Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Florence Foster Jenkins, the Hollywood biopic of the eponymous American amateur soprano, opened in UK cinemas this week; American movie-goers have to wait until August before being able to appreciate Meryl Streep’s commanding performance in the title role. Acting performance, that is. You may be new to the legend of FFJ (1868–1944), so we’ll start with a brief introduction to the lady that will also act as a prologue to the focus of this week’s blog. Some of the details of FFJ’s life and recording tally remain a bit fuzzy, but some things about the lady are quite clear: she loved singing, was bad at it, but was rich enough and socially connected enough to be able to bypass the challenges of self-awareness that most of us have to grapple with, projecting herself to the top of a ladder that very few can aspire to. To set the scene, here’s an extract from her recording of the technically demanding Bell Song (8.120711 ) from Delibes’ opera Lakmé. If that was like taking a cold shower in an igloo, let’s refresh by taking a pleasanter dip into the pool of brave ladies who fearlessly strut their stuff, centre stage, before an arena of critical listeners who come to get their tingle factor from fiendishly difficult, high-lying vocal lines dispatched with disarming ease: welcome to the world of the operatic dramatic coloratura soprano. The music that composers wrote with these singers in mind created a select super-class of exponents whose names live on. One who is very much alive, however, is the Chinese soprano, Dilbèr. She was born in Kashgar, a trading centre on the ancient Silk Road, in what is now the Uighur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang in northwestern China. But here she is in the 19th-century world of Italian opera, taking the role of Lisa in Bellini’s La sonnambula (The Sleepwalker) (8.660042-43 ). Spoiler alert: put away all valuable glassware to avoid possible shattering. Last month, the celebrated Russian soprano Anna Netrebko announced that she was pulling out of her engagement to sing the title role of another Bellini opera, Norma, at London’s Royal Opera House later this year. She said that her “voice has evolved in a different direction.” One can sympathise; walking this high-wire role has no hiding place. In contrast, Maria Callas (1923–1977) was a reliable champion of the role, performing it scores of times during her career. Here’s the diva in an extract from a 1953 performance of the aria Cast diva (8.110325-27 ). The German soprano Erna Berger had to endure a difficult and improbable prologue to her career as an opera star. Although her talent was recognised early on, her father decided to move the family to Paraguay where, following his death, the young Erna was forced to take on a job as a governess. She saved up enough money to return to Germany, however, where she studied singing in her spare time and worked in an office to keep the wolf from the door. She was eventually hired by Fritz Busch at the Dresden State Opera before joining the Berlin State Opera in 1934, where she remained for the next twenty years. She excelled in a comprehensive repertoire. Here she sings the Laughing Song (8.110733 ) from Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus. Coloratura passages were often used to colour the evil or demented nature of female characters in opera. Mozart incomparably employed the technique in the role of The Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute (8.660030-31 ). The aria Der Hölle Rache provides a clear example of someone at the extremes of normality, both in vocal technique and character, as sung here by Hellen Kwon. Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor (8.660255-56 ) perhaps provides the ultimate for the unhinged in its so-called Mad Scene. Since the work’s première in 1835, the title role has always attracted the top coloratura sopranos of their day. Here is Dilbèr again as the terrified Lucia , bereft of reason, a blood-drenched dagger in hand (short synopsis only here!), leaving the listener thinking that a singer must indeed be insane to tackle such music, in costume, under the lights, and constrained by dramatic demands. And so we end where we began, with Florence Foster Jenkins, who died a few months after she took the leap from giving small-scale entertainments to taking to the stage at Carnegie Hall when, we are told, people were turned away in their thousands and scalpers were raking in their booty. It’s a bittersweet way to end this Thought for the Week, with a reprise of Mozart’s Queen of the Night aria , performed by the Diva of Din. I propose a toast to all eccentrics, everywhere, eternally!
Anna Netrebko withdrew just last week from upcoming Norma productions at both the Metropolitan Opera (opening night, 2017-18) and the Royal Opera (fall, 2016-17). Now the Met has announced what will happen instead. Presumably the ROH, Dallas Opera, and Vienna State Opera (just wait) have done the same. Sondra Radvanovsky replaces Netrebko in the Met opening night 2017-18 production. (In my opinion, this was a predictable and desirable casting, and let me say that Rad was terrific in SF the other year.) She is also singing Leonora in Calixto Bieito's new staging of La Forza del Destino in the same season, which will be her company role debut.For this to happen, the Vienna State Opera released Radvanovsky from her scheduled appearances as the Trovatore Leonora........which will instead be sung by Anna Netrebko. In other words, they are swapping engagements.Netrebko is still singing the Trovatore Leonora and Tosca at the Met in 2017-18.MEANWHILE in London, Sonya Yoncheka (!) will sing Norma at the ROH in the fall of 2016-17. I did not see this one coming.The Met released Yoncheva from scheduled appearances as Mimi in La Boheme so that she could sing Norma in London.Ailyn Perez is available to sing Mimi in the Met performances originally to be sung by Yoncheva.......because she decided to postpone her role debut as Tatiana at the Dallas Opera this fall.Whew! Fast work, y'all. What I want to know (not covered in the Met's four-company press release): when will Sonya Yoncheva sing in San Francisco, and what will she be singing?
“Due to Anna Netrebko’s recent decision not to add the title role in Bellini’s Norma to her repertory, the Metropolitan Opera and the Royal Opera, Covent Garden—where she was scheduled to debut the role—as well as the Vienna State Opera and Dallas Opera have announced several related cast changes.” The Met’s press office has been whirring this morning, and La Cieca will try to get you up to speed. Sondra Radvanovsky will now star in the new production that will open the 2017-18 Met season. As previously announced, the new production will be directed by Sir David McVicar, and will also star Joyce DiDonato as Adalgisa and Joseph Calleja as Pollione. Later that season Radvanovsky will make her company role debut as Leonora in Calixto Bieito’s staging of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino. Netrebko will step into Radvanovsky’s Fall 2017 performances of Leonora in Verdi’s Il Trovatore in Vienna. At the Met, she will reprise Leonora in a revival of Il Trovatore that has now been added to the season and, as previously scheduled, will debut a new Met role, Puccini’s Tosca. In the Met’s 2016-17 season, Sonya Yoncheva will withdraw from five performances of Mimì in La Bohème so that she may make her role debut as Norma at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, in the new production originally planned for Netrebko. In her place, Ailyn Pérez will make her Met role debut as Mimì on September 28; October 1, 6, 10, and 14, in addition to her previously announced dates: January 6, 11, and 14 matinee. Yoncheva will appear at the Met in 2016-17 as Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata in a run of performances beginning in February 2017. Photo: Dario Acosta
Sonya Yoncheva in Faust, The Royal Opera © ROH/Bill Cooper, 2014 Following the announcement last week that Russian soprano Anna Netrebko has withdrawn from Norma , the role will now be sung by Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva . Director of Opera Kasper Holten expressed his gratitude to the Metropolitan Opera , New York: ‘A huge thank you to the Met for releasing the brilliant soprano Sonya Yoncheva from her scheduled performances there as Mimì in La bohème. They have announced today that Ailyn Pérez will sing Mimì for them in the autumn. We are delighted and appreciative that Sonya will be able to join our excellent cast and creative team for The Royal Opera’s new production of Norma. She has had much success at the Royal Opera House in recent Seasons and we look forward to welcoming her back in the autumn for Norma and as Antonia in Les Contes d’Hoffmann .’ Sonya Yoncheva made her Royal Opera debut in Plácido Domingo’s Operalia Winners’ concert in July 2012. She has subsequently sung Musetta in La bohème , Marguerite in Faust , Violetta Valéry in La traviata and Micaëla in Carmen for the Company. Her other recent engagements include Desdemona in Otello for the Metropolitan Opera, New York; the title role in Iolanta for Opéra National de Paris , and Mimì in La bohème and Violetta Valéry in La traviata for Berlin State Opera . The rest of the cast remains unchanged.
I am a long – term admirer of Soprano Anna Netrebko. Today’s post deals with her performance as Donna Anna in Mozart’s dramatic opera, Don Giovanni. The other singers on this amazing DVD are as follows: Peter Mattei (Don Giovanni), Bryn Terfel (Leporello), Anna Netrebko (Donna Anna), Barbara Frittoli (Donna Elvira), Kwangchoul Yun (Il Commendatore), Giuseppe Filianoti (Don Ottavio), Anna Prohaska (Zerlina), Stefan Kocan (Masetto) Supported by the Orchestra & Chorus of Teatro alla Scala, Daniel Barenboim conducting. An all-star cast featuring Deutsche Grammophon artist Anna Netrebko, Bryn Terfel and Anna Prohaska, delivers a sensational new recording of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, conducted by Daniel Barenboim at the start of his inaugural season as Music Director of La Scala. Here isAnna Netrebko, singing in Act 2 of Don Givanni:
Given the number of startling developments in the world of opera as faithfully reported here on parterre box, the most-read stories in April were mostly news, with a little gossip thrown in. Far and away the most popular post this month was Dark of the moon , about Anna Netrebko‘s serial cancellations of her performances of the role of Norma, with 14,302 pageviews. The complete top ten for the month follows the jump. Dark of the moon (Anna cancels Norma.) “Das Ende! Das Ende!” (James Levine retires.) She never sings anything twice (Angela Gheorghiu goes missing.) Bleak house (Elektra, reviewed.) Not only with words, but with lively gestures (Survey of Elektra on video.) Anvil chorus (Rupert Christiansen‘s knickers twisted. Again.) Why have you kept me waiting so long? (Kathleen Battle returns to the Met.) Young guns (Yannick Nézet-Séguin for Met musical director?) Number one with a bullet (Jonas Kaufmann sings Der Freischütz.) Shake rattle and role (Anniversary of San Francisco earthquake.) And here’s a handy chart of day-to-day traffic during the month:
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