Opera for the Culturally Illiterate

Posted by John Schultz on 06 Jan 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

For those of you who think all the entertainment you’ll ever need is on Fox TV, I offer an alternative. Welcome to another wonderful world of sex, alcohol, and profound carnage. Welcome to the wonderful world of opera.I know I mentioned the o-word, but please don’t stop reading. Opera, when well-performed, is one of the most exciting art forms available to enhance our redundant lives. You can pack a lot into two and a half hours of singing. Opera composer Richard Wagner offered his viewers a real escape. His Ring of the Nibelung was “a stage festival for three days and a preliminary evening.” Pack your bags, honey…

Wagner isn’t for everybody, but opera has something for everyone. And if you understand operatic characters, then sitting through a few hours of an obese person in a ridiculous costume singing in a foreign language can actually be a pleasant, enjoyable experience.

Here’s a list of the most common female characters in opera.

  • The whore Usually a mezzo-soprano, this character is exemplified by the title role in Carmen. The whore is lusted after by all the male characters, then tosses her lovers away like yesterday’s newspaper. The whore is usually bumped off sometime during Act III.
  • The heroine Brunnhilde in Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung is a good example of the heroine. This is the big-boned spear-and-Viking-helmet woman. The heroine is common in the world of opera, and she often is killed or commits suicide sometime during the opera.
  • The heroine/ho Fairly common in opera. This character combines the redeeming qualities of the heroine with the unchained passion that usually gets somebody killed before the curtain falls. An example: Violetta in La Traviata.
  • Mom Almost always a mezzo-soprano. She usually spends the entire opera watching other people get killed. The operatic mom is much more naive than the average mom. In Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, Momma Lucia’s son stumbles in after drinking too much, blabbers an inebriated “good-bye.” Lucia says, “Why do you speak like this, my son?” My mom would have said, “You’re drunk. Go clean up your bedroom.”
  • The helpless, powerless, extremely fragile porcelain mouse Extremely common. Mimi in Puccini’s La Boheme is a perfect example. Mimi falls in love with Rodolfo (the tenor) then gets sick and dies.

    And the male characters are even more fun.

    1) The suave, debonair, selfish, womanizing pig The Duke of Mantua is Verdi’s Rigoletto and the title role in Mozart’s Don Giovanni are great examples. This character uses women to satisfy inherent male lust then drops their lover like a sack of rotten potatoes. Except for Don Giovanni, the selfish pig often escapes the carnage that haunts all other operatic characters. Don Giovanni actually goes straight to hell at the end of the opera.

    2) The hero Almost always a tenor. The degree of heroism is determined by the variations in the timbre of the tenor voice part:

    • Tenorino: Italian for “tenor with no testosterone” The tenorino is the Little Richard of the opera world. With practice this tenor could play badminton with his high school Computer Club, but only for a few minutes. The tenorino corresponds to the fragile porcelain mouse in the female characters. He is also referred to in Italy as the tenore di grazia, meaning “a tenor who speaks with a lisp.” The tenorino is almost always given a costume which vaunts his chicken legs.
    • Lyric tenor: This tenor is tough enough to play professional baseball. Tamino in Mozart’s Magic Flute is a lyric tenor, he faints at the sight of a large snake.
    • Spinto: (SPEEN-toe) Spinto is Italian for “big, burly tenor,” this tenor could play professional hockey. Exemplified by Radames in Verdi’s Aida, the Spinto almost always get the girl, but sometimes dies in the process. If this tenor doesn’t get the girl, he usually kills someone.
    • Heldentenor: This is German for “baritone who stands on his testicles”. The Heldentenor could play pro-football day long, then run a marathon. Also called the tenore di forza, death and destruction follow him wherever he goes. He always gets the girl, even if he has to kill her. The title role in Wagner’s Siegfried is the best example of this tenor. When describing the difficulty of these roles, Heldentenor James King remarked, “Oh, the pain, the pain…”
    • Countertenor: This tenor is a throwback to olden times when people were so enraptured with the sound of a boy soprano they wanted the voice to stay that way. They are formerly called the “Castrati” (a translation is unnecessary.) Nowadays, the Countertenor is actually a Baritone who couldn’t make it and decided to sing like a girl so people would go “Oooo, Aahh, tee-hee-hee”. The countertenor is found in only early operas, which are not as long as Wagner operas, but are much more tedious. If the Countertenor isn’t performing, he’s likely to be waiting tables at a French restaurant.

      3) The big, clumsy, over-weight oaf Usually a big, clumsy, overweight or bass. He gets taken advantage of, laughed at, is often drunk and eats like an under-weight sumo wrestler. The oaf is used to bring some humor in between the carnage that occurs when a operatic characters meet.
      Now that you know the basics of operatic characters, you’ll find opera much more enjoyable than “Married With Children” reruns. So put the beer down, put on some nice clothes, find the nearest opera house, and go experience intense entertainment. Opera is big fun, and you’ll be back in time to watch Letterman.

Woody Allen - opera director?

Posted by John Schultz on 28 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: Reviews, Uncategorized

You might think a great movie director could easily direct an opera - but directing movies and directing opera on stage are totally different animals.    An opera director doesn’t have the luxury of camera angles, special effects, multiple takes - and most importantly - the music happens, dictating the overall flow of the piece.  Opera is even different that theater because when you add the music and singing, you have to deal with timing and where the focus is on stage.

Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi is what Woody Allen took on at the LA Opera.   Gianni Schicchi is an hour-long gem, part of a trilogy of one-act operas called Il Trittico, and the LA Opera staged all three last fall.  Sounds like the opera’s general director Placido Domingo was determined to use Allen, and he did an outstanding job staging this comic opera.

Here are some excerpts from this smart review By Mark Swed, Times Music Critic:

Allen also called “Schicchi” “funny compared to ‘Tosca,’ not funny compared to ‘Duck Soup.’ ” Don’t believe that either. A production of genius, his “Gianni Schicchi” is a riot. And I say this as someone seldom attuned to Allen’s comic sensibility and drawn, if at all to his films, to those in a more pretentious Bergmanesque mode.

But maybe all he needs is great material….
Allen’s “Schicchi” is really the Allens’ “Schicchi.” Updated to Florence in the 1960s, it stars the veteran baritone Thomas Allen in the title role, and what fun he is in his Mafia striped suit and two-tone shoes, his hair slicked back and his mustache rakishly thin. Loquasto’s set is its own riot, a mansion in wild disrepair. The opera’s 50 minutes are not enough to drink in the fabulous details.

But what is perhaps most surprising about Allen’s production, which is brilliantly sung and acted down to the most minor character and walk-on, is how uncinematic it is. He begins with a screen in front of the stage projecting silly film credits, but that only underscores the sheer theatricality of the classic farce that follows.

Allen — Woody, that is — manages to be both irreverent and absolutely true to the music and the spirit of the work. He adds all kinds of inventions in the bedchamber of Buoso Donati, who has just died. The relatives are gathered to read the will. Schicchi is a schemer brought in to forge a better one.

The young lovers, Schicchi’s daughter Lauretta (Laura Tatulescu) and Rinuccio (Saimir Pirgu) are uncommonly sexy. Jill Grove as the wiliest of the relatives is a hoot. Everyone is a hoot. In his greatest stroke of all, Allen makes even the opera’s maudlin hit tune, “O mio babbino caro,” hilarious.

Allen did not take a bow, but the dead Buoso did.

Two views of Tosca

Posted by John Schultz on 27 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: Reviews

The San Diego Opera opened this year’s season with Puccini’s favorite.

Here’s Marcus L. Overton’s informed review.

And here’s a puff piece on the Texan Tenor who made the big time.  Yee-haw!

Send in the headline writers

Posted by John Schultz on 27 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: News

Don’t get stressed - get Straussed!

Eeek.

Stretching the tenor

Posted by John Schultz on 27 Jan 2009 | Tagged as: The Met

I’m glad Giuseppe Filianoti is back in the saddle at the Met after getting an ignominious bounce out of the La Scala production of Don Carlo.  Still - lots of light, lyric tenors try to sing roles that are too big for their britches.   Maybe Filianoti needs to stick with roles that are even lighter tha Verdi.   This article from the NYT says it all.   Nobody wants the Duke of Mantua to have constricted high notes…

Because there were no concert halls available

Posted by John Schultz on 03 Oct 2008 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Mexicans boo Mayan pyramids concert by Great Tenor

MERIDA, Mexico (AP) - Placido Domingo’s concert at the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza on Saturday night is being billed as “the world’s greatest tenor at one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World,” a claim few lovers of opera or history would dispute.

But some Mexicans question whether the show should go on at all.

Archaeologists are pressing for criminal charges against the organizers, reviving a debate over how to use treasured ancient sites.

It’s a balancing act many countries face as they try to promote and protect their cultural heritage. As artists seek to perform in stunning places from the Great Wall of China to India’s Taj Majal and ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian structures, many worry not only about damage but also about cultural propriety.

Domingo sought to reassure his critics Thursday, saying “I know there has been some discomfort in Mexico because I was going to perform at this site, but we have taken care of every detail to carry out this event.”

Mexico’s federal government turns down almost all requests to hold concerts at ancient temples, but they are increasingly pressured by state governors to promote ruins already swamped with tourists.   …the whole thing

Slimming down for Boheme

Posted by John Schultz on 15 Sep 2008 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

I sang Rodolfo back in grad school. I’m afraid I was a little big for the part - I certainly didn’t look like a poet in search of his next meal…

And now - slim is the only way to go for some opera companies.

Traditionally, it isn’t over until the fat lady sings. But it seems it will soon be over for the singing fat lady. The stereotypical large woman in a horned helmet and braids belting out Wagner is preparing for her swansong as opera embraces a new, younger audience.

The drive to reach out to these fans is resulting in slimmer, fitter and more glamorous singers on stage. New York’s prestigious Metropolitan Opera is in the vanguard of this movement, according to John Allison, editor of Opera magazine. “I have noticed the slimming down of performers,” he says, “and I think this is largely driven by the Met, which feels that audiences are more likely to connect with a glamorous, thin singer.”

Elaine Padmore, director of opera at London’s Royal Opera House (ROH), has also seen a move away from large women to more petite performers in certain roles. “We have been seeing glamorous women and handsome leading men for a time now, but this is the entertainment world, after all,” she says. “It is expected these days, when people are used to seeing beautiful people in films and on the television.” …read the whole article

Opera at the ballpark

Posted by John Schultz on 15 Sep 2008 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Hat’s off to the marketing people at the Washington National Opera - this is a great campaign.

It’s Saturday night, and about 15,000 people have come to Nationals Park to see a winning performance. The anticipation is palpable. Across town, decked-out folks sit in the red-velvet womb of the Kennedy Center Opera House, awaiting the live performance of Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Here, though, everyone from the teething to the tattooed has pulled up a chair or a patch of grass for the Washington National Opera’s first live simulcast into the stadium.

Watching in high definition on the JumboTron means that, as Israeli conductor Dan Ettinger stands in the orchestra pit, you can see the roosterlike combs in his gelled and spiked blond coiffure, shadows carving his face like a mask, as he stands motionless in his black frock coat. Suddenly, Ettinger lifts his baton, the fingers on his other hand vibrate and pulse as if playing the violin, and the music begins: gorgeous, symphonic sound swelling through the ballpark.

The curtain rises and we see a party, circa 19th-century Paris. There’s Violetta (soprano Elizabeth Futral), flirting and kicking back champagne, singing, “Pleasure cures every ill and life is to be enjoyed. . . . Without pleasure, life isn’t worth living.” …read the whole article.

Prize Song on a Friday

Posted by John Schultz on 12 Sep 2008 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

James King

Posted by John Schultz on 05 Sep 2008 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

What a voice!

Next »