Cher Public

Peace with your cries of useless lament!

Born on this day in 1933 soprano Rita Hunter

Born on this day in 1771 novelist Walter Scott.

Born on this day in 1872 composer Harold Fraser-Simson.

Born on this day in 1875 composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

Born on this day in 1890 composer Jacques Ibert.

Born on this day in 1895 tenor Ettore Parmeggiani.

Born on this day in 1922 composer Lukas Foss.

Born on this day in 1924 soprano Elsie Morison.

Happy 92nd birthday baritone Robert Massard.

Born on this day in 1936 soprano Rita Shane.

Happy 74th birthday mezzo-soprano Hanna Schwarz.

Happy 61st birthday tenor Bruce Ford.

  • Christian Ocier

    Rita Hunter’s maiden name was Shane?

  • Cicciabella

    This reviewer liked Muti in the Salzburg Aïda and little else. The singers were “laboured” (Netrebko), “small-fry” (Meli) and “a disgrace” (Salsi). The pronouncements would have been a tad more convincing if they were better written. Why write in English if you’re not comfortable with the language?

    • Antikitschychick

      lol it’s telling how the only one they didn’t unequivocally trash was Semenchuk. The person or people who write(s) those reviews are usually very negative so imo one has to take what they say with a grain of salt…BUT…

      I watched the performance yesterday and I have to say I thought Semenchuk stole the show during the judgment scene (the Amneris-Radames duet that precedes it was also great, as was the confrontation scene between her and Aida at the beginning of Act II). Overall it was a solid performance; musically speaking one can even say it was a superlative performance, but of all the principals I think Semenchuk was the most believable and gave the most intelligent, committed and heart-wrenching performance. Not to mention she was rock solid vocally. She also acquitted herself very well amidst imho a very lame production with no insight or perspective on the work whatsoever and to top it off the tomb really did look like a microwave. A real shame.

      I thought AN’s Aida was very good vocally but needs fine tuning, and dramatically her portrayal was a bit blank/nondescript… I sensed a lack of of direction which resulted in an over-reliance on unfocused histrionics (i.e. arm-flailing, pacing across the stage, etc.) especially compared to the very focused portrayals we almost always get from her in other roles, but again I think the fault lies with the director, plus this was her first stab at the role. Meli also gave a tasteful, subtle and much gentler portrayal of Radames which I really liked, although he seemed a bit too preoccupied with his own performance and there wasn’t much chemistry between him and AN, which was disappointing. There was a bit of a disconnect between them in the tomb scene, although they both sang brilliantly.

      So after watching the Aida I finally got around to listening to Semenchuk as Lady Macbeth (there are several clips of a live performance on Youtube) and I have to say I thought she sounded phenomenal. Better than many, many sopranos imho. The review of an LA Opera performance that was posted here from September of last year by Patrick Mack was spot on in terms of her performance. Not only do you hear what an incredible range she has but her acting prowess sets her apart from many other Ladies as another parterre commentator pointed out in that thread.

      What was particularly fascinating to me from that performance was that for the sleepwalking scene at the end, which as you all know requires a lot of legato and softer singing, she modified her vocal production and used a more forward (and thus less throaty/covered) placement, which worked really well. I don’t know if that’s typical for mezzos who sing this role, but it was certainly a drastic change from the thick covered sound you hear in Vieni t’affretta and in pretty much everything else that she sings. She almost sounds like an entirely different singer and if I had only heard her sing that I’d have thought she’s a soprano. It was very impressive. The Aida was I think the fourth performance I’ve seen of hers (although for some reason I don’t quite remember her Eboli from the 2013 Salzburg festival) and it did not disappoint. I recently learned that she and AN debuted together at the Met, and there will be more engagements featuring the two of them in the future which I’m excited about :-).

      I read your hilarious updates during the chat Ciccia, which were all too accurate but what did you think about the individual performances overall? Anyone else care to weigh in?

      • Cicciabella

        All good points that you make, Anti. I think Semenchuk was the most believable dramatically because Amneris is the only interesting character in the opera. Her interpretation was not subtle, but, with vocal chops like hers, I didn’t care. Salsi was a very hood Amonasro, and more nuanced than in other roles. Meli always looks at the conductor a lot, so that’s nothing new. He and Netrebko received no direction (did anyone?), so there was not much chance of manufacturing chemistry that isn’t there naturally. The tomb scene was dire theatrically: no sense at all that two people are being buried alive. There is, of course, room for refinement in Netrebko’s performance, but I thought it was more detailed than Semenchuk’s. She was very much aware of acting with the voice, while she acted with her hands to make up for the lack of direction. When will opera intendants learn that commissioning an artist to design a set is not curating a whole production? This visual artist who, it’s been said (no idea if it’s true) had never seen an opera before she took this on, needed a theatrical director to complement her work.

        • She has, though, directed films.

          • Cicciabella

            Interesting. I couldn’t tell from the production.

            • Liz.S

              I guess stage direction is much more than series of images. On the video, so much was helped by individual artists’ zoomed-in facial expressions (not to mention vocal expressions.)
              Like others I’m not sure of the overall effectiveness of this staging. I have to point out there were some moments of insightful ideas or good illustrations though -- e.g. allusion to recent immigration/ diversity issues, descriptions of female positions in paternal culture (esp. Amonasro’s near-physical violent manipulation, absolute control of religious authority, etc.)

        • Antikitschychick

          Thanks. A couple of years ago (or maybe it was more than two?) I said something along the lines of what you said re: Aida and Amneris as characters and I got some flack for it, so I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who thinks Aida isnt as compelling a character as Amneris, because she’s just too much of a victim. The judgment scene is also pure drama and yes I agree Semenchuk’s performance wasn’t subtle, but that scene calls intensity, and she didnt go overboard with the histrionics either. I observed her closely and every gesture was controlled and had purpose. That’s why I thought her performance was intelligently executed. I agree that AN’s performance otoh was more detailed but that’s because the part calls for it and Muti probably wanted it sung that way as well. If the role of Amneris required more nuance or had Verdi made it the titular character, something we know he considered, I’m sure we would have gotten it from her as well. But this was still a lot better than what I heard from her in that recording with Pappano, Kaufman, Harteros et al so brava.

          I think my favorite part in the whole performance was when, after her big duet/confrontation with Aida in Act II, Amneris waltzes happily and assuredly away from the stage, her gown majestically trailing behind while she crowned herself, leaving Aida behind to beg the Gods for mercy. It showed just what a bitch Amneris is, which then made her remorse during the tomb scene seem more compelling; more real. I don’t know if she was told to do that but if that’s something she did on her own it showed real stage prowess by Semenchuk..and if she was, she still executed it perfectly.

          I completely agree with you that Neshat needed a seasoned theatrical director to assist her especially If she had never seen an opera before. Part of me now wonders whether Muti picked her on purpose knowing that she is clueless about opera so that she wouldn’t interfere at all with his musical interpretation, which was obviously the focal point of these performances. Imho the worst part of the entire thing was those “dancing” bulls. Totally pointless and uncoordinated. I get that they maybe didn’t want to do a
          traditional ballet , but what they came up with was just really mediocre. It wasn’t even a dance and it added nothing to the performance.

          • CKurwenal

            Well, she *is* a victim in that she has been captured and enslaved, but she manages to ease the pain somewhat by becoming the lover of the future head of the Egyptian army -- she doesn’t just spend her spare time bemoaning her fate. I’d say that implies a certain amount of spirit and will. She also takes a positive decision to enter the tomb so isn’t a victim in that sense -- she chooses her own fate. A bad thing happened to her before the opera begins but she doesn’t just surrender to it. Wasn’t it Leontyne Price who said something along the lines that her point of departure for her characterisation of Aida is the fact that she has been chosen by Amneris to serve her, suggesting there must be something about her that gets her noticed? Same thing with Radames -- she obviously stood out in some way.

            • Porgy Amor

              Good comments, Cocky. I’ve never seen Amneris as “strong.” Very little in the opera tests her strength, in stark contrast to the circumstances of her rival, who has lost everything and has had to dig deep for the will to go on. Amneris is the privileged young daughter of the pharaoh with the most powerful army. When someone else makes a claim to something Amneris wants (Radamès), she rages and spits venom over it, but to rage at a threat rather than to despair is simply her birthright. Amneris was fortunate to be born to the side that can conquer, persecute, enslave.

              This does not mean I dislike the character.
              She discovers the purest kind of love, and this is her nobility. She still tries to save a man who rejects her, and then grieves for that man who did not return her love. She also must accept (if angrily) that she and her father are not the highest authority in Egypt. For all her material possessions, her dancing slave boys, her handmaidens singing to her and fanning her, and the deference shown her for her title, she too is trapped in this society’s religious-military web. She has to accept the same truth Philippe acknowledges in the fourth act of Don Carlos. Ramfis and the other priests, this implacable, faceless group, do not yield to her. They barely notice her.

              A bad thing happened to [Aïda] before the opera begins but she doesn’t just surrender to it.

              Many bad things. And these things have happened through the ages, all over the world. Recent US news has reignited debate over my country’s sins, which were still recent history at the time Verdi’s opera was composed. Like antikitschychick and others here, I was disappointed with Neshat’s production. I am sure she has strong points of view on themes that are all over the piece, and this was why she was thought to be an intriguing choice. It’s hard to say how much she may have been inhibited by an unfamiliar medium, and I can well imagine Muti courteously “advising” her to do less than what she might have hoped to do. But that is only speculation, and I do not wish to make him the villain. It’s always a gamble when someone from another medium directs an opera for the first time. We like to remember the great successes, e.g., Bergman’s Rake’s Progress and Minghella/Choi’s Butterfly, but for every one of those there are ten who miss the target.

            • rapt

              So judicious and insightful--Porgy, this piece was eye-opening for me.

            • Antikitschychick

              Thanks for your comments Cocky. It’s interesting to hear what Leontyne Price had to say and she certainly makes a good point. Aida is after all a princess, and yes, strong willed, and while I do agree that Aida’s decision to die alongside Radames is a powerful one, certainly the message of choosing love over power and hate is as timely as ever, but the fact that she was forced to betray him by her own father is, well I can’t imagine much worse than that. She’s always trapped between choices with very dire consequences. Anna Netrebko described her circumstances as “living in hell”…each choice that she makes comes with immeasurable sacrifice and there’s not much she can do about it…except pray to the Gods for mercy. I wish Verdi would have written a prequel to this opera, which allowed us to see the characters, especially Aida in a different light.

              I have a few more things to say about Amneris but one of the DVD’s I ordered just arrived so will be back later! ????

            • Ivy Lin

              I think Amneris is the most compelling character in the opera because she’s the only one who grows throughout the opera. The Amneris we see when curtains go up is not the same person who ends the opera. Usually Verdi is so good at having characters grow — in La Traviata, everyone ends the opera a different person. But Aida, Radames and Amonasaro have a situation that’s presented at the beginning of the opera that plays out without any of them changing.

              But Amneris starts the opera spoiled and spiteful, and she gets her revenge, and then she finds a capacity for mercy and forgiveness that she probably wasn’t aware she had in her. Verdi ending the opera with her prayer is one of those moves that shifts the opera from great to greater. Because this political/love drama with Aida and Radames is over — they’re in the tomb. But Amneris will go on to lead a less selfish, entitled life, and that ends the opera on a hopeful note.

            • Liz.S

              I Agree. I also think Amneris develops as a person the most in this piece (and in a way her emotional state is different in each scene.)

              For me it was Borodina who totally repainted my perception of Amneris. She portrayed a selfish controlling young woman who was comfortable with the way of her life, burned by jealousy, repented her passion crime, actively sought a way to amend, and achieved some sort of satori state to truly pray for the peace of her mind, peace of her loved one’s spirit, peace of her people and peace of her country. Remarkable transformation!
              It really is a role that allows the singers to demonstrate her artistic maturity (or could reveal the lack of?)

            • No doubt about Amneris’s growth as a character in the opera. But I also think Radames does some growing. In the beginning, he wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to love Aida and be the captain of the Egyptian armies. By the third act, he’s agreed to give up the glory for his love. And by the fourth act, he is resigned to his fate. He has made peace with the fact that he will have neither love or military glory. In the tomb, his only concern is for Aida, not himself.

            • aulus agerius

              And to make that prayer the third voice transforming a sublime duet into an exalted trio is the stage craftiness GV will ever be revered for. :-)

      • aulus agerius

        I watched the YT video a couple days ago. I thought they’d have been better off just offering a concert version. The production not only stripped away any hint of Egypt but also most of the inherent drama. Weird. No triumphal scene. WEIRD! Even the music seemed kinda weird without any visual for it it to illuminate/support. No temple for Amneris to go into and from which to overhear Radames’ fateful indiscretion. And the tomb scene -- they just walked in!! And on and on…… Did not Aida have on makeup darkening her complexion? Why is this OK for this character and not for Otello I can’t help but wonder. I know this anathema here but my first Amneris was Cossotto whom I watched 9 performances, some from the wings and some from out front, and she was way more better. Alas, she is not available now and, happily, she knows it.

        • Benedetta Funghi-Trifolati

          Can someone please explain to me why Ramfis and the Egyptian priests in the Salzburg AIDA looked like Dosifey and a bunch of Old Believer extras wandered in from KHOVANSCHINA?

          • Because Ramfis and the Egyptian priests are Old Believers.

          • Cicciabella

            I thought they looked like Greek Orthodox priests, but later realized the reference was probably to Coptic priests, who, of course, are famous for doling out capital punishment. I’m still flummoxed by the Minotaur dancers, however. Maybe they weren’t Minotaurs, but an Egyptian deity with an animal head.

            • AlbericM

              That would be Horus, Great Bull of Heaven, son of Isis and Osiris. He was associated with pharaonic rule and was often one of the throne names of the King. He is also associated with the cult of Ptah and of the Apis bull. Bulls also represented the forces of natural fertility so necessary to living in a river valley in the middle of a desert. A significant ballet for Aida could be made on this subject, but this lot didn’t--or couldn’t--think it through.

            • Cicciabella

              So it is. Thank you.

        • Antikitschychick

          I agree with you that a concert version would have been just as good as what they put together, which I agree didn’t rise to the level of an actual production imho. I don’t have the answer to your question about why it’s ok for her to wear makeup darkening her complexion and not someone playing Otello, except that perhaps because the performance was given outside the US, it didn’t have the same connotations and associations as it does here in the US with blackface and whatnot, plus the director isn’t European either…but I don’t think that’s such a satisfactory answer. Finally, I don’t mean to be a pain in the ass but that “more” in between the “way” and “better” is out of place, though I get what you’re saying ????????????.

      • Magpie

        Anti. I agree with most everything posted, but am I the only one that thought AN seemed vocally clumsy? I loved her voice, she can be THE Aida of this generation, but without the benefit of the visuals, it seemed that she had trouble with the diction or perhaps with the technique. It was particularly glaring during O Patria Mia where I heard her stumble as if trying to decide how she was going to get to the notes. I would dare say she was unprepared ( I doubt it with Muti at the helm) or the nerves got the best of her.

        • Antikitschychick

          Hey Magpie. I’m sure you’re not the only one who thinks that although I wouldn’t say she sounded clumsy. Based on what I heard, and my perception of course, she was definitely trying to act with the voice and shape the phrases nicely with varying dynamics as others have pointed out, which she mostly achieved, but there were parts in which she sounded a bit labored in the sense that the line sagged a bit and she ran out of breath, etc. It’s not easy producing such a full bodied sound while also trying to articulate and sing long varied phrases with diminuendos and such..and what we heard was only her third performance ever I believe so I think she just needs time to fine tune and really let the role settle in her voice. I too doubt she was underprepared since she did rehearse with Muti…

          I agree that she could be the Aida of her time, but she needs to WERK.

    • To me, Netrebko is the clear standout of the cast. She’s in beautiful voice and shapes the music very nicely. Her lower register is now surprisingly voluminous. There is some careful singing that I think is the result of the maestro’s control, but that’s OK. I think she has benefited from his musical guidance and has the chance to grow in the role dramatically in future outings.

      Muti’s beautiful musical direction is notable (I don’t think I’ve ever heard the first act ballet music more lovingly rendered), though I will say that I don’t get as much drama from him as I would like. I admire the clarity of the musical lines and the orchestra playing in general but this is not a performance that moves me.

      Semenchuk sounds OK in the first couple of acts but really comes into her own in the final act, where she sounds as good as in the Pappano studio recording. I hear slight similarities to Cossotto and Obrastzova in her tone, though she doesn’t rise to the level those ladies.

      Meli is uneven. I admire him for attempting to follow the dynamic markings in “Celeste Aida” but after that, he doesn’t come to life until the final act. On the whole, he’s more of a get-the-job-done Radames for me.

      Same can be said for Salsi, who is fine as Amonasro.

      Belosselskiy is a very Slavic, occasionally phlegmy sounding Ramfis, though the voice has impressive power. And the Sacerdotessa, Benedetta Torre, is a real comer.

  • Baron Douphol

    In my own humble baronial opinion Amneris is one of the most awesomely overwhelming characters in all opera, any gender, any language, any composer. To hear the end of the Act Two concertante sung by Gorr or Zajic, Obratzsova (accompanied by the others in the cast certainly) is thrilling. Then Verdi giving her a little rest before she has to unleash her vocal canons. Anna Magnani with high Bb’s, love, spurned love, death verdict in one of Verdi’s most powerful scenas ever! Long live Amneris! An exciting enactment of the scena is on Zeffirelli’s 2005 Aida from Verona with Tachina Vaughn (truly Magnani) and a very hunky Cura. His good bye to A is truly a jolt. Anyone Know anything about Vaughn?

  • Stella Maria Krazelberg

    And still the website shows Hunter’s picture, but labels her Shane. What a Shane!