Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thankful

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 bob.borntrager@sdopera.com 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

While You Were Out

Over the weekend:


- San Francisco Opera's Peter Grimes is canceled, another casuality of the economy. John Copley, who directs our Peter Grimes in April, was scheduled to direct this one as well.

- In a world filled with news about art organizations gasping for air, it is refreshing to see that Minnesota Opera has created a program to cultivate revivals of new work and fund commissions.
- Edward

Friday, November 14, 2008

What Are You Listening To This Weekend

Man, what a week. Feels like Friday should have been here two Fridays ago. Luckily, my Amazon order arrived this morning so I'll be spending Saturday morning with Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi, perhaps while drinking a Bellini, because, well, that's how we roll here at Aria Serious. I've been hearing good things about bass Raymond Aceto as well and he's on the recording.

Sunday, Aria Serious will descend on Amoeba Records in Hollywood to stock up on music and blow a birthday check from the granddad. Thanks pops! If there's something I should pick up, let me know.

What are you listening to this weekend?

-- Edward

What Opera Is Not

The trailer for Repo! The Genetic Opera has been making its way around the internet.

Billed as a "rock opera" I was intrigued at first -- I mean it does star Rupert "Ripper" Giles from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Ogre from electro industrial act Skinny Puppy (who I'll confess I spent many a night brooding to in my darker days -- VIVISect VI still rules!), Sarah Brightman and Paris Hilton. Heck, even the story interests me in that morbidly futuristic dystopian kind of way.

Alas, I was one of the "lucky" ones who saw a preview of this when Comic Con came to town in July and all I can report that 1.) Paris Hilton is the best thing in the movie and 2.) I wish someone had repoed my eyes... and ears. Anyone? Please?

This is what Opera is not. And yet I can see this movie having a cult following as the cyberpunk equivalent to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Just with more slippery entrails and fetishware, which, we'll admit, has its time and place too.

You can check out the official trailer for yourself below. Or not.

-- Edward

Not Dead Yet

With all the doom and gloom we've been talking about here at Aria Serious, sometimes it pays to stop and look at the bright side of things. Sure, life and business is tough in this climate but we need to stop and remember this simple fact: opera is not dead yet.

Nope, it is very much alive.

The Christian Science Monitor published this article that looks at how new works are flourishing in America. So have a read, and remember: opera has been through worse. It has survived wars and great depressions. Afterall, it is a great artform, and the one thing all great artforms share is the power to endure.

Now for something completely different, the Monty Python sketch that inspired the title to this post.

-- Edward

Hey Buddy, Can You Spare A Tenner?

Even the stalwart Met is not immune to the economic climate and has announced it is giving up The Ghost of Versailles in an effort to cut costs. Angela Gheorghiu and Thomas Hampson, who were scheduled to sing, will now appear in a revival of La Traviata. "In looking at ways to economize, that was an unfortunate sacrifice," commented Met General Manager Peter Gelb. Aria Serious hears chatter of some other productions being replaced at the Met but until substantiated, we'll file these as rumors for now.

In related economic climate news, San Francisco Opera is taking a close look at its Ring cycle. Readers will remember that this is a co-production with Washington National Opera, which has delayed its full Ring cycle and is now performing Götterdämmerung as two concert performances. "We're not going to make a decision for at least 60 days," said San Francisco Opera spokesman Jon Finck. "First we have to ascertain whether this is really just a postponement, and then if it's really off, think about how can we do this ourselves."

While I think postponing the Ring is a very smart decision for WNO I hope the economy can turn itself around quickly, as a full cycle in our Nation's capitol would be an incredible achievement and event.

-- Edward

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Anthony Dean Griffey Is One Of The Nicest Men Around

San Diego Opera occasionally commissions writers to do interviews for us. And this time we asked local writer Anne Marie Welsh to speak with Anthony Dean Griffey, who joins us in April to sing his signature role of Peter Grimes.

Usually we hold these interviews in our back pocket for a publication at a later date, but reading this one we felt we had to get this one out there. Because you need to know something: Anthony Dean Griffey is one of the nicest men around. It has been years since I last worked with Anthony, but the wait these last few months will seem like an eternity.
***

Tucked into the performance calendar of lyric tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, amidst entries for his Metropolitan Opera triumph in Benjamin Britten’s masterful “Peter Grimes,” between praised concerts with the Orquestro Sinfonico de Sao Paolo in Brazil and appearances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Mahler’s ravishing “The Song of the Earth,” one entry stands out for its modesty. Just before Christmas in 2007, Griffey sang a benefit concert for the Open Door Shelter at his home parish, The First Baptist Church of High Point, North Carolina.

“I grew up in that church and rejoined it when I moved back here five years ago,” says the sweet-and-subtle voiced singing actor by telephone. Just back from the High Point mayor’s annual luncheon for the arts, Griffey will return to San Diego Opera in April, with his achingly vulnerable and alarming interpretation of the mad loner, Peter Grimes. During his time off, he tours public schools with his one-man opera program, lobbies for funding for the kind of arts education that brought opera to him as a child, and uses what one New York Times critic called his “beautiful lyric yet powerful and seemingly inexhaustible voice” to raise money for such causes as High Point’s homeless shelter.

“It’s important to me that I acknowledge I came from High Point and that opera singers don’t all live in New York and in Italy. Opera singers are not just these people who wear Viking helmets and speak in foreign languages. My parents were factory workers; they worked the line making furniture,” he says. “I came from the people. Once I realized that my own father had and still does have a mental illness and I knew that our health care system was completely broken with funding cut so much, I knew I had to do what I could. So many of the homeless on the street have mental illnesses and are not receiving proper care.”

That humble empathy with the common man —abusive as his father was or troubled or misunderstood — has shaped an unusual operatic focus on outsider roles: his powerful, perhaps definitive portrayal of mentally challenged Lennie in Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men (seen here in 1999); his absurdist simpleton Schweik in the Kurt Weill-like tunes of Robert Kurka’s The Good Soldier Schweik; his lonely, violence-prone Grimes; and his disillusioned suitor Mitch, a role created for him by Andre Previn in A Streetcar Named Desire (and seen here in 2000).
“It all goes back to my beginnings and being a large child and shy. Heavy men are thought of as being lazy and not too bright, while the pretty people are to be loved…. Eventually I had to find a repertory that I could make my own. I definitely took the road less traveled,” says the husky, 6’4”, 41-year old Griffey. “And that has made all the difference.”

Not that those four misfits in 20th century operas mark the limits of what the artist can do with his uniquely warm, light, yet unfailingly expressive voice. Griffey’s 2002 San Diego recital showcased a Renaissance to contemporary repertory sung in German, French and English with the “immaculate diction” so often noted by critics. Even in such programs, lauded for their insightful and moving expression, Griffey explains, it’s always the human core he seeks, as if each song or aria were a dramatic monologue in which his nimble, nuanced singing creates not only character, but emotional and dramatic context.

“We all have the same wants, needs and desires, to be cared for, to be loved and to give back to society. I try to give honest, sometimes very raw emotion to these characters,” he says, the whiff of a Southern accent still perfuming his words. “Such productions (as the symphonic song cycle ‘Song of the Earth’) are still storytelling.”

Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed remarked that in those Mahler songs, with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the L.A. Philharmonic, Griffey “must sing of drink and carousing while staring down dark death, and he did so with disquieting abandon…creating a sense of frightening urgency.”
As a scholarship student in the Young Artists program at Juilliard, Griffey says “There was a requirement that we study acting. But for me, it was just a process of removing the layers” of artificiality that had accumulated in some conventional opera productions. “For instance, generally in life, people don’t walk backwards. So I never walk backwards onstage because I want to give an honest presentation to the audience, a true emotional reality.”

In Peter Grimes, he plays a troubled, self-isolating fisherman whose small-minded community suspects him of murder when one and then a second of his young apprentices dies mysteriously. Griffey’s experience in the Britten masterpiece began in 1996 at a younger age than he even he expected, thanks to Seiji Ozawa, longtime music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. “Seiji was holding auditions for Tanglewood (a student production at the summer music festival) that spring. They thought I was too young for Peter Grimes. Similarly with Lennie in Of Mice and Men. Both roles were traditionally done older and with voice types much heavier than mine. But I felt I could offer something of to both of those roles. I’m the kind of artist who, if I don’t feel I can bring something of my own, then I don’t want to do the part. I don’t want to be a carbon copy of another singer. I have to be myself. When Seiji first heard me his response was very exciting for me.”

And though that first opportunity to sing Grimes surprised him and his beloved teacher at Juilliard, Beverly Johnson, the role not only “launched my career,” he says, but showed him his true calling as an artist and a person.

Veteran critics have often described Griffey’s sensitive, vulnerable interpretation of the outcast fisherman as a midway point between British tenor and Britten associate Peter Pears who originated the role in London in 1945 and the colossal Jon Vickers whose ferocious approach became the later 20th century model. Though Vickers was in the audience and applauded the young tenor’s Tanglewood debut afterward, Griffey says “To this day I have not heard Jon Vickers sing Peter Grimes. Someone gave me a recording but it was important for me to develop my own interpretations. And so I have not heard it.”
Based upon a poem by George Crabbe, the opera’s libretto tells a mysterious, elliptical story in sea-saturated music of uncommon beauty that also leaves a good deal to the imagination of the actor/singer. “You also have to be adaptable to what the director decides with certain types of productions,” says Griffey. For the 2008 Met staging, one simulcast in movie theaters and broadcast on PBS, the minimalist theater director John Doyle envisioned an abstract scene: “I had no fishing nets, no fish. I had to figure out how I was going to handle all that,” Griffey says.

He’s now “looking forward to collaborating with (director) John Copley” on the more traditional SDO production. Cast with him are Jennifer Casey Cabot as Grimes’ love interest, Ellen Orford, and baritone Rod Gilfry as the sole sympathetic villager, Captain Balstrode.

Griffey’s growing confidence about his artistic instincts, his dramatic insight and his vocal technique means, he thinks, “I can now do the romantic roles. I feel now I could play a prince.” Among those he would like to perform are Tamino in Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Nemorino in Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love, the latter because he has done so little comedy. With his solidly balanced career in opera, recital and concertizing, Griffey hopes to sing “every piece of music by Britten” and also dreams of “a comic role written for me.” Still, he says with that disarming modesty of his, “When the end comes, I would rather be known for singing ten roles well than singing 150 that no one remembers as special.”

***

- Anne Marie Welsh is an author and free-lance arts critic.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Puccini and Pints

In the never ending quest to find new and younger audiences to classical music, The Guardian in the UK reports on the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment concert series, Night Shift. Seems after their standard concert, the orchestra played an hour-long show to a more casual audience. The show featured "some dimmed lighting and on-stage chat to create a definitively different atmosphere from a normal concert, while still focusing on the music." It didn't hurt that audience members were allowed to bring drinks into the theatre. So there you have it, can it really be that simple? Alcohol makes classical music fun? Or, seriously, was it the whole rethinking of the concert experience? And if so, how can opera learn from this lesson?

-- Edward

Monday, November 10, 2008

Life On The Road

It is time again for our occasional series on our San Diego Opera Ensemble, our group of young professional singers that tour local schools and community centers and also appear in our mainstage productions.

Up next is baritone Will Earl Spanheimer (yep, that's him up above). As a creature of comfort who likes to be surrounded by my things, I'm always in awe of opera singers and the fact they often live out of suitcases for months on end in cities and countries entirely unfamiliar. Our Ensemble members have it a bit "easier" as they are paired up with host families. I've asked Will Earl what it is like to live away from home for so long and how he's adjusting to his host family.

Here's what he had to say:

***
There are many great things about being a member of the SDO Ensemble, besides working with talented, dedicated, and fun colleagues. Besides the honor of working with the brilliant and phenomenal Nick Reveles and Cynthia Stokes, and being given such care, compassion, and kindness from Angela and Brian in our tour management. Besides all of those things, really one of the best things about being at SDO is the opportunity we get to meet and develop friendships with our host homes.

I have the tremendous honor of dwelling under the roof of Ms. Ruth Lederman. An extraordinary woman of great knowledge, humor and wisdom. Ruth is a long time supporter and patron of SDO. She is not only a docent, but she has been a super-on stage, a member of the puppet theatre, and a generous donor, and this is only a fraction of the many projects and productions that she has been involved in her MANY years of being a San Diego resident. Now you must realize that I am likely her 10th or 11th baritone that she has housed for SDO. I am reminded of the long history of ensemble deep voiced men whose pictures watch me in silent vigil as I exit my bathroom each morning. I am but the latest in a long line of barihunks that have come before me, and I am proud to occupy the bedroom of such illustrious colleagues!

Ruth is a great host, she never nags me, she never gets on me about staying up too late. She is always there to give support, help with advice, assist with a problem, or lend a sympathetic ear to listen to a difficulty. Being a student of the stage herself, she can relate with many of the challenges and trials that we face on a daily basis. She always sees to my comfort and safety. She gives me the best parts of the morning paper (the sports section, duh!) and she clips coupons for me to take grocery shopping, she never buys junk food to tempt me with, and she is always ready to watch a good football game! She is my nightly news junkie and my date for dinners at Souplantation. She is a great lady!

I sometimes marvel at her. In what is her 70+ years of life she has seen amazing changes and experienced such wonders. She came to this country from Germany and after years in Israel and war-torn Europe she made her way to a new land where new things awaited her. She has met every challenge placed in front of her and beat it back with hope and positive thinking. She is a marvel. She travels extensively and has tales and pictures of exotic locales and people, her cruises and adventures are exciting to listen to. But it is her generous spirit and compassionate heart that I see the most. She never tires in doing good, and seeing that everyday is lived to the hilt! She is some lady!

I know I would speak for all of the ensemble members were I to say THANK YOU to every one of our hosts. Thank you for your generosity, yes, but thank you for making us feel like we have a home, and a supportive friend, when we are so far from our own homes. Thank you for your great gifts and keep those coupons coming!


- Will Earl Spanheimer

***

Sounds nice. On a related note, we here at Aria Serious will be back after we're done moving into Ruth's house.

While You Were Out

Over the weekend:

- The General Director of Baltimore Opera has stepped down to spend more time with his son who is critically ill. The Company acknowledges "cash flow problems" and the season is "expected to proceed" which is some odd language that has us here at Aria Serious crossing our fingers, hoping we're just a wee bit paranoid.

- Washington National Opera has postponed the remainder of its Ring Cycle indefinitely, citing the economy as the culprit. All accounts from Los Angeles Opera is that their Ring is still moving ahead as scheduled.
Updated to add: WNO has a statement about this here as well as some hints about the upcoming season, which sounds great.

- The lovely Opera Tattler tells news at WNO postponing their Ring affects San Francsico Opera as SFO is a co-producer of the Ring. A postponement means SFO would have to pay for all of Götterdämmerung. Reports also say costs are being cut and the cinecasts might not continue.

- Edo de Waart, the conductor of Santa Fe Opera, has stepped down, citing family commitments and trouble adjusting to the high altitude of of Santa Fe.

- Speaking of conductors playing musical chairs, Maestro Muti walks out in a huff over a birthday celebration for the Prince of Wales after the Queen of England gets involved with the programming.

- Boston Lyric Opera has a new leader and for the first time, Esther Nelson shares her plans for the Company.

-- Edward

Shout Out

Tim Mangan over at the Orange County Register Arts Blog gave San Diego Opera a nice shout-out as a company for O.C. opera lovers to check out. Thanks Tim, and you know, we always have a seat waiting for you.

-- Edward

Friday, November 7, 2008

What Are You Listening To This Weekend

Friday today and that means it is time to ask -- what are you listening to this weekend? We here at Aria Serious will be lounging in our (finally!) finished backyard, listening to Salome. Just seems like the right time for this one and it has been years since we've given it a complete and careful listen. So, let us know what your listening plans are this weekend and have a great one!

-- Edward

Mortier Leaves NYCO

It seems the relationship between Gerard Mortier and NYCO is over before it really began.

The New York Times is reporting Mortier has resigned from his post at NYCO citing an insufficient budget to produce the meaningful slate of productions he set out to do. It seems the financial crisis has taken another toll, although this one is merely stunned and not dead.


The Company is also making changes to next season's repertoire. The homeless Company was performing an abridged season while its theatre was undergoing renovation. Renovation continues and NYCO will return, but this news could not have come at a worse time. But it is not a suprise as there had been chatter for some time now that the honeymoon period was over.


-- Edward

Tight Like A Vise...

First the good news. Who am I kidding, there is no good news here.

As condolence however, you will find a box of puppies down below, nature's prozac for all your troubles. Some of you might want to skip directly to the puppies, or, view as needed and repeat as necessary.

Now to the bad news. It is a tough world out there. These past few weeks we've already seen Opera Pacific close its doors for good, Michigan Opera cancel a production, NYCO furlough its employees and Pasadena Symphony cancel performances and lay off some of its senior staff and the Aria Serious moles tell us more big news is coming down the pipeline.

The tight economy is indeed putting the squeeze on arts organizations and the Los Angeles Times explores this in a depressing but nonetheless incredibly important article this morning. The solution, LA Times critic Mark Swed suggest, might be found in bold programming. And he might be onto something. Difficult times usually lead to an increase of artistic output. And these, dear reader, are indeed difficult times.

-- Edward

Now to what we all need, a box of puppies...

A Film Noir OperaTalk!

Fans of our OperaTalk! program will be delighted with our newest one.

Dr. Nick and crew really outdid themselves with this film noir look at power and corruption in the opera Rigoletto.

You can watch it below, and a reminder that all our programing can be watched on YouTube here.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Turnaround Is Fair Play...

...and also makes for some interesting journalism.

A few months back we posted a story on why the ABCs are so important. The story looked at the rock music critic of London's The Guardian first experiences with live opera.

Now the table has been turned, and the classical music critic for The Guardian is making her way to live rock concerts. It is an interesting read filled with some acute observations that you can see for yourself here.

-- Edward

Mozart Rawks Redux

While we've touched on it before, we just love the news that heavy metal is receiving scholarly attention in Salzburg. I'll confess, I always had a soft spot for metal. Perhaps it prepared me for the jump into opera which occured at about the same time I discovered Slayer and the power of turning my knobs up to eleven. Rock on.

-- Edward

Canadian Opera Company Announces Surplus

Yep. You read correctly. Time to ice the Molson!

The Star reports that the Canadian Opera Company has announced a surplus -- the sixth one in a row! Citing near-100% attendance in its 66 mainstage productions, this news comes just a few weeks after they announced a $2 million gift from an anonymous donor to fund 100 public concerts each year.

It is worth noting the the COC receives a very large government subsidy so to compare this to American opera companies is like comparing apples and oranges. And besides, we're talking Canadian dollars so it is not like it is real money. We're kidding, you know we love you Canada...

-- Edward




Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Opera Buffs

It seems only fitting to follow a sad post with a happier one.

We here at Aria Serious love nudity. But what we love even more is when said nudity is for charity.

Artists as well as the staff of the Royal Opera House have decided to get naked for a calendar, the proceeds of which benefit the Macmillan Cancer Support. Each participant has dedicated their image to someone close to them who they have lost to cancer.

To broaden the appeal each calendar features 12 men and 12 women with two different covers.

You can order the calendar from the Royal Opera Shop and all proceeds go to cancer research. At least that's what I'm telling my wife, even though it is true.
-- Edward

Opera Pacific Closes Doors

It is a rough morning.

News came out yesterday that Opera Pacific, our fine neighbors to the north, has closed its doors for the remainder of the season, and has no plans for future seasons in the works. Additionally, all but a skeletal staff remains and President and CEO Robert C. Jones as well as Artistic Director and Conductor John DeMain have been laid off. Opera Pacific's Santa Ana headquarters is also up for sale so it seems this closure is for good and all of Southern California that much poorer with the loss of this great company.

We here at Aria Serious are crushed by this news wish our colleagues and friends the very best. We also know this is just the beginning of what will be a very difficult period for performing arts in general.

If anyone from Opera Pacific would like to share with us their story, please feel free to contact us.

-- Edward

Orange Crush graphic by Darren Beckett of Threemagination, Inc.


More On That Los Angeles Wagner Festival

While we here at Aria Serious slowly wake from the fog that is our post-election hangover (hey, the martinis were bipartisan and boy were they strong) some more information has emerged about the Wagner Festival taking place in Los Angeles in conjunction with their Ring cycle.

If someone would like to read it to Aria Serious in sotto voce that would be nice, we're unable to open our eyes beyond slits, which is fine since we're seeing double this morning and the world is far too bright.

-- Edward

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Remember To Vote

Aria Serious would like to take this moment to remind all of our American readers to vote today.

That's all the news you need to know until tomorrow.

-- Edward

Monday, November 3, 2008

While You Were Out

Over the weekend:

- Singer Leyontyne Price, composer Carlisle Floyd and impresario Richard Gaddes had their day in court last week.


- The Bayreuth Festival Orchestra performed in Abu Dhabi over the weekend.


- David McVicar hates La traviata so much he directs it.


- Los Angeles Opera is said to be announcing today a city-wide "Ring" festival in conjunction with its first cycle in 2010. More than 50 cultural and educational organizations in Los Angeles County will join in a 10-week festival. More information as it becomes available.



-- Edward