Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Soprano Angela Meade receives the 2012 Beverly Sills Award

Soprano Angela Meade is receiving a lot of attention as of late ... and for good reason.

In October she caused a sensation in the title role of the Metropolitan Opera’s premiere production of Anna Bolena, delivering what the New Yorker’s Alex Ross called “as pure a display of vocal power as I’ve heard at the Met in the past few years.” A month later she was honored with the prestigious 2011 Richard Tucker Award, and now – still less than four years since her professional debut – the soprano has been named recipient of the seventh annual Beverly Sills Artist Award for young singers at the Metropolitan Opera. Muffy Greenough, Beverly Sills’s daughter, presented the award to Meade at a ceremony at the Met yesterday afternoon.

The award, for young singers who have appeared in featured solo roles at the Met, has been given annually since 2006, and with prize money of $50,000 it is the largest of its kind in the United States. Previous winners include baritone Nathan Gunn and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato.

“I am so deeply honored to be the recipient of the Beverly Sills Award,” Meade said. “I would have loved to have met Ms. Sills. We share much of the same repertoire and her interpretations of Norma, Anna Bolena, Elisabetta in Roberto Devereux, Cleopatra, and Violetta have been an inspiration to me. I am greatly humbled and realize what an immense responsibility it will be to carry on the legacy Ms. Sills achieved. Her artistry has been something that young singers aspire to attain. I offer heartfelt thanks to the Metropolitan Opera and the Agnes Varis Trust, in memory of Agnes Varis and Karl Leichtman.”

The prima donna on-the-rise returns to the Met on February 2 as Elvira in Verdi’s Ernani. You'll remember that it was as Elvira that she made her unscheduled Met debut in 2008, when she substituted for an ailing Sondra Radvanovsky.

You'll be able to catch Angela Meade as Elvira February 25 when Ernani is broadcast as part of the Met's Live in HD series. Her co-stars include Marcello Giordani, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Ferruccio Furlanetto with Maestro Marco Armiliato conducting.

In Memoriam: Camilla Williams 1919-2012

Ms. Camilla Williams, known worldwide as the first African American woman to have performed with a major opera company, has died. Williams died of complications from cancer on Sunday at her home in Bloomington, Indiana. She was 93.

Camilla Williams was born in 1919 in Danville, Virginia. The daughter of a chauffeur and his wife, Williams was introduced to classical music at an early age. When a Welsh voice teacher came to the segregated city to teach at a school for white girls, a young Williams took lessons privately from the teacher who had to teach the black girls in a private home.

A graduate of Virginia State College, she was teaching third grade and music in Danville schools in 1942 when she was offered a scholarship from the Philadelphia alumni association of her alma mater for vocal training in Philadelphia. Shortly thereafter, she began her studies under Marion Szekely-Freschl and and also began working as an usher in a theater.

Remarkably, just four years later on May 15, 1946, Camilla Williams debuted with New York City Opera - singing what would become her signature role, Cio-Cio-San, in Madama Butterfly. Her debut was the first step on a path that would eventually carry singers like Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle to the operatic stage. According to a New York Times review of the performance, she displayed "a vividness and subtlety unmatched by any other artist who has assayed the part here in many a year". She also appeared with City Opera as Nedda, in Pagliacci, Mimi in La Boheme and in 1948 she sang Aida.

Williams teaching at Indiana Univ. - 1985
Her trailblazing didn't stop there - in 1954, Williams broke yet another color barrier when she became the first African American to sing a major role with the Vienna State Opera, again singing Cio-Cio-San. In 1963, she sang the National Anthem at the White House and, that same year, sang it before 200,000 people prior to Martin Luther King's legendary "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial. She also sang at King's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony the following year. Her pioneering efforts as an African-American opera singer were profiled in the 2000 PBS documentary Aida's Brothers and Sisters: Black Voices in Opera. She was also profiled in the 2006 PBS Documentary The Mystery of Love.

She continued to sing throughout the United States and Europe with some of the world's leading opera companies until her retirement from the stage in 1971. Williams then went on to teach voice at Brooklyn College, Bronx College and Queens College before arriving at Indiana University. She remained a professor of voice at the IU Jacobs School of Music from 1977-97 and became a professor emeritus of voice upon her retirement.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Moment of Yore: Jackie, Leontyne and Maestro Jimmy

In order to start the weekend off right - I leave you with A Moment of Yore. Maestro James Levine conducts Marilyn Horne and Leontyne Price. It's epic. Enjoy!


Thanks to the Met Opera Archives.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gabrielle Giffords officially resigns from Congress

On the House floor Wednesday morning, the day after her appearance at the president’s State of the Union address in the same chamber, Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords formally offered her resignation to Speaker John Boehner.

Walking with a limp and guided by her friend, Democratic Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Giffords made her way to the well at the front of the chamber. Other members of the Arizona delegation surrounded her as Republican Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake held her hand.

"Everyday, I am working hard. I will recover and will return, and we will work together again, for Arizona and for all Americans," Giffords pledged. [Source]

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Mrs. Gingrich III, music education and my heated Facebook exchange

I'm not sure if you've all seen it - given that you have to go to "Callista's Canvas" to find it, I would imagine not. But, the Newt Gingrich campaign has decided that they are going to trot out Mrs. Gingrich III (aka: Callista) as an advocate for the arts. In the video, Mrs. Gingrich III discusses her deep passion, as a French horn playing pianist/singer, for music education.

First, the video... then, some discussion:



Isn't that tender? It makes me feel so toasty inside. [insert eye roll here]

In the subsequent article that the Gingrich campaign has displayed proudly under the video, Amy Gardener of The Washington Post clearly denotes what a piece like this probably means... from The Washington Post:
The video will be promoted and distributed by the campaign to give voters a more intimate look at Callista Gingrich and her interests — something the campaign has wanted to do for some time...

...Campaign officials say they believe that deploying Callista Gingrich on the trail helps humanize the former speaker and move past the story of how the couple’s relationship began (as an affair, while Newt Gingrich was still married to his second wife).

Gingrich plays the French horn and the piano and sings professionally in the choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. She has been working on the two-minute video for weeks, putting it together with Gingrich Productions, the multimedia production company her husband turned over to her when he launched his presidential bid.

In the video, Gingrich laments the decline in musical education in public schools. She doesn’t offer specifics about the decline — or specific solutions. Instead, she explains the value of music in her own life as footage unfolds of children playing the piano, violin and guitar and of her playing the French horn and singing.

“Music is a lifetime gift,” she says in the video. “To eliminate music from our schools is to diminish a large part of our cultural experience. Together we can work to support music education in our nation’s schools and preserve our cultural identity.”
The fact that Mrs. Gingrich III plays the French horn, plays piano, sings and hearts music education is supposed to make Newty Newt more human? Good luck.

So, I have to come clean and tell you all a little story about how this video came to my attention. The Artistic Director of a small, regional opera company - which happens to be in a very Republican state - posted the link to this video on his Facebook wall.

Now I tried, Chickpeas ... I really did. I wanted to stay quiet and not cause a fracas but, it was to no avail. What I've included below is the exact way the conversation went down (FYI: I am not using names - although it's on his public Facebook wall.) ...
Caption for the video by Artistic Director: When is the last time you heard ANY candidate or spouse talk about music education?

Supporter #1: Come on [Artistic Director].... you can't expect NPR or most of the media to talk about this. It goes against all the "All Republicans hate the Arts" talk that's been going on for the last year and a half.

Artistic Director: That's why I posted it

Me: "Campaign officials say they believe that deploying Callista Gingrich on the trail helps humanize the former speaker and move past the story of how the couple’s relationship began (as an affair, while Newt Gingrich was still married to his second wife)." So, of course they're going to play the "Callista as champion of the arts" card. They're trying desperately to humanize an otherwise untrustworthy candidate.

Supporter #1: ...and there it is.

Me: The campaign puts a video like that up on their website and directly underneath writes*: "Campaign officials say they believe that deploying Callista Gingrich on the trail helps humanize the former speaker..." What am I supposed to think? Honestly, I don't want to hear about what she's passionate about. I want to hear what his record actually shows on the issue. If you check votesmart.org, you'll see that the one time Newt had the opportunity to vote on an amendment for the National Endowment for the Arts, he chose not to vote.
*By "directly underneath writes" I clearly meant that they cut and pasted the exact copy from the article.... I just want to be clear that I understand that the campaign did not write the bit about deploying Mrs. Gingrich III.

The conversation continued:
Artistic Director: Playing a "card" or not, it's refreshing to hear someone talk about the Arts, especially Arts education. I don't recall Michelle or Hillary doing this. In fact, the last person I heard talk about the Arts was Nancy Reagan when I was at the White House in 1986 for an opera performance there. Hmm....opera at the White House - not saxophone, not Country, not Al Green.

Supporter #1: Laura and George used to go to the opera

Me: Indeed. Opera should make a comeback at the WH. I think our best hope for that, and for arts education, is to vote for someone who supports funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, NPR and the few other sources that advocate the importance of the arts. Given the record of the GOP, I'm not thinking a conservative candidate is going to be that person.

Artistic Director: I am an avid Arts advocate and I would never vote for the NEA. Why should we let yet another bureaucracy dictate who is "worthy" of receiving support. The money belongs in the community at the grass roots level.

Artistic Director continues: BTW - our local major donors ($1million+) are dyed in the wool Republicans. They walk the talk. I have met and talked to many Arts "supporters" from the other side of the aisle, and they are very good at paying lip service, but not paying the bills. Sorry to say James that my personal experience is in direct contrast to the picture you paint.

Artistic Director continues again: ...and they know Newt personally, not just the way the media likes to paint him.

Me: I have no doubt that your personal experience on the regional level is directly as you say it is - consider yourself lucky. In discussing a presidential candidate, I'm speaking on a national level. Many places in our country are not brimming with donors who need the tax incentives that giving to a non-profit - such as your company - provides. That's why I support the grants and other initiatives for which the NEA provides funding. It can't always be about the politics of our backyards.

Artistic Director: You forget that [my wife] and I have lived and worked internationally for over thirty years. We did not go from the cocoon of [
the major state university that I attended] to the wilds of Manhattan, settling into that very myopic and left-leaning community. We have seen the world, not just read about it. We have worked in cultures where the Arts matter - the Middle East, Canada, Europe and all of the major US cities. There is nothing "regional" about our experience. The Arts matter there because the culture demands it, not because it is State supported. Our donors did not give us dollars because of "tax incentives", but rather because they believe in the Arts and feel the responsibility to give back. It's the same reason they go to the soup kitchens to feed the poor every day. The same "tax incentives" are available to our Democratic friends, but the attitude always seems to be - "Let someone else do it." - like the NEA. Sorry, but this kind of ideology just doesn't work in life. It looks good in print,it sounds good at parties, it makes everyone feel good when they talk this way, but in realty it takes individuals, not organizations, not government agencies, not groups of any kind to make a difference and I applaud Mrs. Gingrich for taking this position. I could care less about her personal matters. I don't think I need to make a list of Democrats caught with their pants down.

Me: Gracious, [Artistic Director]. I don't particularly like the personal tone you're taking - "cocoon of [the major state university that I attended] to the wilds of Manhattan ... we have seen the world, not just read about it." Wow. A lot of assumptions were incorrectly made in those sentences. In saying "regionally", I was speaking specifically about the work you're doing -right now- in [your city]. That is the experience you specifically brought up while discussing the donors that give money to your company. I was not saying a single thing about what you've done in the past, nor did I negate your previous international experience. -- Best of luck to you and your company. I hope your fundraising success continues.

Artistic Director: Not personal at all, just a fundamental difference in philosophy.

Supporter #2: I just can't stand Callista Gingrich's "hair helmet!"
Alright ... hmmm. Where do I begin? (Other than to point out the obvious Republican-style attack strategy: strike out and then, deny you ever did it. Sort of reminds me of my favorite tv commercial.)

Artistic Director posted this video of Mrs. Gingrich III with the caption: When is the last time you heard ANY candidate or spouse talk about music education? Well ... I'd like to point out that there was a candidate who ran for office not-so-long ago who discussed music education: Barack Obama on music education.

Next, I'd like to address the assertion that Manhattan is a "very myopic and left-leaning community". Myopic is defined at dictionary.com as unable or unwilling to act prudently; lacking tolerance or understanding; narrow-minded. When I think of the island of Manhattan and of New York in general, "myopic" is definitely not the first word that comes to mind. New York? Lacking tolerance or narrow-minded? Seriously?! Now, I'll give you that New York is definitely a "left-leaning community" - which is part of the reason why I enjoy living here as opposed to living in the Artistic Director's state where you can be arrested for not carrying the proper documentation... but, I digress.

Now, the National Endowment for the Arts has always been a hot-button issue - mainly because they don't always support things that fit nicely into everyone else's boxed-idea of what art should be. However, you needn't go very far into their website to find some truly wonderful things they've spent their money on. Here are some highlights...

In 2005 Michigan Opera Theater received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $40,000 to support the world premiere of Margaret Garner. Composed by Grammy-winning composer Richard Danielpour, with a libretto by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, Margaret Garner tells the true story of a fugitive slave's fight for freedom. While adding to the American opera repertoire, Margaret Garner also provided new opportunities for African-American opera singers to perform in lead roles.

In 2006 the University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography applied for a Save America’s Treasures grant, a program offered jointly by the NEA and the National Park Service. The university received a $270,000 Save America’s Treasure’s grant to conserve work by one of America’s most revered photographers: Ansel Adams.

In 2007, the NEA gave an Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $20,000 to Fort Worth Opera in support of Angels in America - an opera by Hungarian composer Peter Eötvös, based on Tony Kushner’s groundbreaking 1991 play about living with AIDS during Reagan-era America.

Let's skip ahead to 2010 when a $25,000 NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant was given to Opera Theatre St. Louis’s in support of the commission of the score and libretto for a new jazz opera to be produced in partnership with Jazz St. Louis. The grant will also support a workshop and the completion of musical materials for this inter-genre performance.

Seattle-based On the Boards (OtB) has been introducing Northwestern audiences to an innovative and global array of contemporary dance, music, and theater since 1978. OtB was recently awarded an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $20,000 to support a unique range of dance performances, activities, and presentations from January-June 2011. So, the National Endowment for the Arts isn't just some "Let someone else do it." kind of organization. If you'd like to see a full list the NEA initiatives, make sure to check out NEA.gov archives.

Above and beyond all of that - there is this man (Gingrich, not Artistic Director) who resigned from congress amid being charged with ethics violations and subsequently being slapped with a $300,000 fine ... this man who was cheating on his second wife with his current wife, while bringing impeachment charges against a president for similar shenanigans ... this man who, when asked about his desire to have an "open marriage" with his second wife, blamed the "elite media" for "defending Barack Obama" instead of actually answering the question ... the list goes on and on (to say nothing about his voting record) ... I am supposed to trust that this man, Gingrich, is going to bring his party around to actually being supporters of the arts and musical education on a national level because his French horn playing pianist/singer wife is passionate about it?

Isn't the Republican Party the group that accuses the arts as being too elitist and high-brow? I think we'll probably see elephants sprout wings and fly before Gingrich comes anywhere near the arts ... unless, of course, he needs "humanizing".

In closing, a word to Artistic Director: keep supporting your Republican Party, Speaker Gingrich and Mrs. Gingrich III - but remember, you can certainly put a pretty, blond-colored bow on a pig in an effort to "humanize" it ... but, at the end of the day, it's still swine.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Some good ... and stunning ... news from New York City Opera

On the heels of the agreement New York City Opera reached with AGMA and Local 802 AFM that enables the 2012 season to resume as scheduled, NYC Opera made a stunning announcement. Well, at least I was stunned.

New York City Opera kicks off a new year and a new "era" with La Traviata at the Brooklyn Academy of Music from Feb. 12-18. The Jonathan Miller production of Verdi's masterpiece is the season's first NYC Opera staging at BAM... and it's first staging outside of Lincoln Center. La Traviata will be followed by the US premiere performances of Rufus Wainwright's Prima Donna from Feb. 19-25...

Yes, yes, yes - I know you know all of that already.

Here's the announcement part: As a gift to the City of New York, The Reed Foundation and The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation have bought the remaining seats for all NYC Opera performances at BAM and will offer these seats at a special $25 price to celebrate NYC Opera’s new beginning.

Honestly, that's so ... Oprah. "You get a ticket! You get a ticket! EVERY BODY GETS A TICKET!"

I'm sure the news of this made NYC Opera’s General Manager George Steel shout a hearty "Hojotoho!" Ok, maybe not... but, he did say:
Many thanks are due to the countless individuals who have helped City Opera forge this new path, most notably members of the New York City Opera Orchestra and New York City Opera Chorus, and the many artists represented by these contracts. Their exceptional artistry is at the very heart of what makes New York City Opera so special. We look forward to bringing this exciting new season of unforgettable operas to our loyal subscribers and fans. Earning your applause is, and will always be, our unifying purpose. Thank you for standing by us, and on with the show!
Now, see... this drives my captious-self crazy because now I have gained more respect for Mr. Steel. Whether or not this beautiful piece of PR copy [see below] came from his little fingers or not ... who knows? But in all honest, it does make me feel a little more toasty inside. 

PS, Mr. Steel: that copywriter deserves a muffin basket for *sure*.

Congrats to all of the hard working folks at NYC Opera. In bocca al lupo! Toi, toi, toi! And, break a leg!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

GREAT SCOTT - more news on the 'new operas' front

Yesterday, the Dallas Opera announced that it has commissioned a new, full-length opera by acclaimed American composer Jake Heggie (Moby-Dick) and the Tony Award-winning playwright/librettist Terrence McNally (Master Class) in their first joint project since the groundbreaking masterpiece, Dead Man Walking.

The new work, GREAT SCOTT, is based on an original story by Mr. McNally and will star American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato [pictured]. The opera will be conducted by "one of the fastest-rising young artists on the podium today": Maestro Evan Rogister.

Terrence McNally describes the new commission:

"What happens when a famous American singer who has been the subject of a 60 MINUTES profile goes back home to star in a production of a forgotten masterpiece of the bel canto repertory? Arden Scott belongs to the world now but she is a hometown girl at heart. She has never looked back until now. ROSA DOLOROSA, FIGLIA DI POMPEI (the opera within the opera) is her occasion to do so.

"ROSA is a grand opera complete with two mad scenes, an erupting volcano, a children’s chorus and corps de ballet," writes Mr. McNally. "Every conceivable disaster awaits them. Will mere human resources be equal to the opera’s inhuman demands? The rehearsals and performance of ROSA will mirror the upheaval of Arden Scott’s own life."

Regarding his part in this commission, Jake Heggie explains, "In the remarkable wake of Moby-Dick, I am over the moon to return to The Dallas Opera for my next grand opera. And a brave project it is: a big, new American opera based on an original libretto by one of our most honored and beloved playwrights, the great Terrence McNally. This is our first major collaboration since Dead Man Walking back in 2000, and we are ecstatic to work together again.

"GREAT SCOTT promises to challenge, inspire and delight us all, especially as it is being created for one of the most beloved and brilliant opera stars of our time, Joyce DiDonato. The musical and dramatic possibilities have my imagination bubbling over! And once again, I am deeply impressed by the vision, courage, leadership and commitment to bold, new work by the entire Dallas Opera family and community. The creation of a new opera takes the support, participation and enthusiasm of an entire community –and Dallas rallies like no other city I know," adding, "It’s great to be back."

Yesterday, it was the news about San Francisco Opera's Dolores Claiborne ... and now, this? It's all too much to take in...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

San Francisco Opera's 2012–13 ... plus, a teaser that made me gasp

Kathy Bates as Dolores Claiborne
San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley today announced the Company’s 2012–13 repertory season. And although I was really quite jazzed to read about it - there are, after all, two world premiere commissions by Nolan Gasser and Carey Harrison (The Secret Garden) as well as Mark Adamo (The Gospel of Mary Magdalene). But, it is the world premiere that is coming in the fall of 2013 that literally made me gasp at my desk. More on that later...

The Company’s 90th season opens Friday, September 7, 2012 with a gala performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto. Maestro Luisotti leads an international cast of singers, including acclaimed Serbian baritone and Verdi specialist Željko Lučić in the title role, and the Company debuts of Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak as Gilda and Italian tenor Francesco Demuro as the Duke of Mantua. Opera Ball, the Company’s celebrated signature benefit event, co-produced with the San Francisco Opera Guild in support of the San Francisco Opera and Opera Guild education programs, will precede the opening night performance at the historic War Memorial Opera House.

In addition to Rigoletto, which features two international casts of singers, San Francisco Opera’s 2012–13 Season offers Bellini’s bel canto gem I Capuleti e i Montecchi with Joyce DiDonato and Nicole Cabell; the Bay Area premiere of Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick with Ben Heppner as Captain Ahab; Wagner’s Lohengrin; Puccini’s Tosca with Angela Gheorghiu and Patricia Racette sharing the role of the Diva; Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann with Christian Van Horn portraying the four villains and Natalie Dessay essaying all four ladies; and Mozart’s Così fan tutte, with a cast entirely composed of artists making stage role debuts.

Gockley also announced the extension of his contract to lead San Francisco Opera through the 2015–16 Season along with the extension of contracts for the artistic leadership team of Music Director Nicola Luisotti, Principal Guest Conductor Patrick Summers and Resident Conductor Giuseppe Finzi.

The biggest announcement, at least in my opnion, was the announcement that San Francisco Opera will present the world premiere of Tobias Picker and J.D. McClatchy’s opera Dolores Claiborne, based on the best-selling novel of the same name by award-winning author Stephen King. Dolores Claiborne will open September 15, 2013, as part of the Company’s 2013–14 season, and will star ... wait for it ... wait for it ... mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick in the title role (which was played by Kathy Bates in the 1995 film adaptation.)

My dearest Chiclets ... I was literally speechless at that news. Not only do I think the story of Dolores Claiborne is absolutely perfect for the operatic stage and truly couldn't think of a better composer to put his hands on it than Tobias Picker - but, Dolora Zajick as Claiborne?

No. I can't deal. Done and done. I'm through.

In a word - it's BRILLIANT.

In his Company debut, George Manahan will conduct and James Robinson, whose previous assignments at the War Memorial Opera House include the 2009 season productions of Il Trittico and Salome, will return to direct. This new production will also feature the work of scenic designer Allen Moyer, costume designer James Schutte, lighting designer Chris Ackerlind and projection designer Greg Emetaz.

I'm not the only one worked up about Dolores Claiborne ...

David Gockley stated, “The idea of Dolores Claiborne as an operatic work has been in my mind for quite a while. The sticking point was obtaining the rights from author Stephen King, and once that was accomplished the opera was put on the fast track for development. I’ve always admired the music of Tobias Picker—his musical language that works so well with today’s audiences by offering a spectrum of expressive qualities, his beautiful lyricism, his dramatic abilities and his brilliant orchestrations. And I’ve always thought of the character of Dolores Claiborne and celebrated mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick as a perfect match.”

Composer Tobias Picker commented, “Dolores Claiborne is a character destined for the operatic stage—passionate, desperate, trapped. She will do anything to save the daughter who despises her. Pushed to the extreme edge of life, she does what she has to, fearless and forsaken. I have wanted to write this opera for years. Yes, Stephen King is a master of suspense, but he is also a remarkable reader of human desires and fears. The superb team that San Francisco Opera has assembled allowed me to compose a powerful, heart-stopping piece of music theater for a cast of brilliant voices.”

"If anyone is going to accuse me of killing my husband go right ahead and call me Dolores!"

Wedding bells for Francesca Zambello

'Tis true, friends... wedding bells rang out for directress extraordinaire Francesca Zambello and attorney Faith Gay. The news of the couples nuptuals came to Yours Truly via the reporting of Our Lady of Operatic Hubris, La Cieca at Parterre.com.

According do our Dearest Doyenne, the wedding took place on December 22 in Cooperstown and was attended by (among others) Deborah Voigt, Kirstin Chavez, Beth Clayton and Patricia Racette.

Congratulations to the happy couple.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A pretty picture from the MET

The Metropolitan Opera [pictured right] - by the numbers:

57.7: The average age of audience members at performances in 2010, down from 60.4 in 2005, according to the Met.

$182 million: That's what the Met raised last fiscal year -- up 50% from the previous period. Board chair Ann Ziff and her family, heirs to the Ziff Davis publishing fortune, pledged $30 million.

1,700: The number of venues in 54 countries that will screen Met operas in HD this year. Some 8.5 million tickets have been sold so far. Last year HD produced $11 million in profits for the Met.

So... Peter Gelb is apparently doing something relatively correct. At least, that's what the numbers say. Artistically? Too bad we don't have numbers for that - I think the picture would change slightly.

Source: The Met and Fortune Magazine.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

At the NY Phil, please silence your cell phones ... or else

Maestro Alan Gilbert
It's evident by the growing conversation in Twitterville, that something went down at the NY Philharmonic performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony last night.

Evidently, an iPhone's marimba ring-tone sounded repeatedly from the front row of Avery Fisher Hall during the final moments of Mahler's last completed work.

"[Maestro Alan] Gilbert was visibly annoyed by the persistent ring-tone, so much that he quietly cut the orchestra," an eyewitness reported. She related how the maestro turned on the podium towards the offender. The pause lasted a good "three or four minutes. It might have been two. It seemed long."

Maestro Gilbert asked the man, sitting in front of the concert-master: "Are you finished?" The man didn't respond. "Fine, we'll wait," Gilbert said.

The audience went crazy - some shouting for security to kick the man out, while others shouted that the man should be slapped with a "thousand dollar fine". These people aren't messing around - if you tear them from Mahler's music, they'll cut somebody. NY audiences feel a deep tie to Mahler since he conducted the Phil during the last years of his life.

The ringing stopped. "Did you turn it off?" Maestro Gilbert asked.

The man nodded.

"It won't go off again?"

The man shook his head.

Before resuming, Maestro Gilbert addressed the audience: "I apologize. Usually, when there's a disturbance like this, it is best to ignore it, because addressing it is sometimes worse than the disturbance itself. But this was so egregious that I could not allow it."

"We'll start again." The audience cheered.

At that point, Maestro Gilbert turned to the orchestra and said "Number 118" ... they picked up the movement and played the work through to its near silent conclusion.

Word to the wise ... when they say "Please turn off your cell phones." they really mean it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

In Memoriam: The in-dash CD player

Alright, Chiclets ... how many of you either had, or knew someone who had an 8-track player in their car?  NO ... I didn't have one.  But, when I was a young lad, my sister drove a 1978 Buick Regal and you know that beauty came with an 8-track player. 

Then, the 8-track made way for the Cassette Tape ... and thank goodness because those tapes took up a lot less space on the floor board or in the back seat.

After that, the Cassette Tape made way for the CD .... and now, the CD is making way for the ... well, nothing.  The CD player, as MSNBC.com is reporting, is beginning to be dismissed from the dash:
CD players in cars look set to go the same way as the dodo bird, according to a report in industry trade publication Automotive News.

With content and computing power migrating to smartphones, which can now channel music, navigation and other applications to relatively simple and low-cost onboard infotainment systems, CD players are becoming increasingly irrelevant in cars, the report says.

Automakers also want to get rid of optical drives -- that is, CD or DVD players -- because they are expensive and appeal mainly to older motorists, according to the report.

Indeed, the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS, which debuted this week at the Detroit auto show and will go on sale in the United States this summer features an optional MyLink infotainment system that lets motorists make hands-free phone calls, listen to MP3 music and get route guidance by linking their smartphones to the vehicle's infotainment system. But no CD player, Automotive News said.
I knew this day would come ...

Friday, January 6, 2012

Opera geeks unite! The Lens of Gesamtkunstwerk

Opera singers listening to radio-phone broadcast in 1922
Opera is groundbreaking. There, I said it.

German opera composer Richard Wagner used the term Gesamtkunstwerk - or total work of art - to discuss his ideal of unifying all works of art via the theater. He later described in detail his idea of the union of opera and drama (later called music drama despite Wagner's disapproval of the term), in which the individual arts are subordinated to a common purpose. Wagner felt that during his time (ca. 1850), the arts had drifted apart. He felt that this drift was responsible for creating such 'monstrosities' as Grand Opera - with it's bravura singing, sensational stage effects, and meaningless plots acting as background-noise to social gatherings.

To that end, it was Richard Wagner who took Gesamtkunstwerk to the next level by dimming the house lights of the theater before his productions began. That way, people were transported into the plot and were much less likely to chat while his major works such as the Ring cycle, and specifically its components Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, were being performed.

Say what you will about Wagner (and there is plenty to be said), this was a brilliant idea.

In her blog post Through the Lens of Opera, Library of Congress Librarian Jennifer Harbster, brings us further proof of opera's groundbreaking achievements. Ms Harbster writes in part:
Disregard what you learned from the history books about the first sound movie, first color TV program, first stereo broadcast….because opera did it first!

*Some of the first synchronized sound movies were of opera arias shown at the Phono-Cinema-Theatre at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair.

*A sound movie of the complete opera Faust was released in Britain in 1907.

*NBC transmitted Carmen in color in 1953, the year before their “first color television” broadcast.

*The first stereo radio broadcast was from the Berlin Opera in 1925...

... Through the lens of opera, we can better understand the history of technology. During the telephone opera era, from 1880 to 1943, the idea of electronic home entertainment was born. As early as 1885,
Mefistofele was transmitted via a subscription service that delivered operas to homes, similar to today’s cable television. Also available was pay-per-event operas delivered over the telephone, resembling the model of our current pay-per-view.
It's a long way from the telephone opera era to the HD Transmissions of today, isn't it?

My inner-opera-geek wanted to learn more ... and luckily, there is this: In October of last year, the Library of Congress hosted a lecture by Mark Schubin on how opera helped create modern media technology. No joke - this is cool stuff for us opera-geeks. Mark Schubin, who is the engineer-in-charge of the Metropolitan Opera's media department as well as a multiple-Emmy Award winning fellow of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers knows his stuff. Visit this link for video on the lecture.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy 2012! Happy Everything!

It's 2012. Can you even believe it?

I remember being a child in the early '80s and being told, "By the time you have your drivers license, we'll all be driving hovercrafts or something like that." Needless to say, I've had my driver's license for 20 years (give or take a few) and we're not to the hovercraft-place, just yet.

While many things have indeed advanced, quite a few things have not.  In our nation - in our own backyard - poverty is still devastating to so many ... there are still people who cannot afford proper heath care ... institutions that are charged with teaching our children continue to crumble to the ground ... while many are still out of work. Need I continue?

When President Obama was Candidate Obama, we were promised change in our country ... a change we could believe in.  Remember?  While many are disenchanted by a change they haven't seen - others are disenchanted by the fact that the change that *has come* hasn't taken the form they thought it would.  What these disenchanted folks have forgotten is that TRUE change cannot come at the hand of one person.  Change starts with each one of us as individuals and the only way we can be effective change agents in our country is to be effective change agents within and for ourselves. 

In honor of the new year, I'd like to bring you one of my most favorite quotes.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
- Nelson Mandela | 1994 Inaugural Speech
Happy 2012! Happy Everything! Go forth, manifesting your powerful light and encouraging those around you to do the same ... change will come.
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