After The Hills there were the Kardashians, after the Kardashians? Diana Damrau. Our favourite German Coloratura officially has her own reality show. Well, actually more like a reality episode. The one hour documentary followed Damrau over nine months and gives the viewer a rare glimpse into the life of an artist of her calibre. Oh, did I mention it's in French. C'est la vie.
ARTE TV will broadcast Divine Diva on Feb 21, but because everyone hates to wait, art lIfe and stilettos has the whole thing for you to watch after the jump, but first, here is what ARTE TV had to say about Divine Diva:
From Geneva to New York during his recitals and recording sessions, a portrait of the singer Diana Damrau, at the height of glory.
At the age of 12, when she saw La Traviata filmed by Franco Zeffirelli, that little Diana decides to become a singer. Maybe then she dreamed of one day singing with Placido Domingo in front of millions of viewers? A dream came true in 2006 during the opening ceremony of World Cup football: Diana Damrau and his idol interpreted together the "Brindisi" from Verdi's opera ... Onstage and backstage, but also in his family life in Geneva, the director followed for nine months that the German newspapers call "the best soprano of the moment," his immense vocal qualities are projected onto the big stage in the world .
Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Grand Théâtre de Provence, courtesy of Forum Opera
What is going on with our beloved Ben Heppner? According to John Terauds at the Toronto Star, and the CBC our Canadian boy is withdrawing from his Ring Cycle engagement at The Met Opera, and retiring the role of Siegfried. What I don't know is why.
Maybe he's tired, overworked, doesn't like the production, or just wants some press. I sincerely hope it has nothing to do with the vocal challenges that have been plaguing him over the past few years. I had the opportunity to see him in recital in September of 2010, and in the spring of 2005 in Toronto, and both times he cracked on high notes, faltered during delicate passages, and left the stage looking less than confident. Critics blamed it on the Heppner Curse, while others labeled it a vocal catastrophe. Regardless, I feel for the guy, having to endure such rattling press. What does this mean for his upcoming schedule? Only time will tell, but I am dying to see him in the Bayerische Staatsoper Opernfestspiele production of Tristan und Isoldethis summer.
Replacing Ben Heppner as Siegfried will be Gary Lehman and Stephen Gould.
Composer John Adams, speaking to Colin Eatock in a special interview for The Globe and Mail
“Coming back to it now,” says Adams, “I’m astonished by what I was able to do at the time, given my lack of experience in the world of opera. I hardly ever went to opera, and I’d never written a piece for solo voice. I had no experience in the theatre beyond acting with my mother in South Pacific as a kid, and conducting The Marriage of Figaro with my classmates in college. It was kind of a miracle that my first attempt turned out to have a lasting life.”
Adams is the most respected opera composer in the United States today, and not a year goes by without a company somewhere presenting one of his four operas: Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer, Dr. Atomic or A Flowering Tree. Currently, Nixon in China is in production in two cities: It launched at New York’s Metropolitan Opera on Wednesday, and on Saturday the Canadian Opera Company opens it in Toronto.
Director Diane Paulus, who has worked on such varied stage works as David Lynch's Lost Highway, The Donkey Show, Il Ritorno D'Ulisse in Patria, and the Broadway revival of Hair, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award describes the COC production of the Magic Flute:
We have set the action in 1791, the year in which the opera was first performed, against the backdrop of the Enlightenment. The entire play-within-the-play is presented in the open space of a nobleman’s garden, itself a place of enchantment and symbolic power during this historical period. As the drama unfolds, the actors leave the theatre behind and continue to enact their story in an elaborate labyrinth that covers the grounds of the estate. The theatricality of their journey is enhanced by the mysteries of the outdoor world beneath the cover of night where they act out the rituals of the drama. All distinctions between fantasy and reality fade away as their pageant lasts through the night until dawn.
People are saying the production is visually fantastical, and the overall reception has been really good. I haven't seen it yet, but I'll be there to see Simone in a couple of weeks.
The Canadian Opera Company's new production of The Magic Flute opened Saturday, Jan. 29 and will run for twelve performances through Feb. 25th. The Ensemble Studio will give a special performanceon Feb. 17.
Check out the gallery below of costume sketches and production photos. It all looks very visually appealing.
Lucrezia Borgia is an opera written about a true femme fatale, it is based on the legendary tales of Lucrezia’s life. Some of the rumours about her include wearing a ring that hid poison which she would drop into her victim’s drink, and that she committed incest with both her brother, and father.
Lucrezia Borgia was born at near Rome, Italy in 1480, into the powerful dynastic House of Candia. She was betrothed twice by the time she turned 13, married Giovanni Sforza, and remained with him until her father bullied Giovanni into having the marriage annulled, as he had found a better suitor for his daughter. Before she could marry this suitor she bore and hid an illegitimate son, Giovanni, who is known as the Roman Infante. She then entered into a marriage with Alfonso of Aragon. Before long her brother Cesare had him murdered, and Lucrezia married her third husband, the Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso of Este. Lucrezia and Don Alfonso were both unfaithful, and her lovers included a poet, and her bisexual brother-in-law.
...And all that happens as a prologue to the opera. In Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, the focus is on the discovery of her illegitimate son by her husband, Don Alfonso, how he plots to murder him, and how Lucrezia both causes his death, and out of grief dies with him.
Mike Figgis, the film director best known for the movies Leaving Las Vegas, and Timecode, has taken on the task of directing the English National Opera’s production of Lucrezia Borgia. His method for inspiration was to take the translated libretto and turn it into a paper and ink film script, then adopting the text into a visual language in an attempt to create a dramatic presentation of the opera, that takes a limited multimedia approach. Figgis also created a cinematic overture that throws the audience into the middle of the story right from the first note, and weaves his cinematic vision throughout the opera through a series of six cinematic vignettes.
An incestuous relationship, a mother who finds her son, poisons him, then unpoisons him, poisons him again, he dies – yes, that’ll do,” he says drily in a conversation between rehearsals at the Coliseum. “That sounds like opera. Mike Figgis, to the Financial Times
Here is a clip of the specially commissioned Lucrezia Borgia film by Mike Figgis:
I much prefer the shorter Lucrezia Borgia Director’s Film, and would have liked to include it here, but alas I could not figure out a way to embed it on this page. Please check out the clip at this link.
If you’re feeling truly inspired, you can hear about the director’s creative process from Mike Figgis himself in the following interview clip:
...and here is their dramatic new logo. Please ignore the poor quality, I snapped it from my brochure.
Now for the really interesting information. In case you have missed it, Canadian Opera Company announced its 2011-2012 season on Wednesday morning during a very elegant reception at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. They warmed up the crowd of media, sponsors, artists, conductors, COC staff, and opera enthusiasts with a short, entertaining teaser video featuring artists from the upcoming season.
Art Life and Stilettos will be travelling somewhere very warm to give a talk on Maria Malibran. I would love to take you with me, but airline weight restrictions prevent me from hiding people in my luggage. Sorry. As compensation, I would like to treat you to a bit of my presentation after the jump.
Enjoy the above clip of Cecilia Bartoli performing the piece "Rataplan," composed by Maria Malibran.
COC production of Die Walküre, Photo: Michael Cooper
Why are audiences turned off by modern classical music? Alex Ross, author of The Rest Is Noise, has written an engaging article in the Guardian exploring some contributing factors to the public’s general distaste for modern classical music. Ross has watched people leave during concert performances, and points out that
Some Prommers are still traumatised by the shock of encountering Harrison Birtwistle's ultraviolent piece at the 1995 Last Night of the Proms.
Panic - Harrison Birtwistle Johan van der Linden Saxophone Wilbert Grootenboer Drums Doelen Ensemble olv Arie van Beek 9-10-10 De Doelen, Rotterdam
Isn't the best music supposed to stir emotion? I am stirred right in the pit of my stomach after listening to Panic.
In his article Ross describes a scientific theory that indicates a preference for simple tonality is wired into the human brain, and a sociological explanation that boils the issue down to the discomfort of being trapped in a seat for a prolonged period of time. After (thankfully) dismissing these theories, Ross offers the following insight
The People's Diva has slowly been taking on fewer and fewer operatic engagements in fewer houses around the world. Is her voice still gorgeous? Yes. Is her vocal style idiosyncratic? Pretty sure. Is she an indie princess? She is now.
Besides collaboration, some opera singer have attempted to sing different genres altogether, but for the most part their forays are into Gospel or Musical Theatre. Not the case for Le Fleming. Her latest album Dark Hope, released last spring, includes songs by artists as diverse as Muse, Leonard Cohen, The Mars Volta, Tears For Fears, and the Arcade Fire.
Last night La Fleming performed with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra a somewhat unbalanced programme that included operatic favourites, and indie hits. The programme included arias from Faust, Thais, La Boheme, and Conchita, wrapped around Hallelujah, Soul Meets Body, and Endlessly. The fact that the songs were arranged with orchestra seems interesting to me, but the reviews? Completely contradictory, of course.
I’ve heard more distinctive and meaningful singing from little-known performers in bars around Toronto. The nadir came in Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, an overperformed song in a stodgy arrangement (the worst of a lame group), during which Fleming slipped into protective sotto voce every time the song ventured up to what should have been its peak moments. I don’t think this material is beneath her, she’s just the wrong singer to do it. The Globe and Mail
The orchestra successfully made itself over into a backup band as Fleming gamely tackled three songs – most successfully Leonard Cohen ubiquitous Hallelujah, which sounded like she really meant it. The Toronto Star
Included in the Roy Thomson Hall program was a brief note regarding the three songs. Notice there is no information on the composers work or a biography, as was done for the classical selections, instead there is a letter in defence of her artistic judgement:
These selections from Dark Hope, Renée Fleming’s recent “indie rock” CD, showcase her longstanding interest in popular music, and the astonishing range and versatility of her expressive talent. Regarding her purpose in making the CD, she has written, “I have always been inspired by artists who have shown musical and intellectual curiosity, especially those who have the courage to take risks.” She describes the idea of ‘dark hope’ as “an outlook that comes with maturity, an outlook of someone who’s really lived. I love the title, because its paradox immediately makes you stop and think how the two concepts fit together.”
Since I was unable to attend her concert due to a performance of my own, I am unable to comment on the event itself, but I will say this. How often have you attended a live show by a high profile band where they only played music off their latest experimental album, and neglected to give the fans what they really want, which is to hear their hits? Le Fleming has not made this mistake. Instead she has gently nudged the audience towards the acceptance of her latest musical inclination, while carefully ensuring their comfort and acceptance.
The enfant terrible of French fashion is back in old form, mixing music with ultra glamorous lingerie. Jean Paul Gaultier, the iconic designer who collaborated with Madonna on her Blond Ambition and Confessions tours, and who designed the the cone-bra, which is the most distinctive piece of lingerie ever, has once again taken to the boudoir, this time collaborating with ultra luxurious lingerie boutique La Perla on some very enticing designs. If you peek through the gallery below you will find undergarments that glamorously pad hips, and shoulders, and oh yes my friends you will find some wearable cones alongside delicate lace and unique embroidery.
Now for the music, Jean Paul Gaultier and La Perla are launching the collection tomorrow night in collaboration with New York City Opera.
Shop For Opera is a shopping event for young opera patrons that will be an indulgent soiree full of wine, chocolate, women in fine lingerie and performances by New York City Opera artists.
What a fabulous event. If I lived in New York I would undoubtably be in attendance. If you do live in NYC (lucky you) here is a link to the invitation, which also gives you a 20% discount on your most wanted items. I have my eye on the shoulder-pad bra.
I hope to get my hands on some photos from the event, and when I do, you'll be the first to know.
How many times have you watched an opera and wanted desperately to tell the director what you really thought about the production? Or perhaps you had a question about how the soprano managed to pull off such a glorious pianissimo high C in Act II? Well, the Canadian Opera Company is giving you that chance. On Saturday, December 4, during the CBC Radio 2 Saturday Afternoon at the Opera broadcast of Verdi’s Aida, you have the chance to do exactly that. Kind of like giving you your own, personalized, running commentary for the entire show.
“I think Don Carlo is the quintessential Verdi opera…Not one of these characters is prepared to accept his or her own tragic destiny,” director Nicholas Hytner says of Verdi's epic tragedy in which romantic desire shapes the course of nations.
Cast: Marina Poplavskaya Elisabeth de Valois Anna SmirnovaEboli Roberto AlagnaDon Carlo Simon KeenlysideRodrigo Ferruccio Furlanetto Phillip II Eric Halfvarson Grand Inquisitor Alexeï TannovitsFrate
The tessitura—the range most consistently exploited in a given piece of vocal music—is not natural. The voice of the tenor was something built, and the modern tenor is very young. The other voices, like baritone and bass, you have in nature. But tenors are like a mutant. When I speak, my voice is much lower than when I sing. Before Caruso and a few others, the tenor sang in falsetto. But after them, tenors had to sing in full voice, and that was the beginning of the difficulties.
The voice of the tenor is very delicate. Plácido said the same thing, that he has to work hard to sing the tessitura. When you have from nature a light voice—like Juan Diego Flórez has—then it is easy on the top, because the larynx is little bit higher. But others are like me or Domingo or Pavarotti. If I stop singing for three days, I am a baritone. And then I have to work a lot to put the voice in the right position again.
Okay, aren't all speaking voices generally lower than singing voices? It has been said that Domingo began his career as a baritone before he discovered his top notes. I cannot say for sure, but after listening to this clip of Domingo at the age of 21 he seems to have pretty great control over his range.
Pavarotti was always a light tenor, with high notes right to the end of his life. In case you do not remember, here he is singing Nessun Dorma at the 2006 Olympic Opening Ceremony in Torino. He sings an B-flat at the end, not stratospheric, but still high enough.
Im not exactly sure the point Alagna is trying to make. It seems odd to say that the tenor voice is mutant, when he mentions the ease in which Juan Diego Florez accesses his top.
On the flip side, I have heard countless sopranos who struggle for years trying to access their high notes. Is it fair to imply that it is any easier for a woman? Maybe the base of the matter is that singing is in itself difficult. It is a challenge for all voice types, especially those who must continually perform in a high tessitura. The higher the range means the more strength and energy needed.
Since I'm female, it would be really wonderful to hear from a male singer on this one.
Latvian opera star Elina Garanca has been critically heralded for her sexy, scintillating Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera, has just released her latest CD with Deutsche Grammophon entitled Habanera, and has a beautiful mezzo-soprano voice, so it’s incredible to think that her mother used to tell say she’d never make it as an opera singer, and when Garanca listens back to her early recordings, she finds it hard not to agree. During a radio interview Leonard Lopate asked the superstar singer if it was just a matter of training, or maturity, her response was it’s maturity, training, body control, self confidence. She also explains how she got over her shyness and her fear of not being good enough. Born in Latvia, Garanca began singing lessons at the age of 17, but didn’t really have full control over her voice until she was about 25.
Richard Eyre’s production of Carmen was originally designed to showcase the talents of Angela Gheorghiu alongside her soon to be divorced from husband Roberto Alagna, but she pulled out due to “personal problems.” Fortunately for Garanca this meant Carmen was all hers, but not without the fear of replacing such a huge talent in a completely new production created for the opening of The Metropolitan Opera season, while being broadcast live in HD all over the world.
How does Garanca feel about operagoers who pirate recordings of live productions? She downloads bootlegs from fans and listens to the recording a day later as education for her future work.
Click on the tiny audio link above the ultra glamorous photo to listen to the full interview with Elina Garanca on The Leonard Lopate Show.
Shirley Verrett, the veteran opera singer "who overcame racial prejudice to bring fearless power, scrupulous musicianship and keen dramatic instincts to opera stages throughout the world, has died" at the age of 79. Opera Chic
Shirley Verrett, the vocally lustrous and dramatically compelling American opera singer who began as a mezzo-soprano and went on to sing soprano roles to international acclaim, died Friday morning at her home in Ann Arbor, Mich. She was 79. NYTimes
She was renowned for intense performances as a mezzo for much of her career and a soprano in her later years. She was part of the second generation of black opera singers who followed Marian Anderson's breakthrough at the Met in 1955. LA Times
The Metropolitan Opera deserves a trophy for Otto Schenk's new production of Donizetti's operatic farce "Don Pasquale." Tenor Matthew Polenzani has been praised for his vocal talents, but the show was undoubtably stolen by Anna Netrebko.
The Met has given Mr. Schenk a marvelous cast, especially the charismatic soprano Anna Netrebko in a portrayal of Norina that dazzled Friday night's audience...There was so much intensity in her singing you would have thought she was performing Lucia's "Mad Scene." The house, understandably, went wild. (New York Times Review)
For those of us unfortunate souls not living in NYC, the opera will be broadcast Live in HD at Cineplex Movie Theatres on November 13.
Features in the November 2010 issue of Opera News, the annual Diva Issue, is the article "Anna's Voyage" by Oussama Zahr. Opera News declares it is one of the best articles ever written about Anna Netrebko. The article focuses on roles that Netrebko has sung in the past, as well as what she has planned for the future now that she has become on of the most famous, and marketable sopranos in the world. The article offers up some of Netrebko's candid opinions on singing and opera. Not only is she a pleasure to watch perform, but she really understands what makes opera so exciting for the audience, and what makes a singer's voice both electric and beautiful.
When I mention that I hear Mirella Freni in her voice, Netrebko's eyes light up. "Mirella. Thank you. I always heard this, since I started studying. And you know what, listening to her helps me a lot, because I think her technique is amazing for what she's doing.
"She always sang," says Netrebko of the Italian soprano. And, here, Netrebko reveals her partiality for singers with flowing, generous voices, unlike a different breed of singer she sees today, marked by lots of covered tone without forward placement in order to manipulate dynamics easily. "This dynamic control, usually, it's not going from the breath. Beautiful for the audience, dangerous for the singer," she explains. "I will not tell you the name of the singer – very good soprano, beautiful voice, one of the most beautiful – and I attend a couple of her performances in different roles. And I was like, why the fuck are you singing half mezzavoce? Who needs that? Open your mouth, give me your voice – on the breath, supported, pointed, and that's it. But lots of people think this is the musicality. I think it's bullshit. You can show a couple of the notes, okay, you have piano, thank you. After that, give me singing, give me the voice."
Nadja Auermann as Carmen for 2008/09 Deutsche Oper Berlin ad campaign.
To those who read my blog, and to those who don't, you will have noticed that I have been MIA for a few months now. I needed a break to focus on school and really think about what I want to say with this blog. The focus will change a bit...or actually, what I mean to say is that the blog will gain focus. My first love is opera, my second is singing, and my third is everything else. From now on the blog will focus more on the first two items. You may like that, you may not. Be my guest to stay or to go.
I will say that for me there is nothing sexier, more imaginative, more debatable, or fantastic than opera.
Anne Midgette, who was the former Classical Music Critic for the New York Times, has a fantastic track record for identifying impeccable artistry in the continually lowered artistic standards of opera houses today. Below is her version of a decade top ten list featuring the greatest moments in classical music. Trust me, this list is not what you would expect. My favourite quote is in the extra category labeled "worst" of the decade. Her understanding of the business is right on the mark:
"Opera improved on its glitz factor thanks to HD broadcasts and tabloid publicity, but lost sight of its artistry. Administrators and critics fostered the wholly erroneous notions that singers of the past couldn't act and singers today could; while the jet-set demands of the international lifestyle fostered hothouse careers: the next great hope comes along, wins acclaim, oversings and fades from sight. The tenor Rolando Villazón became a poster boy for opera in the 2000s: not, alas, for his huge talent, but for singing his voice to shreds."
This was Rolando's Apology Message to his fans for having to take time off for vocal surgery to repair a cyst on his vocal cords:
The Royal Opera House has become the first performing arts organisation in Europe to launch its own iTunes U site. Nearly 300 items of free multi-media content from the Royal Opera House are now available via a dedicated area within the iTunes Store. The materials being offered include performance excerpts, rehearsal footage, audio and written resources on productions, plus master-classes, interviews with artists, sessions focused on specific repertory of both the operas and ballets performed at The Royal Opera House, London.