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New York State of Mind: Ariadne auf Naxos and An American Tragedy at the Glimmerglass Festival

I’m always amused by the fact that Cooperstown, NY, a small, random, classically American town situated over four hours north of New York City, can support a world-renown summer opera festival as well as the Baseball Hall of Fame. Resting on Otsego Lake, the Glimmerglass Opera Festival provides a welcome escape for opera fans who flock to the beautiful and practically constructed Alice Busch Opera Theater to see three operas and one musical be performed in repertory every summer. It’s always a little baffling how an opera festival draws so many people to the rural, baseball themed Cooperstown every year, but breaking even budgets and a sense of community integration and enthusiasm for the performances being presented must be what keeps the festival an opera destination every year.

This was my second year up at Glimmerglass, after having seen Camelot and King for a Day last year. Recently, under the artistic leadership of Francesca Zambello, the festival has been re-branded and rejuvenated with young-artist lead performances, audience-accessible events(weekly free tours of the opera house, free pre-performance lectures, and myriad recitals and concerts).

This year, the four presentations at the Glimmerglass Festival were Ariadne auf Naxos, An American Tragedy, Madama Butterfly, and Carousel. I was up at Cooperstown over the weekend of August 8th and saw all four performances. This first half will discuss Ariadne and American Tragedy, with reviews of the other two productions which will follow later this week.

Each year at Glimmerglass, Francesca Zambello has made it her mission to have an “artist in residence” every summer. In the past, it has been singers like Deborah Voigt and Nathan Gunn. The artist in residence usually performs in one production and a recital, with smaller concerts and mentor-ship roles throughout. The artist in residence this year was the dramatic soprano Christine Goerke.

Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival. (L to R): Beth Lytwynec as Dryad, Jeni Houser as Naiad, Jacqueline Echols as Echo, Christine Goerke as Prima Donna, Adam Cioffari as Agent, John Kapusta as Dance Captain, Catherine Martin as Composer, Carlton Ford as Harlequin, Brian Ross Yeakley as Brighella, Rachele Gilmore as Zerbinetta, Gerard Michael D'Emilio as Truffaldino, Andrew Penning as Scaramuccio and Wynn Harmon as Manager of the Estate.

Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.
(L to R): Beth Lytwynec as Dryad, Jeni Houser as Naiad, Jacqueline Echols as Echo, Christine Goerke as Prima Donna, Adam Cioffari as Agent, John Kapusta as Dance Captain, Catherine Martin as Composer, Carlton Ford as Harlequin, Brian Ross Yeakley as Brighella, Rachele Gilmore as Zerbinetta, Gerard Michael D’Emilio as Truffaldino, Andrew Penning as Scaramuccio and Wynn Harmon as Manager of the Estate.

This year, the mammoth-voiced Goerke returned to her Glimmerglass roots as the Prima Donna in Richard StraussAriadne auf Naxos. Ariadne has always been a fascinating work for me. The opera itself is a masterpiece. While musically it’s mostly quite compelling and entertaining, the psychological aspect of the piece is my favorite part. The creation of these mostly-nameless characters is thought provoking beyond belief when the squabbling opera troupe and raucous comedians come together to form the “opera” portion. I’ve always found the prologue more musically interesting, and after picking my brain about it, I realized why. The prologue is written by Strauss. The opera is written by the Komponist who dominates so much of the prologue. It is a first venture into opera, for this young composer, so of course it is flawed. The Ariadne/Bacchus duet always manages to feel long, but Strauss really understood the cycle of composition for a young composer. The two vitally important pieces of the piece could not exist without each other. Strauss asks more questions than he answers with Ariadne, but isn’t that what good theatre is about? This is just my personal analysis of the piece, so feel free to leave your impressions in the comments.

The “mostly-nameless” characters whom I brought up in the first paragraph are the members of the two rivaling factions slated to perform at the home of the “richest man in Vienna” or, as Zambello’s production would have it, upstate New York. Zambello sets the production in a barn in upstate New York, decked-out with goats, chickens, and tractors. Part of what makes Glimmerglass so special is its surroundings, which were referenced in this production. The production was mostly funny and created some pleasant stage pictures. The crowd scenes were stimulating, but a lack of clear blocking in the opera portion made a scene that can easily feel long feel endless. Too bad Strauss didn’t write a part for the “direktor” that we can stick the blame on. Also, in the beginning, Zambello had the characters enter from the house, chattering and running throughout the theater as the prelude was going, drowning out some of Strauss’ lovely music, conducted with almost too much delicacy and lightness by Kathleen Kelly.

Christine Goerke is a thrilling singer. She has emerged with power, brilliance, and sensitivity  as a dramatic soprano whose Faberin at the Met last season was the highlight, for me, of 2013. Her voice is almost too huge for the intimate Alice Busch Opera Theater, but she commands the stage with thrilling low notes, intelligent use of text,  and real comic timing. Also, it looked like she, like the rest of the cast, was having a great time onstage, which is one of my favorite reasons to be at Glimmerglass.

Rachele Gilmore’s birdlike voice soared with sensitivity as Zerbinetta, gliding over high notes during a sassy and expressive “Grossmachtige Prinzessin”. Katherine Martin’s Komponist was marred by mushy diction(which really matters when the production is partially-performed in an intelligent English translation by Kelly Rourke) and a jagged upper voice. Fortunately, her aria was performed nicely and she has a pleasant, if not indistinctive, middle voice. Corex Bix was expressive, if not a little underpowered as Bacchus.

Clockwise from top: Brian Ross Yeakley as Brighella, Christine Goerke as Ariadne, Gerard Michael D'Emilio as Truffaldino, Andrew Penning as Scaramuccio and Carlton Ford as Harlequin in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2014 production of Strauss' "Ariadne in Naxos." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Clockwise from top: Brian Ross Yeakley as Brighella, Christine Goerke as Ariadne, Gerard Michael D’Emilio as Truffaldino, Andrew Penning as Scaramuccio and Carlton Ford as Harlequin in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2014 production of Strauss’ “Ariadne in Naxos.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Of the supporting cast, Carlton Ford, Jacqueline Echols, and Matthew Scollin, all members of the Young Artists Program, were very pleasantly voiced as Harlequin, Echo, and the Farmhand.  Troy Hourie’s sets were fun to look at, with a map of New York state painted on the barn door, and Erik Teague’s costumes were fun to look at. Mark McCollough‘s fantastic lighting delivered the much-discussed firework finale of the opera with simplicity.

The (unionized, if anyone’s interested, considering the recent events at the Met)Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra was in lovely form, with special props to the clarinet section.

Saturday afternoon presented a drastically different work from Ariadne. Tobias Picker’s 2005 opera, An American Tragedy, based off the Theodore Dreiser novel and surges with emotion. Picker and librettist Gene Scheer take on the ultimate challenge of cutting an over-one-million word novel down into a 3 hour opera and pull it off with attention to detail and a variety of musical colors. While Scheer’s character development can sometimes come off a little heavy-handed, Picker’s intense and evocative musical storytelling more than make up for it.

The story of class conflict that eventually brings Clyde Griffiths, the central character and accused-murderer of Roberta Alden, to the electric chair, is effectively and deliberately illustrated in Peter Kazaras’ production. While the stage may be dominated by a large, metal scaffold, it very rarely impedes the performers and in the final scene, makes for a moving and symbolic stage picture. Also, the staging of the boat-flip was pulled off in an extremely intelligent way, as seen below.

As Clyde Griffiths, Christian Bowers evoked memories of Nathan Gunn in his earthy, sensitive performance. As Roberta Alden, Vanessa Isiguen won the most applause of the afternoon. With a beautiful smile and a warm, colorful voice, she was intensely believeable and extremely sympathetic as Clyde’s first “love”. At the other end of the economic spectrum, Cynthia Cook’s sumptuous, earthy voice swelled with vibrato and earnestness as Sondra Finchley, the second woman with whom Clyde falls in love.

Cynthia Cook as Sondra Finchley, Christian Bowers as Clyde Griffiths and Vanessa Isiguen as Roberta Alden in The Glimmerglass Festival's new production of Tobias Picker's "An American Tragedy." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Cynthia Cook as Sondra Finchley, Christian Bowers as Clyde Griffiths and Vanessa Isiguen as Roberta Alden in The Glimmerglass Festival’s new production of Tobias Picker’s “An American Tragedy.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.

Amongst the supporting cast, Meredith Lustig’s Bella was punctuated with great low notes and Aleksey Bogdanov delivered an authoritative, snarling baritone as Samuel Griffiths. George Manahan gave an intense, brooding, and evocative reading of Picker’s lush score. The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra and Chorus both delivered passionate performances, with the children’s chorus as a welcome presence in the Church Scene in the second act. Anya Klepikov and Robert Wierzel’s costumes and lighting complemented each other well in light of the story. Alexander Dodge’s sets moved on and off the stage with ease, expertly linking together the many smaller, more intimate scenes in the opera with the bigger ones.

Stay tuned for reviews of Madama Bufferfly and Carousel to follow later this week!

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It’s Jest a Hunch: Caramoor’s “Rigoletto” in Review

After a hugely successful initial performance and an even more polished second performance of their first opera of the season, “Lucrezia Borgia”, Caramoor had big shoes to fill with their second and final opera of the 2014 Summer Festival season, “Rigoletto”. While the bar was set high, “Rigoletto” had trouble measuring up in a few places, leaving Verdi’s highly sentimental tragedy of paternal love with a few holes.

The second of what Caramoor’s director of opera, Will Crutchfield, has called the “Victor Hugo operas” because of their textual inspirations, both stories surround parental love and it’s damning or redeeming nature. In “Rigoletto”, the titular jester struggles with revenge after the Duke of Mantua seduces his innocent daughter, believing all the misfortune to have been caused by a curse.

Stephen Powell as Rigoletto at Baltimore Lyric Opera

That jester was played in top form by Stephen Powell. The American baritone inhabited the stage from the second he entered. His vocally secure, linguistically confident interpretation makes it clear why Rigoletto has become such a calling card role for him. His authoritative voice was able to make the quicksilver changes from fuming anger to depression to bloodthirsty revenge and it was embodied in both his expressive voice and physicality. While his dramatic interpretation tended towards depression or nervousness, he still created a full character in a setting where staging was limited.

As the Duke of Mantua, John Osborn was unremarkable. His voice isn’t beautiful or distinctive enough in the center range. One of his characteristic skills is his ability to reach stratospherically high notes, which is impressive. However, the voice gets thinner and more strained the higher you go. Unable to be truly distinctive, the crowd-pleasing high notes and a pretty rousing ‘La Donna è Mobile’ were enough to win over the Venetian Theatre’s audience.

As Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda, Georgia Jarman has a lot to offer. She has a well-sized, seductive and expressive voice, coupled with a full range of physical gestures that helped her develop her characterization. However, she was inconsistent at establishing a basic legato line and mushy diction obscured much of Francesco Maria Piave’s so well-constructed text. Her ‘Caro Nome’ was impressive, if not in a “check all the boxes” sort of way, with nicely executed trills, some reedy high(but not too high) notes, topped with a pleasant and creative, if not very risky, cadenza.

Jeffrey Beruan, a singer who was fantastic when he was last at Caramoor in “I Capuleti e i Montecchi” two years ago, sang an authoritative Sparafucile with a very attractive voice. As his sister, Maddalena, Nicole Piccolomini’s distinctive, slightly acidic mezzo begs to be heard in bigger parts that would allow her to develop her vocal line establishment, in addition to showcasing her crystalline diction. She was definitely the standout voice during the third act’s quartet.

As for the smaller roles, Hsin-Mei Tracy Chang was a sweet-voiced Countess Ceprano, Zachary Altman was a stern but good-natured Marullo, and Yunnie Park had trouble making herself heard over the orchestra as Giovanna.

It took Will Crutchfield and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s a while to settle into their groove, with some incoherent orchestral coloring towards the beginning, but the problem was soon fixed and the orchestra played beautifully for the rest of the evening, shining especially bright curing the storm scene in the final act. Special props to bassist John Feeney, who played through all of Verdi’s difficult bass music with vigor and aplomb. The Caramoor Festival Chorus was, once again, in top form.

This season at Caramoor was a true treat for opera fans. Next year’s operas promise to be just at stimulating, with Rossini’s Otello (July 11, 2015) starring Michael Spyres of “Ciro in Babilonia” fame, as well as “The Dialogues of the Carmelites”(July 25, 2015), with Ewa Podles as the Old Prioress. With fond memories of this year’s summer opera season behind us, I can guarantee that it will be worth the wait.

The Caramoor festival continues through August 3rd with performances of jazz, classical, and roots music on Thursday through Sunday nights. The grounds are open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 to 3 and the grounds pass is free with a ticket for an upcoming Caramoor performance.

Photo: Rich Higgins

 

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Special Opera Ticket Offer from Caramoor

Caramoor has a special offer just for Opera Teen readers, and it’s pretty hard to resist! The summer music festival in Katonah, New York is offering a discount of 20% off of the ticket price for both of this weekend’s operas. All you need to do is enter the promotional code “POTD” at checkout under “Use Discount Coupons” at checkout.

Lucrezia pic

This weekend’s performances are a repeat performance of Donizetti’s “Lucrezia Borgia” with Angela Meade on Friday, as well as a performance of “Rigoletto” starring John Osborn on Saturday. You definitely don’t want to miss these shows, as my review of “Lucrezia” and Caramoor’s strong reputation for musical excellence can tell you.

I hope you all jump at the opportunity to see these sure-to-be fantastic performances!

Photo: Gabe Palacio

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Like Mother Likes Son: “Lucrezia Borgia” at Caramoor in Review

For a New York opera fan, the summer months can seem long and boring. Between May and October, there aren’t many places to hear great music without having to travel far. Fortunately, Caramoor, a music festival situated in Katonah, only about an hour from New York City, can be counted on to provide a well-appreciated respite from the monotony of New York’s summer opera season.

Through the “Bel Canto at Caramoor” program, conductor Will Crutchfield has brought typically neglected bel-canto works to audiences, performing two operas in a semi-staged format every summer since 1997.

This year, the first opera in the “Bel Canto at Caramoor” series was Donizetti’s “Lucrezia Borgia”. The uncomfortably incestuous opera, written in 1833, is notable for having been a vehicle for Joan Sutherland. More or less based on actual history blended with the Victor Hugo play “Lucrèce Borgia”, the opera is a complicated episode in the life(and death…?) of one of history’s most famous “femme fatales” and a pawn in the political games of the (in)famous Borgia family in Renaissance Italy.

The opera itself is unmistakably Donizetti. From the first bars of the overture, played ominously in the horns and echoed by the percussion, it’s no surprise that this is the same composer who would write “Lucia di Lammermoor” two years later.

In the title role and making her role debut, Angela Meade was warmly received back in Caramoor’s Venetian Theatre. This is her fourth performance at Caramoor, including what some have called a “star making” performance as Norma in 2009. Part of what’s so enjoyable about watching Meade as a performer, especially after having seen her perform before, is the improvement. Each performance builds on a lacking aspect of the previous one. While this type of improvement should be a given for any singer, it’s a particular pleasure to witness her continue to develop her craft.

A picture of a woman traditionally assumed to be Lucrezia Borgia by Veneto

Lucrezia Borgia is a difficult role. The singer has to have command of the difficult coloratura passage-work, while simultaneously supporting Felice Romani’s complex libretto and working to make one of those classically unfeasible Bel Canto opera plots work. For her first outing with the role, Meade did a fantastic job. Her establishment and architecture of the uninterrupted bel canto vocal line is infallible and her coloratura faculties continue to improve. In the notably impossible final aria, ‘Era desso il figlio mio’, Meade negotiated the many trills and tricks, all the while supporting the text and maintaining the vocal elegance that she had brought to the performance. Her high notes were numerous and high-flying(though she didn’t take the optional e-flat at the end of the final aria) and she sang with authority and intelligence. This is definitely the type of role she can go far in, and now opera houses finally have a diva worthy of a production of “Lucrezia”.

As Gennaro, Lucrezia’s illegitimate son, Michele Angelini delivered an interesting interpretation. The role of Gennaro is difficult and written high for the male voice, which explains why it has attracted singers like Alfredo Kraus, Giuseppe Fillianoti, and Vittorio Grigolo. Angelini isn’t a singer with a particularly distinctive voice, but as he sings higher in his range, the top notes sound clearer as opposed to strained and grating. The voice brings an elegance to each well-phrased line, which makes up for some of his histrionic acting. This is definitely a singer I would be interested in hearing in other repertoire.

Alfonso I d’Este- Attributed to Bastianino

As Alfonso I d’Este, the duke of Ferrara and Lucrezia’s fourth husband, bass Christophoros Stamboglis brought a deep, refined bass voice to the part of the villain. His deep low notes matched Meade in their intense duet. Unfortunately, he was pretty wooden onstage and stayed in about one position for the entire show.

Tamara Mumford has a lot going for her. She’s tall, elegant, and has a fascinating voice. The middle of her range, while having a worn-sounding timbre, is still extremely and inexplicably pleasing. In addition to that, she has a huge lower extension that sounds equally satisfying and could probably, and hopefully will, cross over into singing some alto repertoire. In the part of Maffio Orsini, her entire range and arsenal of vocal techniques was tested. Despite some mild discomfort with the coloratura, she had a beautiful, weighty vibrato and was one of the few convincing actresses of the evening. I hope she ends up singing Lola in the Met’s new “Cavalleria” next season, because she has the perfect voice for it.

In the smaller roles, SungWook Kim was a well-sung Liverotto, Will Hearn’s Vitellozzo suffered from nerves, and Zachary Altman was an authoritative Alfonso, though it’s hard to single out only a few of the very talented group of Caramoor’s “Bel Canto Young Artists”. The Caramoor Festival Chorus maintained its usual standard of excellence with importance and crystalline diction.

Will Crutchfield is a real singer’s conductor. He managed to find a balance between the singers and the orchestra and made sure that the orchestra never overpowered the vocalists, even at such close proximity. He elicited wonderful sounds from the always-wonderful Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Special props to the harp playerSara Cutler, who added the perfect touch to Lucrezia’s first aria, ‘Come e’ bello’.

There are many reasons why operas fall into neglect over the years. In many cases, the music as drama just cannot stand on its own. While “Lucrezia” is by no means a bad opera and definitely one of the more remarkable operas of the Bel Canto era, it needs some propulsion from the stage direction to drive the action along. In fact, it probably requires a big production to fully convey the piece, with all of its campiness, so it makes sense. The semi-staged production omitted a lot of action that would have been helpful to see(SPOILER ALERT! Six characters die from drinking poisoned wine, and there was no indication of that onstage) as well as including a lot of “implied deaths” and getting rid of any props.

Caramoor will present a repeat performance of “Lucrezia Borgia” on Friday, July 18th. Tickets can be purchased here or through the box office by calling 9142321252.

On Saturday, July 19th, Caramoor will present Verdi’s “Rigoletto”. Each opera at Caramoor is preceded by a full day of lectures and young-artist performances in the Spanish Courtyard starting at 3:00.

Photo: Gabe Palacio

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Sony Classical Plans New Recording of La Traviata with Peretyatko, Alagna, Hvorostovsky, and Domingo

New York- Sony Classical to release new complete recording of Verdi’s original, first edition of La Traviata with Olga Peretyatko, Roberto Alagna, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Placido Domingo.

Sony Classical plans the release of the first commercial recording of La Traviata before Verdi’s edits after the 1853 premiere. Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko will sing Violetta for the first time. Alfredo Germont will be sung by Roberto Alagna and Dmitri Hvorostovsky will sing Germont Père. Star tenor Placido Domingo will continue to add to his ever-expanding repertory as Flora Bervoix, Barone Duphol, and Flora’s dinner-announcing servant.

After a disastrous premiere in Venice in 1953, Verdi substantially reworked the opera after its premiere, and it opened two years later to great acclaim in Vienna. The 1953 version is rarely shown in opera houses, even though there is an abundance of music Verdi, himself, called “Splendid… Possibly the best music I have ever written.”

Peretyatko will be singing Violetta for the first time in theaters in 2015, but she feels ready to take on the part now. “I am very excited to sing Violetta. For me, it is one of the great parts ever written in any opera, ever.”

Alagna and Hvorostovsky are also excited to participate in this unearthing of La Traviata, with each adding, respectively, “I am very excited.” and “I cannot wait to start recording.”

After over forty years of singing some of opera’s most challenging roles on the main stages of the world, Placido Domingo is excited to take on new roles in this recording. “It is a great joy to sing these roles. I have always found Flora and her cast of characters very interesting to the story. To have the chance to bring them to life is a blessing. I have been working very intensely with my voice coach to access the upper falsetto register required for this part, and I think the public will be very pleased with the result. They will not recognize my voice!”

The recording will feature the Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House under the baton of Placido Domingo. The planned release date is April 1st, 2015.

For more details, contact Gretzl and Shears Public Relations

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uat7UA1d5ys

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Parts of Their World: Rusalka at the Metropolitan Opera in Review

The Met is frequently criticized as a repertory house, unadventurous and conservative in its programming and casting. There are definitely aspects of that which are true(And were particularly prevalent during Joseph Volpe’s management.), but during Volpe’s management, the Met championed a rus_2434avery select number of non-standard repertory operas. Among these are Zandonai’s “Francesca da Rimini”, Giordano’s “Fedora”, Dvořák’s “Rusalka”,and “Ernani”(Arguably standard rep, but have you seen any other opera house that does Ernani more than the Met?). The first three are all diva vehicles, while the fourth was a Pavarotti vehicle. While the original stars of those productions (Scotto, Freni, and Beňačková) are no longer singing the way they used to and some of these productions are yet to find singers to match the iconic performances of the original singers, the Met has filled the Rusalka void with Renée Fleming since 1997, and it’s become one of her signature parts. The role is definitely one of the iconic Fleming roles, along with the Figaro Contessa, Marschallin, and Desdemona, and it’s safe to assume that Saturday night was her final outing with the Little Mermaid-esque water nymph(Her Covent Garden farewell is in 2016, and she sang her final Desdemona in 2012, so it’s logical that this would be her final Rusalka.).

The 1993 Otto Schenck Rusalka is the only production of the opera the Met has ever seen, and it’s gorgeous. The Günther Schneider-Siemssen sets are hyper-realistic and detailed down to the tiniest flower on the forest floor. The era of regietheater is undeniably beneficial for the perpetuation of opera, but that shouldn’t mean that that we should write off every production that isn’t edgy or thought provoking. Sometimes, very rarely, pretty is good enough. It may not fly for any standard-rep piece, but it works to an extent here, and it works well. Fortunately, Laurie Feldman’s revival direction brings the mystery of the forest to the forefront of the drama, which makes the intensity of the spirit world’s rus_4303aconfrontations with the mortal world all the more jarring, making this production even more than a pretty stage picture. Sylvia Strahamer’s costumes are, in accordance with the production, very pretty.

Renée Fleming carries a distinct gravitas as a performer, which is undoubtedly one of the reasons why she’s found so much success. She may not be the most exhilarating singer, and her characterization in this run may have been lacking, but vocally, Fleming is still a perfect fit for the part. Her creamy voice lends well to the part’s lyrical demands, and her high notes, which take on different, more metallic characteristics from her middle register, cut through the orchestra. Her “Song to the Moon” plodded on at a glacial pace, causing tempo idiosyncrasies at times, but if a singer should be able to indulge anywhere, it’s at their last performance of a signature role.

While the evening was a milestone for Fleming, it was Piotr Beczala as the Prince who was definitely the most consistently stellar singer. Like Fleming, the role is a great fit for him. His diction was perfect and his high notes soared, even when he was contorted on the stage. His palpable character shifts matched the excitement in his gleaming tone and he consistently made himself heard over the orchestra(more on that later), sometimes making him the only person you could hear onstage.

John Relyea delivered a well-sung Water Goblin, but did little to make the part at all interesting. His numerous monologues provided minimal insight into an obviously complex character, cheapening his portrayal.

Emily Magee sang a cold, intense, and perfectly audible Foreign Princess, but, as a matter of personal preference, I found her distant-sounding timbre distracting.rus_1419a

Before the performance, the Met announced that Dolora Zajick, original to this production when it premiered, was recovering from an illness, but wished to sing. Every singer should wish to “recover from illness” the way Dolora Zajick does. As Jezhibaba, she shook the rafters with her low notes and she brought comedy to a mostly depressing storyline. Her incantations of “Čury mury fuk” were as well sung as they were entertaining.

In the smaller roles, Dísella Làrusdóttir, Renée Tatum, and Maya Lahyani, were vocally rus_2632afantastic as the three water sprites. Especially in the lower voices (Lahyani and Tatum), the voices created a beautiful texture, making their scene-to-scene banter high points of the entire night. Julie Boulianne was a vocally colorful and boyish “Kitchen Boy” and Vladimir Chmelo matched her with good singing and characterization as the Gamekeeper. Tyler Duncan, who made his Met debut on Saturday filling in for Alexey Lavrov, was in good voice in the small part of the hunter.

The rest of the run was conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, but Saturday’s performance was conducted by Paul Nadler. I heard an earlier performance in this run, and I can attest to the superior quality of the former’s conducting. Unfortunately, Nadler’s conducting didn’t measure up. He extracted good sounds from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, but during the first act, more often than not, it was hard to hear the singers over the orchestra, creating a bad balance. This problem improved throughout the night, but the first act is where a lot of the opera’s best music comes from.

It’s a good thing this Rusalka got an HD transmission a week before, as it’s probably the final run of this production. A clip can be seen below:

Photos/Ken Howard

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A June 2013 Interview with Susanne Mentzer

Hello, Opera Fans! This is my first post of the New Year, so a belated Happy New Year to everyone out there! In June of last year, world famous mezzo-soprano, Susanne Mentzer was nice enough to answer some of my questions about her career. Below are my questions and her detailed responses”

Q: How did you first get into opera and classical music?

A: I was a teenager with a loud voice. It started to show maturity when I was a senior in HS and I started taking voice lessons. My mom suggested I be an usher at Santa Fe Opera that summer and I knew the cute
guys from school parked cars so I thought it might be fun. I did not expect to like opera but I was amazed by how much I liked it and how interesting the singers were, and they were attractive. I went to college to be a music therapist at The University of the Pacific. The summer of my sophomore year I went to Aspen Music Festival and School and was encouraged to go to Juilliard and be a total voice major.

I also sang a lot in church choir and did a lot of folk music with a couple friends in HS so singing was a part of my life but not classical music. I did take piano lessons for about 5 years.

Q: Do you have a dream role or any exciting projects coming up?

A:I wanted but never got to sing the role of Charlotte in “Werther “ but now I am too old.

I am looking forward to singing more new works- creating a role.  But I have nothing scheduled. Would love to do more recording but it takes money!

Q: You spend a lot of your time teaching. What do you believe are the characteristics of a good vocal teacher and why is it important?

A: I have taught at university level for 12 years although I am not now affiliated with a school, much as I would like to be. Any teacher needs to be a good listener and find the right semantics that make sense to the student. It is a bit like being a doctor and it takes a while to try to figure out what a student is doing to produce a sound. I work primarily on vocal technique but I can also coach. I think the teacher has to help the student look for personal best and keep growing, and also had to earn the trust of the student. It is important to have high expectations but also know that singers are only human and always a work in progress. Life sometimes gets in the way.  Teaching in a university a professor has a responsibility to reach certain milestone with the student for them to be able to graduate.

I also teach privately which is more tailored to what a student needs and hopes to accomplish as it is their time that they are paying for and I want them to get their money’s worth.

Communication is also VERY important and the student needs to tell me how something feels and if it is problematic, etc. They also need to put in their own words what they have learned.

Q: You are an avid blogger and writer. Do you believe that it is important for a singer to maintain these connections with their audience and if so, why?

A: I think it is important for any self-employed artist to use all avenues of communication to reach the public. I do not really write for that reason, though, as my career is so established as a singer.  Personally, I like being able to share some of my experiences. Young artists absolutely need a website and to post audio and video clips. It might just get a foot in the door.

Q: You sing such a wide spectrum of roles. What kinds of separate vocal elements do you try to bring to each one, and are some harder for you than others?

A: It is such an organic experience that the vocalism comes from the character. It is an interesting question.  Generally I do not plan what I am going to do. I need to see who the other singing actors and react to what they do and bring to their characters.

I do like to examine the context of the composition of a piece, and know about the life of the librettists and composer. Then I look at a score as a road map and try to get into the composer/librettist’s heads to determine why they wrote what they did and find the dramatic messages that are there. This is the difference between straight theater and opera. Sometimes the meaning is in the music and sometimes not. The timing is definitely dictated in opera.

I do need roles that have an arc to the character in terms of what they experience emotionally, otherwise I have a tough time portraying them.

Q: What is the most important thing for a very young singer to learn? (Melinda McLain: @revgirrl)

A: It is hard to single out one thing.

  1. Never settle for status quo- always look to improve
  2. A good career takes time. Be patient and learn all you can.
  3. You have a to learn a good technique to sing safely and for many years. You can only get away with your young talent for so long and need to have the technique to fall back on.
  4. Always be prepared and know the notes and the meaning- not just the gist – of what you are singing.
  5. You will get many opinions. Try to find three people who you will always trust- like a spouse, teacher and manager- and listen to them only. You will never please everyone, as the sound of the human voice is very subjective to the listener.
  6. Be yourself. Do not try to be another singer, ever.
  7. Be flexible.
  8. Keep your sense of humor.
  9. Stay humble.

Q: How is the Carlisle Floyd project coming? (Corinne Rydman: @corinnerydman)

A: Thanks for asking! It is going quite well. We recorded and are waiting of the final edit. I wrote the content for the booklet and it is being formatted. I also got the photography done.

I am so excited to be able to share Carlisle’s songs with the world. It should be out toward the end of the summer.

(Side note: “Letter to the World: Susanne Mentzer sings songs by Carlisle Floyd” is available here.

Q: Do you feel that American classical music is overlooked, and what is its overall merit to you as an artist? (Tyler Barton: @tylerbarton27)

A: I am not sure if you mean all American classical music or vocally related music. I happen to adore chamber music and am very interested in new works.

Whether it is opera or chamber music or song, it has to be singable and have a strong story/libretto. I think also the composer needs to workshop the piece and consider editing.

I really have been following what is going on- “Gospel of Mary M” in San Francisco, “Champion” at Opera Theatre St. Louis, and  “Oscar” at Santa Fe Opera. I think this is amazing to have three controversial subjects approached and that it will draw a more youthful audience. I wish I could see them all.

It is expensive to produce opera and there are many talented composers who I hope will be given opportunities to write for the voice. I commissioned a song cycle from a DMA student at Rice University in 2010, which I was happy to do.

Q: Do you have any words of advice to young singers who may be reading this?

A: Try not to be to too defensive or judgmental but also be open to feedback from people who know what they are doing.  My first year at Juilliard, my teacher told me I should just go home. Of course I was shocked but I realized it was not the teacher for me and changed studios. So you need to keep your own integrity. Top talent always rises to the top so hang in there. By the same token, never be arrogant and all knowing because you always have something to learn. Some people’s careers launch quickly but others take time. You have no idea what lies ahead. Just absorb all you can.

Photos courtesy of Marty Umans and Ms. Mentzer’s web site.

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