15 January 2008

You love Lucy

La Cieca pulled a string or two and managed to get permission to embed a clip from the VAI Lucia so recently lauded by Our Own Niel Rishoi. Of course YouTube video and audio is severely compressed, but the imaginative viewer will surely get the gist that this is a performance for the ages.

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14 January 2008

Lucia di DVD

Guest critic Niel Rishoi reviews the VAI DVD release of Lucia di Lammermoor.

OK, this is IT. Barring the cuts, this is the Lucia of Gaetano Donizetti. Not that misguided travesty at the Met, not Natalie Dessay's vocally juddery overwoughtness. No schtick, no Carol Burnetting around. Just Donizetti and Cammarano's Romantic drama, pure and simple. Real artists, real singers. Performing it straight, as if their lives depended on it. No gimmicks. No BS. You watch this 40 year old performance, and you see and hear a kind of authority and rightness of approach that just doesn't happen often nowadays Here we have music. Here is all the garlic, red wine, passion and organic Italian musical DRAMA. The action contained within the singing. It's a miracle, nothing less.

The picture is a bit grainy, the sets standard issue. Does it matter? Give me a break (NO).

We start with Bergonzi. Tenore supremo. Short, stumpy (yet handsome here), gestures of stock vintage. Yet, he creates drama through voice alone;"Vi disperda!" cuts right to the bone. Debonair in the old-fashioned manner. Ardent, the ultimate tenor hero. Perfect. Voice, voice voice - in awesome form here. "Fra poco a me ricovero" just splendid: it's met with a roaring ovation. Bergonzi and Scotto do not have the sensual interplay of Ricciarelli and Carreras - they don't make a lot of eye contact and are sometimes hilariously buried in their own "work" - but they are together all the way vocally and musically.

Zanasi. "Another" Italian baritone of his time, extinct today. A darkly handsome man, he has a commanding presence. He sings a solid "Cruda, funesta smania," beginning with a slightly muscular overemphasis, yet it suits the piece; but the line, upper extensions of ease, and expression is just right.

Plinio Clabassi. A Raimondo of unusually fine caliber, with a mellow, steady, consummately produced tone - he evinces a genuine control over it, and uses it flexibly - no park and bark approach here. Moreover, he makes the character figure prominently: he really delivers a tale in his "Dalle stanze, ove Lucia," setting up the mad scene fittingly.

Whoever said Scotto was a second-stringer should be thumped on the head, then made to hasten and acquire this release. She is spectacular, nothing short of miraculous here. What may have been accepted as standard then registers as something extraordinary now. Scotto is in marvelous voice: that brisk, tangy sound, slightly piercing on high, is bracingly clear, pure and perfectly steady throughout. She has never sounded more appealing, nor so classically Italianate in tone and manner. Her coloratura, while not of Sutherlandian velocity, is neat, in place, and confidently deployed. Trills are not a prominent thing of disctict articulation, yet they are discerned - and importantly, uses them effectively in the line where called for. High notes pop out quite strongly. What's most important here is she does that all-important shaping and binding of lines into an expressive whole; she has a way of magically "dropping in" and connecting phrases, with a wide range of dynamics, and her diction is an absolute joy - no alteration of vowels or slushing over of them. She makes every word clear, and meaningful. The line in "Regnava nel silenzio" is ideal, true, unfussed, yet so very sustained on a level of gripping narrative. "Verranno a te sull'are" is pristinely, gorgeously sung, as is "Soffriva nel pianto." This kind of cantabile singing should be taken heed by any budding Lucia today.

But what is most especially distinctive is that in each isolated number, she tells a story. You see in her face, the spontaneity of her delivery of the words and expressions, how they register upon the listener as internal thoughts, given out to the audience. What's most important here, though, is that she is so not trying to force external gimmicks onto the characterization. The question never forms in the mind, what kind of a character is Lucia? A spineless wimp? Sick from the start? A mad hatter? No, the Lucia here is one that uninformed individuals will never understand: she is a 19th century Romantic heroine, a girl in love with Edgardo. Scotto reacts in each episode as if the character were hearing the statements of the others in the story for the first time. It has a uniquely-alive spontaneity, unusually free of calculation. I'm sick of the discussion of whether Lucia is mentally ill from the start, based on her occult meanderings in "Regnava nel silenzio;" if anyone knew of literature, religious superstitions and so forth of that time, these were conventional devices in Romantic melodramas. Ghosts and apparitions are commonplace. So, then, Scotto just accepts Cammarano's text, and tells it without any manipulation or presumption. She or we do not think Lucia mentally ill from the get-go.

Scotto's emotional honesty never falters, not once. She is convincing in the scene with Enrico, bringing just the right amount of anguish, her reactions often touching; in "Se tradirmi," you see her pleading to God most plausibly. In the wedding scene, Scotto is riveting, and does what Mariella Devia had a hard time establishing in her La Scala 1992 video: show the abject despair and desolation of Lucia, as the hope drains out of her. Devia has the astounding vocal technique that kept her singing better longer, but she does not have, by a considerable margin, Scotto's all-abiding charisma and out-there personality. Back to the Wedding Scene: the sextet, onto the end of the act, just sizzles and explodes with drama - those voices just pour out with thrilling abandon. Exciting stuff, this.

After all my extravagance of description, I'll have to think of ways to go further concerning the Mad Scene: it's a revelation. One of the best, hands down, I have ever seen performed. Every American soprano and all directors should watch this. This is how it should be done. In the service of the music, no gimmicks.

Scotto is in her element. Intensely musical, letting the scene flow with astonishing naturalness. Again, she's telling a story. The audience doesn't see this, but the TV viewer does: close-ups reveal the soprano absolutely into her music/storymaking. Scotto has the audience confidently in the palm of her hand, but not for a moment is she calculating or manipulative: it is, rather, an artist in full sureness and specific aim in what she is doing - she's fascinating to watch at every point, you can't take your eyes off her. She's living the situation moment by moment. We get no hysterics, no forced "mad acting" or cheap effects (which I despise). Lucia is totally removed from reality, in her childlike state, moving around like a little ghost in her own little but all-consuming world. Apart from a few moments of fright (the "il fantasma" sequence is powerful), she's deliriously happy, living out her bliss with Edgardo. Most of all, though, finally, you get the full power and pathos of what Donizetti intended. Scotto weds the text with the music so skillfully so that you get the full effect how how beautifully they complement each other. She does not allow the music to be compromised, so she takes care to make all the actions fit in, rather than standing out, as is the wont of too many a soprano. Scotto's bravura accomplishment is a triumph, and what a fortuitous circumstance that these documents exist, and that we have privy to them.

The bows and biz in the lengthy applause after the flute with cadenza, is however, pure Scotto. She steps out of character to acknowledge the ovation. No objections at all; it is decidedly part of the show. Very much like Cossotto, oh thank thank you, oh so humble me but I deserve it. I'm beginning to think these kinds of self-possessed artists, who don't display false modesty very well, are the lastingly memorable artists. Infinite self-belief, a healthy dose of the imperious ego, wanting to please, absolutely certain of their merit, and a kind of inborn dementedness: it translates into a very personal charisma, which defines who they are. They're to be preferred. We want personalities, a personal statement, an individual MO. Wallflowers, generic, unidentifiable, pedantic, please go home.

Without a doubt, this is the video Lucia of choice. Even though it's cut, it retains and fleshes out the truest spirit of the piece. -- Niel Rishoi

VAI DVD 4418 Lucia: Renata Scotto; Edgardo: Carlo Bergonzi; Enrico: Mario Zanasi; Raimondo: Plinio Clabassi; Arturo: Angelo Marchiandi; Alisa: Mirella Fiorentini; Normanno: Giuseppe Baratti. NHK Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Bartoletti. Japan, 1967.

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20 December 2007

Vox populi

You, the cher public, have spoken. By a firm plurality of 31%, you have selected Renata Scotto's Lady Macbeth as the "encore" to her Adriana Lecouvreur on the current episode of Unnatural Acts of Opera. Of the 238 ballots cast, the Scottish dame garnered 74 votes. Runners-up were Norma (50 votes) and Elisabetta in Don Carlo (47 votes). La Gioconda and Amelia in Ballo brought up the rear with 31 votes each.

Also featured on our current podcast: Apocryphal Opera Anecdote Theatre of the Air presents the heart-warming holiday-themed drama "La Cieca's Christmas Carol," with special "ghost" appearances by your favorites Tullio Serafin and Olga Cratchitt.

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18 December 2007

You, the programmer

La Cieca has once more been remiss in her podcasting, so she's turning to you, cher public, for a little help. Thursday night La Cieca will publish the (overdue) podcast featuring the final act of Adriana Lecouvreur starring the ineffable Renata Scotto. As usual, there will be room for 20-25 minutes of additional music after the act. So La Cieca is asking you, my darlings, to help her choose the bonus material.

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02 December 2007

Mostly mediocre moments

In the words of Stella Maria Krazelberg von und zu Brabant, "Renata was robbed!" La Cieca offers a quick reminder of some moments that should have made the Met's "Top 15" list.

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17 November 2007

Musa! Diva! Sirena!

La Cieca's all-time favorite soprano, Renata Scotto, in one of her greatest roles, Adriana Lecouvreur -- if you can think of an operatic experience to rival it, La Cieca hopes you will let her know what you're having! La Scotto is heard in her first Adriana Lecouvreur, from San Francisco in 1977, partnered by Elena Obraztsova , Giacomo Aragall and Giuseppe Taddei under the baton of Gianandrea Gavazzeni. The first act of the Cilea weepy is the centerpiece of the current episode of Unnatural Acts of Opera, but is La Cieca satisfied? Hardly! Bonus features include rare early recordings of Scotto singing Bellini arias (I Capuleti e i Montecchi and I puritani) and your doyenne's admittedly somewhat vague reminiscences of the glory that was San Francisco gay life in the seventies.

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14 November 2007

Who's the missing star?

La Cieca was just wondering about something yesterday on opera-l, and doggone if Anne Midgette wasn't wondering about the same thing today in the New York Times. (That woman haunts my dreams, I tell you. It's like she's inside my head. Now, where was I? Oh, yes...) The point that dear Anne and I (among others) have mulling is this:

There was a time when Norma was considered a rarity or at least an opera that could be revived only when a very special prima donna was available and willing. The first Met Norma, for example, was Lilli Lehmann, the house's biggest female star of that era. Even given Lehmann's réclame, her appearance as Norma was considered by at least one critic (W. J. Henderson in Times) to be a sort of stunt:

The opera was chosen by Fräu Lehmann for her benefit, and from a financial point of view her selection was a very wise one . . . . From an artistic point of view the choice does not seem to be so commendable. There is no artistic reason why Lilli Lehmann should present herself to the New York public as a colorature singer. She may have been actuated by a not unnatural desire to display her versatility, but to get up a performance of Bellini's "Norma" for her benefit savors rather of self-esteem than of a strong devotion to honest art . . . . She demonstrated that her voice possessed far more flexibility and that she had a greater command of the pure ornamentation of signing that anyone suspected ... It must be said, however, that Fräu Lehmann took many of the elaborate ornamental passages at a very moderate tempo and sang them with very evident labor, thus depriving them of much of that brilliancy which the smooth, mellow, pliable Italian voices impart to them. Fiorituri without brilliancy have no "raison d' étre," and no Italian diva of standing would have received half the applause that Fräu Lehmann did for singing these passages as she did. The audience was excited by astonishment at the fact that she could do it at all.
Well, that was a longer pullquote than La Cieca originally intended to use, but, goodness, that is such excellent critical writing, isn't it? Anyway, back to the argument. Lehmann, Rosa Ponselle, Gina Cigna, Zinka Milanov and of course Maria Callas were all big established stars when they took on Norma at the Met. So were Joan Sutherland and Montserrat Caballé. If Shirley Verrett, Renata Scotto and Jane Eaglen received mixed reviews for their Met performances of the opera, it wasn't because of lack of star power or clout -- they were all extremely important names on the Met roster at the time of their casting.

Then there are performances from the likes of Adelaide Negri and Marisa Galvany -- (covers who had to go on) and Rita Hunter, one of the many jumpers-in for Caballé. The presence of Hasmik Papian at the beginning of this year's run of Norma should be understood in the same spirit, i.e., a late-in-the-game substitution.

Papian is going on for Maria Guleghina, who was pulled out of the beginning of the Norma run to perform the new production of Macbeth. So the question is, who ever dreamed up the notion of Guleghina singing Norma at the Met? True, she won a big popular success here with Abigaille back in 2001 and she more or less owned the role of Tosca at the house for about five years. But nothing in those performances (or, to be frank, her few attempts at the Bellini opera elsewhere) really shouts "this woman must do Norma at the Met." So why would a revival of Norma be put in the pipeline five years ago for a singer who neither then nor now promises to display anything special in the role?

Which is why La Cieca poses the question: was this revival of Norma originally planned for a different singer? And if so, who? Deborah Voigt? Violeta Urmana? Renée Fleming?

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03 October 2007

Opera Queens

A composer I know, a neighbor,
once dropped the electrifying news
that the great Anna Moffo has sung his songs,
and telephones him every New Year's.

Whenever I see him on the street,
scurrying along with music scores
clutched to his chest,
I stop him to ask
if Miss Moffo, as I,
in my utter adoration, like to call her,
has phoned him yet
to wish him a Happy New Year.

But he invariably
dismisses my ultimate goddess
with a flick of the hand,
and switches the subject
to Zinka Milanov --
he accompanied Milanov on the piano
during the years of her retirement
as she coached divas with their vocal problems.
"They all came to her,"
he says, in utter worship,
"and Madame Milanov
told everyone the truth.
When Anna," --
my Miss Moffo is merely "Anna" to him,
in distinction to Milanov,
who is always Madame Milanov --
"When Anna came to her
for coaching,
Madame Milanov asked," --
here the composer's voice purrs bitchily --
"'How old are you, my dear.'
'Fifty-four,' Anna answered.
'My dear," the composer's eyes
search poor Miss Moffo's neck
for wrinkles, her face for evidence
of a face lift,
"we must be truthful
with each other,
or I cannot help you.
He cackles in triumph,
as Milanov must have cackled
every time she repeated the story,
and goes on to say
that the last time Anna called him
she said she was working on Norma.
"Norma! "
He howls with laughter
at the thought.
My tattered queen....

His latest story
is of Renata Scotto
arriving to ask Madame Milanov for help
in singing the dramatic role, La Gioconda.
"You want to sing La Gioconda?"
purred Madame Milanov.
"Yes," said the reigning diva of the Met,
"it suits my voice."
"My dear," said Madame Milanov,
"Cats are cats
and dogs are dogs,
and you

And with a dismissive wave of the hand,
he sails down the street
with Milanovian mirth.

-- from A Frieze for a Temple of Love by Edward Field (www.edwardfield.com). His latest, just released, is After the Fall, Poems Old and New (U. of Pittsburgh Press).

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17 May 2007

Sometimes the cabin's gloomy and the table's bare

"Wall to Wall Opera," a 13 hour orgy of things operatic, inhabits Symphony Space beginning at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Among the festivities is a master class in bel canto interpretation by Renata Scotto, but the moment La Cieca most eagerly awaits will arrive courtesy of Encompass Opera Theatre. We are promised a performance of "The Silver Aria" from the haunting opera by John LaTouche and Douglas Moore, The Ballad of Baby Joe.

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31 March 2007

A chance for stage folks to say hello

Leave it to La Cieca to offer added value to even so glittering a performance as Act Two of I Capuleti e i Montecchi starring Anna Netrebko, Daniela Barcelona and Joseph Calleja. Your doyenne makes her legitimate acting debut in a new episode of Apocryphal Opera Anecdote Theater in the demanding role of "Lady Capulet" in Romeo and Juliet. Unnatural Acts of Opera.

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09 February 2007

Voce di primavera

La Cieca has just heard the delightful news that her #1 favorite singer of all time, Renata Scotto, will grace the airwaves as Quizmistress during the Met broadcast of Il trittico on April 28.

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11 December 2006

The other Bobby

Walkout tenor Roberto Alagna is just generally pissed at the whole La Scala Aida experience, frankly. Even before the "buu" incident at last night's performance, Bobby was spewing in an interview with La Repubblica that he (and the other singers in Aida) were being treated like second-class citizens: "La verità è che, in Italia, ormai i cantanti non se li fila più nessuno," Alagna fumed. "Esistono solo il direttore e il regista, quando mai vedi sui giornali una foto dei cantanti? Lo sa che alla cena a Palazzo Reale non eravamo nemmeno stati invitati e che anche lì ho fatto un mezzo scandalo? E poi tutti quegli applausi a Roberto Bolle... Vadano a vedersi un balletto, invece di un' opera."

Yes, it's true. Apparently at a gala dinner-reception following the prima, the singers were shuttled off to a secondary ballroom while Franco Zeffirelli, Riccardo Chailly, Scala intendant Stéphane Lissner and hobnobbed with the glitterari in the "A" room. And the photographers did indeed focus on Roberto Bolle, which is understandable at least on the grounds that "the other Bobby" is more than a little photogenic.

Opera Chic has more (constantly updated) details, including the point that the Scala performances are being taped by Decca for eventual DVD release, a project that will be pointless without Alagna's cooperation. Oh, on the same blogsite, a delightful photo of little Bobby's Scotto Heels.

UPDATE: Now Decca and La Scala are making noises about legal action against Alagna. He says he will show up for the performances scheduled for taping, but not the others (in January). And the Italian news site SKY Life has an online video report about this scandale, including bits and pieces of the gaudy Zeffirelli production, an interview with Antonello "Sul Palco in Jeans" Palombo, plus a tantalizing glimpse of The Other Bobby rocking his triumphal thong.

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10 October 2006

La nuit des cinq étoiles

As if the season were not glamorous enough, it's already time for "The Second Annual F. Paul Driscoll Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence," or, as some insist on calling the prize, "The Opera News Awards." (No zing, no zazz, no punch...) Anyway, the lucky honorees this year are "Wagnerian tenor Ben Heppner, longtime Metropolitan Opera music director James Levine, bass René Pape, retired soprano and currently active director Renata Scotto, and dramatic soprano Deborah Voigt." The handing out of statuettes will take place in the ballroom of the Hotel Pierre in New York City on Sunday, January 28, 2007. (via Playbill Arts)

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25 September 2006

Sound the alarm

A few tidbits in reference to the impending Sirius broadcasts of the Met Opera. First, La Cieca's backstage spy reports that the Met has installed literally dozens of permanent microphones in various spots in the auditorium. These mikes are described as being reminiscent of CIA spy equipment, "the kind of technology that kind pick up a whisper a hundred yards away." (This sort of sensitivity will surely come in handy when Angela Gheorghiu sings Carmen a few seasons hence.) Our source went on to say that the Met and Sirius are trying for a completely different sound mix and balance from the familiar Saturday afternoon broadcasts.

La Cieca herself has signed up for the online-only Sirius service. The Met channel has not launched yet -- amusingly, the station is at the moment running a "tune in tonight" announcement backed with what sounds like Robin Byrd-era porn music. And that's for listeners who actually can access Sirius online: it seems that for some platforms (e.g., Safari) the stream may not be accessible until tomorrow. (Stone-age La Cieca is still on IE, which seems to work just fine. Right now she's listening to Miss Rosemary Clooney singing "In the Cool Cool Cool of the Evening" on Channel 75 "Standard Time.")

Following tonight's performance, La Cieca will podcast her reactions to the plaza experience along with the third act of a 1967 Madama Butterfly featuring Renata Scotto. Check back here, oh, elevenish when La Cieca returns to base for debriefing and cocktails!

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22 September 2006


That's how one industry insider described today's open dress rehearsal of Madama Butterfly at the Met. "More people than I've ever seen in the theater, some of them with tickets scalped from Ebay!"

A more measured assessment comes from yet another of La Cieca's network of operatives:

"Well I am happy to say that today's affair was well worth the wait in line! To begin with, the Met has transformed into a sort of "butterfly cocoon," with a myriad of exhibits, pictures and a giant ancient chinese banner outside which reads "Cio Cio San". The new art gallery has some very interesting paintings relating to the new production, although I question the inclusion of a collage of lesbian erotica which represents Madama Butterfly (quite a ballsy thing for such a bastion of tradition!). The documentary and Q&A session after the performance were
substantive and informative. Even Mayor Bloomberg deigned to make a short speech.

"Now, as for the performance--it certainly lived up to the hype! The crowd loved it, although a few people were puzzled bythe use of a puppet for Butterfly's child. I, however, felt it heightened the drama in that it allowed for a greater expressive range and highlighted the child's powerlessness. Besides that, the production really stunned everyone. The striking use of lighting as well as the costumes added so much to the performance and made for what is probably the most dramatic interpretation of the final scene. The giant black mirror which reflects the slanted stage gives the whole opera a cinematic feeling: you can see things in the mirror you cannot see on the stage, e.g., something happening behind a screen.

"Unlike so many productions at the MET, the effects are never an end in themselves and are meant to highlight the drama in some way rather that just dazzle the audience. On the whole, the sophistication of choreography, staging, and creativity is way ahead of most productions at the MET. It had the feeling of an excellent small theater production in that it was very specific and pretty much flawless. However, in its own way it was extravagant -- without being overblown like those Zeffirelli productions.

"Now, as for the singing....that is somewhat of a mixed bag. Giordani knocked my socks off with his gorgeous and unbroken sound. Vocally, he and Croft were the best aspects of the production. Gallardo-Domas was, well, not great . . . . She has no variety or delicacy, but at least she has a big enough voice to fill the house. As an actress she is suberb. It almost didn't matter that she couldn't quite fill the shoes of the role in the way that Scotto or de los Angeles could, because the production was just so damn superb.

"Oh and the best thing is that one does not have to be especially close to enjoy it--the production actually has more impact from a distance. For those who like their productions traditional --do not despair! This Butterfly production, while essentially minimalist, is not some kooky Eurotrash kitsch. It has the best aspects of a modern production, but is essentially traditional.

"I applaud the MET for finally doing something right. The open house was exciting, informative and just a wonderful experience all around. I hope this is a sign of things to come!"

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Talking head

Our own editor JJ will be heard today on WNYC's chat show Soundcheck, yammering away about the riches of video opera available on YouTube. It's on 93.9 FM from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. and is also available online.

La Cieca's own bewigged head has been busy too, introducing a 1967 Scotto Butterfly on Unnatural Acts of Opera.

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13 September 2006

What you won't hear in Luisa Miller

Here's a YouTube clip of the original telecast of Luisa Miller, complete with the screamed "Brava Maria Callas!" before Renata Scotto's first solo. La Cieca is informed that (reasonably enough) this interruption had been edited out of the eagerly-awaited DVD version. Note, too, that the DVD will feature state-of-the-art video and audio restoration, unlike this rather faded VHS dub.

Also new and fresh on YouTube, a clip courtesy of Premiere Opera of the all time champion Turandot team, Birgit Nilsson and Franco Corelli.

La Nilsson's closeups were apparently filmed separately and lip-synched, but that's all to the good because this way we get to study up close the diva's modish "Yma Sumac meets Female Trouble" maquillage.

Nilsson/Corelli-Turandot 1970 Macerata

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12 September 2006

Renata's revenge

After more than a quarter of a century, Renata Scotto gets the last word over that silly queen who made a career of disrupting her Met performances. The DVD of the "Live from the Met" telecast of Luisa Miller was released today, and is available at Amazon.com at a 30% discount off the list price. This is the performance of January 20, 1979, during which Fernando or whatever her name was shrieked "Brava Maria Callas!" in the instant of silence before Scotto launched into "Lo vidi, e 'l primo palpito." No word so far as to whether the DVD preserves this non-Verdian interpolation, but the important news here is that this Luisa Miller is one of the triumphs of the early James Levine era at the Met, with Placido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes, Bonaldo Giaiotti, James Morris and of course La Scottissima herself in A+ form. If memory serves (remember, it's been 25 years since La Cieca's weary eyes have feasted on this video), the live camerawork is far simpler and more immediate than the overly tweaked fussiness that plagued the Brian Large extravaganzas of the 1980s.

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13 April 2006


For Good Friday, a decidedly non-traditional Parsifal Act Two. Renata Scotto sings her only performance ever of Kundry in this April 14, 1995 performance featured on Unnatural Acts of Opera.


04 March 2006

Unnatural acts of poison

So here we are at the final act of Giordano's Fedora, and all those nasty little secrets everyone's been telling throughout the opera are about to be exposed!

Marcella Pobbe stars as the mysterious Princess Fedora Romazoff in a performance from the Teatro La Fenice, February 9, 1968. And as a bonus, YouTube video of the final scene of this opera starring Renata Scotto and Placido Domingo. Unnatural Acts of Opera

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31 January 2006

A soupcon here, a soupcon there...

La Cieca hears that one of our most popular and beloved mezzo-sopranos is going to drop the "mezzo" part and push up into a higher Fach. Wouldn't it be a tragedy if this American artist were to show such poor judgment?

A quick look-in at Academy Records this evening revealed a tantalizing assortment of CDs on the WH Live Opera label. Promised delights include Anna Moffo as Melisande, Leonie Rysanek as Elisabeth, a Jon Vickers/Tatiana Troyanos Parsifal, and a Trovatore starring Renata Scotto, Luciano Pavarotti and Shirley Verrett! Have any of my cher public purchased these or other recordings on this new label; if so, feedback, please?

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25 January 2006

The Swinging Sixties!

Ah, the 1960s! Corelli and Nilsson in Turandot! Tebaldi in Gioconda! Freni's debut! Milanov's farewell! Beverly's breakthrough Giulio Cesare! The two-night blizzard testing the loyalties of the standees queued for Maria's return to the Met! (And let's not forget the war in Vietnam, LSD, and the miniskirt!) By an odd coincidence, La Cieca's podcast and video offerings this week both date back to the year 1967, and, so far as she knows, neither acid nor minis are involved. On "Unnatural Acts of Opera," we present the soundtrack of a BBC telecast of Eugene Onegin starring Margaret Price, John Shirley-Quirk, Josephine Veasey, Robert Tear and Don Garrard. This week's youtube video clip (also to be found on the "Unnatural" page) is from Lucia di Lammermoor, starring Renata Scotto and Carlo Bergonzi. Unnatural Acts of Opera

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01 November 2005

The Pleasant Peasant

Last week, as you'll recall, our Unnatural Opera was Die Frau Ohne Schatten, one of the most grandiose and over-the-top works ever to grace the stage. La Cieca thought her public's palate could stand a little cleansing, so this time around we will hear a more intimate work, Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore. This performance is from the Maggio Musicale in Florence in 1967, and it stars the definitive Nemorino and Adina of the era, Carlo Bergonzi and Renata Scotto. Now, you wouldn't believe what hoops this unpretentious opera has sent La Cieca jumping though in her never-ending quest to enhance your your listening enjoyment. The first act of L'elisir is very long, as you know, something like 72 minutes, and so La Cieca thought it would be a good idea to break the act into two parts for the podcast. Great, fine, but where to put the admittedly artificial intermission? The logical place is just before Dulcamara's entrance, but then the first part of the podcast is like twelve minutes of music. Well, eventually, after lots of agonizing and second thoughts and sleepless nights, La cieca decided to break after Dulcamara's aria. Well, now that you know that, maybe we should just listen to Unnatural Acts of Opera.

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03 October 2005

Kiss Yesterday Goodbye

Have the years flown that fast? Well, you tell La Cieca. She just this past weekend realized that it's been 25 years since Beverly Sills retired from singing. To put that in persepctive, the duration of her retirement (1980 - 2005) is now exactly equal to the duration of her New York City Opera career (1955 - 1980). Yes, that means that Bev debuted at NYCO 50 years ago this year! And yet, to La Cieca, 1980 seems like, if not yesterday, then at most the day before. To mark these anniversaries (silver, silver, and gold, respectively), La Cieca is delighted to present an episode of Unnatural Acts of Opera featuring highlights from the "Beverly!" farewell gala. The show begins with a few numbers from Die Fledermaus, Act 2, starring Kitty Carlisle (Prince Orlovsky), Gianna Rolandi (Adele), Alan Titus (Eisenstein) and La Sills reprising her debut role of Rosalinda. Then out come the guests: Donald Gramm, John Alexander, Leontyne Price, Sherrill Milnes, Eileen Farrell, Renata Scotto and Placido Domingo. The program winds up with a pop/opera medley, Sills duetting with Carol Burnett. On second thought, don't kiss yesterday goodbye: do what you can to bring it back!

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27 August 2005

Master class

In response to the recent lively(ish) discussion about the suitability of Maria Guleghina to the rigors of the role of Elena in I vespri siciliani, La Cieca has decided that she should demonstrate how this music should be sung. No, actually La Cieca is not going to sing it herself; rather, she will present Renata Scotto's peerless interpretation from La Scala in 1970. This will also mark La Scotto's debut with Unnatual Acts of Opera, and an overdue debut it is when you recall that she is La Cieca's favorite singer, ever. La Cieca once opined that Scotto is the nearest anyone ever came to being the Bette Davis of opera; for that matter, La Davis could certainly be called the Scotto of the Silver Screen. But La Cieca digresses. This gala Vespri also stars Ruggiero Raimondi, Piero Cappuccilli and Gianni Raimondi, under the baton of Gianandrea Gavazzeni. Maestro G. took a number of cuts in the score, which means that we have time for some delightful extras following the acts, with Leyla Gencer, Anita Cerquetti, Boris Christoff and Renato Bruson headlining. It all begins Monday on Unnatural Acts of Opera.

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03 August 2005

Digital Dementia

Antonietta Stella as AmeliaLa Cieca notices that those lovely people over at Berkshire Record Outlet are offering what might fairly be called a plethora of opera performances on DVD, for just $8.99 a pop. Particularly drool-inducing selections include La Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein (Regine Crespin), Lakme (Joan Sutherland), Carmen (Denyce Graves, Roberto Alagna), Un ballo in maschera (Carlo Bergonzi, Antonietta Stella), Norma (Montserrat Caballe, Tatiana Troyanos), Faust (Alfredo Kraus, Renata Scotto, Nicolai Ghiaurov) -- and even a 1988(!) La Gioconda starring Grace Bumbry and Fiorenza Cossotto! Now, you all know how quickly great stuff like this sells out at Berkshire, so what are you waiting for? Get over there now!

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30 June 2005

Unnatural Acts with an Apple

Apple bites backThe reviews for Apple's iTunes 4.9 are mixed but the consensus is "thumbs up." La Cieca downloaded and installed the new version last night; very smooth. The interface with podcasts is something less than lavish, the one part of the application that feels "freeware." But La Cieca realizes there are a lot of people out there who use iTunes as their only jukebox software, so it seems likely that this development will increase the podcast public significantly. A good thing. The down side is that Apple has to review the podcasts before putting them on the one-click "subscribe" list, which means that you can't just go to the site and click on "Unnatural Acts of Opera."

But there is a simple workaround. From iTunes, click on Advanced, the Subscribe To Podcast..., then paste http://parterre.com/podcast/unnaaturalacts.rss into the URL text box. Then then click OK. That will subscribe you to the podcast series.

You can also subcribe on My Yahoo. Just Click on Add Content Add RSS by URL, then paste the URL and continue as in the iTunes instructions.

I'm also working on a tweak that would allow you to play the current "Unnatural Act" directly from the parterre podcast page; more on that maybe this weekend, as well as the first "regular" unnatural act, which at the moment looks like it's going to be Act 1 Traviata from Verona 1970 (Scotto, Bergonzi).

Now, about the Met's plans for a tab version of Magic Flute in the Julie Taymor production. La Cieca says, "Oh, why the hell not?" Somehow La Cieca feels that a 90-minute, fast-moving entertainment is a lot closer to Mozart's original intention than the three-hour plus behemoth the Met delivers when they do the Gesamt version.

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19 June 2005

"Singing is difficult"

... so says soprano/mentor Renata Scotto, in a charming interview in the NY Times about her singing academy in Westchester. And, of course, there's a lot more wisdom where that came from. Matthew Gurewitsch is the attentive interviewer. Now Playing at the D.M.V.: Renata Scotto.