Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays, We'll Be Back

Happy Holidays!

The Aria Serious crew will be out on some well earned R & R until after the first of the year but when we return things will be in full swing with opera singers singing, choruses chorusing, directors directing, orchestras orchestrating and everything else it takes to make an opera while giving you a backstage view to all of it.

So until then, a safe a restful holiday season to you and your loved ones and a happy new year.

-- Edward

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Belated, Big P

In my defense (my family and friends will vouch for me on this one) I've never been good with remembering birthdays.

So today, we here at Aria Serious would like to celebrate, a day late (but only a day), Mr. Giacomo Puccini's 150th. That's a lot of candles, especially for a ghost.

Numerous publications have written tributes including ones here, here and here.

For those that really like to celebrate in style (and we know you do), his operas Tosca and Madama Butterfly open and close the season respectively. Buy a ticket and party like it is 1858.

Now onto that cake.

-- Edward

Don Quixote Costume Sketches

We're pretty excited about Don Quixote this coming February.

First, it is an opera we haven't done since 1969 and it is an opera I've personally never seen before. It features Ferruccio "Ace of Bass" Furlanetto and Denyce Graves. It is also a new production that we're designing here so I get to see all the creative people I work with get even more creative.

Take Missy West for example. Missy is our Costume Shop manager but Missy has never designed an opera for us. Sure, she worked on the Zandra Rhodes production of The Magic Flute and The Pearl Fishers and designed many of the costumes for Wozzeck, but for Don Quixote Missy is the costume designer and that's pretty cool because nobody knows costumes better than Missy.

Missy just shared some sketches of the costumes she's creating and we've decided to share them with you. We're currently building these costumes in the shop, so once some of them are finished we'll put some pictures up -- but not all of them -- we need to save some of the magic for when the curtain rises.

-- Edward

Monday, December 22, 2008

While You Were Out

It was a slow weekend in the world of opera. Here's all that developed while we were out:

- The New York Times has posted their "best and worst of Classical Music" for 2008.

- Munich Opera has announced their 2009 Festival Season and it features San Diego Opera (and Aria Serious) friend Anja Harteros in a gala concert. We must add, after listening to her cd over the weekend, this cd is the bee's knees and it would make a great stocking stuffer for all you procrastinators out there. Heck, I bought five myself. And speaking of bees and knees, where did that phrase come from in the first place?

-- Edward

Friday, December 19, 2008

What Are You Listening To This Weekend

Friday! And time again to share our listening plans for the weekend. This is our last one of these for the year as the Aria Serious crew will be busy with family and friends for the next few weeks.

That said, we've decided to break with tradition and feature, not operas, not even operettas, definitely not musicals, but instead two singers whose cds have been sitting on my desk for some time now that I've yet to unwrap and battle that silly barcode sticker thingy that keeps the cd case closed.

First is Anja Harteros and her cd Bella Voce. It has been out a year and we just love Anja so it is time to give this one a spin. And yes, being #2 in the Best Divas of 2008 was a much needed kick in the butt to get me to listen to this.

Second will be Isabel Bayrakdarian's Gomidas Songs which is showing up on many "Best of" year end lists. Isabel is a friend of Aria Serious and an incredible performer. I know these songs are very close to her heart so I'm interested to hear what she has done with them.

After that, we'll make our way through some of Pitchfork Media's "Top 50 Albums" of 2008.

Happy holidays! And be sure to tell us what you are listening to over the long break.

-- Edward

Thursday, December 18, 2008


After moping about the lack of fudge and gelato here at the Aria Serious compound, I was delighted to find in my in-box Rachel's recipe for homemade fudge that Sam has been taunting me with.

This is actually better than receiving real fudge because 1.) it shows someone loves me without the actual calories and 2.) it is easier to share a recipe with you, dear readers, than an actual brick of fudge which I wouldn't have shared anyway since I would have eaten it all by myself (sorry).

So in time for the holidays and Blogger Appreciation Day (ahem) is Rachel's and Lucia's (that's her mom, the real mastermind of this whole fudge operation I've been told) Real Opera Singer Fudge Recipe:

3/4 cup butter
3 cups sugar
1 can (5 1/3 oz) of evaporated milk
12 1 oz squares of semi sweet chocolate (Bakers)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 jar (7 oz) of marshmallow cream/fluff

Mix sugar, butter, and milk and bring to a rolling boil. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in chocolate until it melts; add other ingredients. Stir until mixed and put in 9 x 13 inch greased pan.

If you want, you can also add 1 cup of chopped nuts (walnuts are the best).

Also, I prefer the fudge to have a granulated sugar taste - to achieve this, just don't boil as long (maybe only 3 minutes) so the sugar doesn't dissolve as much.

Also, when I send you the peanut butter one, it's fantastic to swirl them in the greased pan... tell everyone to 'stay tuned' for that recipe.

Enjoy!!! It's pretty darn good!

Pretty darned good indeed.

And yes, she did just tell us to stay tuned for a "peanut butter fudge" recipe. What a tease.

-- Edward

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Let Us Hope It Is Shorter Than The Book

I'll confess, I started Gertrude Stein's sprawling generational novel "The Making of Americans" many years ago. I'll also confess I'm still stuck on page 345. That leaves me 2/3 of the book to still cover.

Alas, opera has come to the rescue and I don't need to finish reading it.

The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has just premiered an opera based on Stein's cubist novel that traces the history of Americans -- all Americans -- past, present, and future.

It is complex stuff and the production seems to rise to the occasion using multimedia components to bridge narrative time and space.

You can read about it here, which is about 955 pages less than the actual book. Or if you're really lazy, listen to the story below.

-- Edward

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Opera's Biggest Divas In 2008

The end of the year is near which means it is time for all those "best of" lists that start to appear everywhere. This one comes from the London Telegraph and lists the biggest diva's in 2008.

We're pretty smitten with pick numero dos, Anja Harteros, who made her role debut as Violetta with us in Traviata (she's since recorded the role) and then came back to sing Amelia in Simon Boccanegra (that's her to the left, with Lado Ataneli) -- the same role that earned her that number two spot on this list, albeit in a different production than the one we had here.
For those that care, Anja returns next season as Mimi in La boheme. Yay for opera!

-- Edward

On The Road With Sam Spade, Part 3

Still without gelato or homemade fudge, we begrudgingly present part 3 of Sam Spade's tour journal while gnawing on a carrot.

Saturday, November 8th:

Saturday turned out to be another long day. I woke before my alarm could do its job, so I decided to hit the hotel workout room at 8AM. I did some cardio on the elliptical machine and did some lifting with the limited equipment they had there. I went up and got a quick shower before having to be at the theater to help load the set into the truck at 10AM.

The load-out went smoothly, as per usual, and we hit up Nosh Café for breakfast. It was a pretty good breakfast with almost everyone there, save Crystal and Nic.

After breakfast, Crystal, Rachel and I borrowed Elyse’s car (THANKS AGAIN ELYSE!!) and drove to Pasadena to rehearse with Paul Floyd, a pianist with L.A. Opera. We did this because next Friday and (hopefully) Saturday we will all be competing in the Western Regional Finals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in L.A. and Paul is the pianist for the competition. So, we drove about 35 miles to the north side of L.A., which took us over an hour (one reason why I will always love the Midwest). We took about an hour for the three of us to run trouble spots and transitions in pieces we were offering next week.

We got back to San Pedro around 2:30PM. Perfect. Just enough time to repack my bag before our orchestra rehearsal at 4PM. So, we get to rehearsal and run the show in order. I sang my aria, which was the second piece on the program, and then got up there to sing in the Barber trio, which was to end the first half. After singing through the Barber, we turn to discuss some things with the conductor, when I hear from the back of the orchestra, “Sam Spade?” I look. Who is it? Dusty McKinney, a trumpet player I knew all the way back in high school in Des Moines, Iowa. I WAS SHOCKED!! I knew he was in the L.A. area, but I had no idea he was in the orchestra we just happened to be singing with in San Pedro. WHAT A SMALL WORLD!!

After the rehearsal, I grabbed dinner with Rachel, Crystal and Will before heading back to the hotel to get a quick shower and into my penguin suit. I got up to the theater in time for our 7:30PM call and was able to catch up with Dusty a bit before Todd and Nick (the tenor and baritone from last year’s ensemble) showed up to see the show.

The concert went off without a hitch, at least for me, but I didn’t notice anything that happened with anyone else’s numbers. It was great to sing some great repertoire with some great colleagues with orchestra, and looking great too. The ladies all looked fabulous in their new red gowns! Ian [Campbell] and Nic both were there after the concert to congratulate us. We took the congratulatory mood across the street to an art gallery where there was a reception for us. I only stayed a short time. I wanted to catch up with Dusty, Nick and Todd before they were off, so we got a beer at a semi-quiet bar down the street. It was great to see all of those guys again: Nick and Todd from a month or two ago and Dusty from at least nine or ten years ago!! That was by far the highlight of my trip to San Pedro.

After the guys headed out, we all got out of our get-ups and once again congregated in Rachel and Elyse’s room to hang out. But we all called it as early a night as we could. Rachel, Crystal and I were all headed out early Sunday morning to catch flights. Crystal was going to San Antonio to see her hubby and family for her birthday. Rachel was headed to Bloomington, IN for her Doctoral Exam…YIKES! And I was also headed to Bloomington to get a voice lesson and to visit my girlfriend Meghan. Thanks to Chad for also getting up early to drive us to the airport at 6:45AM. That’s dedication…

Well, that’s about it for me regarding the San Pedro trip. It was a lot of fun, and so so so different from last year, with the van mishap, singing with the orchestra and meeting up with some old friends. Honestly, I couldn’t have planned it any better. I kind of wish all trips would go that well, with many pleasant surprises and smooth runnings. But, we can only hope. So here’s to many more great trips with great performances and great times!!

Monday, December 15, 2008

While You Were Out

Over the weekend:

-- More about the drama that unfolded at La Scala's season opening last weekend.

-- Baltimore Opera's debt (which led to its filing for Chapter 11) is around $1.2 million and includes a $19,5000 bill for a spa in Milan, Italy.

-- The Cleveland Plains Dealer critic that was moved off his beat covering the Cleveland Orchestra earlier this year has sued the paper.

-- Former San Diego Opera board president and current board member Bill Stensrud wonders if the end is nigh for classical music labels with a thorough analysis of the industry.

-- Met tenor Peter Seiffert, who is singing Tristan in the current run of Tristan und Isolde, is using a earpiece to get prompts that has some fans crying foul.

-- British bass Richard Van Allan dies at 73.

Friday, December 12, 2008

What Are You Listening To This Weekend

Friday! Even the souring economy cannot ruin the weekend and the few hours I squirrel away to spend with a new opera recording.

Now more than ever this routine seems important -- a comfy couch, a dark room, perhaps one of the dogs snoring next to me as the music unfolds into an impossible production in my head.

This week is Puccini's La Rondine because I love it and there are moments that make my smile with joy. Reason enough, eh?

What are your listening plans this weekend?

Whatever it is, have a great one!

-- Edward

The State Of Opera... pretty dismal right now, so says The Washington Times this morning.

Don't believe it? Reuters ran something similar as well.

I'm really tired of writing these types of posts but it is important to share this information with you because it is something we are all facing -- and not just opera companies -- symphonies, theatres, art galleries are all facing the same grim future.

Why then does it seem so focused on opera? It is expensive to produce. And nearly impossible to make cuts on the production end. You can't just have half an orchestra, half a chorus, half a set when producing grand opera. The singers are specialized. And everyone needs to get paid.

If we are to believe the articles up above there is still more bad news to come.

Happy Friday dear readers.

Here's a fresh box of puppies to take a bit of the edge off.

-- Edward

Thursday, December 11, 2008

On The Road With Sam Spade, Part 2

The tour journal of our favorite Ensemble gumshoe baritone continues...

Friday, November 7th:

Friday was an early day. We were up and had to be at the theater by 9AM for the first of our two shows, which was to start at 9:30AM (the second being at 11:30AM). We all got into costume and were ready to go in plenty of time. Unfortunately, one or more of the schools scheduled to attend the first show didn’t get buses to pick them up. So, we ended up starting that show a half hour late. Luckily we were supposed to have an hour between the shows, so we still had a half-hour breather before our second show.

The shows went really well. Nic was really pleased with everything. He is usually happy with how the shows go, but today he was particularly pleased with everything. The Name Polka [in Rumpelstiltskin] during the second show was eventful for me. I usually run around in the crowd and end up diverting attention from the stage. Today, though, it was dark in a large auditorium. I couldn’t see that well and all the rows had people occupying them. Needless to say, I couldn’t get from on side of the hall to the other. So, I ended up running out through the lobby and down the left side of the auditorium, where Brian happened to be sitting. He didn’t notice that I had come up next to him and he started looking around for me right then. I think I scared him a bit when he finally saw me, which kind of made my day.

The shows were the only “work” we had scheduled for the day, which was great. After them, we got out of the costume and tore down the set. Because of a Farmer’s Market directly adjacent to the Warner Grand, we couldn’t load the truck back up. So, we put the sets off stage so they could set up for Saturday’s orchestra concert.

Elyse, Rachel and I hit up Niko’s Pizzeria for lunch. We shared a pizza with italian sausage, black olives and green peppers. It was a great time. Sometimes, at least for me, it’s nice to spend time either alone or with just a few people from the ensemble. I enjoy mixing it up a bit and having more intimate conversation with just a couple other people, rather than seven others, so I really enjoyed lunch.

After lunch, I got a bit of a headache. The Warner Grand was very dusty…at least the stage area was. Rachel had an allergic reaction to the dust during the shows, and I think that’s where my headache came from. I was planning to take a run with Will, but I had to cancel and took a bit of a nap.

That night, we had dinner at the Sixth Avenue Bistro with Linda, Fred, Jim and Erin from San Pedro. One of the guys in our group, who shall go unnamed, took a bit of a liking to Erin, a young woman working for the Warner Grand as she applied for grad schools, and spent much of the evening talking her up and much to the delight of some of my coworkers and me. Dinner was fun for other reasons. Nic, Will and I discussed various films and played with our phones. Will and I shared our dinners, which is always fun: he had the salmon, while I had sea scallops. Both were good, although, the salmon was prepared much better in both our opinions.

After dinner, Nic, Will, Brian and I went and found a nifty little gelato place. Nic loves gelato and loves making gelato, so he was in his own little heaven. I got the peppermint which tasted like mint chocolate chip and Nic got pumpkin, which was very good as well.

To cap off the evening, most of us gathered in Rachel and Elyse’s room to hang out and eat more fudge. Elyse’s Mom was there. It was great to see her and to see the dynamics between them. Seeing a colleague with a parent or longtime friend can show you another side of that person that one couldn’t necessarily perceive previously. So, even though I had experienced Elyse with her boyfriend Ben that previous weekend in San Francisco (I went up there for a Merola audition), it was even more interesting to see her interact with her mother.

All in all, Friday was a pretty easy day. It turned out to be a very good thing. Saturday was packed.


Nic never makes gelato for us here at Aria Serious and we're deeply offended. Part 3 of Sam Spade's tour journal will appear when we get over our hurt feelings enough to post it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Phantom Voices Of The Opera

In 1907, on Christmas Eve, Paris Opera buried 12 recordings in a vault in an effort to preserve the leading voices of the era including Nellie Melba and Enrico Caruso.

The plan was to unearth these recordings a 100 years later so future listeners (that's us) could hear them while vacationing on the moon.

The recordings were unsealed a year ago and technicians have been digitizing the recordings so everyone can download them to their ipods.

They have just been released to the public and you can listen to them here.

You can also read more about the "buried voices" of the Paris Opera by clicking this link.

Plans are being made to leave another audio time capsule that will remain sealed for a century, ensuring future generations will have the gift of hearing Rihanna's "Umbrella" while cruising the Jovian moons.

-- Edward

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Monday, December 8, 2008

On The Road With Sam Spade, Part 1

No, not that Sam Spade; the private investigator business is still as lucrative as ever we're told. Nope, we're talking about Sam Spade the baritone, two-time Ensemble Member and your guest blogger for this series of posts.

See, we here at Aria Serious asked Sam what it was like to be on the road with our Ensemble and what Sam gave us was a tour diary of the Ensemble's road trip to San Pedro last month.

Sam was so thorough we decided to break this up over the next few weeks.

Before we begin however it might be worth going here to meet our Ensemble as Sam refers to them all by first name. After reading his report you'll know them all so well you'll be referring to them by first name too.

On the road with Sam Spade, part 1 follows:

Thursday, November 6th

I don’t remember the San Pedro trip coming this soon in the season last year, but that isn’t the only thing that made this trip unique. Our van depart was set at 1PM today, so I was able to sleep in a bit and still get to the gym by 9AM for my two-hour workout. (I will run around the Bonita golf course, which takes about 45 minutes, when I don’t have ample time to make it to and from the gym.)

So, the day before the San Pedro trip was to commence, Chad was driving Rachel and me home when something happened with the steering of the van that caused it to lock up. This happened three or four times on the way home. We immediately called Brian [Ensemble Tour Manager Brian Pederson] to let him know. To make a long story short, the van wasn’t being taken to San Pedro. That wasn’t the only thing that made this trip unique, though. Instead of renting another van, SDO rented a Ford Focus. So, Chad drove that up with Will, Crystal and Tina while Rachel and I rode with Nic [That's Dr. Nic, our Geisel Director of Education and Outreach]. Elyse drove herself because her Mom and boyfriend, Ben, were flying in to see the orchestra concert.

Chad dropped Rachel and me off at the office and we got on the road with Nic around 1PM. The ride was really nice. We caught Nic up on the happenings of LC, Heidi and Spencer on MTV’s “The Hills” (a guilty pleasure) while snacking on low-fat Ruffles and some of Rachel’s homemade fudge. There was also plenty of making fun of each other and remarks about the roadside plant life. Nic is truly a wealth of knowledge on all fronts.

It turned out that we were the first to arrive in San Pedro, besides Brian (he left at noon). So, we checked in at the hotel and walked up to the theater, which was only about a five minute trek from the hotel. When we got to the Warner Grand, everyone else had in arrived. Perfect timing! We loaded in the Rumpelstiltskin set, but didn’t set it up because the orchestra rehearsal later that evening.

We had some down time before our orchestra rehearsal that night at 7PM, so we went back to the hotel and chilled a bit before hitting a local brewery for dinner. With the mixup of the bill at dinner, we barely made it to rehearsal on time, but alas…WHEW!

I gotta say…rehearsing with the orchestra was GREAT! In this job, we’re almost exclusively singing with piano, which is fine. Singing with an orchestra, though, is a different beast. Not only is it more sound, it’s a different sound. Actually, it’s thirty different sounds combined to form a cohesive unit of sound. Instead of being able to lead on pianist through the nuances of a piece, we were following a conductor, but also leading. It can be a tricky collaboration. That being said, though, it was SO MUCH FUN! It was also a challenge to blend with the orchestra in an 800 seat hall, but it wasn’t that difficult. We all sang through our arias and ensembles to get the tempi and transitions in our pieces set. While others sang, I was able to check the hall for acoustics. What a great hall! I didn’t think it had a single bad seat in the house. The sound was actually better in the balcony than in the front, in my opinion. Being in the back gave the voice and orchestra more time and space to blend into one sound.

After rehearsal ended at 10PM, the orchestra cleared out and we put the set up for tomorrow’s shows of Rumpel. It was a long day, but what a good one of camaraderie and music-making!!

Part 2 comes later this week, after we track down some of this homemade fudge Sam's talking about...

While You Were Out

The good, the bad, and the ugly from over the weekend:

- Ticket sales lag and uncertainty looms among San Diego arts organizations and even we here at San Diego Opera are not immune.

- La Scala's season opened over the weekend and the drama backstage is clearly more interesting than the drama onstage. Still wanting more intrigue? Be sure to visit the Opera Chic for more detailed accounts.

- The Birgit Nilsson Foundation has announced a $1 million prize to reward the outstanding achievement of a concert or opera singer, a classical or opera conductor, or a specific production by an opera company. We think they're selling themselves short and should include an award for opera blogs somewhere in there.

- Former NYCO head Gerard Mortier is singing the same song in a different city, this time Madrid, when discussing his future plans for the Company. We like the message and think this is incredibly important; let us hope we see some of it come to fruition this time around.

- Speaking of NYCO, David Koch, who is already funding the renovation of the New York State Theatre, will not bail out the ailing Company.

- The challenges at Opera Australia continue as a new chairman steps in to offer guidance.

- The Met is holding a lottery to determine who gets one of their $140 - $295 tickets for $25 in a $3 million ticket discount campaign funded entirely by their managing board of directors.

And no opera company folded over the weekend. Sometimes no news is the best news one can hope for...

-- Edward

Friday, December 5, 2008

What Are You Listening To This Weekend

After a week hiatus it is back to the lovely routine of picking an opera out of the stacks and giving it a careful listen over the weekend.

This week we throw caution to the wind and break with tradition mostly because my wife is out of town therefore allowing me to watch an opera on DVD in glorious surround sound as opposed to merely listening to it with headphones. I know, I know I simply cannot stand watching opera on TV, but this is a rare occasion because this opera does not exist on record or cd, merely DVD.

Why? I felt like I wanted something different. Heck, I might even have dessert for breakfast and breakfast for dinner, that's how loose I'm playing it this weekend.

Have a great one, and share your listening (or viewing) plans in the comment section below.

-- Edward

Can't Do It In Real Life? Do It In Opera

Aria Serious reader Ariagirl (she has her own blog under construction so go give her some love) sent us "The Sloganizer" this morning.

What's The Sloganizer? It is a random slogan generator where you input a key word (like "opera", I know, original) and it generates a slogan. Some are quite funny, some I wish we could use (like the title of this post).

Other random gems:

"Say It With Opera"

"Beware of Expensive Opera"

"Gee, Your Opera Smells Funny"

Waste some time, and get some laughs, with The Sloganizer here.

-- Edward

Sending The O.C. Some Love

Tim Mangan, over at the O.C. Register and The Arts Blog has posted an article about an offer we are extending to displaced Opera Pacific patrons that was created when Opera Pacific approached us following their closure. We can confirm letters are now going out to Opera Pacific patrons.

We hope they can join us down here; live opera is an incredible experience and one that every community should have access to. The loss of our good friends at Opera Pacific is heartbreaking.

-- Edward

Thursday, December 4, 2008

No Water In Beer, That's Something I Can Drink To

Pam Kragen, writer and editor for the The North County Times, has just published an interview with boss Ian Campbell about how the economy is affecting us here at San Diego Opera. It is a sobering article but luckily (and very wisely I might add) Ian promises that the artistic quality will not diminish:

"If you lower the artistic standards, that's like putting water in the beer. First the regulars in the pub know it, and then others see the regulars going away and they know there's something wrong."

Great analogy boss, and one I can (and will) drink to.

Umm, after work of course. Phew.

You can read the full article here.

-- Edward

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Carmen Sleevefaced

Courtesy of Sleeveface comes this Carmen inspired entry by Anais Lefeuvre. Never heard of Sleeveface? It is defined as:

One or more persons obscuring or augmenting any part of their body or bodies with record sleeve(s) causing an illusion.

See! Finally something to do with those old records gathering dust in the garage.

You can submit your best opera inspired Sleevefaces to the website up above -- and you should check the website out anyway, some of them are quite wonderful.

And a special shout out to Culture Lust for the heads up.

-- Edward

Vissi d’arte: Our Upcoming Tosca, Sylvie Valayre

Soprano Sylvie Valayre was our inaugural blog post. Now, with her arrival to San Diego just a few weeks away, we're still excited that she's making her debut with us as Tosca. Even more exciting is the fact that we get to meet in person instead of chatting through emails.

We sent local writer Pam Kragen out to chat with Sylvie one last time before she arrives in San Diego and this is what she has to report.


If you want a phrase to describe Sylvie Valayre, the lirico spinto soprano who makes her San Diego Opera debut next January as Tosca, it’s “drama queen.”

But that’s not because the Paris-born singer is a diva. By all accounts, Valayre is described as warm, shy, funny, candid, self-effacing and exceptionally studious.

But Valayre is also one of Europe’s reigning interpreters of the dramatic repertoire, spending six to 11 months of each year playing opera’s most passionate heroines — Lady Macbeth, Salome, Turandot, Aida and Tosca — at prestigious houses such as Covent Garden, La Scala, Glyndebourne and Semperoper Dresden.

Valayre has been praised by critics as much for the fearlessness and intensity of her acting as for her emotionally charged singing.

“I think she can do any role that requires drama,” said Ian Campbell, San Diego Opera’s general and artistic director, who first saw Valayre perform five years ago as a whip-wielding dominatrix-style Turandot in Berlin. “Unless it has drama and passion, I don’t think she’d be happy.”

Valayre says she decided to follow in her parents theatrical footsteps (they were actors and operetta singers) as a teen-ager. But being the ever-pragmatic student that she is — she jokes that her husband, Turin Opera House violinist Marco Polidori, has to build her a new library every two years to accommodate her growing collection of opera scores, DVDs, books and jazz albums — she first earned a master’s degree in Anglo-American Studies and started a Ph.D. on Hollywood’s golden age, before she felt suitably grounded to risk an artistic career.

Still, she had a rough start. Valayre’s first acting teacher told her she should stick to comedy because she was too short (at 5 feet, 4 inches) and too fat (at 138 pounds) to play tragedy. Her objections got her fired from acting class on the first day, but Valayre has obviously had the last laugh.

She began her musical studies at the Paris Conservatory in the mid-’80s and among the many mentors who have helped shape both her technique and her career over the years she counts Christiane Eda-Pierre, Regina Crespin, Giuseppe di Stefano, Sergio Tedesco, Catherine Green and her childhood idol, Placido Domingo, who invited her to sing Maddalena in his 2002 Met production of Andre Chenier (without her even knowing the role).

“It was my dream to see him in person as a kid singer, and in the end he hires me to sing with him in his theater. I felt like Judy Garland meeting Clark Gable,” she said.

Early in her career, Valayre sang mostly Mozart roles and quickly became known for her vast repertoire, which ranged from the delicate Fiordiligi to the demanding Turandot. That sort of range can be murder on the voice, but Valayre said she likes variety and she’s careful not to mix light and heavy roles at the same time.

Ian, who has booked Valayre both for Tosca and for Abigail (in San Diego Opera’s 2010 production of Nabucco), said her voice has both the “creaminess” and the “intensity” to pull off these roles with ease.

Because she enjoys acting so much, Valayre said she won’t take a role if the character doesn’t appeal to her both musically and emotionally. Then, she approaches the part with scholarly focus — studying the libretto and researching the opera’s theme (in books, DVDs, CDs, plays and even paintings) before working with coaches on the music.

“To do my job, I have to build the character both musically and dramatically,” she said. “It’s a big, big job, but it’s great to discover new parts and new composers. It’s fun.”

Her fire and openness to new theatrical interpretations has made her a favorite with Europe’s most notorious opera directors, particularly in Berlin, where she played Lady Macbeth in kabuki makeup and a white fright wig; was the queen of a giant nest of human-sized bees in Nabucco; and was the leather-clad, goth teen Turandot, who made her grand stage entrance from the belly of a giant teddy bear. [ Yep, that's her in the bear and photo above.]

Some of these productions have been met with boos and hisses (Valayre said the angry crowds rattled her at first, but now she takes their reactions in stride). And sometimes, things go comically wrong onstage, like in the Berlin Turandot, when the bear’s belly door got stuck one night and she had to kick it open in kung fu fashion. In the same production, her prop sword (a plastic blade filled with red liquid) broke and showered the orchestra musicians’ scores with “blood.”

“Of course some times it’s disturbing when you can’t sing because a stage director wants you to tap dance while you must sing a super legato … but some other times it helps (the audience’s) understanding of the play,” she said of the sometimes bizarre productions. “If the updating is clever, I don’t see why not. The important thing is to be faithful to the work, not to the image of the work.”

One of her favorite roles, which she has been singing professionally for 18 years, is Tosca. She says her interpretation of the character has changed with time.

“The more I sing Tosca, the more facets I find in this character,” she said. “I guess my feelings of the character in the beginning were more primary and less subtle. Tosca is a romantic girl for sure, and she’s absolutely ruled by her passions. I think she is completely instinctive, which is normal for an 18-year-old former shepherdess who became a singer because she had a beautiful voice.”

For the San Diego production of Tosca, she’ll play opposite American tenor Marcus Haddock, who co-starred with her in a 2007 Tosca at the Opera National de Paris. Campbell saw that production and immediately hit it off with Valayre when he went backstage to meet her one night at intermission. “Ian was extremely sweet and friendly,” she recalled.
Campbell remembers being equally charmed.

“She is just delightful. She’s got a sense of humor that some sopranos don’t have,” he said. “She’s an excellent singer, fearless, accurate and sexy. And she’s a great physical actress as well. She will give you a Tosca that is special because it is idiomatic. It won’t be a cookie-cutter Tosca. She looks for those moments where she senses something coming from within.”

While Valayre admits she lives for art like her onstage alter-ego, Tosca, she won’t sacrifice everything for her career. She and her husband hope to adopt a child very soon, and she says she’ll curtail her vast studies of the world (her interests range from Frank Capra movies, Ella Fitzgerald and antique-shopping to classic languages, archaeology and science) to focus instead on child-rearing.

“I’d like to have a house with a big garden, trees and a dog,” she said. “We always had dogs as kids in my family and dogs are wonderful for kids.”

- Pam Kragen is a San Diego-based arts writer.


See, opera and dogs. We knew Sylvie was OK and we haven't even met her.

Now, what everyone really wants to see: Sylvie and a chorus of dancing bees from Nabucco. The things we suffer through for our art...

-- Edward

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Knife Compose An Opera

We're so excited we originally posted this one in ALL CAPS.

Swedish brother and sister electro pop duo, The Knife, are currently composing an opera based on Darwin's On the Origin of Species called "Tomorrow, in a year."

Commissioned by the Danish theatre group, Hotel Pro Forma, the piece will premiere in November of 2009, in honor of the 150th anniversary of Darwin's famed text.

According to Hotel Pro Forma's press materials: "The Swedish music group The Knife creates completely new compositions that challenge the conventional conception of opera. The form is experimental and exploratory. The music is written for three singers who come from different backgrounds: electronica pop, classical opera and performance."

According to their webpage Olof Dreijer (one half of The Knife) is now in the Amazon taking field recordings of animals, fish and plants that will be used in the composition. The other half, Karin Dreijer Andersson, is taking publicity photos like the one you see above.

"Challenge the conventional conception of opera?" Well, this begs us to ask, is it opera then? Or is opera that is merely evolving to our modern times and sensibilities? I know what Darwin would say.

Regardless of what it is or isn't, this is exciting news here at the Aria Serious tower as we're always interested in hearing new operas and we've been The Knife fans for some time now, however kooky they might be.

-- Edward

Monday, December 1, 2008

Is Opera Going To The Dogs?

From the lovely and wonderful Opera Chic blog comes this delightful clip of a dog singing along to Cecilia Bartoli on the radio.

Dogs and Opera!? Together? Seems like a match made in heaven for those of us here at Aria Serious.

And yes, the licking of the parts is apparently a lost vocal technique.

For the very flexible.


While You Were Out

Now that we've recovered from our weekend long tryptophan haze, returned from the malls relatively unscathed on Black Friday, spent much of the morning wrapping up our holiday shopping on Cyber Monday, it is time to look at all the good and bad that happened over the extended weekend:

- Gerard Mortier is no longer unemployed, having landed the top spot at Madrid's Teatro Real.

- A strike threatens the opening of La Scala later this week. San Diego Opera/Aria Serious friend, Ferruccio "Ace of Bass" Furlanetto, is scheduled to sing (or not sing) King Phillip in Don Carlo. The Italian government is attempting to intervene.

- Jorn Utzon, the Danish designer who designed the Sydney Opera House has died at age 90, having never seen the iconic building completed.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


We here at Aria Serious would like to take a moment to thank all of you for your support with our fledgling blog.

If you are a reader, commenter, ticket buyer or donor (not just with us but with any opera company) we thank you.

These past few months we've shared with you some stories about the hard times every arts organization is facing. We can't promise those stories are going to go away, but we can promise that we'll continue to give you behind-the-scenes looks at the workings of our Company (even more now that we'll actually be in season and you know, actually have stuff going on behind-the-scenes).

We have a favor to ask of you however: would you please do your part in helping to fill you local opera house? Purchase tickets, bring a friend, give a gift certificate and share your love of opera with those you love. Studies show that those who attend opera on a regular basis were first introduced to opera by a family member or a friend.

We can think of no greater gift than a lifetime of opera. Perhaps maybe a lifetime of beer, but one must consider the logistics of wrapping such a gift.

We here at Aria Serious would like to wish you a happy Thanksgiving, and to let you know that we'll be gone for the rest of the week, happily napping off our Tofurkey dinners and avoiding the malls, since everyone we know is getting a ticket to the opera.

That, and a bottle of beer.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Those Wacky Conductors

We don't really touch on conductors as much as we should here at Aria Serious. We promise that is going to change. I'd even venture a guess that there are those that have no idea what conductors do besides wave their arms around, but what does all that waving mean? I think I'll ask our resident conductor Karen Keltner to explain all that in a dedicated post sometime in the future but today there is news of two conductors worth mentioning here.

The first comes from the LA Times "Culture Monster" blog and is about wunderkid Gustavo Dudamel and his left hand. If you've ever wondered what conductors are doing on the podium this is a great article to read. It is also a kick in the teeth since I missed this concert when it was in San Diego on Saturday due to family obligations. But if you attended, feel free to mock me in the comments section below.

The second should serve as a warning to marketing departments around the world as it is about Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky backing out of performances since he was unhappy with the Company's marketing materials. Ouch.

As one who markets opera I can attest that we sometimes face the great debate of what would sell over what is important. Sometimes it is one in the same and our job is easy. Other times what is important is important only to those who already know they're coming and so we need to find what sells. We figure, once sold, they can learn what is important. After all, that's what program notes and pre-opera lectures are for.
But in the meantime, just to be safe, I better make sure my boss doesn't see our ads for Don Quixote, since he's directing it but playing second fiddle to the billing of Ferruccio and Denyce.

-- Edward

Monday, November 24, 2008

While You Were Out

Over the weekend:

- Sure they sing mostly heroic roles, but tenors can and do turn wild from time to time.

- And then there are tenors like Marcello Giordani, who performed two leading roles the same day at the Met. And I get tired just watching a single opera.

- A former NYCO executive whose position was eliminated when Mortier's (now aborted) directorship was first announced, has won a game of musical chairs and is now heading the Brooklyn Orchestra.
- Things are not looking so bright for Baltimore Opera, which reports that ticket sales are down for Aida. It also seems the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is facing some hard times as well.

-- Edward

Friday, November 21, 2008

What Are You Listening To This Weekend

Time again to ask: what you are listening to this weekend?

Me, I'm going to spend Saturday morning with Verdi's Ernani because I've never heard it before and found it used at Amoeba last weekend.

Have a great weekend and be sure to tell us what you are listening to in the comment section below.

-- Edward

Sting And Elvis Costello, A Night At The Opera

Sting and Elvis Costello are starring a new opera reports London's Telegraph. Called Welcome to the Voice the story sounds vaguely reminiscent of Tosca and was composed by Costello's long-time keyboardist Steve Nieve with the libretto by Muriel Teodori, Nieve's wife.

The piece was originally workshopped at a New York Jazz Festival in 2000 and mixes popular with operatic singing, with influences of jazz, electronic composition and full orchestral arrangements.

A big Costello fan from This Year's Model to Goodbye Cruel World, I lost touch with his work for the past 20 plus years. I was surprised to learn that besides this, he also has an unfinished opera, The Secret Arias, that was workshopped by the Royal Danish Opera. Seems all things come full circle in life and I have a lot of skipped recordings from Elvis to discover now.

In a degree of separation type of thing, it is also worth noting that The Police's drummer Stewart Copeland also composed operas which means one from Sting can't be too far behind (hey, he covered madrigals already)

The opera, which opened at Theatre Chatlet in Paris yesterday and runs through November 25, has also been released as a cd.

Below is a behind-the-scenes look at Welcome to the Voice, in French.

-- Edward

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Turning New York City Opera Around

The New York Times this morning takes a close look at NYCO's roadmap for the future as it is being laid out by turnaround specialist Michael K. Kaiser. The article goes onto look at some of the faults that lead to the situation the Company is currently in.

You can read the article for yourself, here.

-- Edward

How To Get Free Tickets

Probably not an option for many of us, including myself, but when singer Adriano Graziani called to buy some opera tickets for a concert by Welsh National Opera he was told "no" and was instead offered the leading part.

Seems the lead tenor had gotten ill a few hours prior and Welsh National Opera was looking for a replacement. With just two hours to familiarize himself with the music and have a last minute rehearsal, Graziani brought the house down and was offered a future role in La boheme.

This isn't the first time he's gotten a lucky break. He also filled in as Macduff in the Glyndebourne Touring Opera production of Macbeth after the lead fell ill.

Graziani swears he is “not doing anything to these tenors, honestly” which just makes us all the more suspicious.
-- Edward

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fire Music

Southern California is burning. Luckily we here in San Diego have been spared the worst of it -- nothing like the fires that choked us last year and shut the city down for a week. The only thing that is different is a thick brown haze on the horizon which, truth be told, creates some wonderfully beautiful iridescent sunsets of shimmering oranges and purples.

A group of classical musicians on their way to the Riverside Philharmonic for a concert were on the 91 freeway when the fire crossed it. They filmed the drive, and being musicians, set it to music, in this case the second movement of Shostakovich's Symphony #10, which was the piece they were on their way to perform.

"We found it interesting that the music we were about to perform matched the intensity of the fires we witnessed," commented the videographer of the video which you can see below.

-- Edward

Ferruccio "Ace of Bass" Furlanetto's Love Affair With San Diego

We here at the Aria Serious Tower are lucky. Blue skies, an excellent view of the bay, fine weather (I mean it is 85 degrees mid-November) and the fact that we can bank on Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto singing with us on a fairly regular basis. (That's him to the left at the driving range at Torrey Pines.)

We're one of the few companies in America where he sings these days. He sings with us. He sings at the Met. He has sung at Los Angeles Opera, once. And, well, that is about it.

If you've heard Ferruccio before you know why this is exciting. If you haven't, then I suggest joining us in February or at least checking out one of his recordings, preferably on DVD because the man can act as well as sing.

We sent local writer Pam Kragen to find out how we got so lucky and this is what she had to report:


When Ian Campbell arrived as San Diego Opera’s general and artistic director in 1983, he carried with him the memory of a particular Italian basso cantante.

While working on the artistic staff the year before at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Campbell heard Ferruccio Furlanetto perform in La Giaconda, and the singer’s large, lustrous voice and engaging personality made an indelible impression on him.

So when Campbell needed a lead for Verdi’s rarely staged Oberto in 1985, he dialed up Furlanetto, unaware if the internationally known singer would consider performing in San Diego or if Furlanetto had even sung the role before. He would, and he had. And a match made in opera heaven was born.

Twenty-three years later, Furlanetto has starred in eight San Diego Opera productions, has commitments here for upcoming seasons, is the most popular singer with local opera critics and audiences, and has become one of Campbell’s closest colleagues and friends.

“Everybody loves him,” Campbell said of his frequent golf partner. “He’s a gentleman through and through. He has a very straightforward, open personality. There’s nothing of a divo about him offstage, and he never creates trouble while always demanding the highest standards.”

Furlanetto is widely revered as the world’s leading Italian bass, regularly performing at Covent Garden, Vienna Staatsoper, La Scala and the Paris Opera House, among many others. But in the United States, Furlanetto chooses to sing regularly for only two opera houses ---- the Met (where he has appeared some 160 times in 28 years) and San Diego Opera.

Why San Diego? Furlanetto says it’s his loyalty to Campbell and the company, an appreciation for the area’s beauty (and golf courses) and his gratitude to local fans.

“San Diego is by far my favorite place in the States,” Furlanetto said in an interview conducted via e-mail from Paris. “I had a relationship with many other important and less important theaters around the States, but only with these two houses was there an impressive continuity.

“An artist establishes a very important relationship with an audience when he has the opportunity to perform his best repertoire with continuity. This has happened for me in only a few places that are my favorites ---- Vienna, Salzburg (in its old, good times), Buenos Aires and San Diego. When there is such a relationship between an artist and an audience, it could be called reciprocal love.”

Since his first appearance here in Oberto, Furlanetto has returned to San Diego seven times, playing Mozart’s Don Giovanni in 1993 and 2000, Massenet’s Mephistopheles (in Faust) in 1988 and 2001, Don Basilio in Rossini’s Barber of Seville in 2006, and two of his now signature roles: King Philip in Verdi’s Don Carlo in 2004 and the title role in Mussorgsky’s Boris Gudunov in 2007.

He returns next season to perform his favorite role, Massenet’s Don Quixote. He will perform his first-ever Baron Ochs in Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier during the 2011 season.

Furlanetto turns 60 next May, but Campbell said he isn’t the least concerned about booking the singer many seasons out, nor is he worried about Furlanetto tackling the large and difficult German role of Ochs at this point in his career.

Ferruccio is at his peak,” Campbell said. “I have no worries about his longer term. In fact, I’ve never heard him sing better and he’s in great demand all over the world.”

San Diego’s charms are many, Furlanetto says. Besides his friendship with Campbell and company artistic associate Marianne Flettner, Furlanetto says he has many Italian friends who work at UC San Diego, Scripps and local biotech firms who keep him fed with traditional Italian cooking and rent him their beautiful La Jolla homes during his visits.

And then there’s San Diego’s more than 70 golf courses. Furlanetto calls golfing his one and only hobby ---- “it restores my spirit” ---- and he has a hard time picking a favorite local course, though he gives high marks to Torrey Pines, Steele Canyon in Jamul and The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe.

“Our friendship grew when I learned he was as crazy a golf nut as I was,” Campbell said of Furlanetto. “When we first started playing together, he had a handicap of 22 and mine was the same. Now his is 7 and mine is still 22.”

Born in the riverside town of Sacile in Northeastern Italy, Furlanetto started out studying forestry but he turned to singing in his early 20s. His opera debut came in 1974 in Trieste, when he was subbed in as Colline in La boheme with just a few hours to learn the role. His big breakthrough came five years later at La Scala in Verdi’s Macbeth.

Furlanetto spent much of his early career singing Mozart, a decision that he told Opera magazine contributed to his career longevity, because the Mozartean technique is “pure medicine for the singer.”

Today, he’s most acclaimed as a Verdi bass, and critics often praise his acting ability as much as his singing. Furlanetto says he enjoys both disciplines equally.

“Balance is the key” between singing and acting, he said. “Of course some stagings and directors can greatly help, but the secret is to live the character under your own skin through words and music. Only by living the character in this way can you reach the optimum.”

So it’s no coincidence that Furlanetto’s three top roles ---- the betrayed Philip and the dying Boris and Don Quixote ---- are acting showcases.

“In theater, to represent on stage a dying character gives you an infinite possibility of interpretations of emotional involvement. And when it comes to Boris and Don Quixote, all this is lifted to the ninth power,” he said.

That openness to new interpretations is one of Furlanetto’s most endearing qualities, said Campbell, who will direct Furlanetto for the first time next year in Don Quixote.

“He will discuss anything with a director, whether he’s done the role a million times or not,” Campbell said. “Ferruccio knows you can’t go in with a formula. Some stars say ‘My Rigoletto is like this.’ Ferruccio says ‘what will our Don Quixote be?’ ”

Furlanetto says he’s looking forward to playing Quixote in San Diego. It will be his first U.S. performance of the role and his first return to the part since a production four years ago in Nice.

“Musically, everything about this role is very touching and beautiful,” he said. “The character is a universe of humanity and when it is presented well on stage it can reach moments of absolute poetry. Of course, when I approach this role next season it will be a different staging, different colleagues and I’ll be a different age. But that’s what’s fascinating about this profession. Every time we have the possibility to live a brand new experience.”

Speaking of brand new experiences, Furlanetto says he’s thrilled to finally explore the character of Baron Ochs, a part he has hoped to play for more than 30 years.

“I always loved this character since my very third opera,” he said. “It was in Trieste and I was singing the Commissioner (in Der Rosenkavalier) and Ochs was being played by the wonderful Austrian bass Manfred Jungwirth. I was totally fascinated by his portrait of the funny baron and I told myself one day I must do it.”

That dream became a reality when Campbell read an interview Furlanetto gave the Los Angeles Times a few years ago in which he was quoted saying the only new role he still wanted to play was Ochs. Campbell called and offered him the role on the spot.

Furlanetto’s home base is Vienna, but he says preparing what he calls “such a very specific Austrian role” is daunting. He plans to tackle it with the same gusto and focus he gave to Boris Gudunov. (An indication of his success with that role, Furlanetto is the only Italian ever invited to sing the beloved Russian role at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre).

“The role is enormous, the text must be German, obviously, but with a great oberosterreich (upper Austrian) influence. And musically it’s very difficult and demanding. I’m already deeply involved in studying, because I knew that even if learning Boris took a good four months, for this task three years will be barely enough.”

Baron Ochs also gives Furlanetto a chance to show off his comedy skills. Though he plays mostly serious roles, Furlanetto said he loves playing the occasional comic role, like Basilio and (another personal favorite) Mustafa in The Italian Girl in Algiers.

Campbell said most people don’t realize how funny Furlanetto can be, both onstage and off.

“He’s got a wonderful sense of humor,” Campbell said. “He’s a great golfer and he gets to play so much more than I do, which he knows annoys me to no end. I was in Brussels on business recently and my phone rang. I heard this deep voice on the other end of line who I instantly recognized as Ferruccio. All he said was: ‘I just played the golf course at Augusta and I’m about to do it again.’ Then he hung up.”

- Pam Kragen is a San Diego-based arts writer.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Opera Radio Returns to Cox Cable

Aria Serious readers in San Diego should be happy to know that Cox Communications has reinstated its opera radio channel after an extensive telephone campaign by concerned listeners. You can find the station at channel 900. The station officially kicks off in mid-December but it is up and running now. Click here for the official music choice opera page.

-- Edward

Manchester United?

We touched on it earlier last month, but now it seems that the Royal Opera House will scrap plans to perform an 18-week season in Manchester if it cannot secure state funding. The planned expansion is expected to cost somewhere between $90 - $120 million dollars. You can read about it here.

-- Edward

Monday, November 17, 2008

I'd Like To Exchange This Egg

Have you ever wanted to be in an opera? Like being on stage? Are you like me and lack any artistic talent whatsoever? We here at Aria Serious understand this predicament all too well, and we think we can help.

San Diego Opera is seeking supernumeraries to appear in our 2009 operas and would like to invite you to attend our Super Open House next month on Thursday, December 18.

What's a super? They're the people that inhabit the scenes -- waiters, guards, townfolk, etc... And oh, they have no singing or speaking parts, so don't even try.

Sound fun?

Here's how you can become one:

Contact San Diego Opera Super Captain (and all around super-duper guy) Bob Borntrager. You can reach Bob by email at or by phone at (619) 533-7073.

However you decide to reach him be sure to leave your: name, address, email address, phone number and age (if under 18) so he can send you a super info packet. Bob will also tell you the time and location of this super-secret super meeting on December 18.

And why am I now suddenly reminded of that old Beverly Hills 90210 episode where the gang gets entrance to a super-secret club by exchanging an egg at a liquor store?

Ah, relive the clip, the misguided fashion sense, the bad hair, and general awkwardness of the 80's with said clip below.

Then go call Bob.

-- Edward