Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka has been honoured with the Paul de Hueck and Norman Walford Career Achievement Award, a $20,000 prize granted by the the Ontario Arts Foundation biannually in areas of keyboard artistry, art photography and singing. The award honours the career of a working artist.
It seems fitting that Pieczonka receive the award, as she is one of a small number of Canadian opera singers who has solidified an international career, while maintaing a balance of performance and continued education in Canada. Last year alone Pieczonka gave four public masterclasses for young opera singers in Toronto and London, while performing roles in Ontario, Italy, France, and across Germany. In 2014 Pieczonka will perform locally in as Amelia in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Verdi’s A Masked Ball, as well as appear in operas at La Scala, Covent Garden and with the Bavarian State Opera.
This is not the first time her enviable career has been recognized, Pieczonka is an Officer of the Order of Canada, an Austrian Kammersängerin, and has received two Juno Awards.
When asked about her future intentions, Pieczonka gave the following insight: “My plan is to sing until I am 60 or so in my current roles. I don’t necessarily want to go into ‘old bag roles,’” she says. “I want to stop at my peak, with my star not fading, and devote myself to fostering and mentoring.”
On November 26, 1963, Italian soprano Amelita Galli-Curci (1882-1963) died of emphysema at the age of 81. The great soprano, known for her coloratura and command of the bel canto repertoire was also one of the first divas of the recording industry. Her contribution to the history of the art form is only complimented by our ability to listen to her various Gramophone recordings.
Amelita Galli-Curci studied piano at the Conservatory of Milan and taught herself how to sing, after the Pietro Mascagni, composer of "Cavalleria Rusticana,” heard her and encouraged her to study towards a career as an opera singer. Born in Milan, of Italian and Spanish descent, her father was a banker, and could afford her the advantage of learning about the art-form and hearing world class opera singers live at La Scala from a very young age.
“‘I learned about the operas,’ she said, ‘from going to La Scala Theatre. I heard them all from the time I was 6 years old.’ As for acting, ten lessons from Valvassura, whom she called a rival of Bernhardt in ‘Tosca,’ sufficed. She did not, like too many young singers, pin faith to instructors nor to tricks of song. ‘The coloratura is not enough by itself,’ she exclaimed. ‘The same ‘cikeraki, cikeraki’ is a little annoying. The public grows tired. A lyric style is important first.’ She studies locked in her room, listening to her records on American talking machines.” New York Times, January 27, 1918.
She made her debut at the Constanzi Theatre in Rome as Gilda in Rigoletto in 1910, and made her New York debut in 1918 singing the title role of “Dinorah” at the Lexington Theatre.
“Her debut here was a veritable triumph; she was cheered for twenty minutes after the big scene in the second act, and from that time hers has been an operatic fame almost the equal of Caruso’s” The New York Times, February 8, 1921.
Galli-Curci’s emphasis on the lyric quality of the voice and the elimination of frivolity or musical “tricks” as she called them, was one of the reasons she became such a sensation. She approached this repertoire with intelligence and substance, giving emotional weight to the roles and music while maintaining a celestial, delicate vocal quality.
According to the New York Times, “her singing is of lyrical quality, however, a ‘voice that floats,’ with singular purity of tone, and an even range of about three octaves. She speaks and sings in seven languages.” New York Times, February 8, 1921.
“She has an uncanny intelligence; and because of this you know that she does not use the great gift of her voice merely for the display of its own possibilities, but as a means to the higher ends dictated by her artistic consciousness.” New York Times, February 10, 1918.
With the public and critical interest in the performance style of Galli-Curci, came a change in the way bel canto operas were perceived. There had been a decline in interest, in Chicago and New York City, of operas featuring coloratura singing that became rekindled with the debut of Galli-Curci. The same phenomenon of a singer bringing depth and substance to bel canto roles, and subsequently sparking the public’s interest in the style of composition, can also be attributed to such sopranos as Joan Sutherland and more evidently, Maria Callas. Herbert Witherspoon, retired operatic bass, singing teacher, and eventual general manager of The Metropolitan Opera, explains this cycle quite eloquently for the New York Times:
“In recent years the public has been starved of this type of singing...The history of music has moved in cycles; the musical-dramatic ideals of the early Florentines gave place to operas in which the thought and dramatic quality was next to nothing, and the vocal acrobatics of the prima donna took on almost the whole importance. Then, in turn, came another reaction, and in the realistic operas of recent years we have seen almost the complete disappearance of the sort of music in which Mme. Galli-Curci has displayed such distinguished ability. This imposed quite needless and unreasonable limitations upon the art of song. There was nothing the matter with coloratura singing in itself; the objections to it were objections to the quality of many coloratura roles, the type of opera in which they were found, and the needless degredation of all the other factors that should blend in their composition-the bad results that would be found in any art if it were shut off from a considerable portion of the field which it should cover. They can be found in the general decline of our singers in the last twenty years…Now comes a singer like Galli-Curci and gives the public something it wants and has unconsciously longed for. IT is impossible that her example should not bring results. More coloratura sopranos will be developed, as it is evident that the public taste still likes them; and this means, od course, that the old operas are going to be revived with much greater frequency. They will be restudied, cut no doubt, altered here and there; but they will be revived, and with them will grow up a school of singers who can sing them.” New York Times, February 10, 1918.
Amelita Galli-Curci singing "Si, Carina” from Meyerbeer’s Dinorah. Victor recording, June 17, 1924:
Here is a short radio interview with Galli-Curci, broadcast on KFC radio in November, 1963, where she discusses the early recording process, vocal technique, Joan Sutherland, her career, and gives some solid advice for young singers:
"Noi in questo Elisir abbiamo voluto ritornare ad es- sere Peter Pan, perché la freschezza della musica magnifica di Donizetti unita alla leggerezza di cui parla Calvino nelle sue Lezioni americane"
In this Elisir we wanted to go back to being Peter Pan, because the freshness of the magnificent music of Donizetti, paired with the lightness that Italo Calvino described in his book Lezioni americane.
The opera, which is currently running at Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, takes place in a performing arts school in America, where each student dreams of fame and glory. Adina is the most popular girl in school, Nemorino the loser, Belcore is the school bully who has a thing for cheerleaders, and Dulcamara is That Guy who graduated years ago, but keeps coming back to high school to relive his glory years. This is where the elixir of love rules, making every moment seem perfect. Where you can find a love that brings you to paradise, or that ultimately destroys you.
L’elisir d’amore GAETANO DONIZETTI Melodramma giocoso in due atti di Felice Romani Musica di Gaetano Donizetti Edizione: Edwin Kalmus & Co., Inc., Boca Raton, Florida
Nuova produzione Allestimento del Teatro Comunale di Bologna Direttore di Programmazione e Produzione Marco Zane Direttore Allestimento scenico Tiziano Santi Con sopratitoli a cura di Prescott Studio, Firenze
Nemorino Giorgio Berrugi - Alessandro Scotto di Luzio (16, 19, 21)
Belcore Mario Cassi - Julian Kim (16, 19, 21)
Il Dottor Dulcamara Marco Camastra Giulio Mastrototaro (16, 19, 21)
Giannetta Elena Borin
Direttore Giuseppe La Malfa
Regia Rosetta Cucchi
Scene Tiziano Santi
Costumi Claudia Pernigotti
Luci Daniele Naldi
Video proiezioni Roberto Recchia
Assistente regista Stefania Panighini
Maestro al pianoforte Andrea Severi
TEATRO COMUNALE di Firenze
Venerdì 15 novembre 2013, ore 20.30
Sabato 16 novembre, ore 20.30
Domenica 17 novembre, ore 15.30
Martedì 19 novembre, ore 20.30
Mercoledì 20 novembre, ore 20.30
Giovedì 21 novembre, ore 20.30
Act I. The entrance to Adina’s farm. The harvesters are resting in front of the farm- house after working in the fields, while the rich and capricious Adina is sitting apart reading the story of Tristan and Isolde. Nemorino, a shy peasant, who is very poor, is watching her, consumed with love for her. At the request of everyone pres- ent, the young girl reads with incredulity the strange story of Tristan who suc- ceeded in obtaining Isolde’s love through a magic potion which everyone then dreams of possessing. A platoon of soldiers arrives headed by the conceited Ser- geant Belcore who gives Adina a bunch of flowers and proposes to her, certain that she reciprocates, but the girl shows that her suitor does not interest her par- ticularly. Nemorino plucks up courage to propose to Adina but she rejects him saying she is too fickle to tie herself to one man and advises him to look for an- other girl.
The village square. A trumpet call can be heard and Doctor Dulcamara arrives in an showy carriage, arousing general curiosity; he is, in fact, only a charlatan who goes round from town to town selling bottles of his “elixir” which is supposed to cure every kind of malady. The naive Nemorino immediately asks him for the magic potion of Queen Isolde thinking that in this way he will awake the love of Adina. Taking advantage of his naiveté Dulcamara sells him a bottle of wine, assuring him that he will feel the incredible effect after only a day, time enough for him to put some distance between himself and the village. Nemorino happily drinks the wine and sure of the magic power of the“elixir”he appears happy and indifferent before Adina; the girl is surprised and irritated by the changed attitude of the young man and to revenge herself for his indifference she decides to accept the courtship of Belcore and marry him that very evening as the sergeant and his men have to leave the following morning. Nemorino is desperate and begs Adina to put off the wedding until the following day when, according to the doctor’s prom- ise, the elixir is bound to take effect, but the girl again rejects him and the young man smarts under Belcore’s ridicule: the marriage will take place and the whole village will be invited to the celebrations.
Act II. Inside Adina’s farmhouse. Everyone is already singing and drinking happily while busy preparations for the imminent wedding are being made; Dulcamara also takes part in the celebrations and suggests that he and the bride should sing a lively song together. Belcore announces the arrival of the notary and the bride and bridegroom leave to sign the register followed by the rejoicing crowd. Dul- camara is left alone at the wedding table reflecting on the pleasure of such fes- tivities when he is joined by Nemorino who asks him what he must do to win the heart of the girl. The doctor advises him to drink another bottle of his elixir and the young man, who has no more money, has to hurry off and look for some if he wants a second dose of the magic potion. While Nemorino is wondering how to find sufficient money, he is joined by Belcore who says he is amazed by the ex- traordinary behaviour of women; Adina loves him but wants to postpone the wedding until evening. The sergeant sees his rival is desperate and advises him to enrol in the army; military life will bring him joy, glory, fleeting love affairs and twenty scudi prize money. The young man accepts in order to receive the money to procure the filter and although he is worried about his decision hurries to join Dulcamara who awaits him at the Partridge Inn.
Rustic courtyard open at the back. News has reached the village that Nemorino has become rich after suddenly inheriting a large sum of money. Everyone is talking about it but the young man has not yet been notified. A peasant girl, Giannetta, was the first to hear the news and is telling everyone about it but she implores them not to mention it. Nemorino arrives, and after drinking another bottle of elixir his hopes are raised once more. Everyone looks at him with different eyes now he has be- come a good match for the village girls, but he believes that this unusual interest is due to the effect of the magic potion. Meanwhile Adina and Dulcamara arrive on the scene and are surprised to see the young man courted by all the girls. Nemorino happily thanks the mystified doctor. Adina, on the other hand, con- vinced she would find her suitor in tears, is jealous and in this way she discovers that she is in love. She has also found out that he has enrolled in the army and would like to speak to him but Giannetta and the other peasant girls drag the young man off to the ball. Adina and Dulcamara are left alone and Adina discovers that the reason for this change is the elixir and that Nemorino has only signed up for money in order to buy the potion. The girl is now desperate; she loves Nemorino but he does not seem to notice her any longer. The doctor offers her the filter but the young girl is certain that her charm will be enough to win back the lost lover. Nemorino sees a “furtive tear” fall from the eyes of Adina and realises that he is loved but he decides to continue to pretend to be indifferent until the girl reveals her true feelings. She, in the meantime, has bought back the youth’s contract of en- rolment and gives it to him without any further comment. The young man is dis- appointed and refuses to accept it; if Adina doesn’t love him he prefers to go off and be a soldier. Only at this point does the girl confess her love and the two are at last happy. Belcore, followed by his garrison, joins the two lovers; he realises he has been defeated by his rival but consoles himself by thinking that, after all, the world is full of women. The real winner of the whole story is, however, Dulcamara, who gives himself the credit for the happy ending and leaves the village to the accla- mations of the crowd, having proved yet again the virtues of his elixir of love.
There is no denying that politics and the economy have caused major problems for the arts in Europe, but to hear an honest account of the cultural climate in Italy from an internationally acclaimed opera singer, who was born and raised in the same town as Giuseppe Verdi, really helps to put things into perspective.
“In spite of being in huge demand on the world’s major opera stages, Luca Pisaroni rarely sings in his native Italy.The bass- baritone describes how apathy towards cultural heritage has taken the shine off Verdi’s birthday celebrations in his homeland.”Interview by Courtney Smith
Verdi just turned 200, and to celebrate the region of Emilia-Romagna and the Province of Parma, Italy, have created a beautiful website dedicated to the genius that is Giuseppe Verdi. Here you can find biographies, films, libretti, archival documents, exhibitions, tour guides, apps and photos all lovingly curated and offered free to the public. Oh, and the site is offered in english as well as Italian.
I loved scrolling through the photograph and caricatures galleries and have included a few pics below. The one of Verdi resting on his laurels is especially charming.
Patrice Chéreau in 2005 on the set of his film Gabrielle, starring Isabelle Huppert and Pascal Greggory. Photograph: Everett Collection/Rex Features
Patrice Chéreau, groundbreaking opera and film director, died of cancer on October 7, 2013. He was 68 years old.
Chéreau is the French theatre director best known for his controversial staging of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Bayreuth in 1976. The production, conducted by Pierre Boulez, was controversial for its departure from a traditional, storybook fable, to a modern, conceptualized interpretation that played on the symbolic and psychological aspects of the story.
“For Mr. Chéreau, the story was a Marxist allegory of capitalism and the exploitation of the working class.” New York Times
“Chéreau attempted, and successfully achieved, a daring interplay of the mythological and contemporary planes on which the work is constructed. He set the action in an industrialised society, with a hydro-electric dam taking the place of the free-flowing Rhine; there were also occasional 20th-century costumes and props. He was not the first to invoke a modern setting for the action – roughly the century framed by the history of the work to date, 1876–1976 – but the incisive social critique of Chéreau's production was regarded by some of the ultra-faithful as an outrage, and created a scandal of unprecedented proportions.”The Guardian
This departure caused controversy with the audience at the time, revolutionising modern opera and ushering in a new age of highly conceptualized theatre productions centring on the director’s vision.
“He once jokingly told me,” Mr. Gelb said of Mr. Chéreau in an interview, “that he was responsible for the movement disparagingly referred to as ‘Eurotrash,’ because his production of the Ring at Bayreuth, which is now legendary, was the first kind of high-concept operatic production that radically transformed the action.”New York Times
Chéreau’s final project was Strauss’s Elektra, for the 2013 Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Information on the production, with a link to the full program can be found here: http://www.festival-aix.com/en/node/2031
I know, I know, I've been on summer hiatus. Don't worry, I'll be filling you in on the Art Life and Stilettos summer transcontinental trek in no time. In the meantime why not take a break from the serious world of classical music and check out some rarely seen crossover talent? No, not that kind of crossover...
Opera singer, and singer songwriter Ashleigh Semkiw will be headlining the Drake Underground on Saturday, August 18. Ashleigh is a unique artist, in that her most recent operatic performance was in the spring of 2012 with Chicago Opera Theatre in their production of Shostakovich's Moscow, Cheryomushki, and if you're expecting her pop stylings be reminiscent of Renée Fleming's most recent pop curious album Dark Hope, rest assured that Ashleigh writes and performs her own music and is decisively marching to the beat of her own drum. You can check out Ashleigh's music and art at www.ashleighsemkiw.com
...and for those of you who can't afford the price tag but still want to attend the event, why not consider volunteering for the evening? "Join Opera Atelier for Mirage: the 2012 Versailles Gala and help support their education, outreach and artist development programs by applying to volunteer as a server, a live auction spotter, or even a wardrobe assistant. This is your chance to rub elbows with Toronto's elite and get exclusive behind-the-scenes access at the same time!"
Will Arnett, Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Poehler. (CNW Group/Toronto East General Hospital)
Every once and a while I try to step out of my box and have a new experience. Attending opera and classical music performances is obviously on the top of my list of regulars, along with events in all the performing arts, but attending comedy festivals is something I just don’t do often enough. When I was offered the opportunity to attend the Toronto East General Hospital’s first annual comedy gala, I decided it was about time to write about something else that makes me smile.
The event, which was aptly titled “Laughter is the Best Medicine,” turned out to not only be a fun, inspired evening but a night that made me appreciate the power we have as individuals to collectively affect the lives of others. In this case, the result was overwhelmingly good, and I’m sure being within arms distance of the well-adored (at least by me) Canadian comic, Will Arnett really helped seal the deal.
Yes, that Will Arnett. The same Arnett I fondly remember playing G.O.B. on Arrested Development, the one who played one half of a wicked, hot pick wearing, figure skating pair in Blades of Glory, and my personal favourite, as the little boy in a suit, Devon Banks on 30 Rock.
Sure, Arnett was hilarious at the Gala, but what struck me most is how dedicated his family and adoringly doting wife, Amy Poehler are to supporting the hospital. Will’s dad, Jim Arnett has served on the hospital’s board for seven years, and the Arnett family was commemorated for their long-term support of the hospital. Will was awarded the title of Toronto East General's first-ever "Honourary Doctor," to which he replied, "I'm the first doctor at the hospital that failed math and science...But I've got great bedside manner.”
Will donated his time and talent to host the event, helping to introduce the new five million dollar donation from Peter and Diana Thomson, which will establish the Ken and Marilyn Thomson Patient Care Centre, a surprise announcement of a one million dollar donation from the Jain Family, toward’s the hospital’s capital redevelopment campaign, and to introduce the evening’s comedic headliner, Jerry Seinfeld.
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Hello lovelies, thanks for stopping by today. I've been expanding my horizons and have published an article in Panoram Italia Magazine. It's a profile on Bruno Billio, a sculptor and designer who is the current artist in residence at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. I had a great time interviewing Bruno in his surreal work/living space at the hotel. Spending time with people who so fully live and breathe their art is truly an amazing thing.
Every once and a while I find myself having to take a small break from writing and maintaining this wonderful site because something has come up in another aspect of my life. If only time were more forgiving, because then I would have the time to do everything I want to all at once. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case. That being said, have no fear, the site is not going anywhere. I just wanted to help you solve the mystery of why I’ve slowed down a bit recently. I am still as devoted as ever to Art Life and Stilettos and thrilled that you have come along for the ride with me. Stay tuned for more interesting arts coverage and articles. If you have any ideas for the site, are interested in making a guest contribution or being interviewed please feel free to contact me at: email@example.com
Now, for your reading, viewing and listening pleasure, I thought it might be fun for me to share some unexpected criticisms of some of history’s most prolific opera composers. It’s your inspirational moment of zen:
The Overture to Tannhäuser is one of the most curious pieces of patchwork ever passed off by self-delusion for a complete and significant creation...When it is stripped and sifted, Herr Wagner’s creation may be likened, not to any real figure, with its bone and muscle, but to a compound of one shapely feature with several tasteless fragments, smeared over with cement, but so flimsily that the paucity of good material is proved by the most superficial examination.
H.F. Chorley, The Athenaeum, London, May 19, 1855
Those who were present at the performance of Puccini’s opera Tosca, were little prepared for the revolting effects produced by musically illustrating the torture and murder scenes of Sardou’s play. The alliance of a pure art with scenes so essentially brutal and demoralizing...produced a feeling of nausea. There may be some who will find entertainment in this sensation, but all true lovers of the gentle art must deplore with myself its being so prostituted. What has music to do with a lustful man chasing a defenseless woman or the dying kicks of a murdered scoundrel? It seemed an odd form of amusement to place before a presumably refined and cultured audience, and should this opera prove popular it will scarcely indicate a healthy or credible taste.
Nicole Cabell, the un-diva opera star, returns to Palm Beach for “Romeo et Juliette”
By Lawrence A. Johnson
At a time when opera presenters are doing all they can to appear more populist and approachable, one reads countless examples of singers showing how down to earth they are by doing public appearances and meeting their fans — usually for brief CD signings — in an attempt to show they’re just folks like the rest of us.
Meryl Streep is known for completely enveloping herself in her characters, capturing their nuances, speech patterns and personalities. In her films, she's transformed herself into such disparate people as the chef Julia Child, the writer Susan Orlean and plutonium-plant worker Karen Silkwood, winning countless honors and awards along the way.
In her latest film, the biopic The Iron Lady, Streep once again fully inhabits a real-world figure — this time former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Her performance has already won her a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination, and has earned rave reviews from critics, including Charles McGrath in The New York Times, who wrote that Streep "seems even more Thatcher-like than Mrs. Thatcher."
As with all of her roles, Streep conducted extensive research about Thatcher's life before filming began. She learned that Thatcher carried around notecards with quotations from Lincoln and Shakespeare, and that she took voice lessons to sound more confident in her speech patterns." I remember reading that Lawrence Olivier had something to do with arranging for her to have [voice lessons]," she tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "He said he wouldn't care to do it himself, but he steered her in the direction of a good vocal coach. And she did go, and it did help her and and was part of the Pygmalion process."
"The COC production is presented by Daniele Finzi Pasca, best known for his work with Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo and the creation of the closing ceremonies of the XX Olympic Winter Games in Torino in 2006. In Love from Afar, Finzi Pasca also serves as lighting designer, working with set designer Jean Rabasse and costume designer Kevin Pollard. He brings his signature style to a visually arresting new production that uses innovative Cirque-like techniques to extend the range of effects possible on stage. Acrobats gliding through the air, backgrounds of silk and coloured lights, and costumes with seemingly endless silken extensions seductively weave this 12th-century love affair with the 21st century."
Danielle de Niese in a teal Vivienne Westwood corseted gown at Le Poisson Rouge in the West Village. c/o NYTimes
Yes, I love fashion. Yes, I love opera, but when the New York Times decided to do an introspective feature on what Danielle de Niese wore for an entire week, my heart sank a bit. I would have loved to read a journal about her experience performing in Enchanted Island at the Met, what went on at Domingo's birthday party, and who she's studying with in New York rather than some dull nonesense about tucking her jeans into her boots and wearing - le shock! - gym clothes to the gym. This article really missed the mark and failed to include photos of her sartorial journal, which would have at least made the article worthwhile. Of course, I still read it and have reposted after the jump for your viewing pleasure.
National Ballet of Canada, principal dancer Guillaume Côté
Directed by Ben Shirinian
Choreography by Guillaume Côté
Music by James LaValle
Produced by Leslie Aimee Gottleib and David Miller for Krystal Levy Pictures