Cher Public

Writers’ block

©ALESSANDRO SIMONETTI courtesy LoftOpera and media partner Grey Magazine“The last place you’d expect to find opera at all, let alone good, exciting opera, is in still-scrappy Bushwick, Brooklyn. But that’s where a new and vital company called LoftOpera has popped up for a two-weekend run of Puccini’s La Bohème in a performance that is as true and moving as any I can remember in 40 years of opera-going.” [New York Observer]

  • luvtennis

    La Cieca did you get the sense that the quality of the singing was due to the small performing space and the reduced orchestral forces? I ask because I am beginning to think that the big houses full of large pit orchestras and the presence in those pits of too many conductors who are not fully attuned to the needs of singers have tipped the balance against the singers to an insupportable degree. Not all singers, mind you but enough to cause real concern for the overall quality of operatic singing.

  • cosmodimontevergine

    The “Werther” design was frou-frou and distracting. So often the movements on stage seemed unmotivated and basically decorative. I thought Kaufmann’s dark and tormented portrayal used great differences of sound and, yes, sometimes he seemed to be mumbling to himself. But I found this justified in creating the character of a man with something of a desire for death. This is germane to the entire Romantic Movement -the Eros/Thanatos quality of Tristan is in the same vein. Why else does Tristan tear open his wounds and bleed to death when he knows that Isolde is arriving

    I’d like to get out to Brooklyn for the Boheme -it looks fairly straightforward on the L.

    • Ilka Saro

      There were a few staging moments in Charlotte’s Letter scene that were inept. When Charlotte says “I should burn them” she made a few steps towards her stove, then stopped herself. Then, when she comes to the final letter, she has to rummage through the stack, find it, pull it out of its envelope etc.

      I suppose one could argue that this is realistic. But to my mind, the music and the character of Charlotte are compelling because she is torn, not because she’s frantic. When she says “I should burn them”, she knows perfectly well she isn’t going to. There should be no jerky movement back and forth with the stove. When she comes to the last letter, again, she knows which one it is, she knows where it is, there’s nothing frantic about it. Just very very painful and conflicted.

      Ultimately, I suppose these frantic sort of movements could have worked, but I felt that they made Ms Koch seem as though she were overacting badly. Perhaps this was the direction, or perhaps it was her own choice, but I found it incongruous with the music and Charlotte’s character.

      • Gualtier M

        I was also extremely annoyed by all the strewing of the letters about the stage in Act III. Charlotte evidently is emotionally attached to those letters and wouldn’t want them destroyed or, even worse, found by her husband Albert. Yet there is Sophie Koch basically throwing them over her head like confetti. Then when Werther comes in, they have to pick them up off the floor and he has to pretend he doesn’t recognize his own letters. Meanwhile one or two letters get left on the floor which is distracting and out of character. This seems to be a well-kept aristocratic manse right out of Downton Abbey -- certainly scattered and crumpled letters look out of place. It is an effect that doesn’t have much internal logic and becomes a problem.

  • skoc211

    Thanks so much for the heads-up.

    I haven’t been this excited to go to Brooklyn since I went to Lady Gaga’s album release party back in November!

  • Cicciabella

    These reports of Kaufmann being barely audible are very distressing, especially since he has completely won me over with his devastating reading of the Winterreise. I hope his confidants are alerting him to the fact that people need to hear him better. For heaven’s sake, Mr Kaufmann, you were not given this stunning voice to mumble to yourself. Project!

    • Feldmarschallin

      Well I just heard Kaufmann six times as Alvaro and he could be heard every time and that quite well. Maybe as he has said in the past he will curtail his travels and then there will be less complaints if he sings there less frequently.

      • Regina delle fate

        He has never had audibility problems at Covent Garden, either. Recently he has had a tendency to sing soft passages very quietly indeed, which I suspect is part of the problem. Those kind of nuances are great in small recital halls but maybe they just don’t carry at the Met. I heard his Werther at the Bastille which has a much worse acoustic than the Met, and he was audible there, although maybe not as audible as Alagna in the recent revival…..{looks over should to see if Oedipe is lurking]

      • Cicciabella

        Surely, FM, a singer of Kaufmann’s calibre deserves to perform at the Met as well as in Europe. I’m sure this is an issue that can be easily resolved to everyone’s satisfaction without drastic measures.

        • ML

          Deserves is not the word.

          • Cicciabella

            ML, I am always receptive to correction, education and illumination.

            • ML

              You are beautifully educated.

        • manou

          How about “…a singer of Kaufmann’s calibre should perform at the Met as well as he does in Europe“?

          Of course it slightly alters the original meaning, so maybe that is not what Ciccia(molto)bella wanted to say.

          • Cicciabella

            Not what I said originally, but I fully concur. And I wish Mr Kaufmann and his audiences on both sides of the Atlantic the best performances he is capable of.

      • ML

        I caught three of the Alvaros — including the wonderful, blazing night of Jan. 5, alas not recorded — and can vouch for Feld’s observations.

        I guess that his new and smart tack of short-range committing, versus the five-year game the Met likes to play, will result in fewer Met appearances. The little role list Zachary Woolfe whined about is indicative.

        • Feldmarschallin

          How do you know that the performance on the 5th was not recorded :) Several of those were recorded including the 5th, 25th and 12th. :)

          • ML

            I guess I was talking thru my ass — just assumed that the BR broadcast of the prima and the Internet streaming of Dec. 28 were the only perfs captured. Excellent news!

          • ML

            La Calisto?

        • Rackon

          Wasn’t slotting JK into Carmen the result of the new Don Carlos production not being ready next season? That was replaced with the current Don Carlo one, which I assume JK was not keen to sing yet again. Probably same for Tosca 2015-2016. When the French DC was out things got reshuffled. Does anyone know if it has been scuttled?

          I’m hoping the 2016-2017 season will feature JK in something a little more exciting and with more performances. Kaufmann recognizes the importance of singing at the Met and he’s certainly adoringly received in NY. Might we be due for Wagner again? Herheim Meistersinger? Tannhauser? Parsifal revival??? From the article JK is eager to do Fanciulla at the MET, I wish Gelb would get this done?

          JK could also throw in some recitals as a sop while on this side of the pond.

          Since ROH gets Chenier and Manon Lescaut this season and next, I just hope my local theater hangs with the ROH Cinema series. I’m enjoying their other productions as well. *fingers crossed*

      • Loge

        I was there last week and I had no problem hearing Kaufmann. When someone accuses a singer of being inaudible I assume either he is exaggerating or he has a high frequency hearing loss. (Since I am in the Hearing Aid business I have learned that almost every person with hearing loss is in denial about the loss and they blame the people around them for talking too softly or mumbling.)

        • bluecabochon

          I had my hearing tested recently, fwiw, and it’s excellent, better than the norm for my age. I have to work a little harder to hear Jonas when he chooses to sing at lower volume, but I can still hear. Carnegie Hall must offer infrared hearing devices, because I heard their whine increase significantly at certain places during his concert.

          This seems to be a regular feature of his singing and I accept it. He more than makes up for this with the quality of his work. Maybe I’ll see him in a smaller house somewhere one day and the experience will be different.

          Also, last night I distinctly heard what sounded like techie cue talk from somewhere in the house. I wonder if was coming from the domes where the follow-spot operators sat. I can’t imagine that patrons in one of the boxes were chattering non-stop. Very curious.

        • manou

          “Il n’est pire sourd que celui qui ne veut rien entendre”.

      • decotodd

        FM, I wanted to ask you something about the BSO summer festival. I believe your email address has changed — mine is

        Thank you!

    • bluecabochon

      I was at Werther last night and despite some directorial and design quibbles had a better time at the Met than I have in ages. Splurged on a Grand Tier box seat house right, which afforded great sound. I was at JK’s concert at Carnegie Hall last week in the Dress Circle and at times had trouble hearing him when singing quietly. In these large houses, this will probably always be an issue. At BAM, for Billy Budd, in a much smaller house, the aural experience was much different and it’s a house size that I much prefer.

      The role of Werther suits JK beautifully and he embodied the death-fascinated, tortured poet wonderfully. I would have liked to have seen more inner fire from Sophie Koch. Vocally, the evening was a gift when Altinoglu wasn’t drowning them out.

      Does anyone at that barn care enough to check sightlines? From where I was $itting, it wasn’t possible to see the faces of JK and SK when they were on the bed in the box that was Werther’s room. Pretty important stuff was happening and we couldn’t see it, at mighty hefty prices. That is a Design 101 problem that shouldn’t be happening at a place like the Met.

      • Bill

        bluecabochon -- also at Werther last night and there was no problem hearing Kaufmann at any time.
        He does utilize alot of expression and sang
        very softly at times. Plus in this staging,
        he is so melancholy that often he is not looking
        up -- Kaufmann’s voice seems very variable --
        many notes radiantly sung with great beauty but
        the absolute line is broken up with different types of sounds and the voice not always floating on an even level. I kept thinking that I actually
        liked Corelli better as Werther and a number of others. Koch is also variable but in the last scenes nailed all the high notes beautifully though her voice in the middle is a little uneven and not always particularly attractive. The production was also a bit uneven -- sets nice except the wood in the first two acts -- seemed
        rather silly and superfluous. I have to say I liked Kaufmann better as Parsifal than as Werther -- Kaufmann’s high notes in Werther were all three but seemed a bit pressed and I am
        not sure that he was not partially indisposed last night though no announcement was made to that effect.

        • I don;t think the issue is that you can’t hear JK when he sings — I think he just happens to mark parts of the score to conserve for the others. It’s his way of doing things and it’s annoying at times. But when he sings in full voice, I can’t imagine anyone finding him inaudible. How much of the time he sings in full voice varies from performance to performance.

          • peter

            Ivy, interesting hypothesis that Jonas is marking so he can conserve his voice. I assumed it was more of an artistic choice, not one of necessity.

          • la vociaccia

            But that’s a reasonable thing to be annoyed by. I don’t expect that professional singers should be making my chair vibrate at all times, but I’d hope their voices don’t lose presence because they are deliberately holding back. Werther isn’t a short role but it isn’t Tristan either; it’s difficult for me to wrap my head around the idea that a spinto (or in some opinions, helden) tenor needs to conserve his energy to get through a role that Alfredo Kraus hardly broke a sweat over.

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            I don’t think he is marking to conserve his voice. I think it is a straight forward deficiency in his technique -- he is trying to come up with a floated pianissimo that projects, but he can’t do it, so we get something akin to marking instead. Fair enough, it is a very difficult thing to do, but I think he’d be better off not attempting it if it simply isn’t in his technical arsenal, because I don’t think that what he is coming up with in these passages is good enough.

        • bluecabochon

          Bill, that is a very good assessment of JK and Koch. He has so many colors to his voice that he puts to good use…and can sing lying down in various positions, to boot. I preferred JK in this to his Parsifal…go figure. He seemed very confident and at ease onstage in this and carried the show very well.

          Much of the staging was absurd and those levels of wooden hills were unnecessary -- too much clunky scenery for this intimate, lyrical opera. When Werther burst in to the library in Act III it was a Frank Langella in Dracula-worthy moment. So much of the blocking and staging in that scene was just wrong, despite the lovely stage picture of that library that I would happily move into.

          Sophie Koch is a beautiful woman and looked lovely in spite of some questionable costume choices; the cream lace frock in Act II was way too matronly for this character. I didn’t care for the ACT I gold silk satin gown and the embellishment was ugly, but she looked great in it anyway. The robe in Act III was interesting but it didn’t cover her enough -- there is no way that she could have received him in that era with so much of her nightgown exposed.

          Disappointed as usual in staging and design choices that this House deems acceptable. Director Eyre can do fine work -- maybe just not here.

          • bluecabochon

            I was just reminded of an event many years ago in London. On my first trip abroad I attended a performance of Antony & Cleopatra at the Aldwych, starring Glenda Jackson and Alan Howard. At some point in the play Glenda was speaking so softly that I couldn’t hear her from my seat in the upper region of the theater. A loud male voice nearby called out “We can’t hear you”. There was a pause, and when she began again, she spoke louder. maybe that’s what needs to happen? ;)

          • Our Own JJ

            Well, since you bring it up, I thought the ballgown in Act 1 was far and way too fancy: this is supposedly a little evening dance in a small town, and it’s played like something out of Anna Karenina. If Charlotte is (as we are led to believe) quiet and unflashy and focused on her home and family, then what is she doing spending all that money on a dress she’s only going to get to wear a few times? (It’s certainly too girly to be worn by a married woman in a small town in that period.) It seems awfully extravagant, especially for a young woman who is already engaged and therefore “off the market.”

            As for Act 3, I am wondering where Albert got the money to buy a house with a sitting room with a 30-foot ceiling and inaccessible floor-to-ceiling bookcases, and where exactly all those books to fill up the room came from after only six months of marriage. Do Albert and Charlotte subscribe to the Gloria Upson theory of interior design? And then: it’s Christmas Eve and there’s a blizzard going on outside, and in this room with the towering ceilings and the one little stove in the corner to provide a bit of meager warmth, Charlotte is moping about in a silk velvet wrapper, a lightweight nightgown, and bare feet? (Of course, she later ventures out into the show-covered public streets in a flannel bathrobe and galoshes, so maybe we need to revisit the notion that Charlotte has any more sense than God gave a goose.)

            • bluecabochon

              HaHa JJ, you are right on the money there. I thought the silk dress in Act 2 was wrong on so many levels but you nailed it.

              At first I thought that they were living in her father’s house as the framing prosceniums from the exteriors earlier related but as soon as Sophie showed up I realized I was wrong. Yes, that house was too grand for a soldier and a couple married for so short a time. Perhaps they were renting it from one of her father’s friends, a scholar? In design school, if we did something like this that didn’t make sense, the criticism hurled at us would be these two words: PROGRAM NOTE!

              The wrapper had ethnic-y hand stitching and I thought it might have been lightweight wool, though it reminds me of ethnic robes and jackets from the East that are cotton with contrast stitching. Someone bought that robe on some distant travels -- the soldier husband? Odd choice for a country girl under any circumstances, and I couldn’t tell if it was velvet from my seat. I thought that she was pregnant or unwell to still be in her wrapper. Did Sophie not ask that in a veiled way during their scene? The bare feet -- so wrong, yes.

              A respectable woman would never have left the house dressed in a wrapper like that over a nightie with galoshes in the cold at Xmas when people would have been sure to be out & about to see her and gossip, even if she was sure that something dreadful was about to happen, She was directed to change her clothes in front of the clunky scene change that took forever, another choice that I was unhappy with.

              What was the light source in Werther’s room that lit from the front in a cold unearthly white light? It wasn’t the lamp, which was off. It wasn’t light from the window with no glass in it. Cool effect that made no sense.

              Had to look up the Gloria Upson reference. Haven’t seen MAME in at least two decades.

              Interesting tidbit snipped from the program note :) by Paul Thomason about the furor after the novel was published in 1774:

              “There were Werther scarves, Werther plates and teacups, Werther fireworks, Werther wallpapers, Werther parasols. Young men wore blue dress coats, yellow waistcoats, and jackboots to emulate him and CARRIED CRYSTAL VIALS OF THEIR OWN TEARS to show that they felt deeply.”

            • Bill

              JJ -- the dress Charlotte wore (in broad
              daylight) seemed to be more appropriate
              for Orlofsky’s ball in the also updated
              recent Fledermaus at the Met. You are absolutely correct -- a small town girl near
              Frankfurt would not be attired in that
              stylish fashion. I believe that it is
              entirely unnecessary to update Werther from
              the later 18th century in any staging. It is not Effi Briest -- it is Werther and Goethe was not looking forward to 100 years hence. Charlotte is trapped between duty and emotion -- not an unusual situation for an operatic female of her (or any) era and that could be said also of the Komponist in Ariadne or many operatic male heroes or cads. Leave Charlotte in 18th century dress -- for Werther, largely in this production, he was hidden in a long coat most of the time which I guess is supposed to indicate brooding. But one wonders where the attraction would then be for Charlotte with an oddball always in a long coat drooping to the floor. Charlotte seems to be a conventional lass and Albert, poor boring Albert, was clad much more dashingly than the melancholy sorrowful Werther. He should have borrowed some clothes from Eugene Onegin in the recent Met production. Well at least Charlotte in this Werther production did not ruin her life by stepping on a pingpong ball --

            • I *think* the point was to make Charlotte and her family way more high-class than Werther. They wanted to make Charlotte seem like a glamorous society lady, and Werther an outcast. Whether this bit of dramaturgy was necessary or not is another question.

    • Liz.S

      We should quit using the word “inaudible.” Acoustic at the Met is extremely vocal friendly and even sigh-like subtle pianissississimo can be heard.
      When some people said “inaudible” I don’t believe they literally meant “we can’t hear him” but didn’t they mean to say that his voices even in his fortessimo are not as powerful as Pavarotti or Corelli or whoever gave brilliant perfs in the past?
      This time around, almost vulgarly loud orchestra under the baton of Altinoglu didn’t help either.

      • la vociaccia

        I think ‘inaudible’ is a perfectly valid way to describe many singers I’ve heard. The very fact that they can be heard unaccompanied in an acoustic theater does not negate their inability to project their voice appropriately.

        I have exceptions, such as the first movement of Das Lied (I would never criticize a tenor for having difficulty cutting that ridiculous orchestration), but as an example, I saw Kate Royal do the soprano part of Britten’s Spring Symphony last November. When she sang unaccompanied, I could ‘hear’ her fine, but there was no presence or distinguishable timbre, and when the orchestra started playing, she was literally inaudible (and the conducting was loud but not oppressively so; the other two singers -- neither of them in a dramatic fach -- projected very well over the orchestra). So I’m going to say she was inaudible, because she effectively was. That she could be heard at all in a silent acoustic theater makes her no different than any other human being, opera singer or otherwise.

        • I think the word “inaudible” does get thrown around way too much by people who are expecting every singer to raise the rafters. There were a few times a singer was what I’d call inaudible. But it happens very, very rarely.

          One time was a moment in Natalie Dessay’s ill-fated run of Traviatas. It was in Act One, and she opened her mouth, and practically no sound came out. She later warmed up and got through the role (sort of) but still, she had extreme issues projecting her voice. That was one time I’d use the word inaudible.

          Another time (more recent) was John Relyea in Rusalka. For much of Act One he’s singing in the “lake” which is really a recessed pit in the middle of the stage. It was very hard to hear him. Later on when the blocking didn’t call for him to be singing in the pit, he was much more audible.

          But as I said, “inaudible” is not the same as a singer’s voice not having the proper weight or color for a role. Debbie Voigt’s thin soprano didn’t match the rich orchestration of Wagner’s Ring but she wasn’t inaudible. She just didn’t sound like a Brunnhilde, but you could hear her.

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          Surely you have misunderstood the sense in which people mean ‘inaudible’ in reference to Kaufmann on this thread. I don’t think it’s the usual canard that gets applied to the singing in general of people like Gheorghiu and Bartoli, and Royal in your experience -- rather, my take is that people are complaining specifically about Kaufmann’s fake pianissimo.

          • la vociaccia

            Oh I agree cocky. I was just responding that ‘inaudible’ does not have to be taken so literally. People say “I could hear him, therefore he was not inaudible” and I’m pointing out that there are different standards that should be applied to opera singers. That they can be heard at all in a theater does not make them adequately audible

        • kennedet

          I’m happy to hear more comments about orchestral accompaniments and volume. This is said rarely in these discussions. I did not hear/see the production….so I won’t comment on performance but the conductor’s job is always balance with the singer. It’s easy to do this on the You Tube videos by electronically “turning knobs” but in live performances…unless they’re miked…you must rely on the conductor’s control of the volume.This is not rocket science. They can simply have someone sit in the audience and ask if the balance is suitable. Also, they should be aware of how to balance when a singer is standing beside them.

  • redbear

    The elephant in the room here is the size of the Met. It is more than twice the size of the average opera house in Europe and double even the major houses in Vienna, London and Munich. If a singer thinks he can shade his performance in New York, he is mistaken. It is more than a thousand seats bigger than the largest house in Europe, the Bastille. The Mozart I heard at the Met last year was something I would never repeat. It is, in fact, the wrong size for any opera.

    • ML

      JDF projected beautifully up to the high seating areas, and with nuances intact, when I was last there.

      The Met’s acoustics are remarkable for the size of its space, Redbear.

      They are not the reason for this Kaufmann “restrait” thingy, and, notwithstanding the comments here about the Alvaros, I have heard JK seeming to hold back on numerous occasions in 2,000-seat Munich.

      • ML


      • redbear

        I am not quite of an age to remember the old Met but I have been going to opera at the Met since it opened (and we are both showing our age). I am aware that it has excellent acoustics. Over the years, I became more and more accustomed to the size of European houses and how they were more effective in presenting opera-as-theater.

  • olliedawg

    As a Brooklyn native, all I can say is…My borough rocks, yo!

    Seriously, folks, this is amazing news on many counts: Opera doesn’t just happen in Manhattan and/or in humungous venues; Brooklyn, from which I couldn’t escape fast enough in my “yout'”, is now super-hip; long-neglected neighborhoods with proud histories like Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights, and now Bushwick, can find rejuvenation, and we don’t need big stars to make magic…and, mercury goes “straight” as of March 1…coincidence? I think not…

  • FragendeFrau82

    I had no trouble hearing any of the singers on 18.2 or 22.2. And, as usual, I’m fascinated by those who can read Kaufmann’s mind to determine that he is marking, or saving his voice, or indisposed, or whatever. Every time he sang softly, I (audience member) experienced it as a part of his emotional portrayal of his character. *shrug* 3,800 people at an opera with 3,800 different opinions of what they heard. The audience loved it, and Altinoglu was brought onstage with great smiles and affection from the cast, so they must not have minded his conducting.

    • williams

      Absolutely right! The posts intoning the word marking are, as I’ve whined about in other threads, particularly galling. Usually awed by the erudition of the folks on here I’m dissapointed in the term’s misuse (or deliberate argumentativeness). Someone even said something about him marking at the premiere! Amost anyone who actually attended that evening would scoff. I’ve had issues on many ocassions with JK’s technique but he is a committed artist who seems to always give his best.

      • Cocky Kurwenal

        williams, as I said to Poisonivy above, I don’t believe Kaufmann intends to mark, and his commitment isn’t in question, for me. I think his attempt at a pianissimo comes across as marking at times, because he can’t do it successfully, so the timbre loses all of its allure and doesn’t project adequately.

  • oedipe

    Two (unrelated) remarks about Werther.

    The character of Werther traverses a gamut of moods and feelings throughout the opera and they are clearly expressed in the music. Kaufmann strives to convey these moods and feelings by dynamically modulating his voice. If he didn’t use so many pp’s, he would be more audible, but would sound more like Cavaradossi or Siegmund.

    Werther, like all of Massenet’s operas, relies on the expressive qualities of the French language: its prosody (there is plenty of declamation in the character’s sung text) and its “melody”. Dynamics play a minor role in sung French. When singing Werther, someone like Alfredo Kraus, for instance, didn’t use a lot of pp’s. He conveyed colors and nuances through phrasing and intonation; he had a superb mastery of French intonation. Kaufmann does not make use of French intonation. He achieves colors and nuances through dynamics (including a lot of pp’s). This makes his Werther interpretation sound like soft lieder singing. But that’s probably preferable to a loud verismo Werther.


    Of several productions I have seen, only one -Andreï Serban’s Vienna Werther-- touches, even imperfectly, on an important aspect of the libretto, an aspect which generally goes unnoticed by everybody. Indeed, people seem to overlook the fact that the libretto is not an exact reproduction of Goethe.

    The first two acts of Werther are often criticized for being “undramatic”. But in these acts we can find the key to the Werther character. It is irrelevant whether Werther is given the face of a hormonal romantic youth, or of an older psychotic: in the libretto, the character represents a worldview. This worldview is the belief in the cyclicality of life, in nature’s capacity to regenerate; it’s a pagan worldview that was brought to people’s attention in Massenet’s time by Leconte de Lisle, who translated from Greek the “Orphic Hymns”. The ode to nature which Werther sings right at the beginning of the opera is one of these Orphic Hymns. The central role of Bacchus/Dionysos in the Orphic worldview explains the insistence on Bacchus in the first two acts of the opera. Seen in this light, Werther appears more like an original thinker than as a sick individual.

    • Belfagor

      “Dynamics play a minor role in sung French.” -- except if you look at a Massenet score, you have never such detailed dynamics, mixed with articulation and phrasing -- he really dots every ‘i’ and crosses every ‘t’ -- of course they are there, rather as a subtext to the text, a guide to emotional intent -- I guess Western notation falls down she it comes down to language specific vowel coloration and the like, so Massenet inserted his dramatic intent with dynamics……….

      whether it’s possible to do justice to them all or not is a moot point, unless he was doing his best to notate idiomatic French style………..

      • Belfagor

        -- oops! -- never SEEN such detailed dynamics……..!

      • oedipe

        Maybe so.
        What I meant to say is that French, spoken and/or sung, is not a “stress/dynamics-based” language but an “intonation-based” language.

        • Camille

          There is no “peut-être” about it at all. It is, just as Belfagor states, minutely detailed.

          Interesting to note that, in spite of all the diminuendoing and pp’s, Kaufmann ignored the first pp on “paradis” at the entrance. So did Alagna. Guessing that they were more eager to get the voice up and running at that early point.

          • oedipe

            Neither does Kraus. No pp’s, but still, lots of nuance here:

            • I agree that Kraus does not use pps, but he knows how to “float” the voice. He sings with great tenderness even if the dynamic isn’t soft.

            • oedipe

              Indeed. What I would call “ligne de chant”, rather than dynamics.

            • la vociaccia

              Placement placement placement

            • la vociaccia

              Also, Kashania, Kraus never really ‘covers’ his voice as he ascends; he makes the proper space in the back and front and as a result can sing in pure vowels through his whole range.

            • vociaccia: Interesting. I’m not a vocal pedagogue so I learn a lot here from those who know better. Does Kraus not even cover through the passagio? Or does he place the voice further back

            • Cocky Kurwenal

              In a transcript of an interview with Kraus that I have, he speaks of imagining the sound as coming through a hole in the centre of his forehead at all times. For my taste it always had a bit of a bawly quality, almost too much resonance off the hard surfaces, and raised the voice’s natural centre of gravity, but it certainly served him well.

            • la vociaccia

              Kashania, Kraus came from a school of thought that singers (but tenors in particular) obsess over “how” to sing in the pasaggio, when essentially the only thing you really need to do is make sure your larynx stays put as you ascend. Covering, or darkening the vowels as you ascend past your middle accomplishes this, but Kraus manages to create that laryngeal space himself without changing the vowels. As cocky points out, the result can be that the voice spreads and takes on a shrillness, and to be sure you need to know exactly what your doing in order to sing that way.

            • Cocky and vociaccia: Thank you both. I can hear it in my head now. I’m certainly not a fan of the way Di Stefano sang through passagio which always sounded like he was shouting (despite the natural beauty of the voice).

            • la vociaccia

              I love Di Stefano, but he is a good example of what happens when one does not know exactly what is going on in their voice. He sang on balls and for a too-short period of time it was gorgeous but dangerous. Kraus, on the other hand, was very attuned to how his mechanism functioned and managed to last an extremely long time.

              In 1958:

              And 40 (!) years later

          • he speaks of imagining the sound as coming through a hole in the centre of his forehead at all times

            For most tenors, this is more than mere visualization.

    • peter

      The question for me is whether Jonas is really singing ppp’s or is he singing some sort of unsupported head voice that is not connected to the breath, which not surprisingly would be difficult to hear past the 3rd row.

      Oedipe, interesting discussion about French intonation and phrasing and Alfredo Kraus. I’ve always adored Alfredo Kraus in Werther, having first heard him live in the role in the late 70’s at the Met and later in the 80’s in San Francisco. I’ve heard several other Werthers in my lifetime but no one has ever come close to him. None of them sound quite right in the role. His opening aria “Oh nature” made such an impression on me as a teenager, I still get teary eyed every time I hear a recording of it.

  • Fidelia


    Thank you for your remarks concerning intonation & dynamics. I’m not a native French speaker although I am bilingual, and your comments incite me to listen more attentively to Alfredo Kraus’s Werther -- I think I may not have done justice to him before.

    Also, many thanks for your remarks about the world view that Werther represents. I have been grinding my teeth reading so many reviews that seem not to be historically or culturally informed to any extent at all. Several critics seem to sidestep that fact that Werther is a thinker, rather than a whiny kid who just can’t abide to have any of his requests refused. [Maybe there’s a little self-projection here? ;-)]

    It seems to me that the tension of the work derives from a universal predicament: the difficulties in reconciling one’s personal hopes, aspirations and world view to the constraints imposed upon the individual by society (whatever that particular society may be). The more thoughtful and creative the person is, the harder it is for him or her to fit into the neat little pigeonhole his society has assigned to him.

    This is Charlotte’s plight as well as Werther’s: he is an original thinker and by letting herself be seduced by his individuality she, too, places herself out of bounds. Her classical (Cornelian) situation of love vs. duty, to my mind, can’t just be dismissed by the simple “frigid-bourgeoise-Hausfrau-Charlotte” profile that is often assigned to her in current critiques. One only has to look at the traditional role of women, whose ultimate destiny was to protect the status quo and mould their children into the shapes decreed by society, to see how vital the notion of feminine duty was to the stability of the social order. If she transgresses her vow to her own mother, who did HER duty, she risks losing everything while destroying her marriage and birth family in the process, and she knows it. For me she is far from cold, just the opposite: she is animated by her love for others, at the expense of herself.

    For me both Werther and Charlotte are tragic heroes: his tragic flaw is his lucidity, which leads to a desire for spiritual & societal regeneration. Hers is the ability to see and recognize this desire as her own.

    • FragendeFrau82

      Beautifully said, Fidelia.

  • This is apropos of nothing but JK’s Faust and Parsifal are now officially on pre-order at Amazon. The Parsifal is Region 0/1.

    Also, the 1936 Showboat is also going to be released on DVD. IMO that’s still THE film version of Showboat.

  • bluecabochon

    This has been a fascinating thread with lovely, informative comments. Thank you to all involved. :)

  • Camille

    This is very, very encouraging to hear, i.e., the young outfit in Brooklyn.

    If they are dressed as hipsters, well then the hipsters won’t be alienated by them and will be drawn in, at least a percentage of them. If I had the time and inclination to hop on the Q or N or something train, I would, but I don’t.

    In any case, good luck to Loft Opera and Camille will be visiting you someday in the future.

    • skoc211

      I attended the performance tonight and it was nothing short of magical.

      Bushwick definitely has some cool up and coming spots, but this particular warehouse was very much in the middle of no where. If I hadn’t seen a queue of people outside the venue I might have missed it entirely. It was very much a no frills affair -- the only bathrooms were two outdoor porta-pottys -- and the large (and loud) heater that warmed the room was turned off during the performance giving some unexpected authenticity. Wine and Brooklyn Brewery beer abounded.

      The performance space was small and the only defining feature a faux brick wall the displayed super-titles, such that the seating, made up of three sections of bare white benches gave the whole thing an air of theatre in the round. The rest of the set was made up of various tables and chairs.

      JJ is spot on about the singing -- there was not a single weak link. I’ve never attended a student or amateur performance of an opera before and I was thrilled by the robust singing from the entire cast. Rodolfo, in particular, stood out. He was fearless and powerful with his high notes, yet he still sang sensitively and was deeply moving in his acting. Their Musetta was perhaps the feistiest I’ve seen -- smashing plates to get Marcello’s attention and waving to the audience as she was carried off on his shoulders at the end of Act II. Speaking of Marcello, his voice was as handsome as he was! Mimi took some time warming up in the acting department, but the voice was warm and lovely and filled the warehouse. Her “Sono andati” was particularly moving.

      It was also surreal to watch my peers (I don’t know the casts’ ages, but I’m 26 and they all looked my age) perform in an opera I’m so used to seeing older (and sometimes much older) artists sing. It felt incredibly authentic to Puccini in its own way -- even the occasional clinking a beer bottle being knocked over in the audience fit in.

      As for the aforementioned hipsters, yes, they dominated the audience. I’m not sure if I was being made fun of or sincerely complimented by a bearded flannel wearing fellow who said he like my golden pocket square. There were a handful of elderly people who were either regular opera goers that braved the journey to Brooklyn or had family in the cast. Regardless, everyone seemed moved and I could hear more than a few sniffles at the end. Bravos and rousing ovations concluded the night. I look forward to seeing more from LoftOpera.

      PS: Here are a few pictures I snapped during the course of the evening…..