Monday, December 6, 2010

Concert for the Cure

An Evening to Remember
Music can cure the sole and inspire courage, determination and committment

Sir Simon Rattle
Jordan Hall - New England Conservatory
Julie Scolnik

Marc-André Hamelin

Last night Paula & I attended the Concert for the Cure entitled "Rhythms of Hope" at Jordan Hall.  This concert sponsored by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Massachusetts was spurred on by Julie Scolnik, a breast cancer survivor and flautist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.  As Julie explained, it was music that enabled her to get through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.  On the eve of her final radiation therapy 5 years ago, she played in a concert that included Franck's violin Sonata.  This initial performance has evolved into a fabulous fundraising event. 

We came away so moved from this event.  To envision, some 70 local performers, a world-class painist and one of the top 5 conductors in the world was something to behold.  As we learned, Sir Simon Rattle had developed a friendship with Julie Scolnik, when he served as guest conductor for the BSO.  Through this friendship, the maestro agreed to come to Boston on his day off to rehearse with the performers and conduct a 2 hour concert before returning to New York at the Metropolitan Opera where he is making his debut conducting Pelléas et Mélisande by Claude Debussy starring his wife, the Czech mezzo-soprano, Magdalena Kožená. 

It was evident that these time constraints would promote a concert without intermission.  The pianist Marc-André Hamelin played the Mozart Piano Concert in G, K. 453 in a refined, but elegant way.  His mastery of the keybord allowed musicality without theatrics.  The piece was executed to perfection and warmly received by the audience.    As a prelude to the second pice the Adagietto from Gustav Mahler's Symphony No 5., Ms. Scolnick greeted the audience with a brief but poignant speech articulating her thoughts on music and her journey to recovery from treatment of breast cancer.  She payed special note to Beth Israel Hospital and her loving family and friends.  She told us of her sitting in the chemo chair listening to her IPod to get through each treatment cycle.  This Adagietto is full of hope and joy as the string section takes you to ultimate resolution of the thematic journey.  My wife, Paula thought it was reminiscent of a film score.

The program concluded with a truly astonishing performance of the Johannes Brahms Symphony No. 2, conducted without score.  Rattle was instrumental in bringing these volunteer musicians to an incredible level of playing.  You had to be there to witness the emotion of a rousing standing ovation and cheering from the audience as the piece concluded.  Simon Rattle was singing to the music and was obviously pleased by the result.  He reminded me of Leonard Bernstein.  Rattle graciously acknowldeged all of the soloists to enormous applause.  To think of the pride of these musicians in gathering together for a common cause was exceptionally heartening.  I can not think of a better way of spending an evening than sharing in the common goal of supporting research, providing support and care for patients as well as contributing to finding a cure.

Credit must be shared selflessly by all.  It was truly a spectacular eveing filled with Joy, Love & Hope. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Tribute to Robert Schumann by the BSO - Nov. 18, 2010

Kurt Mazur
                                    Nelson Friere

Paula and I spent a wonderful evening with past and present AstraZeneca colleagues at Symphony Hall engrossed in a wonderful concert commenorating the 200th anniversary of Robert Schumann's birth.  This exceeded all expectations as we were taken on a journey by the veteran conductor, Kurt Masur.  Dressed in a European silk shirt with round collar, this vsionary of the central European repetoire opened the concert with the familar Symphony No. 1 in B-Flat, Opus 38 "Spring".  One heard yearnings of new growth and renewal in this vivacious music.  Although we have seen Maestro Masur who celebrated his 80th birthday in 2007 many times throughout the years, it is clear that he still enjoys his interaction with musicians despite some incipient frailty.  He conducted without baton or score and brought subtle dynamics and impeccable musicianship to the audience. 

I must share this small excerpt from the Maestro's website to give you a glimpse into this astonishing conductor who has led many European orchestras.

"As a child I discovered the joy of music making. Whether singing songs, playing tunes on the piano, or singing along with my sisters and friends, music always made me feel at home. I also discovered that music making helped me overcome loneliness and sadness, but also brought me joy and happiness in the special moments of my life. To date I have enjoyed the same kind of happiness building up programs for audiences that are different all over the world but are united in a "love affair" with music".

The is clearly a conductor who is loves his orchestra as well as the audience.  We watched as he took the time to single out solists for their efforts.  He smiled as if to say paternalistic appreciation for a debt of gratitude.  His gestures and nuances are phenomenal for a conductor his age.  There were many in the audience who gave him a standing ovation eraly in the evening.  It is clear that he is adored by his fans.

The highlight of the evening was most definately the Piano Concerto in A minor, Opus 54 played by the Brazilain borne pianist, Nelson Friere.  He played with much finess and musicianship that one was taken away on a journey in this piece.  His cadenza was full of counterpoint and intrigue without flagrant movements or embellishments.  Masur looked to him for guidance.  The orchestra was well matched in both its timing to support and not overpower the soloist.  This performance was being recorded and will sit well within the current interpretations.  I reflect on many soloists including Lang Lang, Alfred Brendel, Radu Lupu, Martha Argerich, Gina Bachauer, Christian Zimmerman, Murray Perahia, Maurizzio Pollini and Dubravka Tomsic, Russel Sherman Mitsuko Uchida and countless others that we have seen throughout the years and I marveled at the solid and yet exciting performance of this artist.  He played with confidence and yet without the percussive tactics of Lang Lang, yet rose to the level of expressivity of Brendel or Tomsic, two of my favorites.  According both Friere and Masur received an adulatory standing ovation that continued on for minutes.  Only in this piece did Masur resort to a score and set of half-framed reading glasses.

The evening closed with a rousing Symphony No 4 in D mior, Opus 120.  This was full of contrast and counterpoint.  Masur's gestures served to extract every nuance out of the music and the performers.  Masur knows this music well as witnessed by his ability to bring this music to audience and let them be part of the performance.  Sitting in the 3rd row, we were able to see his articulations guide the quality musicians to vivid performance.  Masur is no stranger to Boston and it is apparent that he has a following.  He appears to be modest man who acknowledges parts of the orchestra for their exceptional talent and efforts.  He again received a standing ovation and took his humble bows from the floor rather than on the podium.  This is a man content with his life who tries to educate through music.

It is not often that I attend concerts with familar music and come home full of joy and fulfillment, but last night exceeded my expectations.  Masur is tribute to all conductors as a model for setting aside his ego to engulf us in a common language that ttranscends all cultures.

As a final treat, Nelson Friere was signing CD's in the lobby.  He is modest, somehat uncomfortable with English, but radiates warmth and humbleness.  His Shumann CD was
Nelson Freire, Martha Argerich - SalzburgNelson Freire - Schumann: Piano Worksa treat for my library.  I also own and adore his duet CD with Martha Agerich recorded live from Salzburg playing the Variations on a theme by Haydn Opus 56b among other pieces. 

It was a joy this morning listening to his Schumann CD and reflecting when my daughter played from Kinderszenen Op.15.  as a student with her teacher Inger Ross.  It is with great joy and pride that she will be married next year.

Music transforms the soul and serves as a common bond uniting both people and generations.  I am very forunate to have Paula and many wonderful friends and colleagues to share and partake in these special and memorable performances.  As I get older, I find that my tastes narrow and I become more knowledgeable and critical, but this was indeed a special evening.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Richard Tucker Gala (James Valenti 2010 winner)

On Sunday evening November 14th, 2010, we were delighted and priviledged to attend the 25th Richard Tucker Gala at Avery Fisher Hall. The foundation offers a $30,000 scholarship each year to an aspiring artist. This was a sold-out performance which was without intermission. Marco Armiliato conducted members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and New York Choral Society. After opening comments by Barry Tucker, Richard's son, the concert began with only 2 disappointments: Mariusz Kwiecen and Zeljko Lucic were both ill and could not attend. There was a suprise replacement by Susan Graham who had met Marco on the street and asked if she could attend. Marco said of course and joked with the audience that he did not need to consult with the Tucker Foundation.

As some of the reviews have indicated, Anna is a tough act to follow. Indeed dressed in a stunning royal blue gown that showed off her curvaceous assets, she again ruled the stage. In her first aria "Heia in den Bergen" from Die Csarasfurstin ( Kalman's "The Gypsy Princess), along with the chorus, she simply seductively danced and swayed her hips to the beat of the music while thrilling the audience with her voice. She was having the time of her life. In her second aria "Toi Vous... N'est-ce plus ma main" from Manon (Saint-Sulpice scene) she was on fire! Singing with Marcello Giordani, they embraced and even kissed passionately at the end of the aria! She simply stole the show.

There was indeed a preview of an up and coming coloratura soprano, Angela Meade who sang "Era desso il figlio mio" from Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia complete with florid embellishments. She had been featured in the film, "The Audition" about the MET's 2007 finalists and a previous winner of an Richard Tucker fellowship. We had seen her previously in Norma at Caramoor and indeed she has an incredible voice with a lot of talent. There were other artists who simply could not sing above the orchestra and chorus or who had wandering pitch, but there was no trace of faltering by Netrebko who was out to conquer all with an impressive performance.

Elina Garanca, a wonderful Latvian mezzo, appeared to gain some weight and did not ultimately make the most of her talents even with a duet with Brandon Jovanovich from Carmen, where the tenor could simply not project and did not connect with each other.

Anna simply dominates the stage and has raised the bar for all artists. She easily gets into the role, sings expressively and makes best use of both her physical attributes and artistic talents. After seeing Don Pasquale and now this gala, we can only wonder what is next.

We went to The Green Room, where celebrities usually meet their fans, but alas Anna had snuck out without greeting any admirers. Marco and other celeberities were there, but many fans were disappointed that Anna had departed.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Don Pasquale at the MET Nov. 6, 2011

The performance of Donizetti's Don Pasquale at the Metropolitan Opera was truly a tour de force and exceeded all of our expecations. The cast was marvelous and uniform throughout.

John Del Carlo, Don Pasquale (has also played in the Barber of Seville)

Anna Netrebko, Norina (a reprise performance for her at the Met)

Matthew Polenzani, Ernesto (a beautiful lyric tenor)

Mariusz Kwiecien, Dr. Malatesta (a handsome match for Norina)
The opera begins with Dr. Malatesta singing a beautiful lyric melody which sets the stage for a comical farce based on love and playing jokes on an old codger. Both Mariusz Kwiecien and Matthew Polenzani were elegant and supportive, but the afternoon was dominated by Norina's antics. Her second scene putting on a pair of stockings on a the edge of the bed is the highlight of the opera showcased in a clip from the dress rehearsal at the MET. Her impish charm and seductive nature is amply paired with a lustrous voice which fills the opera house which hold nearly 4000 patrons. This scene was well choreographed and was a sheer delight to behold. She literally stopped the show with applause. As the curtain closed on the second scene of the first act, Norina did a small tumble onto the divan. As I recall, the earlier production for her in this role, she scaled back this effort, but took the audience by surprise.

As the opera continues in the 2nd act, Norina is on a roll, kicking Don Pasquale in the rear and smashing vases on the floor, destroying Don Pasquale's bed and simply carrying on with much fun as an overblown practical joke, calling Don Pasquale an old codger. The audience broke out in laughter on more than one occasion as the merriment evolved. Unlike most productions at the MET, there were numerous well behaved young children at this performance.

The third act reveals the nature of the joke and Don Pasquale blesses the love between Ernesto, the nephew, and Norina. There is a touching duet between John Del Carlo, Don Pasquale, and Mariusz Kwiecien, Dr. Malatesta, that was repeated at the end of the third act in front of the curtain.

Anna's voice and stature have grown, but she truly ruled the stage with charm, a great sense of humor and uncanny ability to act as an impish young girl. The role of Norina was certainly well suited for her and I was overjoyed to hear improvements in some of her trills, coloratura embellishments and thrilling high notes exemplified at the end of the 3rd act. Anna was clearly enjoying herself immensely, and sang with much confidence and panache. At one point late in the opera she even walked over to the prompter's box and sang from there. The curtain closed to thunderous applause for Anna and her colleagues. It is clear that James Levine is truly a genius, but he is now quite lame and came to the stage using a cane and holding on to other people to steady his balance. He is truly loved by the New York Audience and one could see "Jimmy" throwing a kiss to Anna as the cast took a collective final bow.

Having seen the earlier performance of Don Pasquale at the MET also, I could easily say that this one was filled wiith more humor and antics. Anna hammed it up to rapturous applause, but her real talents lie in an amalgam of acting, sensational looks and a rapturous voice. We loved it so much even havinf traveled from Boston to see it, that we are attending an encore HD performance. All of the nearby theaters were already sold out for the "Live" HD transmission. We will see Anna again at the Richard Tucker Gala at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center on November 14th.

My only regret was having a dinner appointment in Manhattan with dear friends that precluded us from going to the stage door. I hope all of you will get to see this marvelous performance in the HD transmissions.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dmitri Hvorostovsky Discs

The incomparable Russian Baritone has recently released 2 discs of Russian romances based upon poems of Pushkin.  Composers including Tschaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Borodin and many others have set these poems to glorious music.  Many of the pieces have also been recently recorded by Anna Netrebko in a glorious Album "In the Still of the Night" with Daniel Barenboim at the keyboard.  While one can not directly compare Hvorostovsky's studio recording with Estonian pianist Ivara Ilja at the keyboard to that of Netrebko's live recording one must say that these discs hold a special place in the repetoire.  Hvorostovsky has often been called the golden baritone and this is well deserved.  The tone is rich, supple and like dark chocolate and honey.  Dmitri has a large voice with impeccable breath control.  Since one can hear many of the same pieces that Netrebko has recorded, comparison's can be made.  As my wife commented, she thought Netrebko's voice was more varied and exciting.  Certainly, Anna has the edge on emotion, but Dmitri has the edge on consistency, breath control and power.  If one compares the pianists, the edge certainly goes to Barenboim for listening to the vocalist and supporting, rather than sounding like a soloist. 

These are wonderful discs that highlight the enormous capabilities and range of this expressive artist.  His operatic repetoire including his Eugene Onegin with Renee Fleming is iconic of one of the highlights of the Metropolitan Opera.  This artist seems unlimited in his styles of recorded material from the humorous to the impassioned more traditional roles.   These discs are truly a joy in now what appears to be a genre of singers singing in their native languages.  Starting from incredible diction to billowing dynamics, Hvorostovsky seems to be at the top of the pack.  Judging from these discs, the listener will look forward to future recordings and new stylistic goals.  Enjoy and treasure these as expressive romances or the equivalent of folk songs or ballades.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Longwood Symphony Orchestra

Longwood Symphony Orchestra
August 18, 2010
DCR Hatch Memorial Shell
Boston's Esplanade 7:00pm
In the Mood

As everyone knows that Boston is the home to major academic institutions, i.e. Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Boston College, Wellesley College, Tufts and many others.  Likewise it is hotbed of excellence in Medicine and Biotechnology including notables such as Mass General Hospital (MGH), Brigham and Women's, Beth Israel, Deaconness, Dana Farber and companies including Amgen, Pfizer, Novartis, AstraZeneca, Genzyme, Vertex and countless others.  Similarly, it is the seat of world class science, e.g. Whitehead Institute and The Broad, Howard Hughes, etc.  It is therefore not surprising that many of these professionals have banded together to create great music.

Last night the orchestra played at the Hatch Shell, made famous by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops.  It is an impressive venue for free concerts and movies and is packed to several hundred thousand on annual July 4th celebrations.  There are tributory stues of Arthur Fiedler, a Paul Dudley White, MD (notable cardiologist), Harry Ellis Dickson (late director of the Pops and father-in-law to ex-governor Michael Dukakis.    The venue is beautiful and the weather was simply gorgeous.  We had difficulty finding a parking spot on Storrow Drive which is available
for each concert, so we ended up parking on Charles Street in Beacon Hill and attending the 2nd half of the concert.  It was a charming Beethoven's 4th symphony.  It was led by Jonathan McPhee its conductor.  What they lack in talent is more than amply made up for by enthusiasm.  I am not a fan of amplified music which tends to be distorted and leaves the listener straining to hear the quiet passages.  The venue was terrific and the audience received the performance with great applause.  The theme of the program was "In the Mood"  The evening ended with a rousing performance of "In the Mood" made famously popular by Glenn Miller in 1939 in the Big Band Era. 

The orchestra is a Who's Who of medicine, science and academia and should be applauded for bringing great music to the public.  They also play at many local shelters, nursing homes and traditional venues.  Rather than bore the reader with full biography's, I thought that I would list the players who rightly deserve recognotion for their medical, humanitarian and musical contributions.


Sherman Jia, Concertmaster
3rd year, HMS, Howard Hughes Research Fellow

Hana Asazuma-Cheng
Music teacher (violin, viola, chamber music)

Catherine Brewster
English Teacher, Commonwealth School

Terry Buchmiller, M.D.
Pediatric Surgery, CHB, Co-Director Advanced Fetal Care Center, CHB

Jennifer Chang, Ph.D.
M.D. - Ph.D. student, HMS

David Chen, M.D.
Internal Medicine, Faulkner Hospital

Jennifer Chu
Freelance science writer

Mark Emerson, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow, Genetics, HMS

Sumi Fasolo, AIA
Architect, Cambridge Seven Associates

Tamara Goldstein, O.T.
Hebrew Rehabilitation Center

Anand Jagannath, M.S.
Research Technician, Cardiac Surgery, MGH

Elizabeth Henderson
Freelance Technical Editor

Heidi Harbison Kimberly, M.D.
Emergency Medicine, BWH

Anna Legedza, Sc.D.
Principal Biostatistician, Biometrics, Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Shenkiat Lim
Director of Product Development, Fidelity Investments

Justin Lo
2nd year, HMS

Psyche Loui, Ph.D.
Research Instructor, Neurology, BIDMC, HMS

Spencer McClelland
2nd year, HMS

David Mish
ESL/History Teacher, Cambridge Public Schools

Ramona Nee, J.D.
Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP

Susan Pauker, M.D.
Associate Professor, HMS; Genetics Chief, Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates; MGH. BWH, Lahey

Chris Richards, Ph.D.
Dept. of Biology doctoral program, Harvard University

Helle Sachse, J.D., Ph.D.
Asst. D.A., Suffolk County

Jenny Smythe, Ph.D.
Physicist, Schlumberger Limited

Ellen Tulchinsky, M.S.P.T.
Physical Therapist, BWH/MGH

Elisha Wachman, M.D.
Pediatrics, Emerson Hospital, BWH

Lisa Wong, M.D.
Milton Pediatrics Associates, HMS, CHB, MGH, BWH, BIDMC


Michael Cho, M.D.
Research Fellow, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, BIDMC, BWH, MGH

Sarah Cohen
Engineer, Rhythmia Medical

Jon Epstein
Software Engineer, Microsoft

Jennifer Grucza
Senior Software Engineer, Unica

Alistair Kok, D.D.S.
Dentist, Gentle Dental Cambridge

Elizabeth Ogburn
2nd year Ph.D. student, Harvard University

Jane Perera
Speech Therapist, Cotting School

Andrea Spencer, M.D.
MGH/McLean Resident in Psychiatry

Peter Stein, D.C.
Chiropractor, Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, BU Sargent College

Nicholas Tawa, Jr. , M.D., Ph.D.
Surgical Oncology, BIDMC, HMS

Gwendoline Thornblade, B.D.Sc, M.Sc.D.
Retired Pedodontist

Leah Wilson-Velasco
Director of Operations, Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra


Joseph Rovine, D.M.A., principal
Senior Software Engineer, Microsoft

Sylvain Casimir, R.Ph.

Nancy Chane, R.N., M.S.
Palliative Care Nurse, Tufts Health Plan

Gregory Crist
Interactive Media Designer, iFactory

Mark Cusac
Engineer, CDM

Heidi Greulich, Ph.D.
DFCI, Broad Institute, BWH, HMS

Katherine Hein, M.D.
Plastic Surgeon, MetroWest Medical Center, Newton-Wellesley Hospital

Tai Katzenstein, Ph.D.
Psychology, MGH

Denise Lotufo, P.T., D.P.T., O.C.S.
Harvard, UHS

Martha MacMillin
Cello instructor

Read Pukkila-Worley, M.D.
Infectious Diseases, MGH, HMS

Christopher Reuning
President, Reuning & Son Violins

Susan Z. Robins
President, Muscle Angels, a norbis Innovations Company, LLC

Andreas Schild, Ph.D.
Research Fellow, Center for Human Genetic Research, MGH

Martha Davis, J.D., principal
Professor, Northeastern University School of Law

Jack Dennerlein, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Environmental Health, HSPH

Karyn Wang


Tobi-Ann Kocher
Flute Instructor

Daniela Krause, M.D., Ph.D.
Clinical Pathology and The Center for Regenerative Medicine at MGH

Cindy Moore
Music, Framingham Public Schools


Michael Barnett
4th year, HMS

Hilary Cipullo

William Kates, M.D.
Psychiatry, BIDMC, HMS

Thomas Sheldon, M.D.
Assistant Professor Dartmouth Medical School; Director, Radiation Oncology Concord Hospital


Jeffrey Berman, M.D.
Pulmonary and Critical Care, BMC, BUSM

Mark C. Gebhardt, M.D., Ph.D.
Prof. of Orthopaedic Surgery, HMS, Orthopaedic Surgeon-in-Chief, BIDMC, CH Orthopedic Surgery

Tammy Avery Gibson
Cephalon Pharmaceuticals

Paul Silver
President, Handyman Heroes


Stephen Wright, M.D.
Chief of Medicine, Faulkner, BWH, TUSM, HMS

French Horn

Vanessa Gardner
Concerts Manager, MIT

John Hecker, AIA
Carr Lynch and Sandell, Architects

Leonard Zon, M.D.

Wolfram Goessling, M.D., Ph.D.
Genetics and Gastroenterology, BWH; Heme/Onc, DFCI; HST; HMS


Peter Cook
Computer Engineer

Paul Salinas
Shire Human Genetic Therapies


Jeremy Lang
Operations Manager, Elysium Digital LLC


Tom Sandora, M.D.
Pediatric Infectious Disease, CHB, HMS

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Longwood Opera

Boston is of course a city filled with institutions of higher learning and abundant musical avenues.  The Longwood Opera fills a unique niche giving amature singers a place to showcase their talent, charisma and a place just to have fun.

The Longwood opera may have taken its name from famous Longwood Medical Area intersected by Brookline and Longwood Avenues.  (There is also a very notable Longwood Symphony led by Charles Ansbacher, a local icon).  For a nominal charge, one can sit in the Christ Episcopal Church in Needham and hear several hours of varied music.  J Scott Brumit is largely responsible for this marvelous effort along with Jeffery Brody, the music director.
Since the summer is quite warm and the church is not air conditioned, there are electric fans and complimentary fans passed out each week.  Each week, there is a diffferent theme, but you never leave disappointed.  Refreshments (lemonade & water) are served along with M&M selections during intermission.  We have attended for many years and it is easy to say that the standards are improving steadily.  Most of the efforts by the performers are quite nobel and genuine, while a few are somewhat less that satisfying.  Much of the repetoire is well known, but selections by Humperdinck, Barber, Baby Doe and others are frequently interspersed.  At times you wish the singing would never stop. e.g. Puccini. The schedule for 2010 is presented below.

July 6 : An Evening of Opera

July 13: Broadway Melodies
July 20: An Evening of Opera Scenes
July 27: Presenting Rising Stars
August 3: Opera Meets Broadway
August 10: An Evening of Gilbert & Sullivan
August 17: More Operatic Scenes
August 24: More Broadway Melodies
August 31: A Gala Night of Opera

As you can see, they also did a very abridged version of "The Ring" sung in English. 

Hats off to all of the performers and volunteers at the Longwood Opera as we always leave with a warm feeling of good camaraderie.  We have conversed with several performers and indeed made friends of parents of the performers.  On a somewhat humourous aside, the women usually dress much better than the men.  You realy have to admire the dedication of the performers to rehearse, prepare and deliver the goods.  As we have begin to know some of the performers, one can only truly appreciate their dedication.  Opera is far from dead and these individuals as mentors and performers will keep Opera alive.  They even have a tee short which is emblazened with Opera for All.  In years past, they have sold records, tapes and CD's that were given by donation.  Tickets available at the doors are a very good value, parking is available across the street.  Bring your hearts, ears and soul and you will be more than amply entertained.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Norma at Caramoor

Norma at Caramoor
Will Crutchfield
Mira O Norma
Keri Alkema (L) and Angela Meade
Every year, Caramoor this hidden gem in Katonah, New York puts on a Bel Canto Festival.  Under the tutelage and conducting of Will Crutchfield puts on a spectacular show.  Caramoor is a Venetian type of venue in which performance are held in an large billoowing tent that faces a Venetian style stage.  Despite a blistering hot evening with high humidity, the singers and orchestra played out their roles with passion and intensity.  We have seen Sumi Jo there in I Puritani and Vivica Geneaux in La Cenerentola last year.  This year was no exception.  Angela Meade, one of Met finalists played the role of Norma and sang with great assurance.  She was also highlighted in the movie "The Audition" about the MET finalists and the audition process.  She sang Casta Diva (Chaste Godess)  in the MET audition and has risen to the occasion in this performance.  Angela Meade played the Druid Priestess Norma while the mezzo soprano, Keri Alkema played Adalgisa with superb intensity.  Their duet, Mira O Norma in Act two, scene 2 was thrilling.  Historically, many will recall Sutherland and Horne in this role.  The most notable Norma of the recent past was most certainly Maria Callas who sang the role witth great intensity, passion and drama.  I only wish you were all there to enjoy a very memorable evening.  Angela who has sung at the MET in Ernani surely has a great career ahead of her.  The evening started off with a preconcert lecture retrospectively looking back at the attempts in this role.  The audience reactted with great enthusiasm and praise. It was a wonderful joyous evening of truly beautiful singing.  Bellini would have been proud.  The weather and the singing were both on fire!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Barbra Streisand at the Village Vanguard

Barbara Streisand at the Village Vanguard is a newly released DVD/CD combo recorded at a life recital in Greenwich Village in 2009.  While, the DVD is recorded with a live audience through somewhat limited audio capabilities it offers a unique and personal view of this artist.  In between some of her selections, she welcomes & greats many notables including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman and those who played a large part in her long lived career.  It is refreshing to hear that this dynamic star has not forgotten her roots in Brooklyn, NY.  From a humble and modest background comes a wonderful entertainer who has the tremendous ability not only as a story teller, but can convey emotions through her talented singing.  At 68, she can still wow and audience with charisma, charm and vocal prowess.  The DVD and CD (containing truncated dialogue) offer a diverse glimpse into her history and growth as an artist.  It is of interest that she indicates that she gets bored singing "People" but her send off with Memories evokes visions of the 1970's and "The Way We Were" filmed at my Alma Mater, Union College in Schenectady, NY.  A committed democrat and liberal, she recounts protesting with Bela Abzug, the NY congresswoman.  Her tribute the President Bill Clinton for 8 years of prosperity and respect around the word closes with a comment that Bill was at ease with the poor and downtrodden as well as the mightiest leaders of the world.  She sings his favorite song, Evergreen which she wrote and sang at his inaguration. 

This is a wonderful refreshing retrospective, not simply a re-hash of old standards.  She sings with ease and grace and at one point asked the pianist of she had hit the correct note.  The crowd was engaged, adoring and composed of celebrities and to those who had won lottery tickets for the specail one night show,  As the evening starts, she indicates that this is how she got her start in show business and she wanted to give something back.  What she delivered was truly from her heart.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Traviata with Netrebko & Villazon

On a delayed flight home on Memorial Day (May 31st, 2010, my wife and I watched the Salzburg 2005 performance of La Traviata with Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazon, Thomas Hampson conducted by Carlo Rizzi.  This avant garde production known for its "red couch" and simplicity is one to watch over and over.  The music by Verdi is characteristic of this period of his composition style.    The OM-Pa-Pa of the Brindi (Drinking song) is jovial.  Carlo Rizzi conducts at a fast, but manageable pace.
Violetta, played by Anna Netrebko is called by some the whore with a heart of gold.  This performance is full of intrigue, drama, passion & pain.  Netrebko was right not to try and have a redux at next year's Metropolitan Opera, staing that she did not want to try and recreate the Salzburg performance which is widely available on DVD. 

The MET will put on La Traviata as a New Years Gala. 

New Year's Eve Gala

Willy Decker’s strikingly beautiful production, a hit when it premiered at the Salzburg Festival in 2005, arrives at the Met with soprano Marina Poplavskaya starring as opera’s most fascinating heroine. “Violetta is an outlaw,” Decker says. “Society shuts her out and looks down on her as a person without feeling, without love. But the further you look into the piece, you see that it’s the other way around: she is the only person in the opera who truly loves, selflessly. Verdi follows her like an obsessed lover throughout the piece, and by the end, our sympathy too is completely on her side.” Matthew Polenzani plays Alfredo with Andrzej Dobber as his father; Gianandrea Noseda conducts Verdi’s timeless tragedy.

Friday, December 31, 2010, 7:00 pm

Noseda; Poplavskaya, Polenzani, Dobber

Original production of the Salzburger Festspiele; with thanks to De Nederlandse Opera

Here is a clip from interview with the director Willy Decker.  This is an incredibly challenging role for any soprano.  We have also seen Netrebko in an updated version of La Traviata in San Franscisco set to the "Roaring 20's".  It is unfortunate, but we may never see Villazon sing again in anything as passionate and skilled as in this production.  He has suffered a "vocal crisis", surgery to remove a polyp from his vocal chords and a very lackluster re-entrance into the world of opera.  He has also served as a rather infamous judge on a show entitled "From Rock Star to Opera Star" a lame attempt at an American Idle rip-off.

At any rate, all 3 principles were in exceptionally rare form.  The minimalist set composed of only a few couches and a clock symbolizing  the march of time towards Violetta's death allow the viewer to concentrate and be immersed in the passion of the drama and the glorious singing.    This was certainly one of the signature roles for Netrebko.  She truly owns this role. 

It is astonishing that 45 of 59 reviews at Amazon were for 5 stars!  Netrebko exhudes confidence, sex appeal, tremendous acting ability and a charasmatic charm in this role.  Since that production, neraly 5 years ago, she has had a son, married Erwin Schrott and continued her career as a diva who reaches out to the public and has brought modern opera to the masses. 

Enjoy this exciting performance - which can only be imitated, certainly not duplicated.  It will be very interesting to note how this production fares at the MET and its staid audiences.


Last Sunday, May 31st we saw Phantom at the Arizona Broadway Dinner Theater.  This was the culmination of a High School Graduation festivity for my nephew, Harry.  The service, dinner and seats were excellent.

April 23 - May 30, 2010

Developed in the early 1980s by Tony Award-winners Maury Yeston (Nine, Titanic) and Arthur Kopit (Nine), the Yeston/Kopit Phantom – like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera – was based on Gaston Leroux’s immortal tale of a desperate young man, born and raised in the catacombs under the Paris Opera House, and the girl whom he adores. With a lush and compelling score, Phantom is an American musical that has captivated audiences worldwide in over one thousand independent productions, with rave reviews from Variety and The Wall Street Journal.

My only complaint was that the artists used microphones, when the venue was small enogh to project without the use of electronic amplification.  The music was mostly from a black tee shirt wearing synthesizer player who feverishly was orchestrating the entire production.  We saw the final performance and enjoyed it.  It was a tad too long, but provided reasonable entertainment for all to enjoy

Wednesday, May 5, 2010



Conductor: Riccardo Frizza

Armida: Renée Fleming

Rinaldo: Lawrence Brownlee

Goffredo: John Osborn

Gernando: José Manuel Zapata

Carlo: Barry Banks

Ubaldo: Kobie van Rensburg

My wife and I saw Armida on Saturday May 1st at the MET in NYC.  This is an opera that we had not seen previously.  I believe that this is the first time that the MET has staged this opera.  It was supposed to be the highlight of the season and a showcase for Renee Fleming, the American Diva.
Unfortunately, she just could not deliver vocal power, intensity and lacked in ability to soar through coloratura passages.  The real stars were Lawrence Brownlee as Rinaldo and Barry Banks as Carlo who actually played 2 roles that day.  My wife & I had the opportunity to meet another opera blogger from Romania prior to the concert,  Irina has 2 blogs that showcase opera and her notable travels around the world.  She is an avid photographer who has met meny notable performeers in person. 
Her blogs are at: and

Idomeneo by BLO

Last night we saw a terrific performance of Mozart's opera Idomeneo.  It was sung in Italian with English titles projected on two televisions at either side of the stage.  How lucky we are in Boston to have the ability to have a live orchestra, and talented singers who can maintain high professional standards.  The music for this opera is largely recitative with interspersed arias.  One has to wait for the final act to hear the wonderful tempestuos aria D'Oreste, d'Aiace .

This is an opera full of mythology, finally bowling down to good and evil which come to resolution at the conclusion of the opera. 

Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Libretto by Giovanni Battista Varesco after Antoine Danchet’s Idomenée
Idomeneo premiered the Residenztheater in Munich on January 29, 1781

Act I The Oath

The ten year war is over. The once mighty Troy lies in ruins; the triumphant Greeks are returning to their homeland. Idomeneo has sent captive prisoners from Troy back to his kingdom of Crete including one of King Priam’s daughters, Ilia. She is torn by desperately conflicting emotions - grief for her lost family, desire for revenge for the shameful fall of Troy, and a newly awakened love for Idamante, her captor’s son. She correctly believes she has a rival in the Greek princess, Elettra - another exile who has fled her home in Argos after the murder of her father Agamemnon and her mother Clytemnestra.  Idomeneo’s ship is sighted and in celebration Idamante frees the Trojan captives and reveals to Ilia his love for her. But as Elettra angrily reproves Idamante for protecting the enemy, Arbace, Idomeneo’s advisor, brings news that the King has apparently drowned in a great storm at sea. Idamante quickly rushes to the scene of the shipwreck - Elettra is left alone and, in furious despair, fears that the death of Idomeneo will allow Idamante to marry Ilia. Idomeneo has survived the wrath of the sea but only by swearing an oath to Neptune that if the god will save him, he will in turn sacrifice the first person he meets on shore. And that person turns out to be his son. Although they do not recognize each other at first, when the truth emerges, Idomeneo, wracked with guilt and hoping to evade his oath, violently rejects his son and banishes him from his sight leaving Idamante bewildered and distraught.

Act II The Monster

Idomeneo explains his vow to Arbace and that Idamante is the one who must be sacrificed. Arbace advises him to send Idamante abroad- he can escort Elettra back to Greece. Ilia tells Idomeneo that she now accepts Crete as her home and Idomeneo as her father. He realizes that Ilia is in love with Idamante and that there will now be three victims of his terrible oath - father, son and lover. Elettra rejoices in the news that Idamante will accompany her back to Argos - away from her rival, she will certainly be able to win his love. As they are about to embark, another violent storm erupts, lighting ignites their ship and a terrifying monster rises from the deep. The panicked Cretans cry out for the one whose actions have brought on this heavenly rage. Idomeneo begs Neptune that, as he alone is guilty, he alone should be punished. If they demand an innocent victim then the Gods themselves are unjust.

Act III The Sacrifice

Ilia is still torn between the powerful calls of honor and duty and her love for the son of the man who destroyed her homeland. She finally admits this to Idamante who in turn declares that without her love nothing matters to him. But first he must attempt to destroy the monster that ravages Crete or die in the attempt. And when, still confused and pained by his father’s coldness towards him, he asks what his offense might be, Idomeneo again sends him away. Ilia mourns his banishment. Elettra cries for revenge. Crete has been devastated by the monster. The High Priest of Neptune accuses the King of hesitation and silence. Who must be sacrificed? Idomeneo finally admits it is his own son. As the sacrifice is prepared, the ritual is interrupted by news of victory - Idamante has slain the monster; Crete is saved. But the vow must nevertheless be fulfilled; the ceremony must continue.  Idamante is led in, exchanges farewells with his father and expresses his willingness to die at the command of the Gods for the good of the people and to save his father. Declaring Idamante’s innocence and the Gods’ favor towards Greece, Ilia, as a daughter of the enemy Troy, offers herself as a substitute victim. Suddenly the Gods themselves intervene. A voice proclaims: “Love has triumphed...Idamante shall be King...Ilia his bride...Neptune appeased...innocence rewarded.” Elettra is alone consumed in rage and fury as the commands of Heaven are joyfully accomplished.

Handel & Hadyn Society Concert April 2nd, 2010

On Sunday afternoon we attended a marvelous  all Bach concert by the Handel & Haydn Society as a tribute to Daniel Stepner who has spent nearly 25 years as concertmaster.  We have seen him many times with many groups in Boston and at the MFA, WGBH studios, etc.  It was a thrilling concert conducted by the Harry Christopher now in his 2nd season. 

It was a wonderful concert with notable solo performances by violin, brass, harpsichord, flutes, and vocal soloists in the last cantata. 
Harry Christophers, conductor
Christopher Krueger, flute
Daniel Stepner, violin
Linda Quan, violin
John Finney, harpsichord
Lydia Brotherton, soprano
Thea Lobo, alto
Ryan Turner, tenor
Bradford Gleim, bass
Handel and Haydn Society Chorus

The program consisted of the following pieces. 

Bach: "Singet dem Herrn"
Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 5
Bach: Cantata No. 50, "Nun ist das heil" for St. Michael’s Day
Bach: "Der Geist hilft"
Bach: Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins
Bach: Cantata No. 29, "Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir"

It was really a joy to hear this played on period instruments.  The chorus was wonderful and we recognized some of the amateurs from other local venues.  Stepner graciously acknowedged a smll token of gratitude - the framed program of his first performance  with the H&H in 1996.  The nearly sold out crown gave both Stepner and the H&H orchestra and chorus a well deserved standing ovation.

For those interested in further info on this concert, I have appended the program notes below:
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750):
Master of Musical Expression
Program Notes for Bach Portrait

The city of Leipzig and the princely court at Cöthen provide the backdrop for the music on today’s program. Leipzig was an important and thriving city. It was a center for publishing and its trade fairs brought visitors to the city regularly. The university and the church schools held reputations for academic excellence. Fine keyboard instruments were made by well-known families and the city was a center for both secular and sacred music.

Bach’s motets and many of his cantatas were written when he was employed in Leipzig beginning in 1723. His duties there were two-fold. He was Kantor for the Thomasschule; his primary responsibilities included teaching music, and directing the choirs at St. Thomas Church and St. Nicolas Church on alternating Sundays. As director musices (director of music) Bach was also responsible for overseeing church music in the city and providing music for any civic celebrations such as the election of the town council.

There are only six motets known to have been composed by Bach. When he needed a motet for a Sunday morning or afternoon service, he relied on a collection of Latin motets that were commonly sung in Leipzig and could be learned and memorized easily. Why Bach wrote specific motets is not always certain; this is the case with Singet dem Herrn, BWV 225 (1726-27). Scored for double chorus, this motet contains three sections and uses texts from Psalms 103 and 150. In this intricate and complex work, Bach carefully draws our attention to important words in the text. For example, Bach emphasizes the first word, “singet” (sing) by simultaneously using a pedal tone, text repetition, and embellished melodies in imitation to proclaim this word in an infectiously upbeat setting that carries through the rest of the work. Interestingly, Mozart heard this motet when he visited Leipzig in 1789.

Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf, BWV 226 was written for the October 20, 1729 funeral service of J. H. Ernesti, Rector of the Thomasschule. It is scored for double chorus, strings, and winds. The strings double choir 1 and three oboes, including a seldom used alto oboe, plus bassoon accompany choir 2. Almost every time the word “Geist” (Holy Spirit) appears, Bach sets it to a long melodic flourish in sixteenth notes, not only emphasizing this word, but also depicting the ephemeral nature of human beings. This motet concludes with a strophe from a chorale by Martin Luther for both choruses. Though few in number, the motets are exquisitely crafted compositions;

it is clear that Bach brought all his creative forces to bear on these sophisticated sacred works.

Bach’s position before Leipzig was also impressive. In August 1717, Bach accepted the offer to become Kapellmeister at the court of Prince Leopold in Cöthen. At that time, Bach was employed by the Duke of Weimar who refused to release the composer from his service, ultimately having Bach arrested and jailed from November 6 – December 2, 1717. After his release, Bach took up his new position in Cöthen. Prince Leopold was an accomplished musician who employed an orchestra of eighteen well-trained players. Bach wrote chamber music for this ensemble, including the fashionable concerto. However, some of the best-known works associated with this period, the Brandenburg Concertos, probably originated with earlier compositions. Bach dedicated these six concertos to the Margrave of Brandenburg in 1721. As a whole the six Brandenburg Concertos are a study of instrument combinations and virtuoso instrumental writing. The fifth Concerto features the flute, violin, and harpsichord as the soloists playing in imitation in all three movements. Including the harpsichord as a soloist is unusual; this instrument generally accompanies in any ensemble. In this concerto, the harpsichord has two roles: accompaniment for the tutti sections and dazzling passages in the solo sections. However, its primary role as virtuoso soloist is made abundantly clear towards the end of the first movement, when Bach writes a breathtaking harpsichord cadenza that literally silences not only the orchestra, but the other soloists as well.

The Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins, BWV 1043 was composed while Bach was in Cöthen. It was most likely written for Berlin violinists, Martin Friedrich Marcus and Joseph Spiess; Spiess was hired by Prince Leopold in 1714. The concerto follows the three-movement (fast-slow-fast) design codified by Antonio Vivaldi. Imitation features prominently throughout this concerto as does the technical difficulty of the solo parts. This becomes particularly poignant in the second movement as the longer note values of one solo line are embellished and drawn forward by the faster motion of the other solo line. In the third movement, the close interval of imitation and the off-beat accents of the orchestral accompaniment propel the music forward. Performance scores for this concerto have been found among the works performed at the Collegium Musicum (university) concerts in Leipzig in the 1730s.

In Leipzig, the cantata was the favored composition for sacred and secular occasions. Bach provided a new cantata for each Sunday and special feast days of the liturgical year. This amounted to some sixty cantatas per year. In his first years at Leipzig, Bach wrote new cantatas for each service, a daunting challenge for any composer. Even more astounding is the quality of each cantata which explores musical expression in a unique way. Both cantatas on today’s program were sung in church, even though Cantata no. 29 was written for a civic celebration.

One of five cantatas written for St. Michael’s Day, Cantata no. 50 may have been performed on September 29, 1723. Cantata 50 is scored for double chorus and a festive orchestra of three trumpets, three oboes, strings, and timpani. It consists of a single movement with no orchestral introduction. A strong, foundational line in the basses of the first chorus begins the movement. From their line the cantata grows as vocal and instrumental parts are added until the two choirs alternate in a call-and-response fashion.

Cantata no. 29 was first performed on August 27, 1731 in honor of the council election at Leipzig. The intricate obbligato organ part of the sinfonia, like the harpsichord part in the fifth Brandenburg, combines the abilities of Bach as a virtuoso instrumentalist and master composer. Adapted from the first movement of his Partita no. 3 for unaccompanied violin, this organ part was performed by Bach in 1749 to commemorate another town council election. Bach had been so seriously ill just before this celebration that arrangements had been made to name his successor. His choice of cantata may have been a clear indication that these arrangements were premature.

Just as the first movement is an arrangement of an earlier instrumental composition, Bach will return to music of the second movement of this cantata for the Gratias section of the Gloria of his B Minor Mass. The celebratory text taken from Psalm 72 is heralded with the opening sinfonia. Throughout this work, Bach skillfully sets this text of thanks and prayer both subtly and boldly, challenging the singers and instrumentalists technically and stylistically.

When Bach signed each completed cantata with Soli Deo Gratia, he was acknowledging that his commensurate skill in counterpoint, formal design, text expression, and instrumentation was part of a greater whole. It is that sense of the whole that pervades Bach’s compositions, whether sacred or secular, instrumental or vocal. As in all of his works, each piece on today’s program displays Bach’s unprecedented powers of musical expression dedicated to the “glory of God alone.”

Program notes prepared by Teresa M. Neff, Ph.D.

2009-2010 Historically Informed Performance Fellow

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Opera is Alive & Well in Metrowest Boston

Opera is alive & well in Metrowest suburbs of Boston.  On Saturday night, April 24th, we attended the Metrowest opera which performed "The Magic Flute" by W.,A. Mozart. at the Theater at Weston Town Hall at 11 Townhouse Road in Weston, MA.  The Metrowest opera collaborative was established in 2007 and is now in its 3rd season.  My daughter, Elana works with Erin Smith who was singing Pamina that night.  It indeed turned out to be a marvelous evening.  The enture cast and production team deserve a lot of credit for a superlative performance.  There was a small orchestra with 22 players who were able to fill the hall with joyous music.  Most notable were the 2 flutes including picollo and the typanist who doubled on the keybord for the accompanied solos for Papageno.  The Queen of the Night played by Rebecca Hains was terrific with soaring coloratura on her solo parts. 

The most refreshing part of the evening was viewing an updated version of the well known opera cast in a 1920's boarding school.  Minimalist sets included a few benches and a large desk on forboding blackboard complete with math equations.  The costumes ranged from janitor's overalls, knickers to a beguiling flapper dress complete with arm length gloves.  The three ladies were dressed in simple black dresses with knee socks.  Papageno played with a music box, rather than the traditional mouth organ.  The music was perhaps a tad loud at times forcing the singers to notch up their volume, but they really had so few instruments that they needed to be quite robust in their interpretation. 

My wife, Paula, daughter Elana and her boyfriend Michael Pistorio started off the eveing with a wonderful Japanese dinner at Oga's in Natick  The meal was simply delicious with very good service. 
We even had time for a quick dessert at Park Street Ice Cream in Natick a local legend.

This establishment opposite the Natick Common is a family run business that makes their own ice cream and is well known and supported. 

If you have the chance - go see the Magic Flute on Saturday, May 1st at 7:30pm or Sunday, May 2nd at the 3pm at the Weston Town Hall and you will be sure to have a great time.  One suggestion though - sit downstairs as the balcony tended to be quite warm.  Light refreshments are served at the intermission and you are allowed to bring them into the hall.

One only had to attend to see the joy in the performers faces at the performance to know that they had done their job well and the audience applauded enthusiastically. 

Yes, this is the future of opera - our youth and aspiring artists.  There are many challenging hurdles ahead of these young performers, but they have done a spectacular job of continued nurturing of this wonderful artform. 

Friday, April 23, 2010

Together with you

I rented a wonderful DVD from netflix entitled "Together" which exemplifies the power of music and the bond shared among people who unselfishly try to help one another.  My words can not effectively capture the simplicity and power of this movie that was filmed in Beijing and the country side in china.  Rather than spoil the fun for the viewer, I shall simply add only the terse summary from Netflix. 

Together(He Ni Zai Yi Qi / Together with You)

2002PG119 minutes

A young boy, Xiao Chun (Tang Yun), proves to be a massive talent when it comes to the violin, so his father (Liu Peigi) helps him find the best teacher in Beijing, far away from their hometown. There, Xiao Chun meets a nightclub worker with a heart of gold and finds true friendship

The music is masterful with many memorable selections from Bruch, Tchaikovsky, Mendelsohn, Vivaldi and others.  Go watch the movie for a touching story for all ages to enjoy.

DiDonato & Juan Diego Florez in Barber of Seville

As many of you have now heard, our celebrated American Diva (or better yet - Yankee Diva) has just released her new DVD of the Barber of Seville with Juan Diego Florez from the 2009 season at the Royal Opera House.  It is now legend, since the diva sang her role from a wheel  chair.  In the opening night production she slipped back stage after her famous aria, "Una voce poco fa" in the first act and broke a bone in her lower leg.  She finished the opera on crutches. 

At the beginning of the DVD, the conductor Antonio Pappano, the conductor comes on stage to announce to the audience that Joyce has agreed to sing the role of Rosina from a wheel chair.  The audience responded with a rousing round of applause as Pappno scurried down to the pit.  As you can imagine, when she sang the aria that night from wheel chair, the audience literally erupted in a thunderous round of applause.  Her cast was entirely visible and she literally lifted hersel out of the chair at moments to express her full emotional impact of singing.  She was all smiles ear to ear. 

The viewer was treated to a superb cast of Juan Diego Florez, the ultimate Rossini tenor of our generation.  They both sing with ease and grace.  DiDonato excells in coloratura adornments with ease and grace and reminds me of Elina Garanca in La Cenerentola at the MET.

One only needs to ponder DiDonato's background stamina, determination and style that has brought her the pinnacle of her career.  A modest girl from a blue collar family in Kansas who worked a long time without getting a break in her to a celebrated mezzo. 

Among her most recent recordings, a tribute CD to Colibran.  It contains some of Rossini's best music.  Her singing her is just fabulous, and one only wishes that the MET would have used her rather than Renee Fleming, who by all accounts gave a very lackluster performance at the MET in Armida.  (Rossini also wrote Armida's role for a mezzo soprano)  The world needs more people like "The Yankee Diva" who gives so much back to their audience in return for their patronage or support.  All we haer about today is about Gheorghiu, Garanca, Netrebko, Villazon bailouts on performances and here is a stunning example of an artist who truly enjoys what she is doing on stage.  I cannot truly imagine, the challenge and constraints of performing from a wheelchair, but this performance will go down in history and I highly recommend it to the readers. 

Although the sets are spartan and minimalist, they allow one to truly concentrate on the singing, scting and dialogue - which is what opera is all about.  The costumes range from period costumes to

Juan Diego Florez, an elegant tenor who is a Rossini specialist in the Bel Canto repetoire is perhaps best known for his expressive legato manner.  His portrayal in La Cenerentolla (Rossini) and La Fille de Regiment by Donizetti is famous for his nine high C's that rival Pavarotti's legendary tenure.  He even had an unheard of encore in La Scala that created quite a stir in the media.  This is truly a DVD that needs to become part of one's library. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Musings about music & blog comments.

While driving to work, I was listenting to Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony conducted by Valery Gergiev.  This is the epitome of romantic music.  The music is dreamy, expansive and leads one on  journey in 4 movements.  I truly recommend it to my readers.

I am somewhat surprised reading comments to articles in magazines and blogs.  Readers can be alarmingly arrogant, homophobic and downright rude at times.  Everyone is entitled to leave comments or personal reviews as this is of interest to the audience.  We need more activists if we embrace change.  While commenting on an article regarding the accomplishments or lack therof of Peter Gelb, I was struck by the animosity of people towards Gelb and the MET.  Gelb can not fix no-shows from Prima Donna's.  It simply is a fact of life.  Singers bail out for their own reasons. 

While Peter Gelb is trying to bring opera to the masses, he is also trying to change the artistic face of the MET opera company.  He has done marvels with HD broadcasts to movie theaters, promoting school attendance, allowing last minute Rush tickets, etc,  Unforunately, he is running a large business with unions, special interests, and a profound lack of an artistic (musical) director.  James Levine's impact on the MET is waning owing to his ill health, BSO committments, etc.  Music on this side of the pond does not get large measures of government support.

Some of Gelb's artistic choices have fallen short, e.g. Mary Zimmerman's La Sonambula and Armida.  Renee Fleming's performance was by all accounts notably undistinguishing.    Renee Fleming had her moment in the sun years ago with this opera, but is not able to deliver the goods today.  The MET hyped this as the signature New Production of the Season with its American Diva, Fleming.  The public and Gelb would have been better served by Joyce DiDonato.  One must remember that Rossini also scored Armida's role for a mezzo. 

Thrilled to hear that Placido  Domingo is on the mend and looking forward to seeing his masterclass program on HBO in the near future.  We only wish that Ozawa has a similar outcome.  Seiji had a long and enduring tenure at the BSO.

In closing, music is an international language that transcends borders.  Enjoy it for where it takes you.  Valerie Gergiev once said that most orchestras can play well, but it is not often that one hears an interesting performance.  The operative point here is that we as listeners have to digest music and allow it to penetrate our thought process and release new meanings and interpretations.  One need not to be a student of music to reach this level of appreciation

Monday, April 19, 2010

Another poor review of MET & Peter Gelb

Flickering Vision

Peter Gelb’s first full season at the Met produced one shining moment—and a lot of fizzles.

From the Met's new production of The Nose.  

In the first production of Rossini’s Armida to reach the Metropolitan Opera (and New York), Renée Fleming flicks a wand and transforms a creature-infested grotto into a palace of sensual delights. The Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, must crave that trick right now to restore the health of his budget, his music director, and his aesthetic agenda, all of which are ailing. Yet Fleming’s wand couldn’t even jolt the opening-night performance out of its sloppy lassitude.

Gelb has been running the company for more than three years, but this is the first full season he planned, paid for, and delivered—a rollout of eight new productions, culminating with Armida and laying out a program of modernization that is supposed to save the art form. Always a couple of decades behind, the Met is only now junking its collection of ponderously pseudo-realistic sets in favor of the kinds of lean, abstract productions that seemed startling in the nineties. The strategy is fine, but its execution needs more muscle and judgment. Gelb has, for example, anointed the director Mary Zimmerman the doyenne of bel canto, and so far, she has turned in a Lucia di Lammermoor as a B-movie hoot, an incoherent La Sonnambula, and now an Armida that distills the worst of the Met’s current weaknesses: blind worship of unreliable stars, theatrical gimmicks that supplant dramatic conviction, and a flickering supply of musical electricity.

Rossini was a wizard of froth, but in this work, he slathered lacework vocalism on a putatively serious romance. The beautiful Armida bewitches the crusader Rinaldo, until his trusty officers deprogram him by appealing to his martial honor: Make war, not love. Zimmerman doesn’t know what to make of this material, except to encrust it with whimsy: Cue the red-garbed cherub descending from the ceiling. Add a twenty-minute dance of the demons, a field of plastic poppies, a phalanx of shiny helmets, and a fistful of forgettable tenors, and you have an overlong show that exists for one reason only: to glorify the name of Renée Fleming. Armida is a stage-scorching role, and she had great success with it in the mid-nineties, but the opera is better suited for a lighter voice, a smaller house, and a diva with fewer distracting affectations.

The current letdown follows a string of half-successes: Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet, a wheezing touring vehicle for the marvelous baritone Simon Keenlyside; a visually laughable, musically exquisite Attila; and dutiful revivals of Simon Boccanegra and Stiffelio. Partly, the problem is that Gelb is a fervent expansionist in a time of contraction. If he had been able to power ahead with the projects he has had to cancel—expensive revivals of Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini, John Corigliano’s Ghosts of Versailles, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and Strauss’s Die Frau Ohne Schatten—the Met would feel less like a woozy Leviathan. He has also leaned on a roster of box-office stars who can’t be counted on to show up. Angela Gheorghiu, Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazón, and Natalie Dessay all backed out of Met appearances. And the usually impeccably professional Leonard Slatkin, who had originally signed on to conduct the Corigliano, made a hash of La Traviata and skipped out after one performance. Sometimes Gelb’s spirit of innovation looks indistinguishable from confusion.

Gelb’s ambition to recruit creative minds from other fields is another good idea that has proven a wobbly cornerstone for the new Met. It did, however, pay off splendidly in Shostakovich’s The Nose, an acid comedy about a Moscow bureaucrat whose proboscis escapes and, worse, achieves a higher rank than its erstwhile owner. In a brilliant managerial stroke, Gelb assigned this work of immature, erratic genius to the artist William Kentridge and coordinated it with a major Kentridge retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. The event looped the Met into the art-world circuit, lured a fresh audience, and tossed opera into the center of New York’s intellectual life. This is exactly what the Met should be doing.

Kentridge responded to Shostakovich’s hectic, jangling score with a constructivist dream, a collage of shadows, ramps, three-dimensional puzzle pieces, headlines, and projections. Valery Gergiev led a biting, bristling performance, and if the volley of sounds and images occasionally felt like more than a brain could manage, the overload was strategic. At times, the score seemed less like the main event than a soundtrack for the staging, but The Nose can tolerate a slight rearrangement of operatic hierarchy.

The Met needs Gelb’s marketing savvy, but Gelb also needs a full partner, an artistic director as powerful and engaged as he is. For four decades, James Levine has kept the Met in a state of high musical readiness. He shaped the repertoire, led about 65 to 70 performances each season, cultivated singers, honed the orchestra, and left his thumbprint even on shows he didn’t conduct. The Met was Jimmy’s house.

Levine is only 66, but a series of illnesses and another job, as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, have interfered so seriously that his grip here has gone limp. He’s spent just a dozen nights on the podium since September and delegated the few big hits. Next month, he’ll miss his cherished revival of Berg’s Lulu. Next season—his 40th—he’s scheduled to conduct six operas, beginning with the opening-night inauguration of the new production of Wagner’s Ring. Now the festivities are tainted by doubt. Maybe back surgery will cure his suffering; maybe he’ll give up his Boston gig; maybe he’ll wrest back a greater chunk of his company’s aesthetic agenda. But for now, it’s just not Levine’s company any more. If Gelb is really the house visionary, he must know that it’s time to talk succession.