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.