paul Taylor Dance Company, currently making their annual stop in New York. On Friday the program consisted of the evergreen Arden Court, the grim war-time drama Banquet of Vultures, and the sexy tango-inspired favorite Piazzolla Caldera. It was a typical Paul Taylor program -- eclectic, a mix of the very light (Arden Court), the very dark (Banquet), and the sexy (Piazzolla).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

La Sonnambula

Bellini's La Sonnambula has that unfortunate combination of boasting one of the most melodically inspired scores of all time with one of the most insipid, insufferable librettos. Imagine a rustic comedy, but without the comedy. That's La Sonnambula. The story's main point hinges on the fact that the engaged Amina is a sleepwalker, and thus sleepwalks into the presence of a man not her fiance. When this shocking development happens, here is the village's reaction:

Il tuo nero tradimento 
È palese e chiaro assai. 
In qual cor fidar più mai, 
Se quel cor fu mentitor? 

Which translates approximately into:

Your black betrayal 
is obvious and very clear. 
What if this innocent girl,
in her heart was liar? 

In the opera, people constantly speak about "the church," "the castle," "the priest," "the innocent girl," and "sin." It's probably prim and prissy enough to make even The Duggars sick. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A talk with Jean-François Borras

On a cold March night, the lobby of Lincoln Center was chock-full of people trying to sell tickets. The star tenor of Werther, Jonas Kaufmann, had unexpectedly cancelled, and many said they hadn't heard of Jean-François Borras, his replacement. I had rushed to hear Borras after listening to him the day before in some youtube clips of Sonya Yoncheva. I had no idea that Borras was making both his Met debut AND his role debut in one night! Talk about pressure!

But once Borras crossed the bridge that served as Werther's entrance in the opera, and opened his mouth, jaws around the auditorium dropped. This was no "serviceable cover," this was a beautiful, pure, major-league tenor voice. I wrote my review of the performance here. At the end of the night, the Met audience (which can be cool to unfamiliar names) gave Borras a huge, heartfelt ovation. 

Almost two weeks later, I'm still reeling at this beautiful tenor, and also dismayed at the lack of information available online about him. I've found a few youtube clips, but that's it. So I decided to ask Jean-François to talk more about his amazing debut, his career, his future, and why Werther is such a special role for him. Thank you so much Jean-François! (And thank you to a special someone who translated Jean-François's answers from French to English!) 

Hi Jean-François, thank you so much for agreeing to answer my questions! I really have so many but I guess I’ll start off with a few most important:

First of all, congratulations for your magnificent performance! Nevertheless it must have been chaotic backstage. For the March 3 performance, when did you get the call you were going onstage? And after you got that call how much time did you have to prepare with the rest of the cast and conductor before the curtain rose?

JFB: I was only told of Jonas Kaufmann’s cancellation on the actual day (March 3) around 3.00 pm. The Metropolitan Opera informed me that Jonas did not feel very well and that he would not sing.

The Metropolitan Opera hired me as the cover for Jonas Kaufmann. I have therefore been in New York since rehearsals began. I was lucky to have many rehearsals with the director Richard Eyre, and also with Alain Altinoglu, the conductor, and especially Sophie Koch, my wonderful colleague.

On the day of the performance, I had no rehearsal. My last rehearsal was fifteen days earlier.

I can’t imagine you not being nervous! Nevertheless, you sang so beautifully from the first note, it didn’t sound like you needed to warm up at all. Did you do anything to ensure that you sounded your best from the very first note?

JFB: There is no doubt that my stress levels rose considerably a few minutes before I stepped on the stage. It was my debut in the US, at the Met, and also my first Werther. (Editor's note: I did not know this was also his role debut!) We often have to face stage fright - it can be useful if it is channeled properly, or it can take over and incapacitate us.

I went to the theatre as for any performance. I put on my costume, warmed up my voice and went to make-up. As I was about to step on the stage, the stress and the joy of singing this role in this house combined and gave way to concentration.

Your voice projected so well in a 4,000 audience house. Did you sing any differently at the Met than you would have in a much smaller house?

JFB: I don’t think I had to modify my way of singing for the Met. The house is large, but the acoustics are excellent. You can achieve anything there, even a pianissimo.

It is very gratifying to sing on this stage, and it is an honour to be able to do it. The greatest singers have sung on this stage and it is important to demonstrate that one is worthy of it. 

You seemed to know the blocking and the directions pretty well. As a cover, how much, if any rehearsal time did you get with the cast and crew?

JFB: As I have said before, I have been in New York since the beginning of rehearsals. I was able to work with the cast and crew and Sophie (Koch) and I have a great rapport.

It was your debut here in New York. How did you like the New York audiences?

JFB: The Met public has been wonderful. I know that most people were expecting Jonas Kaufmann, which made the challenge even more daunting.  To go on stage and be worthy of taking over the role of one of the greatest tenors of today is scary. But the public reacted in a very positive way by applauding very early on in the performance, and all the way through it. I really felt positive energy from the audience. It was one of the most incredible performances I have ever sung.

I see that you have an upcoming engagement of Werther in Athens, but how long have you had this role in your repertory? Is it a special role for you?

JFB: Is Werther a special role for me? Yes, absolutely, I have already sung some of the roles in the French repertoire: Romeo, Faust, Gerald in Lakme, des Grieux in Manon, but I have always wanted to sing Werther.

I waited until my voice was ready to do it justice. This role is special for me because I obtained my “Diplôme Supérieur de Chant” by singing extracts from Werther, but above all because I would sing “Pourquoi me réveiller” to my father in his last hours. I found the strength to sing it at his funeral as my last goodbye. 

So yes, Ivy, Werther is very important to me.

When you prepare a role like Werther, which has been recorded by so many great tenors, do you find it helpful to listen to famous recordings? Or do you prefer to prepare the role on your own without listening to anyone else’s interpretation?

JFB: I have listened to many Werther recordings - Alfredo Kraus, who was an excellent Werther, as well as Roberto Alagna, and I have also watched the superb DVD from Paris featuring Jonas (Kaufmann) and Sophie (Koch). But I have also listened to older recordings, such as the Georges Thill - he was an extraordinary Werther.

To prepare a role, I like to know how it is interpreted by other artists, to get an idea from their performance, and after that I devise my own, It is important to know what is around.

Werther can be played a variety of ways. I’ve seen him played as a dark, obsessive stalker and I’ve also seen him played as a romantic who genuinely believes his feelings for Charlotte are returned. Where do you fall on this spectrum? Do you identify with the character?

JFB: This is an interesting question. My idea of the Werther character is a mixture of knowledge from the Gœthe book and the wonderful Massenet music, with an input from my own emotions. To delve within one’s own experiences to enrich a role is to make it one’s own. But there are also all the requests and instructions from the director which we have to integrate into our performance, hoping they will be communicated to the public.

French  has a reputation as a language that’s very hard for non-native singers to master. Why is it so much more difficult to master French than, say, Italian?

JFB: I can confirm that French is a very difficult language to sing - even for French speakers! The language is complicated, there are nasal sounds and mute sounds too. Many " é è ê ai ais" accents are all pronounced differently. The nasal sounds are all very difficult to reproduce as they do not exist in many languages.

As you might have read from my review, I first listened to you in a couple youtube clips of Sonya Yoncheva’s La Traviata, and jumped when I heard the very next night that you’d be singing at the Met. But I’ve heard mixed things from singers about youtube and the fact people judge them from clips of their performances that have been uploaded to youtube. What are your thoughts on this? 

JFB: YouTube is a new medium. There are extraordinary things on it but also quite a lot of garbage. You have to be selective. It can be very useful to promote a show or an artist, but today with smartphones and other gadgets anyone can shoot a pirate video which could be prejudicial to the artist. Some of the videos are actually of rehearsals, and people think they are from performances. The Internet makes everything available now, which is a two-edged sword. One is under more pressure than before. In conclusion, YouTube can be helpful to form a first impression or to discover new artists, but there is nothing like a live performance for a proper experience.

As I mentioned in my review, in my opinion your voice is very pure and lyric. Your repertoire reflects that. But the tenor voice often becomes darker and thicker with age. Is there a role you’d like to move away from, and a role you’d like to try in the future?

JFB: At the moment, I am lucky to be able to sing a repertoire I like - Bohème, Rigoletto, Manon, Lucia, Roméo, Lakmé, Traviata...

A role I would like to sing before my voice starts to thicken is Nemorino!

I see what you have planned in the immediate future on opera base, but do you have any more long-term plans? Where are you singing, so people can start planning trips? ;)

JFB: Just after New York I shall sing Werther in Athens, and then I shall be at the Santa Cecilia in Rome for two concert performances of Dialogue des Carmélites. In June and early July I shall be in Masada and Tel Aviv for Traviata and Rigoletto. At the end of July I have a concert performance of Manon in Copenhagen In October I sing Gerald in Lakmé in Toulouse.

For 2015, in April I shall sing my first Macduff in the Théâtre des Champs Elysées and in June my first Ballo in Maschera in Metz.

Do you plan to come back to New York?  

JFB: Yes, it would give me great pleasure to come back to New York and the Met.

Thank you again, and congratulations, you were wonderful!

JFB: Thank you very much.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Final Werther of the Season

I went to the final Werther of the season. I think I've already said enough about the singers, the production, the opera. Needless to say the team saved the best for last. It was just a beautiful performance and I'm so honored to have seen it. I just want to squee that I did the stage door thing today and got pictures with these awesome singers, and finally got to meet Alain Altinoglu in person!

The Albert, David Bizic, who, by the way, has a GORGEOUS wife!

The adorable Sophie, Lisette Oropesa!

The conductor, Alain Altinogru, who had to haul ass to Philly to make an 8:00 PM concert:

The regal Charlotte, Sophie Koch:

And finally, OH.MY.GOD. Let me repeat: OH.MY.GOD. What a cutie, and what a singer, and he was soooo gracious! I had always idolized his singing so much I was almost afraid to meet him because if he was mean, then I think I would have been heartbroken. But look at the picture and you'll see one happy ending!!!

And to top it off I got my Werther DVD booklet from Paris signed by both Koch and Kaufmann!!!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Chat With Alain Altinoglu

The Met's recent new production of Werther boasted a rarity -- a French opera conducted by a French conductor. That conductor is 38-year old Alain Altinoglu, who made his debut at the Met in 2010 conducting Carmen and has returned for Faust, Otello, and this year, Werther. This has been a busy season for Altinoglu, who also has an upcoming Salome in Zurich and had assignments in Vienna and Paris. Nevertheless, the conductor took time out of his busy schedule (and preparations for the upcoming HD of Werther on March 15) to talk to me about his career, views on opera, orchestras, productions, and various other topics. Thank you Alain!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Vittorio Grigolo

A friend gave me a ticket to Vittorio Grigolo's recital today and I expected nothing and came out grinning ear to ear. My full review can be found at parterre box. Needless to say, it was a very fun afternoon, made even more enjoyable by Grigolo's manic, "you like me, you really really like me" antics. And he has a set of pipes too!

He's singing a run of Bohemes soon. Here's a preview:

Friday, March 7, 2014

Wozzeck - another cancellation!

Last night I attended the Met's premiere of Wozzeck in which Matthias Goerne stepped in for an ailing Thomas Hampson. Here is my review at parterre box. If Goerne subs for Hampson again, I highly suggest buying a ticket!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Jean-Francois Borras and the Last Minute Werther Debut

Most times when a star singer gets sick at the last minute and the cover is sent onstage, audiences groan. They don't wish for greatness, just competence. Get through the role, don't make the ticket-buyers too disappointed, that's what general managers hope.

Last night, uber-tenor Jonas Kaufmann fell ill, and his cover Jean-Francois Borras was sent onstage to sing Werther, one of the most demanding tenor vehicles in the repertoire. Borras also happened to be making his house debut. Before the performance began I saw dozens of people trying to sell their tickets.

Monday, March 3, 2014

John Travolta can't read

No explanation needed. Except notice the massive, unattractive wig he's sporting. And I THINK he says "Adele Dazeem" although it's hard to tell considering he also said it in this weird faux-Middle Eastern accent.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


I attended the premiere of the Met's new production of Werther. My review can be found at parterre box. A preview:

"Life is not fair. There are rules that apply to Jonas Kaufmann, and rules that apply to everyone else. I can’t think of a singer who does less to curry favor with the audience than Kaufmann. Mere mortals will smile eagerly, wanting, needing that adoration. God Jonas is Just Too Cool for Any of That.
A few minutes into the first act, he wanders onstage. Disposition: sulky. Appearance: disheveled. Attire: floor length trenchcoat. He gazes at the audience for a moment, eyes filled with weary contempt. In the row behind me, three girls gasp “Oh. My. God,” and the audience follows suit by applauding deliriously."
Read more at parterre!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Coppelia, and "Everything is Awesome"

I went to the matinee performance of Coppelia today at the NYCB and Tiler Peck was, as expected, amazing as Swanilda. Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova (herself a great Swanilda) carefully reconstructed from memory the Leon/Petipa choreography. As a result, NYCB's Coppelia might always surprises me in how closely it adheres to other standard productions of Coppelia. The traditional mime and storytelling have been lovingly preserved. Even Balanchine's "reworked" third act is remarkably similar to the Bolshoi's recent reconstruction of Coppelia -- the pas de deux even ends with the same leaping fishdive. So if you expect edgy, experimental choreography, Coppelia is not for you -- it has the cuteness of every other Coppelia.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

La Boheme

For those who despise everything "modern" in opera, including modern voices, last night's performance of La Boheme at the Metropolitan was the place to be. Franco Zeffirelli's production is considered the gold-standard of old-fashioned La Boheme's. But what's more, the Met cast singers who in their style and acting were also thoroughly old-school. They even took thoroughly old-school in-between-act curtain calls.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Winter Season 2014

There was a nasty blizzard that hit NYC yesterday morning and didn't abate until early the next morning. That didn't stop many dance lovers from attending the start of New York City Ballet's always highly anticipated Winter Season. Winter Season is always an exciting time for dance lovers -- after nonstop Nutcrackers, "real" ballet is back! Last night opened with an all-Balanchine bill of Concerto Barocco, Kammermusik No. 2, and closed with the evergreen Who Cares?

First things first: a few coordination problems between the 8 Concerto Barocco corps girls aside, this company looked in great shape. The male and female corps of Who Cares? was snappy and energetic. This bears repeating: what a great company!