Friday, September 24, 2010

Goteborgs Operan's The Rake's Progress

Sorry for the hugely long hiatus here, but traveling caught up with me a bit! Lots to talk about now, though, but I'll put it into a few separate posts.

So I've been in Sweden just over a week now studying with my teacher and also soaking up a ton of opera-related stuff in this beautiful country. I realized a couple nights that, even though I grew up in Europe for 14 years, I don't think I've actually been to an opera in Europe (excepting the UK) in probably about two decades. I have read a ton about "concept operas" sweeping across Europe, the insane Calixto Bieito, crazy stagings, etc., so I was especially excited to see what the Gothenburg Opera and Stockholm's Volksoperan had in store for me I saw last weekend. It was also lovely to make the acquaintance finally of a lovely American soprano, Rebecca Fromherz, who is pictured here with our teacher, Jean-Ronald (Ron) LaFond.

I of course also had to make sure I got my picture with him inside this beautiful theater as well!

It all started out last Friday night at the Goteborgs Operan with Stravinsky's masterpiece, "The Rake's Progress." Here we had an English opera in a Swedish opera house with Swedish surtitles sung by Swedes (minus one excellent Brit) really covered a whole lot of firsts for me. But what a way to start!

I didn't know this opera very well and was thrilled to see the production in its full glory. I had obviously heard the two main arias (though I believe that the two other arias sung by Anne Trulove and Tom Rakewell should be given more attention) in audition settings before and always thought they were very beautiful, but other than that, I didn't know much. A great place to be actually, if you ask me.

I had had the distinct pleasure of spending some time with tenor James Edwards (Tom Rakewell) the night before the performance and also the following morning, and had some fascinating discussions with him about opera in Europe, about the production, and about singing, both the business and the technical side of it. Of course I was duly tickled when I mentioned The Opera Insider, and he said, "Yes, I've heard of you!" In fact we had been in touch last summer about his recording studio, Vocal Recording, based in London! He is embarking on a very interesting project producing EPKs - Electronic Press Kits - for singers. I saw his and it is a minor masterpiece!

I also had the chance to meet and spend a bit of time chatting with Ingela Bohlin (Anne Trulove) and Ulrika Tenstam (Baba the Turk) at Bommen, the "Peach Pit" of the Goteborgs Operan regulars just across the street from the opera house.

Bohlin sang the role of Anne well, never wavering in her portrayal of a young woman's sweet naivete, but other than that, her voice seemed a bit ungrounded and there was little depth of personality that was allowed to shine through her crystaline voice. Still she sang beautifully and consistently in this demanding role, and was a pleasure to behold on stage. Edwards, tall, proud, and handsome, fit the role perfectly and sang the hell out of Tom Rakewell. A former baritone, his low register resonated roundly and gave his voice depth and feeling. A large presence on stage with no effort whatsoever, he truly inhabited the character and showed his descent into despair with clarity, thoughtfulness, vigor, and finesse. Tenstam was the life of the party as Baba the Turk, showing a fantastic flare for comedic timing and stealing the show on several occasions. Åke Zetterström's Nick Shadow was one for the records. His lanky, imposing physique and laser-beam voice added to the terrifying nature of his character. You would never have known that he was not feeling well since his solid technique and absolute command of the stage and of his character did not falter once.

The chorus was in excellent form. Their sound was warm and beautifully uniform, and it was obvious that the group had been working together for years, so cohesive was their presentation, both physically and vocally.

I must say that I felt the same way about the epilogue of this opera as I do about the last scene in Don Giovanni: simply put, I don't like it. Though it may well have been a comment on this style of opera in general, the final scene broke the silence and severity of the previous one, a hugely long almost half-hour scene that builds and builds until your heart is pounding, breaking almost at Tom's deperation. I found that it somehow cheapened the journey Tom had been forced to take. Talking to James afterwards about it, he felt the same way. "It's hard," he said, "to take twenty minutes to die, lie in a coffin uttering your last sounds, expire, and then have to get up and sing chirpy happiness. It just feels a bit unnatural."

Still, an unforgettable evening... and one I think I will have the pleasure of repeating this Saturday during their next performance.

To finish off, here's a beautiful picture of the Goteborg "Eye," at night, just outside the main entrance:

And another of the building itself, a truly magnificent structure.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hanging with the Met chorus

It isn't often that I get to spend the day with 30 Met opera singers. Maybe one or two at once, if I'm lucky but not a whole gaggle of them!! Yesterday, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend the day in Newburgh, New York, at the home of two members (one former and one current) of the Met Opera chorus. Every year over the Labor Day weekend, they choose the best of their vegetables from their amazing vegetable garden, cook up a total feast, and invite about 50 of their nearest and dearest friends to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the country. Thanks to a good friend, I got to tag along this time around.

Apart from ogling the house, the grounds, the flowers, and the orchard (yes, they have an orchard in their back yard), another central aspect to the day were the dogs who came along to play. Being cooped up in Manhattan apartments made the big ones go a little nuts but we also had the opportunity to play with a few of the smaller guys, too. The one pictured here, Jemima Puddleduck, is a rescued maltese. She's quite sick, so we are wishing her a speedy recovery.

As was promised to me the food was abundant beyond belief and out of this world delicious (they even gave us all a bag of home grown tomatoes, fresh basil, and elephant garlic to take home with us!) The hosts were as gracious as gracious could be. I have to say the highlight for me came later in the afternoon. As I was sitting outside on a tree trunk enjoying the lovely sunshine, I suddenly heard soft jazz music coming from inside.

Our host, Kent, was sitting at the piano playing some show tunes. A few of the guests started humming along, then more and more people joined us until after a while the place was filled. Our other host, Marty, came and sang along with Kent in a crystal clear and beautiful tenor voice. After they had sung a couple numbers, they opened the floor up to whomever wanted to perform something. People played and sang, and those who weren't accompanying themselves had the pleasure of being accompanied by the Assistant Conductor of the Met chorus, Joe, whose playing was some of the most touching I have heard in a long time.

Yours truly had the opportunity to sing a little something, too. I offered my favorite songs of all time, Neil McKay's hilarious "Limericks" then finished off with "Carceleras," a Zarzuela by Chapi.

Some of those present - many in fact - had been in the Met chorus for years... decades even, and they still seem to love it. Well... they didn't want to hear any opera on a summery Sunday afternoon (!) but it was obvious that they absolutely loved their job. It was wonderful to see this, and a great pleasure to meet so many fascinating people. I suppose I'll see a few of them in the HD broadcast if I make it there for tonight's showing of "Carmen!"

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ridi Pagliacco!

Last night it all finally came together! I've been waiting for this night for months, I'm sure not with as much anxiety as Daria Parada, the Artistic Director of Mercury Opera, but certainly with a lot of excitement. Daria and I first met in January of this year and I was immediately taken by her energy, her commitment, and her passion for this project, which at the time, was still in zygote stages. Since then, in 8 short months, she managed to bring the production to fruition... not without stops and starts of course, but she did it and I commend her.

I was pleased to have a good friend with me last night, the very talented stage director and choreographer Heidi Lauren Duke. We have known each other for years, and it is always nice to hear about her fun and exciting projects.

Even from my partial-view seat at the side of the Museum and Circus Sideshow theater on Surf Avenue, just a few doors down from the Cyclone, I thoroughly enjoyed this production. The venue was intimate, just as it should have been, and we were even treated to a catered reception afterwards.

The cast had changed many times over the last few months and even the original conductor had pulled out so there were a few last minute replacements, most notably Perry Martinez as Cannio. It did not show and the cast performed so well with one another you'd have been convinced they had been doing this for weeks... not just five short rehearsals.

The vocal star of the evening was, without a doubt, Samantha Pruyn Guevrekian in the role of Nedda. Her voice shimmered in the high range and showed color and expression throughout her range. Almost even more remarkable than her pitch-perfect singing, however, was her innate ability to know when not to sing. She used her well-supported speaking voice in just the right places and just the right amount to capture the most vulnerable and tortured moments of her character. Her chemistry with baritone Stephen Lavonier was palpable and he was endearing as her lover Silvio (dressed not very obviously as a pizza delivery boy). Percy Martinez's Cannio was heartfelt if a little soft at times but as Pagliacco he was both calm and terrifying in all the right places. Chad Karl as Tonio/Taddeo showed remarkable acting skills but I did spend a good part of the time wondering whether he might actually be a tenor. His high notes were just too full and strong for me to be utterly convinced there wasn't a Heldentenor stuck in there somewhere. Boris Derow rounded out the cast as a hilarious Arlecchino providing the most laughs of the night with his Fabio wig and gyrating hips. Not to be forgotten was the chorus who did remarkably well considering there were only about two people to a part.

I commend the entire cast and crew on a fabulous night and can't wait to see this production again someday very soon.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Picking up speed!

I can feel the summer ending and the fall coming. I mean it's still hot as blazes outside and my AC is working overtime, but I can sense that the summer vibe is coming to a close, and things autumnal are starting to pop up: leaves are starting to change, fall fashions are hitting storefronts everywhere, and opera is picking up speed as seasons start.

Two nights ago I went to see a concert of Vivaldi. Just Vivaldi, six concerti to be precise by the amazing 4x4 Baroque ensemble at beautiful St. Peter's Church in midtown Manhattan.

Here is the wonderful ensemble just getting settled before starting their performance:

Each concerto lasted only about 10 minutes so the entire program was little over an hour, but what an amazing hour it was. The musicians played as if they had been grown in the womb together: one heartbeat, one breath. The skill of each individual player was only enhanced when they all came together in unison, creating a breathtaking musical effect.

Tonight's another doozy and one I've been looking forward to for months: Mercury Opera's Pagliacci on Coney Island. Daria Parada and I co-hosted an event for The Opera Insider and Mercury Opera in late June which was a huge success and we are so happy that they are finally getting their moment to shine.

I'm looking forward to seeing what they have in store for us - and of course a trip to Coney Island is never remiss!