Wednesday, June 27, 2012

From Carnegie Hall's reception desk to a debut album - Noah Stewart

Mark your calendars, Friends...

On July 3, Decca Records - part of The Verve Music Group - presents the debut album from tenor and Harlem-native, Noah Stewart ... Noah.

Born and raised in New York City, Noah Stewart, who used to be a receptionist at New York's Carnegie Hall, had support from - none other than - Mr. Bill Cosby who sponsored the young singer's musical training at Juilliard.

Yep. He sure did.

In the four years since participating in the prestigious Adler Fellowship program at the San Francisco Opera, Noah Stewart has established himself as one of the fastest-rising young tenors in the world, debuting in New York, Detroit, London and Paris in major opera repertoire.

But, following the maps charted by great tenors like Enrico Caruso to Luciano Pavarotti, Stewart understands there was a time when being an operatic tenor didn't just mean performing at the opera house. Great tenors had a popular touch and could encompass all kinds of popular, traditional songs, too.

(Side note: let's not confuse operatic tenors who have a popular touch with "classical crossover artists" who have learned the ability to mimic opera singers. There's definitely a difference.)

When he was a student at New York's famous La Guardia High School, Noah Stewart gained some experience in the pop music industry when he sang backup for Mariah Carey at Madison Square Garden and appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman with rapper Coolio.

And so, here comes Noah the debut album from Noah Stewart...

Upon it's UK debut in April, Noah debuted at #1 on the UK's Classical Charts, and even entered the UK's main Official Albums chart as the 2nd new entry, behind Madonna's MDNA.

And don't you worry - there's something for everyone on Noah Stewarts debut album: renditions of the operatic arias "Recondita Armonia" from Puccini's Tosca, and "Pourquoi me reveiller" from Massenet's Werther - as well as the ever-popular Bach/Gounod Ave Maria. Noah casts a much wider net too - with inspirational input from producers and arrangers Steven Baker and Christian Seitz. The album presents Noah Stewart's vocal talents in the spiritual classics "Deep River", "Shenandoah" and the hymn "Nearer My God To Thee".

Also, exclusive to the US edition, Noah Stewart shows his patriotic side with a soaring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner which he memorably sang at the televised Chicago Bears/Tampa Bay Bucaneers NFL game at Wembly Stadium.

So make sure you pick up Noah - and, if you want to see Stewart live, you can catch him singing the role of Radames in Verdi's Aida at the 2012 Glimmerglass Festival in New York. For more information on this production, which runs July through August, visit glimmerglass.org.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Soprano Deborah Voigt tweets an update after emergency hip surgery

As you saw on Wednesday, soprano Deborah Voigt was to be singing concerts in Melbourne and Sydney next week, but an emergency hip operation had forced her to withdraw.

Yesterday, I fought back the urge to contact Voigt's publicist to get a comment on how the "Down to Earth Diva" was doing. Why did I fight back the urge, you ask? Yesterday, I felt a little like a nosy blogger.

Today, though? Today, all bets were off.

I've got to be honest with you Chiclets - while on the train this morning, I had already composed an email to her publicist asking for an update, a comment... ANYTHING. But, I held off clicking sent because I had a feeling that sooner, rather than later, we'd see a tweet from Miss Deb herself (or someone close to her who is operating her Twitter Machine).

My intuition hadn't failed me. I popped off the train and saw this little gem:


I am so beyond thrilled that the surgery went well! But, we are still sending droves of healing thoughts your way, Miss Deb. Rest well ... you'll be back to your "Hojotoho" in no time, I'm sure.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Soprano Deborah Voigt cancels tour dates to undergo emergency surgery

Deborah Voigt | Photo by Dario Acosta
Friends, Yours Truly learned just now that La Brunny - soprano Deborah Voigt - has had to cancel her first Australian tour due to urgent surgery.

The American soprano was to be singing concerts in Melbourne and Sydney next week, but an emergency hip operation has forced her to withdraw.

According to limelightmagazine.com, her Melbourne concert was sold out, with only a few hundred seats left for her Sydney concerts.

As you well know, Chiclets - Voigt recently gave a tour-de-force performance as Brünnhilde (whom Voigt nicknamed "Brunny" on her Twitter feed) in the Met's notoriously [insert air-quotes here] "demanding" production of the Ring cycle.

This latest setback of her hip injury is one of several that Voigt has overcome in the course of her decades-long career. First, there was the struggle with obesity, which culminated in the highly publicized "Little Black Dress" scandal ... which, of course given my propensity for nicknaming things, I've termed the "LBD".

The "LBD" scandal made international headlines in 2004 when she was fired from a production of Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos at Covent Garden. Although Ariadne is one of her signature roles, she was forced to leave the cast because she was too large to wear a revealing black dress that the director deemed crucial to the staging concept.

And, as you all know, DO NOT get me started on THIS topic, right?

Very shortly thereafter, sighting health reasons, Voigt underwent gastric bypass surgery - which was totally unheard of for an opera singer.

Unfortunately, following the bypass surgery and dramatic weight loss, Voigt replaced her addiction to food with an addiction to alcohol - which she announced publicly during a recital last summer.

A story of triumphs? You bet your viking-horns it is. And soon, you'll be able to read all about her battles with obesity and addiction, as well as the impact they have had on her career.

Oh. Yes. Indeed.

It was announced recently that Deborah Voigt has sold her autobiography to HarperCollins for publication in 2013. With the working title True Confessions of a Down to Earth Diva, the memoir, as Voigt says, will not shy away from her battle with obesity and the impact it has had on her career:
It's time for me to step up and share my story because I know there are lots of other people, especially women, who are out there suffering in silence.
HarperCollins' Jonathan Burnham, describes the forthcoming book as an
...unbelievably honest narrative of a woman caught in a dangerous cycle of addiction and illness who overcame her demons in an utterly triumphant way.
As for today's hip surgery, Deborah Voigt tweeted late last night:


I'm sure that I join a throng of colleagues, friends and fans in wishing Deborah Voigt an easy and speedy recovery. Hojotoho!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Good news from the Metropolitan Opera

Schools out for the summer at the Metropolitan Opera and that's not the only good news coming from the nation's largest opera company. After a couple months of PR issues with the media, I'm certain this good news is a welcome change for them.

Bloomberg.com reports that according to the Met's 2010-2011 tax returns, the Met spent $321 million - which is an increase of 8 percent. And not only did the Met spend more - it saved more. Due to a surge in contributions and revenue, the Metropolitan Opera had a $41 million surplus, reversing a $25 million deficit the prior season.

Another surge was Maestro James Levine's paycheck. The Metropolitan Opera’s music director earned $2.1 million in 2010, up 39 percent from a year earlier. That makes him a higher earner than Peter Gelb, who is - for intents and purposes - Maestro Jimmy's boss.

In an email to Bloomberg.com, Met spokesman Peter Clark said that Levine’s pay was “related to the increasing success of our media program, including amounts attributable to prior years”.

As far as Peter Gelb's compensation... well, Bloomberg.com put it this way:
Gelb earned $1.4 million in pay and benefits in 2010, up 4 percent. His base salary was $1.25 million and he sometimes flew first-class, Clark said. Moreover, a car and driver is available for business purposes seven days a week. When he uses the chauffeured car for personal reasons, he must pay taxes on the benefit, Clark said.

“He never asks the driver to work seven days a week,” Clark said.
He's Peter Gelb. Yea, the Peter Gelb who runs the Metropolitan Opera. Yea, the Peter Gelb has a car & driver!

Yet, he only flew first-class "sometimes"?

What? [He says with a confounded and quizzical look.]

I take that as: They don't have first-class on the Delta Shuttles to Boston and DC ... but, every other time he flew first-class.

And, hey... listen - no judgement here. If you're running the most important opera house in the country, not to mention most famous in the world, by all means fly first-class. In fact, I'd probably judge you if you *didn't* fly first class.

Right? I mean, let's be honest ... you know you'd judge, too.

OH! One more thing:

Remember that Joseph Volpe guy? Yea. That one - Gelb's predecessor who retired in July 2006 (which seems like a lifetime ago). Well, Mr. Volpe received $406,101 in pension and health benefits in 2010. After 42 years at the Met, which included starting as a carpenter and rising all the way to general manager, I would hope he was taken care of.

It's too bad there aren't more employers in our country that rewarded their employees like this for their loyalty and contributions to the good of the company.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Anna and Erwin Foundation goes live

Opera's "it couple" Anna Netrebko and Erwin Schrott, who have started their own foundation to support children, have just announced that the foundation's website is now live.

For those who missed it... last month, Christoph Hillenbrand, District President of Upper Bavaria, handed the deed of foundation to the superstars and added his words of gratitude: “Thanks to your work, you will outlive all of us.”

With Foundation Managers Michael van Almsick and Albert Luppart being present, Anna Netrebko and Erwin Schrott spoke about their motivation:
A dream has come true for us ... We have wanted to help all of our lives. At some point we said to ourselves: Let’s do something serious. Of course, our popularity gives us the opportunity to make use of it for children in need of help.
The Anna and Erwin Foundation – Anna Netrebko and Erwin Schrott for Kids starts with an endowment capital of € 50 000, coming from both artists’ private funds.

The first projects to be aided will be the SOS Children’s Villages International, a children’s hospital in St. Petersburg, the Austrian foundation “Unser Kind” as well as the Spanish foundation avapace.

So check out annaanderwin4kids.com. You can also follow them on Twitter @AnnaErwin4Kids, @erwinschrott and @AnnaNetrebko.

Contest Alert: Your top three sopranos from the "Vissi d'arte" contest.

You watched. You voted. And now, we finally have a winner.

Last week, I asked you who your favorite sopranos were. Knowing that it was impossible to narrow it down to one, I asked you to ponder which in a list of sopranos - all from different operatic generations and all singing Tosca's "Vissi d'arte" - you would classify as your top 3 faves.

Chiclets, you voted and here are your results in reverse order:

#3 Montserrat Caballe



#2 Leontyne Price (who, by the way, was a write-in candidate)



And, your pick for #1

Maria Callas (Is anyone really shocked?)



As a thank you to those who voted, your names (even if they were "Anonymous") were entered into a drawing for a prize package courtesy of Naxos of America.

I'd pleased to announce that Georgeanne Yehling's name was drawn as the winner!

"TELL HER WHAT SHE'S ONE, BOB!"


Ms. Yehling, swing on over to the contact page and email me the best address to send a FedEx package... then, be on the lookout!

Many thanks, again to all who voted. And a very special HOJOTOHO! and thank you to Naxos of America for contributing the prize package.

Me thinks we'll look at mezzo sopranos next .... hmmmmmmmm.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Contest Alert! Which soprano would you rather... ?

Asking an opera lover who their favorite opera singer is, is kind of like asking an ice cream lover what their favorite ice cream flavor is.

For me, it kind of depends on the day: sometimes I'm two scoops of Rocky Road ... sometimes I'm up for plain chocolate ... and then, there are the days when Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough is where it's at. (The later has been the most recent fave...)

Okay - let's be honest, as long as it's ice cream and doesn't have anything to do with fruit or fruit flavor, I'm pretty much down for it.

If I asked you what your favorite ice cream was - could you answer?

More importantly ... what if I asked you who your favorite sopranos were? Could you narrow it down to your top 3?

That's what I'm asking you to ponder, my friends. This weekend, ponder which of the following sopranos - all from different operatic generations and all singing Tosca's "Vissi d'arte" - you would classify as your top 3 faves. Let me know your vote by tweeting me @JNewmanNYC or leave a comment below. If your top 3 aren't all represented here, let me know who your write-in candidate would be.

The first 10 responses (based on the time you responded) will be entered into a drawing for a prize package. No joke. PRIZES!

So, grab a pint of your favorite ice cream ... pop in your head phones and make sure to let me know what you think. Remember: Tweet me @JNewmanNYC or leave a comment below.

Enjoy.

#1 Montserrat Caballe



#2 Mirella Freni



#3 Maria Callas



#4 Shirley Verrett



#5 Angela Gheorghiu



#6 Hildegard Behrens



#7 Renee Fleming



#8 Daniela Dessi



#9 Sondra Radvanovsky



#10 Grace Bumbry



PS: For those who are about to jump down my throat because Leontyne Price is not represented above, RELAX. I could not find a live video clip of her that has decent quality sound.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Shop from Amanda Brooks' closet to benefit NY City Opera

A friendly neighborhood reminder, Chiclets...

New York City Opera's seventh annual DIVAS Shop for Opera sale kicks off today at 82Mercer - located in the heart of Soho at, you guessed it, 82 Mercer Street - that's between Spring and Broome Streets.

The Post is reporting that Amanda Brooks, who recently resigned as fashion director of Barneys and plans to leave the city to spend more time with her family in England, made a hefty donation of her designer wares. Sources tell the Post that Brooks has donated “thousands and thousands of dollars” worth of Prada, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Jil Sander, Tuleh, Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel designs, plus “loads of shoes,” were donated.

But, to jump on those amazing donations, you must purchase a $375 VIP ticket. This also entitles you to mingle with fellow VIP-shoppers, sip cocktails, enjoy hors d’oeuvres and also reap the benefit of a 10% discount on your purchases. Oh! And, ps: you wont leave empty handed - there are gift bags.

Not feeling the VIP crowd? No stress, my Friend... for $75, you can gain later access and shop yourself crazy, too

FYI: past donors to this worthy cause - which benefits costume design and creation for New York City Opera - have included Bill Blass, Nanette Lepore, Versace, Manolo Blahnik, Zac Posen, DKNY, Luca Luca, Zandra Rhodes (who has designed opera productions herself), Carmen Marc Valvo, Vera Wang and then some.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

To celebrate Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee, Renée Fleming takes to the balcony

I've said before ... time and again ... the Episcopalian in me loves some serious pomp and circumstance.

Over the last few days Britain has seen quite a bit of it as they celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. That is, 60 years as sovereign.

At the time of her birth, Princess Elizabeth stood third in line of succession to the throne after Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), and her father, The Duke of York. But it was not expected that her father would become King, or that she would become Queen.

In today's line of succession to the throne, this would be similar to Prince Harry of Wales and/or his future heir becoming sovereign should the Duke of Cambridge (William) ever abdicate the throne (assuming he and the Duchess of Cambridge Katherine do not have children). Next in the current line of succession is Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, who is the Prince of Wales' brother (Number 4 in line) ... followed by Princess Beatrice of York (Number 5 in line) and Princess Eugenie of York (Number 6 in line).

But, enough about the others... let's get back to Her Majesty.

The Princess was christened Elizabeth Alexandra Mary in the private chapel at Buckingham Palace. She was named after her mother, while her two middle names are those of her paternal great-grandmother, Queen Alexandra, and paternal grandmother, Queen Mary.

In 1930, Princess Elizabeth gained a sister, with the birth of Princess Margaret Rose. The family of four was very close and led a relatively quiet life ... that is, until 1936 when her grandfather, King George V, died.

His eldest son came to the throne as King Edward VIII, but, before the end of the year, King Edward had famously decided to give up the throne in order to marry the woman he loved, Mrs Wallis Simpson (who, in addition to being a divorcee was also AMERICAN). In his abdication speech on December 11, 1936, Kind Edward put it this way:
But you must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.
What drama...

Upon his abdication, Princess Elizabeth's father acceded to the throne as King George VI, and in 1937 the two Princesses attended their parents' coronation in Westminster Abbey.

Princess Elizabeth was now first in line to the throne, and a figure of even more intense public interest.

George VI's health declined during 1951, and Princess Elizabeth was soon frequently standing in for him at public events. In October of that year, she toured Canada, and visited President Truman in Washington, D.C. While on that trip, her private secretary, Martin Charteris, carried a draft accession declaration for use if the King died while she was away.

In early 1952, Elizabeth and Philip set out for a tour of Australia and New Zealand by way of Kenya. On February 6, 1952, they had just returned to their Kenyan home after a night spent at Treetops Hotel, when word came of the death of Elizabeth's father. Philip broke the news to the new queen and as duty became thrust on her, Martin Charteris asked her to choose a regnal name ... she chose to remain Elizabeth.

She was proclaimed queen throughout her realms, and the royal party hastily returned to the UK. Shortly thereafter, The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh moved into Buckingham Palace.

More than a year was spent in preparation for the coronation ceremony. Elaborate rehearsals were carried out and, The Queen wore the heavy coronation crown around the palace on occasion - just to get used to it. Despite the death of Queen Mary ten weeks before, the coronation went ahead on June 2, 1953. Before she died, Queen Mary had asked that the coronation not be delayed. The ceremony in Westminster Abbey was the first to be televised. This opened the door and exposed the Monarchy in a way that had never been allowed previously.

Over the past 60 years, HM Queen Elizabeth II has allowed the Monarchy to change with the times and, although she has never given an interview to a journalist, she does continue to live by her moto:
I have to be seen to be believed.
To celebrate Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee, we have a clip from The Queen's Diamond Jubilee concert. From a balcony of Buckingham Palace, we have La Diva Renée Fleming and Alfie Boe singing an arrangement of Leonard Bernstein's "Somewhere".



For his part President Obama extended the heartfelt congratulations of the American people to Her Majesty in honor of her Diamond Jubilee.


Congratulations Ma'am. You are a force of nature and your duty to God and Country are to be heartily commended.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Celine Dion rebounding after vocal issues. Concerts resume June 9.

Sometimes in the life of a singer, there are circumstances beyond their control which will end up effecting their voice. Acid Reflux, allergies, a virus ... these are things that will effect the vocal cords in such a manner that sometimes singers don't know it until it is too late.

While, yes, more often than not we can listen to a singer and know based on how they use their voice that they may end up in vocal trouble. But, simply assuming that a singer has run into vocal trouble because of miss-use is not entirely fair. I have made that assumption before - and have also corrected myself since.

As I have said before, I have a geek-like fascination with vocal technique ... that is to say, not only how a singer sings, but how they use their entire body (or not) to do what they do.

Earlier this year, I reported on how, at the beginning of her career, Celine Dion found herself in a similar predicament to that of newly-ascended star-singer Adele.

In 1988, a 20 year old Dion had lost her voice. In her book Celine Dion For Keeps, Jenna Glatzer quotes Dion as she discusses this difficult time:
"The doctor gave me a shot, and I took so many vitamins, maybe steroids," she says. "I went on for the first song. The second song there was not voice coming out, and there was a guitar solo where I had to do a costume change. The guitar solo lasted about five minutes and I never came back," she says, still shuddering from the memory. "I couldn't talk. The people weren't stupid - they knew I couldn't sing. Rene [her husband and manager] went onstage and I was crying so hard in my dressing room. I heard Rene talking to them and the people started to sing a song to me. I remember hearing every seat of the house ... you know when you stand up at a movie theater the seats go click? I could hear click, click, click..."
A doctor in Montreal broke the news to Dion that she would need to have surgery to remove polyps from her vocal cords. For a second opinion, Team Dion consulted Dr. William Gould here in New York. Dr. Gould, then nearly 80, was a renowned voice doctor who had worked with Frank Sinatra, President John Kennedy and Walter Cronkite.

Surgery was not the answer - silence was.

After 3 weeks of vocal silence, Dion's cords looked perfect. But, they were convinced that if she went back on tour, she would be right back in Dr. Gould's office. Therefore, Dr. Gould prescribed something for the long-term that was ultimately less invasive but, infinitely more time consuming and difficult - Celine Dion had to learn how to "be a singer". Clearly she could sing - but, the longevity of a singer doesn't always depend solely on how they sing. Dion also needed to learn how to care for her instrument. She had to learn that the first thing is not to do harm.

Where did Dr. Gould refer her? To a doctor who was also an opera singer.

Celine Dion's new vocal guru was (and, is) Dr. William Riley - whose clients have included Ben Vereen, President Bill Clinton, Liza Minnelli and a host of singers from Broadway and the Met (including sopranos Teresa Stratas and Deborah Voigt). Dr. Riley taught Dion that her main mission in life was to protect her fragile vocal cords as any working opera singer would. He showed her how to vocalize and how to warm up her voice every day. And, he also taught her how to manage many things in daily life; how to sneeze without making noise, how to cough lightly, how to keep herself well hydrated, rested and how to rest her voice when needed.

Later that year, after rehabilitating her voice and learning how to take care of it, Celine Dion went on to sing at the Eurovision Song Contest and won - launching her career.

Well, some 20+ years after her initial vocal trouble - Celine Dion was forced to cancel upcoming Las Vegas shows due to vocal trouble. Variety reported that Dion has recently been having problems with her vocal chords:
"I tried to sing at my soundcheck last week, and I had no control of my voice whatsoever," said Dion. "We thought that after a few days rest I would improve but it wasn't getting any better. … This is the worst thing for a singer. I feel worse knowing that I'm disappointing my fans. I'm so sorry. I hope they forgive me."
While the Associated Foreign Press reports:
After difficulties ... forced her to cancel weekend performances, she decided to seek advice from laryngeal physiology expert Gerald Berke in Los Angeles.

The five-time Grammy winner "flew to Los Angeles on Monday afternoon and had a thorough examination at Professor Berke's clinic," Dion said in a statement, adding that the doctor "diagnosed Celine with weakness in her right vocal chord, secondary to a viral illness."

Berke prescribed resting her vocal chords "in order for Celine to completely recover from this condition," ...
Dion was told to put all shows on hold and - at the risk of disappointing zillions of people - she did just that. but, this coming Saturday, June 9, Dion will restart her Caesars engagement ... and, as if that's not enough, the diva is currently working on new French and English albums. The English album will drop in November.

The Today Show caught up with Dion and ran this piece today....

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