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OperaNow! #130: There Goes Our Chances of Being On The Radio

James Levine slowly cuts back on his Met work load...Peter Gelb writes an open letter to the NY Times answering his critics...Chicago Opera Theater announces 2012 season (containing a piece they were going to do last season)...The 5 Browns father sentenced for child sexual abuse (yikes).

Oliver's Corner looks at the mezzo aria Se Romeo from I Capuletti e i Montecchi by Bellini, with examples by Marilyn Horne, Agnes BaltsaVesselina Kasarova, Janet BakerBrigitte FaesbaenderTatiana Troyanos, and Joyce DiDonato.

Reader Comments (19)

Maestro Maazel is hilarious! Please have him back.
March 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCraig
Rice! You are hilarious! Please have yourself back. I'm CRYING here from laughing @ :26:10. As someone wise once wrote to me: "Oh YOU."
March 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCraig
Oops. I misread my own notes.
Giuditta Grisi was the creator of the role of Romeo. She was a mezzo-soprano.
Her sister Giulia Grisi was a soprano and sang Adalgisa and the other soprano roles mentioned.

My bad. Thanks to Brad S. for the correction.
March 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe OC
This was an Oliver's Corner of which you can be proud. I prefer the opera surveys over the single aria focussed segments, but your inclusion of the role's history and changing tastes in performance styles kept my interest.

A follow-up question: Netrebko and Garanca recently recorded this opera (studio production, I think). Why didn't you include Garanca's take, as it's the most recently recorded?

Second follow-up: your comment about the sound of two women singing together was more romantic to listeners in Bellini's time struck me as very interesting. For myself, I'd like a trouser role sung with the beauty and grace of a Rivera with the "swagger of a big-dicked gorilla" (to take up a phrase you used). It might beyond the scope of Oliver's Corner, but can you share a little more about the history of trouser roles and specifically singing these roles so that they sound like women (as opposed to "a dude")? I'll do my own research, but I'm curious about your thoughts -- and the thoughts of all the panelists -- on this topic.
March 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCraig
I also left out Judith Forst because I couldn't get my hands on the recording in time. Apologies to Gianmarco.

I really LIKED Garanca earlier in her career, let's say up to 2006. I just feel that the voice is getting thicker and less flexible. She is still singing well, but the version she recorded with Netrebko is not one I wanted to show as an example because of it's overly dark, albeit beautiful, monochromaticism. She recorded the aria before she made it big, around 2002 for the Ondine label. I like that version better.

As far as Lady-Sounds-Like-A-Dude-ism, I think we can credit that to Horne. Even a singer like Fiorenza Cossotto who could have a very masculine tone quality sounds feminine in Bel Canto repertoire.

Male treble voices, the castrati, are the origin of this vocal range as romantic/heroic lead characters and continued all the way to Classical-era Opera Seria. Females in trouser roles could be traced back to Handel (probably earlier). Durastanti, one of Handel's favorites, created heroic mezzo-soprano roles en travesti. The history of trouser roles as romantic lead characters ends with Bellini and Meyerbeyer. Meaning to say, it ends when the Bel Canto ends. By the time we get to Verdi, we have Page Boys like Oscar in Ballo and Tebaldo in Don Carlos.

there is a longer answer, but that is the condensed version.
March 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe OC
Thanks for your quick response! I didn't realize that Garanca's latest assay of the role was overly dark and inflexible (or, more correctly, that her younger voice was lighter and more flexible). I'll search for the Ondine recording.

Re: Horne: how I wished I'd been around to see her live in all of her masculine splendor. At least we have the recordings...
March 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCraig
Garanca's effort is not bad or unacceptable. It's just not as clean as DiDonato or as exciting as Kasarova or Larmore. So I left her out in favor of some real favorites like Troyanos and Baltsa.
March 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe OC
Garanca has a very cool and mellow voice, which is what I think the OC may be interpreting as too thick and overly dark. From a 2011 recording of Anna Bolena where Garanca sang Giovanna I was actually amazed by how agile her voice was in the coloratura sections of this cabaletta:

I haven't heard the episode yet, but I will listen right away to hear what you have to say about the rest.
March 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterzach
Zach (not Zachary Woolfe, I confirmed, folks),

She does sound amazing in the clip you included. I am not a Hater.
I am just concerned with her own attitude toward florid belcanto/baroque rep a mere decade after she really came onto the scene. The interview she gave backstage @ the HD Cenerentola was disheartening, and that awful Habanera concept-album shows her (or her handlers) longing to step into the bigger stuff -a temptation of many singers who had to kiss their virtuosic singing days goodbye.
March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe OC
I rarely use my real name when commenting online, and I think it's funny that when I do it just so happens that I share the first name of a reviewer for the nytimes that I don't all. so yea, i'm not that guy.
March 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterzach
Haven't finished listening to the whole podcast yet, but so far, as good as always. I wanted to comment about the Levine/Gelb stories. It seems to me that it's probably cyclical to some extent, at least at the Met. Gelb has come in at a time when Levine is starting to cut back due to his health. That has allowed Gelb to really take the limelight. When Levine steps down as principal conductor/artistic director, his replacement will probably want to flex his/her own muscles as far as artistic direction, singer selection, etc. I have no clue how that dynamic works at other houses, but it appears to be a partnership between Mason and Davis at Lyric in Chicago. The situation in NYC is just magnified so much, I think maybe we tend to think everywhere is the same. I'd love to hear what other people perceive at other companies.

My 2 cents.
March 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercebristow
Ooo! Already some great commentary on this podcast. First - guys, you sounded so sad and forlorn by the end, and then that molestation story...yeesh! Try not to get discouraged - it must be tough, but your work is so appreciated at this end, you don't even know. As I've said before, there's really nothing like this podcast out there, at all.
I liked how Michael made a point of distinguishing between the current perceived "lookism" in casting opera VERSUS good acting. It's been said here and elsewhere before, but come on, there was good acting in opera way before the MET HD/Gelb years. I get tired of hearing Gelb harping on about how he's brought new dramatic values (so-called "hot" theatre directors etc) to the MET. Yes, some of what he's done has been very good, but there were amazing actor/singers and incredible productions (the Dexter Dialogues of the Carmelites springs to mind) before Gelb, that's for sure. Just because a singer is slim, photogenic etc. doesn't mean the quality of their acting is going to be great. I think a case in point is Netrebko - yes, beautiful voice, good looks, but IMO, only OK acting ability. Much preferred Dessay's Lucia in the same Zimmerman production to Netrebko's portrayal a couple seasons ago.
Loved the detail analysis of the Romeo aria - Oliver, you said some very interesting things about the singer's stance, and how subtle it can/should be. Wish Jennifer could have said a few more words about singing this aria, especially as she'd just been working on it! Oliver - I realize I only have Judith Forst's rendition of the aria on cassette tape (from my earliest days of buying recordings). I should have picked up the CD at the second-hand shop a couple of years ago. If I get my hands on it, I'll send you the track - it's really amazing!
@Zach - I've actually been enjoying Woolf's reviews - at least he seems not to be afraid to make his opinions known, and they're intelligently conveyed. It was interesting to read what he thought about Dessay's Lucia [i.e. that her acting was a bit too small to project at the big MET] - can't say I agreed with that when I saw her in the HD transmission, but granted, that was very close-up!
@cebristow - I think that the dynamic between music director and general director *is* different at each company, so maybe you're correct in thinking that the situation at the MET isn't universal. Actually what would be interesting to hear is if anyone knows of a company where the *music* director is currently in the driver's seat.
March 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGianmarco
It's ironic that Dessay is being criticized for acting too small since more often than not she's overacting. Cameras or not, she needed to tone down the acting and focus more on the singing. That didn't stop her from rolling on the floor, running around, and screaming, so when Woolfe' wrote that she acted too small I haven't the slightest idea what he was referring to.
March 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterzach
I just want to agree with something Gianmarco said about Jenny. It dawned on me back when you guys were discussing La Cenerentola that Jenny is such a great resource for info about these roles since she actually sings them, whereas Oliver just listens to recordings. Anyway, if Jenny is around, please let her give more input. Thanks.
March 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterzach
Zach - I know Dessay has been criticized in the past for being over-the-top in the acting department! She was a bit hyper-kinetic in the Daughter of the Regiment, but I felt that comedy could take it. As for the Lucia, I found her to be quite convincing, and focused and didn't think she overdid it. But also, I wouldn't have called it super-restrained either. It was interesting that in the intermission interview, she made a pointed statement that for her upcoming Traviatas, she was going to focus on her breath, on singing beautifully...I think singing, and singing opera in particular is one of the most demanding artforms and it was quite something to hear an artist at her level talking about something so basic as her breath support!
April 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGianmarco
@ Zach
Thanks for characterizing what I do as "just listening to recordings"
I will go hang myself now
April 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe OC
Oh Christ. Here we go.
April 1, 2011 | Registered CommenterMichael Rice
Uh oh - I thought that might be coming. One of the things I appreciate about Oliver's discussions is that I know they're coming from a singer - someone who has obviously studied voice seriously. I don't think many critics out there come from that place of knowledge. My only point was simply that Jenny was there in the studio, and might have been able to enlighten us from a different point of view as to the pitfalls, and joys of the aria. By no means do I think that listening to, and critiquing recordings is easy and I hope the OC keeps putting it out there in his inimitable way!
April 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGianmarco
There's nothing wrong with listening to recordings.

You can listen to the Anna Nicole Smith opera here for the next few days:

You guys should talk about this in the next episode.
April 2, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterzach

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