20 November 2007

Love has a bitter core, Vanessa

Photo by Dan Rest, Lyric Opera of Chicago

Oh, all right, La Cieca admits it, this is not a photo from a production of Vanessa. She will say, though, that this is what a production of Vanessa should look like, and hold the scrim trees.

In fact, this is a scene from Lyric Opera of Chicago's new Die Frau ohne Schatten, which by the way your doyenne will be hearing next week. Expect a full report the first week of December.

Speaking of Vanessa, here's a representative of The Younger Generation of the Gays with his take.

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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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24 March 2007


Our editor JJ's busy week included a review of the Met's Aegyptische Helena in Gay City News, and that panel La Cieca has been yammering about all week. As his presentation on the topic "Opera and Technology," JJ introduced this little documentary about your own La Cieca.

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20 March 2007

Enchanted April

Karita Mattila, bottomBeginning April 1, San Francisco Opera will begin broadcasting its regular season again for the first time since 1982. The opener is Manon Lescaut featuring Karita Mattila as the notorious party girl.

Says General Manager David Gockley, "After decades with no regular broadcast series, this is truly a landmark announcement for San Francisco Opera. Through these broadcasts, audiences in the Bay Area, across the United States, and internationally will have the opportunity to experience the great performances that San Francisco Opera is producing."

Following programs through November include Orleanskaya Deva (Dolora Zajick), Tristan und Isolde (Thomas Moser, Christine Brewer), Il barbiere di Siviglia (Nathan Gunn), Un ballo in maschera (Deborah Voigt), Don Giovanni (Mariusz Kwiecien) and Der Rosenkavalier (Joyce DiDonato, Soile Isokoski). Broadcasts may be heard on SF's own KDFC and on the WFMT network. More details.

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05 March 2007

Event horizon

Now that we all know what's what for the Met's 2007-2008 season, surely it's time to start speculating about what comes after, right? Well, La Cieca has been in touch with her stable of reliable sources, and what she has heard is more than a little intriguing. N.B. All this is as heard, of course, not an official announcement...

Opening night 2008 will be a Renee Fleming gala showcasing The Beautiful Voice in acts from La traviata, Manon and Il pirata. Also in the season's opening weeks: Karita Mattila returns in Salome, Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon team for Lucia (HD simulcast for sure!), La Gioconda with the triple-diva goodness of Deborah Voigt, Olga Borodina and Ewa Podles, plus, for a little 21st century flava, the Met premiere of John Adams' Doctor Atomic featuring Audra MacDonald.

At the other end of the season, late spring 2009, the last revival of the rocks-n-rags Ring with James Levine conducting (start queuing for that one now) and the debut of DGG "It Girl" Elina Garanca in Cenerentola. In between, some hot tickets and some Sternstunden:
  • La sonnambula (Natalie Dessay/Juan Diego Florez)
  • Thais (Fleming/Thomas Hampson)
  • Rusalka (also Fleming)
  • La rondine (Angela Gheorghiu/Roberto Alagna)
  • Tristan und Isolde (Daniel Barenboim)
  • Eugene Onegin (Mattila/Hampson)
  • Cav/Pag (Alagna in both operas)
There's more (a lot more) of course, but La Cieca hopes this is enough to get the conversational ball rolling.

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17 October 2006

Casting and recasting

La Cieca's (of course) impeccably reliable sources are suggesting major casting changes afoot among the Met's dramatic soprano roster. La Cieca hears that Deborah Voigt has expressed a strong preference for Italian roles in future seasons instead of the German vehicles she has mostly sung so far. Since Voigt's rumored future engagements include a revival of Frau ohne Schatten and her first local Tristan, La Cieca wonders if the Italian parts are meant to be "in addition to" or "instead of." La Cieca would sorely mourn the loss of a Voigt Isolde, though presumably Christine Brewer would be easy to slot into a production designed for Jane Eaglen.

Voigt is already rumored for a revival of Gioconda two seasons hence, and she has sung Lady Macbeth several times before. However, the Italian role most discussed for Voigt is the Italian role, Norma. Voigt would, according to speculation, replace the currently skedded Maria Guleghina during the 2007-2008 season. (Of course, La Cieca has said all along that a Guleghina Norma was wildly unlikely to happen.)

Meanwhile, our spy whispers that Andrea Gruber is as good as bought out of next season's Fanciulla revival, with no replacement currently lined up. (Though right off the top of her head La Cieca can think of someone already who knows the role. You know, just saying.)

Rumors continue to swirl that Peter Gelb is divesting the Met of 14 leading singers he believes have no future there. The group reportedly includes such obvious candidates as Ruth Ann Swenson, Hei-Kyung Hong, Heidi Grant Murphy and La Gruber, plus a fresher face, Isabel Bayrakdarian.

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16 October 2006

Veils, song

As if those opera queens (you know La Cieca is talking to you, cher public) don't already have more than enough to listen to, what with Unnatural Acts of Opera, plus Sirius Met Broadcasts, plus various streaming radio on the internet -- well, now there's lots more where that came from. Well, anyway, one more from where that came from -- the Lyric Opera of Chicago, which will resume its broadcasts beginning this Saturday night, October 21.

This will be the first series of broadcasts from the Lyric Opera since the 2001- 2002 season, and LOC is kicking off the new broadcasts with a bang -- the opening night of Salome, featuring Deborah Voigt's first staged performance of the title role. The live broadcast will be on WFMT, 98.7 starting at 7:30 PM Central Time, and La Cieca has just learned that the broadcast will be streamed live over wfmt.com.

This works out particularly well, since there is no live Met Sirius performance that night. La Cieca knows how harried you get, cher public, when you have to choose which broadcast to listen to, and one at a time is all she can handle as well, at least until someone invents the internet radio equivalent of Tivo.

Well, that's Saturday night, but right now it's Monday, and La Cieca has some podcasting to do. Tonight's program, La Cieca hopes, you will find a special treat. The fabulous Regine Crespin is heard in recital at Hunter College on November 11, 1967, partnered by John Wustman on the 88s. This Unnatural Act of Opera program will be available beginning tonight, October 16.

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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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11 July 2006

La publicité!

Well, who says that the summer is a slow news season for opera? The top story this week is that the Royal Opera Covent Garden is living up to it name (the royal part I mean) by casting Deborah Voigt as Ariadne for their 2007-08 season. And bravi to La Voigt herself and her publicity team for handling the story so well -- it was everywhere on the net yesterday, including even Fox News.

An interesting detail in the story is that currently Voigt is 135 pounds lighter than her peak weight, presurgery, which was two years ago, or in other words she has lost an entire soubrette. What a shock it will be when the Met's video of Ariadne finally emerges from the vaults -- this was taped back when Voigt was still X-large, and to tell the truth, La Cieca think she's beginning to forget what Debbie looked like back then, since she seems so comfortable in her new skin.

Well, at least the Ariadne made it to the taping stage; the latest big opera video project might not even do that. You may recall that La Cieca revealed last week that Los Angeles Opera will present a short revival of Traviata in the fall so that Renee Fleming's Violetta can be documented for a Decca DVD release. (Part of the deal as that Fleming should appear in a "traditional" production, as opposed to the flapper updating Los Angeles did this summer.)

Well, now it turns out that LAO will have to pony up an additional $600K to refurbish their old Traviata production to bring it up to acceptable standards for video. (I guess if Renee Fleming is your Violetta, you should make sure the physical production is as interesting as possible.) What makes this story so odd is that both the Traviata stagings in question are devised by the same director, and that this director is the wife of the company's general director. And what I think should have Decca worried is that they are putting so much money into a Traviata with a soprano who is not exactly a reliable self-starter as an actress, and then giving her Marta Domingo as a director. No wonder Dimitri Hvorostovsky bailed from this one.

And another thing that struck me as odd is that since the news about this DVD broke first as a rumor and now it's been confirmed, there has been no reaction, even from the big Fleming fans, no cries of, "Oh thank heaven the divine Renee's Violetta will be preserved for posterity!" I mean, it's no skin off La Cieca's Roman nose whether Renaaay films it or not: I'm not going to watch it anyway, but you'd think the hardcore Fleming Flappers would be making a bit more of a stir over so important a project for their goddess. Oh well, probably a lot of the Fleming fans were out in their quarter shares in the Pines this past weekend, and just haven't caught up with the good news yet.

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30 April 2006

I could go on singing 'til the cows come home

La Cieca has just learned the scheduled roster and repertoire for the Volpe Farewell Gala to be performed on Saturday, May 20 (and, if all this music stays in the show, part of May 21 as well.) Deborah Voigt will open the program with special material by Ben Moore, accompanied by Brian Zeger. The first of the James Levine stand-ins, Valery Gergiev, will then conduct selections from Ruslan and Ludmilla and Tannhaeuser. (Further baton duties for the evening are shared among Marco Armiliato, James Conlon, Plácido Domingo, Peter Schneider and Patrick Summers.)

The first operatic solo of the evening ("La speranza" from Semiramide) goes to Juan Diego Florez. Further highlights of the first half include a duet from L'italiana in Algeri (Ildar Abdrazakov, Olga Borodina), "O mio babbino caro" (Ruth Anne Swenson), "Una furtiva lagrima" (Ramon Vargas), "Ah non credea mirarti" (Natalie Dessay), the Count's aria from Figaro (Dwayne Croft), "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" (Denyce Graves), "Tacea la notte" (Renee Fleming [!]), "Je vais mourir" from Les Troyens (Waltraud Meier), the Prize Song (Ben Heppner), and Marietta's Lied (Kiri te Kanawa[!!]).

Frederica von Stade, Salvatore Licitra and Domingo (who sings, too!) will also perform a few songs in this segment, and after a "gala film" is shown, la Voigt will return to perform "Pace, pace."

Susan Graham is first on after intermission with another Moore ditty, followed by Stephanie Blythe ("Ah, que j’aimes les militaires"), Thomas Hampson (Pierrot's song from Die Tote Stadt), Samuel Ramey (Mephisto's serenade from Faust), Dimitri Hvorostovsky and Rene Pape in arias from Don Carlo, and the double-barrelled mezzo excitement of Dolora Zajick's "O mon Fernand" and Ms. Meier's Easter Hymn from Cavalleria.

Two numbers from Così fan tutte follow: "Ah guarda sorella" with Mmes. von Stade and te Kanawa, and "Soave sia il vento" with Fleming, Graham and Hampson. The baritone returns with Karita Mattila for selections from The Merry Widow, and then the audience will take a well-deserved bathroom break while the Met Ballet performs a jolly polka. (UPDATE: further clues suggest that this number will accompany an "open" scene change, so the audience will finally learn the meaning of all that yelling and banging that goes on while we sit in semidarkness for ten minutes at a stretch. It's important that we see this now, because that spoilsport Peter Gelb has vowed to use some sort of voodoo "technology" to facilitate instantaneous scene changes, the way they do on Broadway, at the NYCO, in every European opera house, and, well, basically everywhere in the universe besides the Met.)

James Morris will then lead the Gods into Valhalla, and Susan Graham will bid us all farewell with "Parto, parto." But wait, the show's not over yet. In what might best be called the "TBA Segment," we will (or perhaps will not) hear tenors Roberto Alagna and Marcello Giordani in arias from Cyrano de Bergerac and La gioconda respectively. The legendary Mirella Freni is penciled in for an aria from Alfano's Risurezzione and a Puccini song, and then comes an item listed merely as "(34. L. Pavarotti)."

Returning to the scheduled program, Mattila, Heppner, Pape, Morris (and Matthew Polenzani) bring the curtain down with the finale to Fidelio under the baton of Maestro Schneider. At this point, La Cieca assumes, Rudy Giuliani will present Volpe with a plaque or something and perhaps make a joke about how he's expecting Joe to be on time for work. And then The Beautiful Voice will be heard once more asking the musical question "When I Have Sung My Songs."

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28 January 2006

Brani scelti

According to playbillarts.com, Deborah Voigt will appear on 60 Minutes this Sunday to discuss weight loss, career and such. UPDATE: the 60 Minutes piece is now online.


16 January 2005

Media awake with a start

You heard it here first. In fact, you heard it here a month ago -- and now the "other" media are finally picking up on the operatic story of the year. According to the Houston Chronicle, David Gockley is mulling an offer from San Francisco "to lead that city's legendary but troubled opera company."

La Cieca was delighted to read the enthusiastic reviews for Deborah Voigt's first Marschallin in Berlin. The Berliner Morgenpost, first commenting on the rumored "40 kilos" Voigt has lost over the past year or so, raved, "She sings the Marschallin in her bold high-dramatic voice, like Isolde out for a stroll in the Prater, but without sacrificing fine detail or clarity of text. Her diction is clear and idiomatic, and her phrasing is tender. Her large-scale operatic gestures redefine this Rosenkavalier production in a more traditional mode. This Marschallin is an undisputed success." And the Tagesspiel praised the soprano for the "grandeur" and "seductiveness" of her intepretation.

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