Friday, September 30, 2016
I love the voice of soprano Christiane Karg. She has great diction, amazing sensitivity, and great expression in her singing. Oh, yes… And certainly a wonderful voice. Ms. Karg was born in Bavaria. She studied singing at the Salzburg Mozarteum where she was awarded the Lilli Lehmann Medal, and also at the Music Conservatory in Verona. In 2009 she was named Young Performer of the Year by Opernwelt magazine, and the following year was awarded the prestigious Echo Klassik prize for her first Lied CD recording. Here is Ms. Karg in the song “Die Nacht” (the night) by Richard Strauss:
Albina Shagimuratova as the Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte, The Royal Opera © ROH/Mike Hoban, 2013 Is there any limit to what a great soprano can do? There’s a host of roles that astonish and delight us: true showcases of extraordinary musical and dramatic talent from across the history of opera. We’ve gathered together some of our favourites, starting with… The Queen of the Night – Mozart ’s Die Zauberflöte Mozart wrote the role of the Queen in The Magic Flute for his sister-in-law Josepha Hofer, who was famous for her outstanding vocal technique and high notes. The Queen of the Night’s two dramatic arias are accordingly packed with fiendish coloratura, taking the soprano voice to amazing heights, particularly in the Act II aria ‘Die Hölle Rache’. Elena – Rossini ’s La donna del lago Elena is one of several roles that Rossini wrote for his first wife Isabella Colbran. Colbran had an exceptionally wide vocal range and the writing for Elena spans the gamut. The opera culminates in one of Rossini’s greatest showpieces for the female voice: Elena’s virtuoso Act II aria ‘Tanti affetti’. Norma – Bellini ’s Norma Norma requires immense stamina, vocal agility and (particularly for the aria ‘Casta diva’) lyricism and beauty of tone. But the challenges don’t stop there: the singer also has to convey the varied and intense emotions of a heroine torn between religious devotion and jealousy, romantic passion and maternal love. Lucia – Donizetti ’s Lucia di Lammermoor Lucia is another role that makes huge demands on a soprano’s stamina: she has to retain enough energy through the demands of Acts I and II in order to carry off Act III’s famous mad scene – a breathtaking display containing a stratospheric virtuoso cadenza accompanied by glass harmonica . Abigaille – Verdi ’s Nabucco Abigaille is a notoriously difficult part: it calls for a singer with a powerful, very agile voice who can move from the bottom to the very top of her range at great speed. Even the most lyrical of Abigaille’s arias, ‘Anch’io dischiuso un giorno’, includes a thrilling two-octave leap. Brünnhilde – Wagner ’s Der Ring des Nibelungen Brünnhilde is often seen as a dramatic soprano’s ultimate challenge. She must sound equally comfortable in the high notes of her opening war cry in Die Walküre and in the low-lying passages that punctuate Götterdämmerung . She must be heroic and tender, vengeful and noble. And above all, she must have the stamina to sing in three operas, each more than five hours long! Olympia – Offenbach ’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann Olympia the doll is only on stage for about half an hour, and for much of that time simply says ‘oui’. But her one aria ‘Les oiseaux dans la charmille’ is a virtuoso tour de force, each verse adorned with ever more elaborate coloratura. The part also calls for comic acting: Olympia’s mechanics periodically run down and stop her mid-flow. Elektra – Richard Strauss ’s Elektra At 90 minutes, Elektra is relatively short role – but it’s fiercely difficult. The singer has to project over a vast, intricately-scored orchestra and sing some of the most dramatic, declamatory music ever written for soprano, while also conveying lyrical tenderness in her reunion scene with Orest. She also needs to retain enough physical energy for the dance which brings the opera to its devastating close. Turandot – Puccini ’s Turandot Like Elektra, Turandot requires a powerful high voice and a singer able to execute very declamatory vocal writing with ease. The role also poses dramatic challenges: how can a soprano make this murderous princess sympathetic enough to convince us she deserves a happy ending? Lulu – Berg’s Lulu This near-impossible part requires a singer with a three-octave range who can shift from intense lyricism to flamboyant high coloratura to speech – sometimes within the space of one aria. The character is also dramatically deeply enigmatic, and is onstage for every scene of this four-hour opera. Ariel – Adès ’s The Tempest Possibly the highest role ever written for soprano, Adès’s ‘airy spirit’ enters The Tempest singing 17 full-voiced Es two and a bit octaves above middle C – and continues in a similar range for most of the opera. The high notes aren’t limited to coloratura either: many of them are in slow and sustained passages, which is fiendishly challenging. Which fiendishly difficult roles would you include? Let us know in the comments below. Norma runs 12 September–8 October 2016. Tickets are still available . Les Contes d’Hoffmann runs 7 November–3 December 2016. Tickets are still available . Turandot runs 5–16 July 2017. Tickets go on General Sale on 28 March 2017.
The quirky opera season at the Argentino offers only four titles and just two are repertoire: Puccini´s "La Boheme" and Mozart´s "Così fan tutte", currently on stage. The other two are Andriessen´s "De materie", not an opera (reviewed on the Herald), and Benjamin and Crimp´s "Written on skin", to be premièred in October. This reflects the tastes of Martín Bauer, the new Director (who programmes Colón Contemporáneo), but has little to do with the Argentino´s tradition. "Così fan tutte" was presented with two valuable casts; though I had to choose the second due to collisions with important events in Buenos Aires, I feel that both are on a very professional level. But before I go on to analyze this latest revival, it is important to know that, unlike the other Da Ponte librettos made into operas, "Le Nozze di Figaro" and "Don Giovanni", "Così fan tutte" was strongly controversial for more than a century and was gradually appreciated only in the Twentieth Century, thanks to Mahler, Richard Strauss (both as conductors) and Fritz Busch, who with his Glyndebourne Festival revival produced by Carl Ebert finally launched the success that had been elusive for so long. And it was this combination (Busch-Ebert) that finally brought it to the Colón in 1934. The story of why this opera came into being is paradoxical, for it was the Emperor Josef II who indicated the subject to Da Ponte, hoping that the cynical comedy would have some influence on what he considered to be the promiscuous Viennese girls. It wasn´t Mozart´s choice, but the music he composed is wonderful and its sharp characterisation completely agrees with the details of the plot. Unfortunately, the opera was premièred in January 1790 just a week before the Emperor´s death; the ensuing Court Mourning cut off all performances. This is still a Rococo entertainment, but six months before the French Revolution had begun when the Bastille was taken: as Hans Redlich wrote, "audiences began to crave for lofty sentiments, political ideals and romantic moods". The key character is Don Alfonso, an old skeptical philosopher who doesn´t believe in fidelity and challenges two officers (Ferrando and Guglielmo) that in just 24 hours their paramours Fiordiligi and Dorabella will be unfaithful: the officers must maskerade as Albanian gentlemen who, seconded by Don Alfonso and the libertine maid Despina, will try to seduce the ladies (who are Ferrarese but live in Naples). Sure enough, it eventually happens, the masks fall down, the ladies repent and all ends happily. The main problem of the staging is the suspension of disbelief: the officers must be made up in such a way that they won´t be recognisable; and the most buffo problem is that Despina disguises herself as a Doctor and a Notary, and there´s no way to make it believable. So this opera must be taken by the audience as an unrealistic farce and a strong attack on fidelity. As our society has plenty of free love practitioners, "Così fan tutte" is even mild nowadays. It tollerates much better than the two other Mozart-Da Ponte works the transposition to another time, though it can be done very well according to the original libretto: I have seen about 17 different stagings and most of them respected the late 18th century indications. For even in cynical terms, some aspects can´t be changed. But at least, a coffee bar, a room and a garden are easily modernised. Producer Rubén Schuchmacher put the action in the 1950s. The best thing was the stage design of Jorge Ferrari; functional and pleasant, in seconds it changed from room to garden. He also did the costumes: the girls´ were alright, but the presumed Albanian gentlemen looked like punks. The disguised men were very recognisable, their faces hardly changed. Schuchmacher did a grievous mistake: he added ridiculous lateral hip movements in many scenes, not only gross but completely crashing with Mozart´s refinement. But the singers were agilely moved. Reasonable lighting by Gonzalo Córdova. The musical side was very good. Rubén Dubrovsky is an Argentine that is having a brilliant career in Vienna, particularly in the Baroque repertoire, though he is equally at home in Classicism. It was a positive decision to bring him over as conductor of this "Così...". He showed positive command, good tempi and taste; the Orchestra played well for him, except some horn mistakes in Fiordiligi´s Rondo "Per pietà". However, I question the total inclusion of the recitatives; I have always heard them with some cuts, even in recordings, for some of the stuff isn´t necessary for the narration and it lengthens the opera with uninteresting music. On the other hand, he included for the first time in my experience the charming "duettino" of the officers "Al fato dan legge". The two sisters were admirable: Daniela Tabernig (Fiordiligi) and Florencia Machado (Dorabella) sang their duets in perfect blend and their arias with fine vocality and style. Cecilia Pastawski was a pert and accurate Despina. The men were also satisfactory. Santiago Bürgi sang Ferrando with a firm line, including the rarely done "Tradito, schernito". Alejandro Spies, who has generally sung premières of old and new operas, this time was given the chance to do Mozart, and he did so with accomplishment. And Luciano Miotto again proved to be a master of buffo style. All acted well. For Buenos Aires Herald
Richard Strauss died on September 8, 1949. He knew Gustav Mahler well, as both were conductors and composers during the late 1800’s in Germany and in Austria. They were supportive of each other. They performed the other’s works at concerts. Yet these two lives could not have been more different. Strauss composed a great variety of music: His Operas became hugely popular and are performed to this day. He also composed songs for soprano with either orchestral or piano accompaniment. While he only composed one symphony (Alpensymphonie), he composed several symphonic poems, as well as works for horn, violin, and piano. Mahler was mainly working as an orchestra conductor, and his work on music composition was restricted to the summer months, while he was on vacation. Mahler was born to a Jewish family, and he suffered from Anti semitism on many occasions during his professional life. Strauss lived through the Second World War, and he was reputed to be a Nazi sympathizer. Both Mahler and Strauss composed music that is utterly amazing. Strauss wife, Pauline, was a well known singer, and he composed many songs for her. Mahler died in 1911 at age 50. Richard Strauss died on September 8, 1949 at the age of 85. Here is one of Strauss’ compositions of which I am very fond:
Royal Albert Hall, London A fascinating head-to-head for two top German orchestras dominated an eventful final week at the PromsThe near twinning and half rhyming of two composers, conductors, pianists and German orchestras brought binary zing to the final week of the BBC Proms. This was ahead of any flag-waving pleasures or protests last night’s Last Night might have provoked – too late for this column. Daniel Barenboim, a master of Austro-German repertoire as well as much else, was back in the Albert Hall for the second time this season, this time with his Staatskapelle Berlin. Then Christian Thielemann, himself a Berliner and a master of that same kind of Austro-German repertory, though of little besides, conducted his Staatskapelle Dresden.Both conductors, political in different ways, lead the world as Wagnerians. Thielemann is a brilliant exponent of Richard Strauss, whereas Barenboim seems to prefer Johann I or II, the waltzing ones. Barenboim has notched up 41 proms, having given his first in 1966. Thielemann (b1959) was making his Proms debut. The Dresden orchestra was founded in 1548. Its Berlin counterpart traces its origins back to just 22 years later. So much for data. Continue reading...
Oboist highly regarded as performer and teacherThe fine playing of the oboist Neil Black, who has died aged 84, enabled him to make the most of the opportunities presented by concert life in the decades following the second world war. He joined the newly founded National Youth Orchestra in 1948, stayed for its first three years, and later became principal oboe of the London Philharmonic Orchestra (1958-60). Albums were being recorded not only by symphony orchestras but also by chamber orchestras specialising in music from the 18th century and earlier – a more intimate type of performance that Black came to prefer. As a result, no oboist featured on more recordings than he did, and with the chamber orchestras of which he was principal he also appeared as a soloist.With the Academy of St Martin in the Fields he recorded concertos by Vivaldi and Mozart’s Concerto in C, and with its chamber ensemble Mozart’s Oboe Quartet and sonatas by Handel. He was principal with the English Chamber Orchestra during the 1970s, 80s and most of the 90s, initially sharing the post with Peter Graeme; he recorded the Concerto for Violin and Oboe by JS Bach with Itzhak Perlman, and the concertos by Richard Strauss and Ralph Vaughan Williams, with Daniel Barenboim conducting. With the pianist Murray Perahia, Black was one of the four wind soloists from the ECO in the quintets by Mozart and Beethoven, and he played on the complete cycles of Mozart piano concertos by Perahia, Barenboim and Mitsuko Uchida. His other main chamber orchestra post was with the London Mozart Players. Continue reading...
Great composers of classical music