Friday, May 28, 2010

Send in the clowns?

Playbill.com has learned that Tony Award winners Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch have been approached to succeed Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury, respectively, in the roles of the captivating actress Desirée Armfeldt and her worldly-wise mother Madame Armfeldt.

Now - THAT would be a cast *not* to be missed! Wow. And, yikes.

For more information - check out the Playbill.com Exclusive.

[Photo: Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch by Joseph Marzullo/WENN]

For Fort Worth Opera in 2011 - It's hilarity, verismo, a male soprano, sex, *and* drugs.

Taking a cue from the few opera companies who have realized that New Media is truly the way in which people are gathering their information, Fort Worth Opera announced it’s 2011 Season via the company’s Facebook page.

According to the post, the operas for the 2011 Festival Season will be Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, Verdi’s Il Trovatore, Handel’s Julius Caesar which will all be performed at Bass Performance Hall. In addition, Hydrogen Jukebox, a chamber opera by Philip Glass - based on the poetry of Allen Ginsberg - will be performed at the Hardy and Betty Sanders Theatre, a small black-box venue located at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center.

This Festival Season will mark both the company’s fifth and the first time the company has produced a fully-staged Handel opera or a Philip Glass piece.

And Friendlies, as to not disappoint those who want to see who is doing what and when, here's the 4-1-1.

THE MIKADO
Music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert.
May 14, 22, 27 and June 4, 2011.

The Mikado, a comedy, contains some of the best-known and popular Gilbert and Sullivan tunes. The story centers around two young lovers struggling against the powers that be to become husband and wife. Fort Worth Opera’s version will be true to the original, but with a fun twist of setting it in modern-day Japan.

Director: John de los Santos
Conductor: Joe Illick Primary
Cast: Jessica Cates as Yum-Yum; Meaghan Deiter as Katisha; Logan Rucker as Nanki-Poo; and Matthew Young as Mikado.

IL TROVATORE
Music by Giuseppe Verdi and libretto by Salvatore Cammarano.
May 21, 29 and June 3, 2011.

Classic, larger-then-life, Verdi with traditional sets and costumes. The story is a rich labyrinth of gypsy mothers, revenge, warring rivals (who are brothers, but don’t know it) and love.

Director: David Lefkowich
Conductor: Joe Illick
Cast: Marjorie Owens as Leonora; Victoria Livengood as Azucena; Dongwon Shin as Manrico; and Malcolm MacKenzie as Count di Luna.

JULIUS CAESER
Music by George Frideric Handel and libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym.
May 28 and June 5, 2011.

Classic production, except that the Fort Worth Opera production will feature two male counter-tenors and a male soprano to sing the roles Handel originally wrote for castrati. The story centers around the Egyptian-Roman war and the romance between Julius Caesar and Cleopatra.

Director: David Gately
Conductor: Daniel Beckwith
Cast: Randall Scotting as Julius Caesar; Ava Pine as Cleopatra; Meredith Arwady as Cornelia; and Michael Maniaci as Sextus.

HYDROGEN JUKEBOX
Music by Philip Glass and poetry by Allen Ginsberg.
May 24, 25, 26, 28, 29, June 1, 2, 4 and 5, 2011.

Described as a “chamber opera for ensemble and soloists,” Hydrogen Jukebox is unlike any opera most people have seen. Based on the work “Howl” by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, this music/theater piece is a portrait of America that covers 1950’s through the 1980’s. Its content ranges from highly personal poems of Ginsberg to his reflection on social issues: the anti-war movement, the sexual revolution, drugs, eastern philosophy, and environmental awareness.

Director: Lawrence Edelson
Conductor: Steven R. Osgood. The artists appearing have not been announced at this time.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Streisand's newest passion

“When something is off its mark, it disturbs me viscerally ... It’s not a good thing.”

How many times have we heard this from La Streisand? Only *this* time, Barbra Streisand is talking about her passion for design.

No ... seriously!

My Passion for Design, Streisand's new book to be published by Viking in November, was unveiled yesterday at the BookExpo here in New York.

For more - including how Queen B. took Gayle King out at the knees - hop over to the New York Times blog.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Peter Gelb - A Huffington Post "Featured Doer"

This is your chance - you better not miss it!

Peter Gelb is one of 15 candidates for a video interview in the Huffington Post's "Featured Doer" Spotlight Series. Go to the Peter Gelb page at Huffington Post and leave a question for him. The five “doers” with the most questions asked will submit to a video interview using your questions!

Happy Birthday: Beverly Sills

Legendary soprano Beverly "Bubbles" Sills was born Belle Miriam Silverman in Brooklyn on this day in 1929.

Here's Another Favorite Clip with lots of runs, trills and high notes to help celebrate all that was Bubbles!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Happy Birthday: Brooklyn Bridge turns 127

Anyone who knows me personally, understands that I have this overwhelming fascination with facts that most people think are utterly useless.

Let's face it - it's a great trait to have at parties.

For example, when you're drinking your Iced Coffee and you suck on the straw, it is not the sucking motion itself that brings the delicious nectar of the Gods to your lips. Rather, you've created a vacuum and the atmospheric pressure outside of that vacuum pushes the liquid up to your lips.

[Right now - I know that while reading this, my better half is giving me the "here he goes again ... but, I love him" face.]

Here's the situation ... I'm just going to be perfectly frank with you. I have fully geeked out this morning and here's why: On this date in 1883, America's oldest suspension bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, had it's opening ceremonies. The opening came after a 14 year construction period which was headed by an engineer who couldn't leave his apartment... more on that later.

Geeks of the world, fasten your seatbelts.

According to PBS's Wonders of the World databank, here are the bridge's vital statistics:
Location: Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York, USA
Completion Date: 1883
Cost: $18 million
Length: 3,460 feet
Type: Suspension
Materials: Steel, granite
Longest Single Span: 1,595 feet, 6 inches
Engineer(s): John A. Roebling, Washington A. Roebling

Considered a brilliant feat of 19th-century engineering, the Brooklyn Bridge was a bridge of many firsts. It was the first suspension bridge to use steel for its cable wire. It was the first bridge to use explosives in a dangerous underwater device called a caisson. At the time it was built, the 3,460-foot Brooklyn Bridge was also crowned the longest suspension bridge in the world.

But the Brooklyn Bridge was plagued with its share of problems. Before construction even began, the bridge's chief engineer, John A. Roebling, died from tetanus. The project was taken over and seen to its completion by his son, Washington Roebling. Three years later, Roebling developed a crippling illness called caisson's disease, known today as "the bends." Bedridden but determined to stay in charge, Roebling used a telescope to keep watch over the bridge's progress. He dictated instructions to his wife, Emily, who passed on his orders to the workers. During this time, an unexpected blast wrecked one caisson, a fire damaged another, and a cable snapped from its anchorage and crashed into the river.

Despite these problems, construction continued at a feverish pace. By 1883, 14 years after it began, Roebling successfully guided the completion of one of the most famous bridges in the world -- without ever leaving his apartment.

Fast Facts:

* Although he was physically able to leave his apartment, Washington Roebling refused to attend the opening celebration honoring his remarkable achievement.

* The bridge opened to the public on May 24, 1883, at 2:00 p.m. A total of 150,300 people crossed the bridge on opening day. Each person was charged one cent to cross.

* The bridge opened to vehicles on May 24, 1883, at 5:00 p.m. A total of 1,800 vehicles crossed on the first day. Vehicles were charged five cents to cross.

* Today, the Brooklyn Bridge is the second busiest bridge in New York City. One hundred forty-four thousand vehicles cross the bridge every day.
Anyone else feeling warm, fuzzy and drunk from the open bar of facts? Wait. It's just me? Damn.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Absolutely agog - the 'if you have to cry' edition

Back when Yours Truly was just a wee-little opera singer - and I don't mean in size, I mean in age - I studied with a voice teacher that was notorious for being hard on her students.

Who the hell am I kidding?

A lesson with her made Simon Cowell's comments on A.I. look like a compliment from Mister Rogers.

Her militaristic lessons were not for the faint-hearted and on occasion people would leave her studio in tears. I will admit that I was reduced to a pile of emotional-goo at least twice (that I can remember).

The stories from her students were all the same: she would give you the verbal smack-down bringing you to the brink of emotional destruction ... then, she would say something like "There's no time for that, now! Save it for later!" In her own sweet and caring way [read: quickly and abruptly], she would follow up with reaching into her desk draw and handing you a packet of Emergen-C with an obligatory "Honey ... It will all be OK. I'm hard on you because you have what it takes to be a working singer."

I say all of this because it brings me to my latest item of obsession. It's an item that if I had only had one of these back then - I'd wear it to every lesson: the If you have to cry GO OUTSIDE t-shirt from the High Priestess of PR, Kelly Cutrone.

I. Want. One.

Although, a quick side note: Not going to lie, Friends ... I fully understand the reasoning behind it given the cover art of her book, but I kind of wish the text wasn't pink.

Oh, hell! Everyone's a critic, right?

Cutrone's book If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You is on sale now and even though Cutrone has geared this book to women - and rightly so given the industry that she's in - I honestly feel like it could probably speak to anyone.

Amazon.com's description puts it this way:
Raw, hilarious, shocking, but always the honest truth, If You Have to Cry, Go Outside calls upon you to gather up your courage like an armful of clothes at a McQueen sample sale and follow your soul wherever it takes you. Whether you're just starting out in the world or looking to reinvent yourself, If You Have to Cry, Go Outside will be the spark you need to figure out what you have to say to the world—and how you're going to say it.
As a post script: that voice teacher from back in the day was tough as nails, but I'm a better singer for having been with her. After all: there really *is* a fine line between a portamento and slop.

New England Conservatory: Stephen Lord in as Artistic Director of Opera Studies

David Weininger of the Boston Globe reports:
Stephen Lord is headed back to Boston. Lord spent 16 years as music director and principal conductor of Boston Lyric Opera, where he won plaudits for his guidance in repertoire ranging from Mozart to Strauss. Currently music director of Opera Theatre of St. Louis, he is slated to become artistic director of the opera studies department at New England Conservatory, where he will oversee all aspects of the program. The appointment takes effect in September. Beginning in the 2011-12 season, Lord will also conduct one mainstage production per season, NEC announced this week. He will keep his St. Louis position.
The school also noted that Luretta Bybee, a faculty member and mezzo-soprano, [and wife to a certain bass baritone written about here] will assume the post of executive director and chair of the department. Both appointments are part of a reorganization intended to boost NEC’s profile in the world of opera education; other recent endeavors have included a partnership with Opera Boston and the establishment of an artist diploma program in opera.
For more visit www.necmusic.edu or visit The Boston Globe

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Forget about Lucretia, this was The Rape of City Opera

Do you want to know what is completely and utterly ridiculous? Good - because I'm just about to tell you, anyway.

New York City Opera, which has been suffering under immense deficits, shelled out some $400,000 to a certain part-time general-manager in-waiting Gerard Mortier [R.].

Mortier, who never actually served at full capacity as general manager, earned a salary of $65,000 and “severance” of $335,000. Let's not forget that City Opera hired Mortier in February 2007 when he was still running Paris Opera. He was expected to take up his position in New York in September 2009. Instead, he never arrived and resigned in November 2008, saying City Opera’s budget cuts amid the global financial crisis prevented him from fulfilling his vision.

According to Bloomberg.com:
Mortier and the City Opera board, led by Susan Baker, “mutually agreed that it was not possible to proceed with the plan for Mr. Mortier to lead the company,” a City Opera spokesman, Pascal Nadon, said in an e-mail.

Hence, Mortier qualified for the $335,000 “separation payment,” Nadon said.
The severance payment, a surprise to many, appears on City Opera's 2009 tax return along with smaller payments to departing executives ... among them the artistic administrator, Robin Thompson, and the executive director, Jane Gullong. The tax return also suggests that City Opera’s financial problems remain considerable.

Forget about Lucretia - this was The Rape of City Opera ... Mortier clearly took advantage of them. What kind of person does that to a company that is struggling as much as City Opera was?

Paybacks are hell, Mortier... what goes around, comes around and I have a feeling yours is going to come around like a fully loaded freight train.

Did I just say that out loud? Woooops - my mic was on.

Aaaand, we're moving on...

The better news is it appears that City Opera is on the mend. This last season, the first under George Steele, succeeded beyond the expectations of many fans and press alike - and, next season promises to have the ability to get some butts in the seats, too.

Friendlies, let's face the facts: Bernstein's A Quiet Place, which encapsulates his 1 act opera Trouble in Tahiti (indeed!), is on the docket. In addition, Stephen Schwartz first opera Seance on a Wet Afternoon, which had it's World Premiere at Opera Santa Barbara is slated as well. You've got Christine Brewer singing a concert, as well as Defying Gravity: The Music of Stephen Schwartz- a retrospective of his music set to include performances by Kristin Chenoweth and Raul Esparza... and those are just some highlights.

What's not to love? I say: Bring it on.

By the way:
Dearest City Opera,

If you should perhaps feel the need to invite a certain Yours Truly to some of your goings-on next season ... I'd be *more* than delighted to cover them.

Please?

Thanking you in advance.

Best,
A Liberal's Libretto
Was that too much?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Slow and steady wins the race

Stephen Wadsworth, who directed [Greer] Grimsley's Seattle Rings and who has known him for more than twenty-five years, has an explanation as to why Grimsley is not as celebrated as he should be: "Greer's work is egoless, pure and simple. It isn't about anything except serving the piece. People who choose service over maneuvering have a longer road, and I know that has sometimes been frustrating to Greer, but he has stuck to his guns, working methodically, thoughtfully and thoroughly on his roles, and growing steadily as a vocalist and an actor. What he's interested in is the truth, so that's what he does. Greer is the opposite of self-promotion." - OPERANEWS
I had the opportunity to work with Greer at San Diego Opera when he was singing Don Pizarro in Beethoven's Fidelio... full disclosure: I was the Second Prisoner. I found that not only was he an incredibly low-key, unpretentious, generous and all-around great guy, but he could also split your head open with the size of his voice.

Be sure to head on over to OPERA NEWS and check out F. Paul Driscoll's article on Grimsley.

[Photo: Greer Grimsley as Amonasro in Portland Opera's Aida by Brent Wojahn/The Oregonian]

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Dame Whiz Bang Te Kanawa

Let's face it, Friendlies - Grande Dame Kiri Te Kanawa doesn't like Susan Boyle.

Te Kanawa, who felt "insulted" when asked about Boyle, referred to her as a "whiz bang" star, whose spectacular success would ultimately fizzle.

AFP is reporting:
In an interview with a British magazine, Te Kanawa said she was "insulted" to be asked about Boyle...

"Let's get off that subject. Move on. I'm doing something classical, not whiz-bang. Whiz-bang disappears. It goes 'whiz' and then 'bang'," she told the Radio Times magazine.

"You insult me by even wanting to bring it into this conversation. I'm not interested," the dame added.
Trust me, Dame Kiri ... I understand where you're coming from, Sister. I feel the same way when people ask me about Andrea Bocelli. Although with Bocelli, sometimes my insult quickly turns to the need to punch someone. But, we'll save that tidbit for another post.

Quick sidebar - when in the hell is Bocelli's "whiz" going to "bang", already?! Seriously. He needs to be done.

Now, you'll remember that Susan Boyle was discovered in 2009 when she blind-sided the judges on the "Britain's Got Talent" show with her performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables.

Although the 48-year-old ended runner-up in the competition, the YouTube clip of her singing became a hit, with almost 100 million viewings.

I'm not sure if this was Boyle's "whiz" or the "bang" but her first album, I Dreamed a Dream, was the best-selling debut in British chart history and also topped the US charts.

Te Kanawa meanwhile continued to deny she was a diva. Again, from AFP:
"I'm just a human being with an opinion that I'm not allowed, at 66 years old, to select," she told the weekly.

She also denied suggestions she was retiring from the stage. "I don't wear short skirts any more, for obvious reasons," she said. "I don't do certain things any more -- for obvious reasons.

"That doesn't mean I've retired."
**UPDATE**

A soprano friend of mine, Susan Windham, responded to this post on Facebook with:
Transitions are hard. It's hard when you realize you're not going to run up stairs, sing a high b-flat and jump off a parapet any more. Smart graciousness advised.
Words were never truer. Sue, to quote a line from Moonstruck: "... you have such a head for knowing."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Absolutely agog...

Here is what has me enthralled this week:

The other day, I was on the R Train slowly winding my way to the office when I noticed the guy sitting across from me had a canvas tool bag next to him. Not just any canvas tool bag, mind you. Oh no, Chickens ... it was a Klein canvas tool bag.

A few minutes later, this guy opens the tool bag and starts digging around. I'm thinking, "Friend, what have you got in that tool bag that's *so* important that you need to get it out while on the train?"

I'm not gonna lie to you - I was surprised by what happened next. He pulled out a full Turandot score, popped in his headphones and commenced to listening.

I'm officially obsessed.

Now, before you pass judgment on my taste (or lack thereof) - listen up! I have it on good authority that tool bags (Porter is another good one) are on-trend for spring/summer. And, when I say I have it on good authority, I mean that I got the info from someone who knows better (the ever-flawless Stylist / PR Guru / Miracle Worker, Amy Keller). As evident by the fact that this-very-day I am wearing Old Navy khaki cargo pants from 4 years ago, the on-trend factor is not what drew me to these bags.

[So very sorry, Stellar K! I know ... they're cargo.]

I'm the crazy guy who is obsessive about keeping his opera scores clean, dry and free from the muck and mire that can collect on them. What better way to feed that obsession when you're back and forth between rehearsals than with a canvas, moisture resistant bag?

You judge - you know you do. But, I'm telling you that when you get home and your score is clean and free from nastiness, not to mention all of your other goods ... you're gonna thank me for it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

For the MET Opera: School is out for the summer and the report cards are in

The curtain is coming down on this season's last show at the Metropolitan Opera and thus, what better time to let the Monday morning quarterback-ing begin.

Zachary Woolfe of the New York Observer has done a fantastic job looking back at the season - as well as questions what is, or more importantly what *should be*, to come:
Last November, things weren't looking too good for Peter Gelb's Met. The season-opening new production of Tosca had been booed and widely panned, and music director James Levine had made the first of what would turn out to be many health-related cancellations. Doing damage control, Mr. Gelb urged critics and fans to defer judgment. "I hope they will evaluate the Met in the context of a whole season," he said in an interview with the New York Post

Well, the season-the first to be planned entirely by Mr. Gelb-is over, and the evaluations are in. New Yorker critic Alex Ross, who once praised Mr. Gelb's "imaginative leadership," wrote (in the March 29 issue) a piece skeptical of the Met's "technologically dazzling, emotionally arid" artistic direction. Justin Davidson echoed that sentiment in the April 18 issue of New York magazine, writing, "Sometimes Gelb's spirit of innovation looks indistinguishable from confusion." In its May issue, Vanity Fair published a long analysis of the company's finances-highlighting its $47 million deficit-by Nina Munk, who wrote, "[I]f you spend as much time as I have examining the Met's financial statements, you're likely to conclude that, in its current state, the Met is not sustainable."
There are those who feel that Mr. Gelb is just misunderstood, or that he hasn't changed the MET *enough*. Anne Midgette from the Washington Post, for example, says in her article Gelb and the Met: still middlebrow after all these years:
...I submit that the real problem is exactly the same problem the Met had under Gelb’s predecessor, Joe Volpe: not that the company engages unusual directors, but that it doesn’t let them actually do what they’re good at. Gelb seems to me to have the same micromanaging side that Volpe did: the side that would see something unusual in a new production, get nervous about it, and try to rein it in.
In addition, there is James Jorden who not only writes for the New York publication that shall remained un-named (but rhymes with 'Most') and also is Editor of Parterre Box. Jorden contends that MET critics have a "short-sighted tendency to act as if unsuccessful productions at the Met suddenly began with Gelb's arrival," publishing on Parterre.com a list of all the new productions put on during Mr. Volpe's tenure, including Graham Vick's tragically unfortunate and futile Trovatore.

It would seem, according to some that include Mr. Woolfe, that the MET would be setting themselves up for greater success if they employed longer rehearsal periods. Instead, the MET continues to operate under the old-school philosophy that hiring the cream of the crop singers means they can fly in and pull off a stellar performance at the last minute.

Here's a wake up call: the cream of the crop singers of today are NOT the cream of the crop from the last generation. Singers from yesteryear did nothing ... absolutely nothing ... but sing opera after opera. Whereas singers of today are spread too thin with other obligations. They have the demands of a publicist, events, record deals that net a break-neck number of recordings, social media (blogging, Facebook, Twitter), demands to look a certain way which means gym time and diets and in some cases surgical intervention. The list goes on and on.

Yes, the previous generation had their challenges, but ultimately they knew their chief job was to show up and sing. That's just not the case anymore. Singers can't be expected to pull out a stellar performance on a moments notice like they used to. Nor can many singers of today turn it out with the extremely short rehearsal period that the MET's logistical schedule allows.

Again, Mr. Woolfe:
...several of the season's less successful productions were marred by casts thrown together at the last minute. Marlis Petersen was flown in with three days to spare to replace Natalie Dessay in Hamlet, and her Ophelia was vague and unfocused. Rumor has it that Anna Netrebko, starring in Tales of Hoffmann, was available for just two rehearsals before the run-throughs, which may explain the lack of real psychological depth in her portrayal of Antonia.

Contrast these examples with Christopher Alden's production of
Don Giovanni at City Opera in the fall, for which the entire cast rehearsed for six weeks, yielding a riveting performance true to Mr. Alden's vision. You could argue with aspects of the production, but it was all of a piece, which was never the case at the Met this season. There were compelling visual and dramatic ideas floating around Bartlett Sher's Hoffmann, for instance, but they were eclipsed by cast changes, hasty preparation and the kind of bland confusion that indicates direction by committee. The Met at this point is not a place where even a talented opera director can make good, strong work, let alone a place where a director inexperienced with the genre-as so many of Mr. Gelb's favored artists are-can be guided toward an understanding of it.
And then, Mr. Woolfe writes something that speaks volumes in a single sentence.
There was little evidence this season of directors with a real sense of how opera works theatrically, as a balance of spectacle and intimacy, emotional outpouring and restraint.
Thank you, Zachary Woolfe. Thank you for saying what I've been thinking all season but just haven't had the capacity to put into words.

Amazing.

I encourage you, Friendlies ... no, emplore you ... to hop on over and read Mr. Woolfe's article A Look Back at Peter Gelb's Met. He goes on to discuss the MET's future as perhaps ... *perhaps* ... "the most exciting cultural institution in New York". Although that statement, which is included in the MET's new ad campaign, is still very much in question.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Washington National Opera's Artist of the Year

On April 28, the Washington National Opera Board of Trustees and General Director Placido Domingo named mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong Artist of the Year.

Publicopiniononline.com reports:
Past Washington National Opera artists of the year include Frederica von Stade, Herry Hadley, Denyce Graves, conductor John Mauceri and most recently Sarah Coburn.
Two items of note here:

First, I pretty much think they meant Jerry Hadley as opposed to Herry Hadly.

Second, if the name Sarah Coburn sounds familiar it's because her Dad is none other that Republican Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma. This is the same Tom Coburn who offered an amendment to the Economic Recovery Act that said:
“None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, art center, and highway beautification project.”
And that's all I'm saying.

Back to the item at hand: DeShong made her WNO debut in November 2009 as the composer in Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos.

A graduate of Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Curtis Institute of Music and Lyric Opera of Chicago's Ryan Opera Center, DeShong has performed with the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Glyndebourne Festival and others.

This summer DeShong can be seen as Suzuki in Madama Butterfly with the Santa Fe Opera.

Congrats Ms. DeShong!

[Photo: Larry Lapidus]

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

ASU Gammage hosting live Tony Awards party


WOW! It seems that Arizona is finally getting *something* right.

Let's be honest, Friends ... I'm not comfortable with promoting anything having to do with Arizona since SB 1070 is now the law. But, since ASU *is* where I did my Masters work and since it *is* for the Tony Awards, I should probably give a teeny-tiny shout out.

SO ... let's give a hand to ASU's Gammage Auditorium! Playbill.com reports:
ASU Gammage, which is located on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University, and Tony Award Productions have joined forces to host an official Tony Awards Viewing Party June 13.

The black-tie event will feature an advance telecast of the 2010 Tony Awards, allowing guests to see the ceremony and the winners prior to the local airing on CBS 5. Red carpet activities begin at 4 PM PT, and the live simulcast begins at 5 PM PT.

Those attending will enjoy a red carpet arrival with local celebrities as well as the official Tony Awards Playbill.

Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director of ASU Gammage, stated, "As Arizona's only Tony voter I have had the pleasure to see the Tonys live for many years in New York. This year, 3,000 people can join us at ASU Gammage to see the stars, the performances and of course who walks away with the Tony Awards live first-hand. We are thrilled that ASU Gammage will be the next-best place to be on Tony night."
For ticket information - go to Playbill.com. And for God's sake - make sure to take your papers with you. You never know if you'll be stopped.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

In Memoriam: Giulietta Simionato 1910-2010

Legendary mezzo-soprano Giulietta Simionato, [R.] died Wednesday. She would have turned 100 on May 12.

Simionato, a good friend of Maria Callas and the president of the International Maria Callas Association, died at her home in Rome, the ANSA news agency reported.

In a tribute to Simionato at her final performance in 1966, La Scala praised her "expansive, balanced, emotional and recognizable" voice as well as her personal character.

"Few 'family artists' have been so loved, and no book on the history of opera can consider itself complete without a chapter on her dazzling career," La Scala said.

Giulietta Simionato with Renata Tebaldi.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Absolutely agog...

Here's what I'm infatuated with this week:

As you've already read - and if you haven't, shame upon thee - I've been obsessing over Sondra Radvanovsky's debut CD Verdi Arias. I'm telling you that this is a must-have for any opera lover who understands that truly authentic Verdi sopranos don't come along everyday ... Radvanovsky is as authentic as authentic gets.

And get this - you could win a copy of her CD and more. All you have to do is check out the rules of engagement over at Delos Music's blog.

Do. It.

Now, if you're as obsessed with sparkling water as I am - and let's face it, most singers are - this is going to make you flip your lid.

The Newmans were going through bottles and bottles of the sparkly stuff each week and not only was it an added cost to our food budget, but it was also terrible for the environment - all of those plastic bottles ... yick.

Not anymore. Last week, we bought this little gem: the Sodastream soda maker. Add filtered water to the bottles they provide you, attach bottle to the machine, give the handle a few pumps, and you've got yourself a liter of sparkling water... for about $.25 a liter. There are even mixes you can buy to make sodas. I kid you not - this thing is amazing!

Yes, there is an initial investment, but your return on that investment is liters and liters of sparkly goodness.

And finally Kitty-Cats ... My last obsession de la semaine comes from a very likely source's unlikely project.

Although we admire Renée Fleming and have watched her career - following her forays into jazz (as on her 2005 CD Haunted Heart) and film scores (Howard Shore’s “Lord of the Rings”) - I don't think any of us anticipated this career move.

On Dark Hope, the soon to be released CD from Decca, La Diva Renée will apply her voice to songs by iconoclastic rock acts (Leonard Cohen, Peter Gabriel) and current indie-rockers (Arcade Fire, Death Cab for Cutie).

When Fleming announced that she would be making this Indie Rock album, she drew all sorts of criticism and eye rolling from many of us in the opera community. Yours Truly can be included.

That was ... until now.

I'm not gonna lie to you - her first release off of the album, which is titled "Endlessly", is running on a continued loop on my iPod. Seriously. Who knew?

You judge ... I know you do. But, check out "Endlessly" and hear for yourself. I'm looking forward to the rest of the album being released on June 8th. Renee ... bring it.

Andy, say it ain't so. CBS + CNN?

I knew CNN was struggling, but is *this* really necessary?

Rumors of CNN partnering with another broadcast network are old news, but New York Magazine's Gabriel Sherman reports that CBS News and the cable network are in "advanced negotiations" at the moment. It appears, according to some, that negotiations have been going on for months now - which may be why the New York Times reported in February:
CBS executives, mindful that Katie Couric’s contract expires in a little over a year, have talked to Anderson Cooper of CNN about an anchor job, according to two TV veterans informed of the meeting.
A spokesperson for CNN later denied this... and then we all gave a collective eye roll.

Friendlies, this is not completely out of the realm of possibility. This is probably the reason why, as I have been hypothesizing for quite some time, CNN has moved more toward the Right as of late. It's in order to get in-step with CBS.

More on CBS as a conservative news organization, later.

I used to be an avid CNN watcher... it was a little bit of an obsession. But, during the 2008 Presidential Campaign and shortly thereafter, I got the sense that in their zeal for remaining "the most trusted name in news", they decided to veer Right in order to buck the Right Wing's charges of "being in the bag for Obama".

Am I the only person to clearly see the following: the Conservative Right hollers and shouts about the media being too liberal and in order to prove them wrong, many media outlets move to the right as if to say, "SEE! We're not liberal."

Do I think that the media should cater to the Left? No, certainly not. Our country is about differing opinions and I fully support that. I am all for balance, though - *true* balance. And, no ... FauxNews is NOT balance. Nor is it fair. Nor is it news. It's Right Wing entertainment.

Let's get back to the item at hand and discuss CBS catering to the Right Wing and CNN following suit.

In 2005, CBS officials refused to air a commercial for the United Church of Christ that promoted inclusion of gays, racial minorities and people with disabilities because they considered it "unacceptable for broadcast," noting in particular the Bush administration's endorsement of the Federal Marriage Amendment as part of their justification for not airing the ad.

Fast forward to 2009 when CBS allowed Tim Tebow's anti-abortion commercial to air during the Super Bowl. This commercial, I might add, was paid for by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family.

But wait! There's more! A 2005 Media Matters for America analysis of CBS Evening News broadcasts since the 2004 presidential election found that the program featured Republicans and conservatives more often than Democrats and progressives. Their bracketed tables are particularly helpful.

Yet, conservative members of the media say that CBS is the most liberal of the TV networks. You want to know how they come to that conclusion? According to the Media Research Center, a Conservative "watch dog" group, CBS news is generally considered to be more liberal because they constantly tag people as 'conservatives'.

That's right, Ladies and Gents - they're liberal because they call conservative people "conservative" too much.

From Media Research Center:
...the CBS News team managed to apply the "conservative" label at least 44 times -- in several instances beyond anything about the conservative split with McCain -- yet never once uttered the term 'liberal' during a night when two liberals faced off on the Democratic side. Jeff Greenfield and Bob Schieffer each tagged the same Senator, 25 minutes apart, with Greenfield calling Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn the "most conservative Senator" and Schieffer referring to him as "very conservative."
Uh... here's a news flash for the Media Research Center: Senator Coburn *IS* conservative.

Let me break it down for you: what's clear to me after looking at the Media Matters and Media Research data is that CBS overloads with conservative commentary ... they call conservatives "conservative" ... and evidently, that makes them liberal because they use the word "conservative" too much.

Hello? It doesn't take a genius, folks.

And *this* is who CNN want's to get into bed with? A source told NY Mag:
CBS News and CNN are in advanced negotiations about signing a news-gathering partnership, according to executives familiar with the discussions. The talks revolve around how the two news divisions can combine operations in a bid to cut costs and expand audiences on both sides. While such conversations have occurred over the last decade, the current news-business climate -- plummeting CNN ratings, ever-shrinking evening-news audiences, major layoffs at ABC -- make a deal more logical than ever before.
Also noted was the fact that CBS anchor Katie Couric "might be a good replacement" for 322 year old Larry King.

There are already a lot of ties between the networks. Erica Hill, Betty Nguyen, and Elaine Quijano all left CNN for CBS earlier this year, and Anderson Cooper regularly contributes reports to CBS 60 Minutes. So, reaching a deal on this "news-gathering partnership" would only legitimize what has been going on for a while now - CBS and CNN are cavorting with one another.

We need to get Mr. hard-hitting-reporter Wolf Blitzer on this, STAT!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sondra Radvanovsky's Verdi Arias: Sondra, you had me at "Pace".

"Goofball" and "down-to-earth diva" are two phrases recently used to describe soprano Sondra Radvanovsky. While those phrases might suit her offstage persona, it is evident that as an artist, Stephen Lord said it best when he said in the Denver Post:
"I have known Sondra since her days in the Lindemann (Young Artist Development) Program at the Metropolitan Opera," said Opera Colorado guest conductor Stephen Lord. "Right from the outset, she showed a voice of uncommon quality, and she was always uniquely her own as an artist. I have been a fan and watched her grow since then."
While I've not had the opportunity to hear her live, there are credible sources close to Yours Truly that tell me her Tosca at Opera Colorado was inexplicably out of this world.

Having recently been given a copy of her solo debut CD Verdi Arias I can certainly understand all of the well deserved fuss surrounding Radvanovsky.

Not so long ago a general director told me that a singer's calling card is the uniqueness of their voice... that unmistakable sound that some singers have.

Think about it; Caballe, Sutherland, Horne, Callas, Dimitrova, Bumbry, Norman, Millo, Zajick ... they all have qualities, and some might say idiosyncrasies, that are so unique to *them*, that if you listen, you can instantly pick out who is who.

In my opinion, based on what I've heard in this CD, Radvanovsky is most definitely in the realm of the unmistakable.

Verdi Arias is a decent mix that can go up against any of the other Verdi aria CDs out there. And there are plenty out there to chose from.

What sets Radvanovsky's apart are the qualities of her voice - warm, rich, and luscious without sacrificing the vibrato speed and depth that comes from a well placed instrument. In addition, the choices that she makes in regards to the music are unlike any that we've heard.

From the opening phrases of "Tacea la notte" from Il Trovatore she had me realizing that this was going to be a long haul - in that oh-so-wonderful way. In a sense, Radvanovsky's CD is reminiscent of Lay's Potato Chips - no one can eat just one. I knew I was going to have to sit back and take this one in - one delicious aria at a time. I had started and there was no going back...

"Tacea la notte" was simply sublime. But, "D'amor sull'ali rosee" left me wanting more from her chest voice. Not using it sometimes leaves certain key phrases in Verdi without the dramatic power the words call for - as in her treatment of "la mia difensa" ("in my defense"). It sounds like a pretty weak defense to me. But what she lacks in chest voice, she clearly makes up for in spin. When she comes to "i miei sospiri" ("my sighs"), her pianissimo turns left me sighing for certain.

Now, while the selections from Un Ballo in Maschera and Il Corsaro show us that Radvanovsky has the vocal fortitude to go up against every twist, turn and tessitura challenge that Verdi offers his sopranos - it is "Pace, pace, mio Dio!" from La Forza del Destino that proves that Radvanovsky embodies La Forza del Verdi.

While some sopranos try so hard to start the notoriously difficult aria in a pianissimo, extremely soft, manner - Radvanovsky, confident in her strong suits, allows each "Pace" to bloom first, then backs off in a way that made me instantly think: "Sondra ... girl ... you had me at 'Pace'".

A choice in this aria that I found curiously odd though, was near the end when she sings "Misero pane, a prolungarmi vieni la sconsolata vita ..." ("Oh cursed bread, which prolongs this miserable existence"). Again, she used no chest voice. She chooses instead to sing these lines softly almost resolving herself to the existence rather than proclaiming it. -Hhmmm ... alright. I guess.- Then, slowly, articulately and almost metronomically she sings: "Ma chi giunge? Chi profanare ardisce il sacro loco?" ("But who comes now? Who dares profane this sacred place?").

"Maledizione!"

I can't deal, Friends... I just can't. Not only is the word "Maledizione" one of the most incredible words in the Italian language, her treatment of it is ... well, it gave me goose bumps.

Sondra, I'll buy whatever it is you're selling, kid. SOLD!

Forza's "La vergine degli Angeli" is as angelic as a Verdi soprano can be and that's saying something. Given the instrument that a clearly authentic Verdi soprano possesses, 'angelic' is not always a word that is too often used to describe their singing.

Only Verdi would make his soprano sing "Tutto sprezzo che d'Ernani non favella a questo core," ("I scorn everything that doesn't speak to the heart of Ernani,") while quickly moving the voice from bottom to top and top to bottom. But, Radvanovsky makes it sound easy-peasy. The end of "Ernani, involami" reminds me of early Callas recordings of the same aria. Not that she copied what Callas did, but rather in vocal quality; that dark, almost foggy sound with some shiny steel behind it.

Aida is not a role that Radvanovsky has ever performed on stage and listening to her "O patria mia" makes me ask the question, "Uh... why?" I mean, I get all of the "it wasn't time" ... "the voice had to mature" ... yaddah yaddah. But, I'm not going to lie to you; "O patria mia" made me yearn for more.

That's right. I said *yearn*.

Imagine my delight when I read the following in the liner notes for the CD: "Plans to add ... the title role of Aida are about to be announced." Oh, yes. Bring it on, my dear. I want to hear you ritorna some-kinda vincitor.

Wait. Did I just say that outloud? Yikes.

Anyhoo, as not to spoil the entire CD, I'm going to leave the last two arias for you to listen to and analyze for yourself. I will say one thing, though - sister sure ends on a high note!

Sondra Radvanovsky's Verdi Arias CD is a must-have for any opera lover who understands that truly authentic Verdi sopranos don't come along everyday ... Radvanovsky is as authentic as authentic gets.

As a footnote: Sondra Radvanovsky Verdi Arias with Constantine Orbelian conducting the Philharmonia of Russia was released on the Delos label.

[Photos: Top - Sondra Radvanovsky's Verdi Arias Middle - Radvanovsky as Tosca for Opera Colorado by Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post. Bottom - by Pavel Antonov.]

Tony Awards 2010

Oh yes, Friendlies ... it's that time again. The nominations for the 2010 Tony Awards were announced this morning by Glee and Spring Awakening star Lea Michele and God of Carnage's Jeff Daniels. Please note: The awards show will air June 13 on CBS... watch it!

Alright, without further blah blah blah.. here is a partial list of the nominees.

Best musical:
"American Idiot"
"Fela!"
"Memphis"
"Million Dollar Quartet"

Best play:
"In the Next Room"
"Next Fall"
"Red"
"Time Stands Still"

Best performance by a leading actor in a play:
Jude Law, "Hamlet"
Alfred Molina, "Red"
Liev Schreiber, "A View From the Bridge"
Christopher Walken, "A Behanding in Spokane"
Denzel Washington, "Fences"

Best performance by a leading actress in a play:
Viola Davis, "Fences"
Valerie Harper, "Looped"
Linda Lavin, "Collected Stories"
Laura Linney, "Time Stands Still"
Jan Maxwell, "The Royal Family"

Best performance by a leading actor in a musical
Kelsey Grammer, "La Cage aux Folles"
Sean Hayes, "Promises, Promises"
Douglas Hodge, "La Cage aux Folles"
Chad Kimball, "Memphis"
Sahr Ngaujah, "Fela!"

Best performance by a leading actress in a musical:
Kate Baldwin, "Finian's Rainbow"
Montego Glover, "Memphis"
Christiane Noll, "Ragtime"
Sherie Rene Scott, "Everyday Rapture"
Catherine Zeta-Jones, "A Little Night Music"

Best performance by a featured actor in a play:
David Alan Grier, "Race"
Stephen McKinley Henderson, "Fences"
Jon Michael Hill, "Superior Donuts"
Stephen Kunken, "Enron"
Eddie Redmayne, "Red"

Best performance by a featured actress in a play:
Maria Dizzia, "In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play"
Rosemary Harris, "The Royal Family"
Jessica Hecht, "A View From the Bridge"
Scarlett Johansson, "A View From the Bridge"
Jan Maxwell, "Lend Me a Tenor"

Best performance by a featured actor in a musical
Kevin Chamberlin, "The Addams Family"
Robin De Jesús, "La Cage aux Folles"
Christopher Fitzgerald, "Finian's Rainbow"
Levi Kreis, "Million Dollar Quartet"
Bobby Steggert, "Ragtime"

Best performance by a featured actress in a musical:
Barbara Cook, "Sondheim on Sondheim"
Katie Finneran, "Promises, Promises"
Angela Lansbury, "A Little Night Music"
Karine Plantadit, "Come Fly Away"
Lillias White, "Fela!"

Best costume design of a play:
Martin Pakledinaz, "Lend Me a Tenor"
Constanza Romero, "Fences"
David Zinn, "In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play"
Catherine Zuber, "The Royal Family"

Best costume design of a musical:
Marina Draghici, "Fela!"
Santo Loquasto, "Ragtime"
Paul Tazewell, "Memphis"
Matthew Wright, "La Cage aux Folles"

Best direction of a play:
Michael Grandage, "Red"
Sheryl Kaller, "Next Fall"
Kenny Leon, "Fences"
Gregory Mosher, "A View From the Bridge"

Best direction of a musical:
Christopher Ashley, "Memphis"
Marcia Milgrom Dodge, "Ragtime"
Terry Johnson, "La Cage aux Folles"
Bill T. Jones, "Fela!"

Best choreography:
Rob Ashford, "Promises, Promises"
Bill T. Jones, "Fela!"
Lynne Page, "La Cage aux Folles"
Twyla Tharp, "Come Fly Away"

Best orchestrations:
Jason Carr, "La Cage aux Folles"
Aaron Johnson, "Fela!"
Jonathan Tunick, "Promises, Promises"
Daryl Waters & David Bryan, "Memphis"

A hearty congrats to all who are nominated. To see a full list of the nominees, please head on over to Playbill.com.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dreamgirls will never leave you...

Tony Award-winning Dreamgirls star Jennifer Holliday will be lead-off act for the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Rhythm & Blues Festival in June.

The free, ten-concert series will run Thursdays June 3-Aug. 5 from 12-2 PM on the lawn of MetroTech commons in downtown Brooklyn.

Holliday, who earned a Tony for creating the role of Effie White in the original Broadway production of the Motown musical Dreamgirls, will be backed by the Uptown Horns for her concert on June 3rd.

Oh yes, Friends. This, I gotta see!

For more information, hop over to BAM.org.

[Photo - Singer Jennifer Holliday attends the 2009 New York Philharmonic Spring Gala at Avery Fisher Hall. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images)]

Who was it that said 'opera is dead'?

The Associated Press is reporting that The Metropolitan Opera has sold a record 2.2 million tickets for its nine high-definition telecasts to theaters this season, an increase of 400,000 from 2008-2009.
The company said Sunday that the Saturday broadcast of Rossini's Armida starring soprano Renee Fleming and tenor Lawrence Brownlee was seen by an estimated audience of 105,000 in North American and 84,000 in Europe and Latin America.

With delayed telecasts in Asia, Latin America, Oceania and South Africa, plus repeats in North America and Europe, the Met expects its
Armida audience to reach 250,000.

The Met's HD series has sold 5 million tickets in five seasons. There will be 11 telecasts next season, beginning with Wagner's
Das Rheingold on Oct. 9, the opening of the Robert Lepage staging to of the Ring Cycle that replaces the Met's traditional Otto Schenk production.
For those going to see these broadcasts, please remember: Although you're seeing a MET production in all of it's HD glory and splendor ... *nothing* compares to supporting your local opera company and seeing a live production. GO!

In Memoriam: Lynn Redgrave 1943-2010

From Playbill.com:
Lynn Redgrave, a member of England's legendary acting clan, died Sunday night at her Manhattan apartment. In 2003, Redgrave had been treated for breast cancer. She was 67.

The death comes just weeks after the passing of Ms. Redgrave's actor brother, Corin Redgrave, and a little more than a year after the demise of her actress niece, Natasha Richardson.

Redgrave made her professional debut in 1962, as part of the cast of
A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal Court Theatre. In the late 1960s, she became a film star as the star of Georgy Girl.
For more, visit Playbill.com.

On her website's landing page, I found this:
"Our beloved mother Lynn Rachel passed away peacefully after a seven year journey with breast cancer," her family said in a statement Monday. "She lived, loved and worked harder than ever before. The endless memories she created as a mother, grandmother, writer, actor and friend will sustain us for the rest of our lives. Our entire family asks for privacy through this difficult time."

Her son Ben and daughters Pema and Annabel were with her when she died at her home on Sunday, May 1, 2010.
[Photo by Annabel Clark]
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