Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Celeste Football

Waking me up from my Sunday beer fueled nap on the couch (read: watching football with the dogs) was this gem of a commerical featuring "Celeste Aida" and selling NFL gear. I always like it when opera shows up in commercials, especially when it is selling something that has nothing to do with opera.

- Edward

When You Wish Upon An Opera Star

New York City Opera announced yesterday that it has commissioned Philip Glass to compose a new opera based on the life of Walt Disney. The opera, The Perfect American, is based on Austrian writer Peter Stephan Jungk's novel "Der Konig von Amerika" where a fictional cartoonist recounts the final days of Disney's life.

The opera is scheduled to open NYCO's 2012-2013 season, and will honor Glass's 75th birthday.

Expect evening gowns and black tie, all topped of with Mickey Mouse hats on opening night.

- Edward

Monday, September 29, 2008

While You Were Out

Over the weekend:

A busy news week, although just about everything had to do with the tanking American economy that I watched with the fascination of a train wreck. The Arts are not immune to this and the picture emerging looks like we'll all have some difficult months ahead.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer continues to get flack after relocating their critic who dared to critique and the critic in question finally speaks up.

Las Vegas arts organizations are eagerly awaiting the completion of a new arts center and Opera Las Vegas is looking to make its home there.
Placido Domingo announced the winner of his International Operalia Competition this weekend. Look for these singers at a theatre near you someday in the future.

- Edward

Friday, September 26, 2008

What Are You Listening to this Weekend?

Yay Friday! Since I neglected to listen to any opera last weekend and my ears have finally recovered, this weekend will begin with Piotr Beczala's Salut!, followed by The Tales of Hoffmann which I found in a box of old records while cleaning out the garage (I knew it would be worth my time).

A co-worker who knows I'm on a John Adams kick let me borrow her DVD of The Death of Klinghoffer. I'm sure you know by now that I'm not a fan of watching anything operatic on tv, but apparently this is a film version of the opera which could be good, could be bad, but most probably good since my co-worker has good taste. I'm curious. I'm a little nervous. I'm stocked up on Jiffy-pop, Red Vines, and should I need it, some beer.

What are your listening plans this weekend?

- Edward

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Opera, Now With 200% More Pop-ups

The Metropolitan Opera continues its drive for world domination with the announcement of Met Player, an online subscription service that will feature their extensive audio and visual catalog as well as their recent HD productions which will be viewable on your very own computer (or TV).

Innovative idea with some incredibly important and historic performances on file. I might have to fight my own aversion to watching opera in front of my computer or TV.

What's next from the Met? Interactive cameras on the back of seats so audience members can direct their own movie broadcasts as personal keepsakes? Fantasy opera where users can select singers from the Met's own audio library and create a recording with the casts of their own choosing? Life extension research? Time travel? They're like the Dharma Initiative of opera.

Exciting stuff. Take a look at the sample player here.


- Edward

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Opera, Now With 100% More Pop-ups

Fans of opera will soon be able to watch complete performances of opera from Covent Garden while basking in the warm loving glow of their computer monitor.

As part of a complete website redesign, the Royal Opera House will make Don Giovanni available as a free download.

I've always admired the Royal Opera House -- they do some excellent productions but where I'm really impressed is how they use technology to reach audience members. One of the first Opera Companies to offer podcasts and establish their presence on YouTube, their usage of technology is a pefect example of how a Company can use these tools to enhance the audience experience.

But I'm not sold on watching opera on my computer.

I spend 10+ hours a day in front of a computer. This is why I go to see live theatre. A computer is the last place I want to spend my downtime.

Still, Royal Opera House spokesperson Tony Hall commented "we're very excited by the potential this offers in terms of attracting newcomers and new audience members."

Just as I'm not sold on live opera broadcasts being aired in movie theatres equates to increased audiences in opera houses, I'm curious as to how people will make the jump from computer screen to theatre.

Maybe I'm just an old coot that believes going to the opera is part of the entire experience of seeing an opera.

Still, more opera out there for the masses can't be a bad thing.

- Edward

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Pearl Fishers Sure Gets Around

From the tooting our own horn department:

Bizet's The Pearl Fishers opened this weekend at Washington National Opera in the wonderful Zandra "Princess of Pinkness" Rhodes production that originated here in San Diego (that's one of her original costume sketches).

This production was Zandra's second production for us, she designed her first opera, The Magic Flute, in 2001 and has since gone one to design Aida for Houston Grand Opera and ENO.

I've always been a fan of this production as it takes a simple story and a mediocre opera (hey, it's my opinion) and elevates it into a magical night of musical theatre. It appears I'm not alone in this observation.

Next stop for this production, Opera Colorado, and should this production keep up its current rental pace, eventually to a city near you.

- Edward

Lego of my Cavaradossi

I honestly didn't think anything out there could top More Cowbell in terms of internet brilliance.

I was wrong.

Youtube user barkingbartok has upped the ante with their brilliant lego creations -- staging abridged operas as performed by lego characters. Part stop action, part puppetry these creations have me smiling with delight. I love the little details -- bending back the figures when they reach for the high notes, the accurate little sets and delightfully simple subtitles -- this just might be the best introduction to opera one can find.

Since Tosca is in tap this season, I've pasted the lego version below. But barkingbartok has also done Carmen, Il trovatore and more. Check them out.

- Edward

Tosca - Act 1, part 1

Tosca - Act 1, part 2

Tosca - Act 2

Tosca - Act 3

Monday, September 22, 2008

While You Were Out

Over the weekend:

More reviews of San Francisco's The Bonesetters Daughter appeared, and all indications are that it is a wonderful addition to operatic repetoire.

A unknown score by Mozart was discovered in a municipal library in France which gives me motivation to finally clean out my garage with the hopes of finding something valuable, or at least usable.

A critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer was reassigned after offering criticism to the Cleveland Orchestra in a review which answers last week's question"Are Critics Necessary?", at least for those in Cleveland.

Utah Symphony and Opera looks to reinvent themselves with the search for a new music director while English National Opera's music director tries to keep it real.

Verona Opera joins the growing list of bankrupt opera companies in Italy.

Scottish Opera continues to commission 15-minute operas as part of the highly popular "Five: 15" series, which are clearly meant for those with ADD and... oh... look... something shiny...

Baritone Peter Glossop passed away. Peter sang the title role of Rigoletto with us in 1968 and returned in 1984 to sing Balstrode in Peter Grimes. Known as the "working man baritone" he was prasied for his Italian sound and at one point was the most popular Briton in Italy after only James Bond.

- Edward

Friday, September 19, 2008

What Are You Listening to this Weekend

Friday again so it is time to ask: what are your listening plans this weekend?

I'll be spending the weekend at San Diego's Street Scene music festival so I'll be getting my rock and roll on to Spoon, DeVotchKa, Cat Power and others.

Nope, none of it is opera related but it sometimes helps to mix it up I'm told.
Even though I have Piotr Beczala's Salut! on deck (he sings Rodolfo in Boheme with us in 2010), it might need to wait as downtime will be spent playing a newly purchased Wii Fit because I hope to be able to post one day in the future that I was able to do 10 consecutive push-ups.

So, what are you listening plans this weekend?

- Edward

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More Cowbell

I’d like to think there are some things in life that are so close to perfection that there is nothing anyone can really do to improve them.

Take cheese for example. Only more cheese can make cheese better than it already is, perhaps a bit of wine. The only thing that can improve ice-cream is another scoop, maybe a squirt of cajeta.

Dairy products aside, opera, for me at least, falls into this category of near perfection. It is a perfect synthesis of all the other art forms and can transport me places that no book or movie can. I like to think nothing can improve it, except more cowbell, perhaps nudity.

Fans of Saturday Night Live will recall the great skit featuring Christopher Walken, Will Ferrell and The Blue Oyster Cult. The skit has created a cultural phenomenon and is ranked number 5 in SNL’s 101 Funniest Moments. The skit has its own Wikipedia page and references to it have appeared in movies, video games, even Jeopardy! Now the folks at More Cowbell have created an application where you can upload any song to add cowbell and Christopher Walken.

Here’s my upgraded version of Handel’s Largo from Xerxes with 35% more cowbell and 90 % more Walken. I’d tone the Walken down for my second version, but well, I have actual work to do.

Make your own at MoreCowbell.dj

The other day I posted about bringing Sexy Back to Opera and this morning The New York Times ran this article on opera and nudity. It is a very good article and Tommasini brings up a valid point at the end:

“…one thing opera buffs have always valued about their beloved art form is that so many excellent opera singers look like everyday people, like us. There is no reason that Rodolfo and Mimi have to look like supermodels. They need only convey that they are beautiful to each other. The music, if sung with tenderness and passion, does the rest.”

And he is absolutely right.

But if they can do it while showing a bit of skin, well, that’s even better.

- Edward

Are Critics Necessary?

Are critics necessary?

This is a question I'm mulling over with the announcement that classical music and dance critic for The San Diego Union-Tribune, Valerie Scher, has accepted a buy-out with no plans to replace her.

I've worked with Valerie for nearly a decade now and have come to consider her a friend as much as a colleague. Sure, from time to time we didn't always see eye to eye but her unique charm, insight and voice is what made our local paper, well, local.

While I embrace the democratizing of information and opinion via such sites as Yelp, Amazon, Epinions and the dozens of blogs I read each day I think something should be said for the voice of experience, the voice of consistency -- a "cultural gatekeeper" if you will. Especially on a local level. San Diego still is a small town despite what we want to believe.

From where I stand (and I stand in a unique position of working with the critics as the PR guy here) I always thought the best criticism wasn't always the criticism I agreed with, but the criticism I wanted to tear apart and debate -- criticism that made me think, made me face my own limitations as a listener and ultimately, made me learn something new. I think all of our local critics provide that, and would hate to see our local cultural criticism be replaced by wire stories.

So, are professional critics losing their clout? Or is there still a need for a unique voice in this endless sea of information and opinion?

- Edward

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bringing Sexy Back to Opera

It seems opera is sexy again. OK, from where I stand opera was always sexy, but what do I know.

The Independent just ran this article on how svelte singers are the new shape of opera. It is an interesting read and one worth checking out.

One of the reasons I'm amazed at Ian Campbell's casting abilities is he has the ability to cast the right singer for the right part -- and not just vocally. His Leila in The Pearl Fishers had an air of chaste innocence while at the same time being totally seductive (I mean she does come between two lifelong friends), his Elizabeth in Maria Stuarda had the vocal prowess of cougar and the stance of a dominatrix.

There's something to be said for looking the part as it lends to the credibility of what one sees on the stage. Besides, in this age of high-def closeup movies, it pays to be easy on the eyes as well as having the vocal mettle needed for the role.

I'm not alone. Seems Playboy Magazine just learned what we knew all along with their new "Too Hot To Handel" (ouch) poll which has readers voting on the sexiest opera singers and musicians. (Please don't circumvent office firewalls to vote -- my IT department threatened to replace my computer with a homing pigeon if I didn't say that).

And for the women (and men) who are feeling left out, here's Barihunk and Hunkentenors for your viewing pleasure. The name says it all.

You can thank me later and please, try to get some work done today.

- Edward

Monday, September 15, 2008

Houston Arts Scene

The first reports about the Houston arts scene since Hurricane Ike are starting to appear online courtesy of the Houston Chronicle website.

The news so far is good.

Let us hope the rest of the news will stay positive and we wish our friends down south a speedy recovery.

- Edward

While You Were Out

Over the weekend:

The world has a new opera courtesy of San Francisco Opera -- The Bonesetters Daughter. Here's what the New York Times has to say. The wonderful OperaTattler has her own take on the premiere.

It was a big weekend for San Francisco Opera with the abovementioned premiere and the announcement of a $40 million gift. And I was happy when my wife give me $10 for lunch this morning.

Reviews for Los Angeles Opera's The Fly has been buzzing around the internet (here, here and here). Due to some late-breaking commitments here in town my tickets went to my in-laws who told me they enjoyed the show but would be suprised if it was ever seen again.

Readers of the UK's The Sun (which we touched on earlier) attended the opera for the first time and loved it.

Classical Music listeners finally get some download love at the same time vinyl LPs are making a comback which just drives home the point that eventually everything that is old becomes new again, and gives me hope to hold onto my 8-track collection just a bit longer.

- Edward

Friday, September 12, 2008

What Are You Listening to this Weekend?

Friday is finally here, so it is time to ask, what are you listening to this weekend? My Amazon order finally arrived so I'll celebrate with Harmonium by John Adams. I also took the suggestion of one of our comment posters here and picked up Britten's Curlew River as well.

So, what are you listening plans this weekend?


Allez Cuisine!

It is lunch time and I'm hungry. This of course leads to thoughts of food. Since this is an opera blog my thoughts are drifting to Peche Melba, that classic dessert of peaches and raspberries combined with ice-cream that was named after Australian singer Dame Nellie Melba. It was even presented to her in a ice-sculpture of a swan, inspired by a performance of Lohengrin Escoffier had seen. Nellie sure got around, also having toast named after her.

I like to think you haven't truly made it in the world until you have a dish named after you. I also think it might be fun to have a dinner comprised entirely of opera inspired dishes.

So below you will find a list of dishes inspired by the world of opera with recipes on the links where I can find them.

Buon appetito!

Eggs in a Mold Bizet - the Carmen composer had this dish named after him which consisted of eggs cooked in molds lined with minced pickled tongue, served on artichoke hearts. He also had a consomme named after him which, if you ask me, sounds like a safer bet.

Eggs Berlioz -- not to be outdone, composer Hector Berlioz has this dish named after him which consists of soft-boiled eggs with croustades, duchesse potatoes, truffles and mushrooms in a Madeira sauce.

Poires Mary Garden - a dish similar to Peche Melba but made with pears, named after singer Mary Garden.

Jansson's frestelse (Jansson's temptation) - a dish of potato, onion, pickled sprats and cream named after singer Pelle Janzon.

Beef tenderloins minions a la Meyerbeer - named after composer Giacomo Meyerbeer. Meyerbeer also had an egg dish named after him as well joining the pantheon of composers who had high cholesterol.

Selle d'agneau à la Paganini - a lamb dish named after Italian composer and violinist Niccolo Paganini.

Poularde Adelina Patti - a chicken dish named after opera singer Adelina Patti.

Chicken Tetrazzini - the ubiquitous leftover dish named after soprano Luisa Tetrazzini.

Mozartkugel - a marzipan/nougat filled chocolate named after Mozart.

La Diva Renee -- named after Renee Fleming this dessert consists of a wafer-thin crust filled with champagne cream, layered, in a sauce of bitter chocolate, with fruit.

Some of it sound good but today I'll stick with my Sandwich a la Edward -- tofurky slices on stale rye with a packet of yellow mustard I stole from someone's desk.

- Edward

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Can Taste Be Taught?

A fascinating discussion about whether or not an appreciation for opera, art and classical music can be taught to children by their parents (clicking the above link will take you to a 17 minute audio clip on the NPR site), and the article that started the discussion in New York Magazine.

So here's to my mom and dad, who taught me to appreciate opera, art and the finer things in life at a young age. I raise this glass of lukewarm strawberry Yoo-Hoo in your honor, with the understanding we still have some work to do.

- Edward

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ten Questions With... Tenor Carlo Ventre Believes in Destiny and Thinks Pinkerton is a Putz

Carlo Ventre is one of the nicest men I've ever had a chance to work with and it is always a privilege when he performs on our stage. Carlo first joined us in 2005 in Simon Boccanegra and then returned to us last season as Radames in Aida. Since then he's had some important debuts and received some much deserved critical acclaim. It is always nice to read good things about good people.

Carlo returns to us later next year to sing the role of Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, a role he has become known for over the years. I was able to catch up with Carlo and talk about his upcoming appearance with us and a bit about the character of Pinkerton.

So, without further ado, the next installment of our ocassional series called "10 Questions With..." which is actually eleven questions this time around for those paying attention.

San Diego Opera (SDO): First, welcome back to San Diego Opera! We last saw you last year as Radames in Aida. Before we begin, is there anything new in your life that you would like to share with us?

Carlo Ventre (C.V.): It has been a very intense year, with many debuts I had at different theaters (with big success with Aida and Tosca at the Arena di Verona), Leipzig, Hamburg, etc... ,in 2009 a return to Lyric Opera of Chicago with Cavalleria Rusticana and many other debuts at different theatres already decided for the future, with titles such as La Forza del Destino, La Fanciulla del West, Otello etc…

Furthermore, I moved from Puglia to Northern Italy, to Verona, where my agency is located as well as where some of my friends live, and from where it is easier to travel for the many trips I must take now during the year. Imagine that the area where I live in Verona is called ''Destiny Quarter''!

SDO: You sing Pinkerton with us in Madama Butterfly, a role you’ve sung many times. I am wondering if you can tell us a little bit about the character.

C.V.: Pinkerton is a difficult role to interpret as he has an unpleasant nature; one must consider that at the time opera takes place, his behavior was quite normal. Pinkerton paid for the fake marriage and didn't take it seriously, but such things were accepted at the time. Certainly today it seems cruel to us.

SDO: I hear this will be one of your last performances of Pinkerton before you retire the roll from your repertoire. How does that feel?

C.V.: I am not actually retiring it, but certainly I will perform it less. Also because now the theaters are asking for a more varied repertoire, and it is a role which doesn't pay off in the end, because of the character as well as from an interpretative standpoint. Today, due to my artistic and vocal development I am being offered more complex roles and basically ones that are more difficult and more gratifying!

SDO: Is there a part of Pinkerton that you relate to?

C.V.: As far as his character is concerned, absolutely not. He was from another time. Only at the moment when he throws all of the relatives out of the house when they insult his wife would I react the in the same way.

SDO: Is there a moment in this opera that is a favorite of yours?

C.V.: I love the music of the 'Bimba dagli occhi piena di malia' duet of the first act and its charm. And in the second act, Butterfly's second aria - and not just the most famous 'Un bel di vedremo', I mean the entire scene when Butterfly reveals to Sharpless that she has a child, and the scene and aria which follows ''Che tua madre dovrà prenderti in braccio..." the intensity of the music of this moment, set to the libretto of Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, is simply incredible.

SDO: Tell us about your introduction to Opera? When did you first hear it? What made you realize this was the path you wanted to pursue?

C.V.: My first introduction to opera was in Uruguay, my native country. Once, while I was singing in church as usual, there was a woman who heard me and took me to the local conservatory. It was there at the age of 15 that I made my debut as 'Parpignol' in La boheme. This first experience with the stage and opera literally swept me off my feet and from that time on I would never leave that world; it felt the most natural for me. I have had to overcome enormous challenges in order to follow my path.

SDO: Being a professional Opera singer you spend a lot of time traveling, meeting different people, exploring new locales. What do you like best about this aspect of your job?

C.V.: To have the privilege of discovering new countries, cities, meeting people, the culture of many places all over the world which I otherwise wouldn't have the chance to discover, and doing all of this while at the same time working in my profession, which after all, is my greatest passion.

SDO: What do you like the least?

C.V.: Packing. I hate packing. It is so annoying! And, naturally to not be able to sleep in one's own bed and and have one's own things around - I am always missing the cd or book I would most like to read - and, to not have the time to see friends and spend enjoyable, relaxing moments with them.

SDO: We (begrudgingly) must admit there is more to life than Opera. So, do you have any hobbies?

C.V.: Tasting local cusines, and cooking; I am a passionate cook. I love to cook for my friends and myself. I would like to do more sports, as I did in the past, but in order to avoid the risk of getting ill or catching a cold it is better to stay indoors in front of the heater!

Is there a book you are dying to get people to read?

C.V.: Not particularly. Reading depends on my mood; I like to read books that have to do with my profession, vocal technique or biographies of famous singers of the past...

SDO: What is in your cd player/iPod right now that is not Opera related?

C.V.: I love tango, a Uruguayan singer named Julio Sosa who had a great baritone voice and was a wonderful interpreter and who unfortunately died very tragically in a car accident when he was young. I listen to him when I travel, especially when in my car. I also listen to lighter music and pop - not just opera!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Why the ABCs are important

London's The Guardian recently ran a story called "I'm A Rock Chick, Get Me Out of Here". The article touches on opera houses trying to attract new audiences and sends Guardian rock critic Laura Barton to a variety of operas to see if she can be won over.

She cannot.

The article, which is linked above, is quite good and worth a read even if you don't personally agree with her.

I do not personally agree with her.

But my disagreement stems from some glaring flaws with her article.

First, she picks some of the worst operas an opera newbie could pick: The Rakes Progress, Dido and Aeneas, Handel's Samson and The Marriage of Figaro. These are operas you graduate to, not begin with (I still have on my training wheels myself when it comes to these).

What happened to the ABCs of opera? Aida, Boheme and Carmen? These are the most popular and enduring operas for good reason. Stunning stories, great music, memorable melodies and some of the most fascinating characters ever put on stage. Would her experience have been different if she had tried one of these? I think so.

It also seems Laura's first experience with opera (minus a performance 10 years ago) was for this article.

Now, I'm a rock dude myself and you can often find me driving a few blocks down to the Casbah on Saturday night after the opera is over to check out the newest band to come through town (I'm the dude in the tux who just spilled beer all over your date) but my first introduction to rock didn't happen in a live venue. It happened in my bedroom, dancing around to my parent's records, singing in the mirror to Duran Duran, mimicking The Smiths or listening to the same damn Cure album over and over until I understood the subtle nuances of each song. It was only then, after I became a fan, did I start seeing live shows. The same applies for opera which I listened to on my parent's stereo for years before I went to the opera house for the first time to see a performance of Faust.

Laura makes mention of listening to Madama Butterfly repeatedly in preparation for her article. One has to wonder why she didn't give a production of this opera a try? It is one of the opera's most popular works for good reason. She could've then experienced the magic of seeing something she was familiar with come to life on stage which is what we all long for when we see a live performance be it rock, jazz, classical or opera.

She also makes mention of the rude crowd she had to deal with. I can't argue with her there but she forgets that rude people are everywhere these days.

I'm sad Laura didn't have a good opera experience and I hope she won't wait 10 years to try it again because when done right it can be the greatest art form in the world. So, should The Guardian pay for Laura to cross the pond, I'd be delighted to welcome her to Tosca, Rigoletto or Madama Butterfly here in San Diego and afterwards we can even go catch a gig at one of our indie rock venues. Heck, I'll even buy the first round.

- Edward

Friday, September 5, 2008

What Are You Listening to this Weekend?

Friday again, so it is time to ask: what are you listening to this weekend?

My order for Harmonium by John Adams has not shipped yet (I've been curious to listen to more of his work after reading his article in last week's New Yorker) so I'm going to give Beirut's The Flying Club Cup a careful listen. No, it is not opera related in the least, and I'm not sure what I think of it yet. I love the music which has a Balkan folk feel combined with Parisian chansons, but I'm not yet sold on the lyrics. And for me it is that marriage of word and music that makes or breaks albums for me -- and what makes opera so grand.

So, let us know what you are listening to this weekend. And have a good one!

- Edward

Mozart Rawks!

Seriously, I couldn't make this stuff up, even if I tried. But then, the writing was on the wall all along so I shouldn't be suprised.

- Edward

Mozart and Metallica fans kindred spirits

LONDON (AFP) — Heavy metal fans and lovers of classical music have more in common than they like to think, according to research published Friday by a university in Edinburgh.

Although fans of bands like Metallica are traditionally portrayed as work-shy, long-haired students and lovers of Mozart are seen as sober and hard-working, researchers found that both music types attract creative people who are at ease with themselves but can be introverted.

But classical music fans have high self-esteem while heavy rock fans lack self-belief, the team at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh found.

Indie music listeners lack self-esteem and lovers of pop music are uncreative, while country and western fans are hard-working and rap fans have an outgoing personality.

The three-year study on the links between personality and music taste was led by psychology professor Adrian North.

"We have always suspected a link between music taste and personality. This is the first time that we've been able to look at it in real detail. No-one has ever done this on this scale before," he said.

"People do actually define themselves through music and relate to other people through it but we haven't known in detail how music is connected to identity."

North added: "One of the most surprising things is the similarities between fans of classical music and heavy metal. They're both creative and at ease but not outgoing.

"The general public has held a stereotype of heavy metal fans being suicidally depressed and of being a danger to themselves and society in general. But they are quite delicate things."

The research could have many uses in marketing, the professor said.

"If you know a person's music preference you can tell what kind of person they are, who to sell to. There are obvious implications for the music industry who are worried about declining CD sales."

More than 36,000 people around the world took part in the research, making it the biggest survey of its kind ever conducted.

People were asked to rate 104 musical styles and were also questioned on their personality traits.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Lost in Translation

The other day I posted about Rufus Wainwright withdrawing his opera from the Met. While I was more concerned about the sad news, and how his addition to the repetoire could help make opera attractive to a younger generation, I got to thinking about the reason why this opera was withdrawn.

It had to do with language. Wainwright had intended to first compose the opera in French and then translate it into English but soon realized that the words and music were too intertwined to be changed. The Met felt that"“presenting a new opera that is not in English at the Met, when it could be in English, is an immediate impediment to its potential success with audiences.”

This got me thinking about presenting operas in English instead of their native language.

Essayist H.L. Mencken once said opera in English was as "sensible as baseball in Italian" (not being a baseball fan myself, I can't help but think Italian might help improve the sport) but I wonder if it makes opera more attractive to potential audiences, especially younger audiences that lack a structured introduction to the arts.

We here at San Diego Opera rarely change the opera's language into English and I can only recall two instances in recent times that we've done this: Die Fledermaus and Wozzeck. The reason behind both of these decisions was to create an immediacy of the text for our audiences. Much of the humor in Die Fledermaus borders on slapstick and any delay in the line being sung, and the audience reading it on the supertitle system, would ruin the pacing of the piece. Now I've seen Die Fledermaus in both German and English and to be honest the English worked just fine for me.

The decision for Wozzeck was similar. We always looked at Wozzeck as a theatrical experience and hired an established theatrical director to direct it. For me, Wozzeck toed the line of a sung play. I felt it worked fine in English although it lost some of its guttural edge that it has in the original German.

In the end I thought both decisions to present these operas in English was smart. But for me, I think the decision to perform the majority of our operas in their original language is even smarter.

Still, there is opera in English and it seems to be flourishing. Chandos Records has an entire imprint dedicated to Opera in English (some of it quite good), Opera Theatre of St. Louis presents all of their operas in English (much of it quite good). There are many others of course.

So I wonder, does presenting an opera in English take something out of the piece? Is something lost in translation? Or does the art form need to make some concessions in order to make it more accessible to the next generation of opera lovers and supporters?

- Edward

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pop. Opera... Popera!?

Over the weekend word got out that pop singer Rufus Wainwright has decided to drop plans to compose an opera for the Met. This is sad news.

Now, truth be told, I've never listened to much Rufus, preferring his sister's musical output to his own, but the idea of pop music stars writing for the opera stage excites me.

First off, as someone who loves new music, it is always exciting when a new opera is being developed. I'm also interested in seeing how pop music sensibilities carry over into opera because I think many people forget that opera was indeed the popular music of its time.

I also think having pop musicians compose an opera (provided it is good) helps earn my favorite art form some much needed "street cred" with younger audiences.

When complete (the opera will premiere next year at the Manchester International Festival regardless of the Met), Rufus will join the ranks of other pop musicians who have composed operas including The Police's drummer Stewart Copeland (Holy Blood and Crescent Moon) and The Magnetic Fields mastermind Stephin Merrit (Orphan of Zhao, Peach Blossom Fan and My Life as a Fairy Tale).

Without the Met commissioning this opera it is unknown what plans, if any, there are to bring it to the States but let us hope the premiere is a success and interest grows for this one.
- Edward

PS. For those that read the above linked news article which I have relinked here, the last paragraph also mentions another opera moving towards workshop between composer Michael Torke and director Des McAnuff. I can't let this go without mentioning Des McAnuff made his operatic directing debut with us for Wozzeck in 2007. And man, what a show that was...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Aria 51

Those who read the Sunday funnies have probably already seen this comic.

Those who do not, or are not familiar with Dan Piraro's brilliant work, get yourself over to his Bizarroblog right away (but come back and hang out with us when you are done.)

While this is a wonderful idea for a new opera production, I can neither confirm or deny anything concerning this matter which may or may not exist.

I've said too much already.

- Edward