Pages

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Passing of Carmen: Rise Stevens, 99


RISE STEVENS SZUROVY
11 June 1913 - 20 March 2013

On Wednesday, 20 March 2013, the great mezzo Rise Stevens passed away at the age of 99. She thrilled audiences for decades with her inspired performances of Carmen, Mignon, Prince Orlovsky, Fricka, Cherubino and many other roles on opera stages around the world. She made her operatic debut in 1936, singing Mignon in Prague. 1938 saw her MET debut and her career blossomed from there. 

She made her Hollywood debut in the 1941 film, The Chocolate Soldier, opposite baritone Nelson Eddy. They made a shining pair as the married musical comedy stars who tested each others fidelity. It gave them the opportunity to sing some great songs and Miss Stevens ever got to sing the fabulous Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix.

In 1944, she appeared another film, the hit Going My Way, opposite Bing Crosby. This story saw her as an opera singer who had been a childhood friend of Father O'Malley. In the end, she helps raise money to rebuild the Church and gets to sing a couple of numbers while she is at it! The highlight is when she and Bing sing Ave Maria in the Church basement with the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir.

Going My Way also gave her a chance to sing the Habanera from Bizet's Carmen. This was a role she had never sung, but would be recognized by mass audiences. She ended up receiving so much fan mail telling her how they thought she should sing Carmen on stage, that she decided to add the role to her repertoire. By 1952, she was considered one of opera's best interpreters of Carmen and is still in the list of greats.

She told a story about one of her 1950s performances, where she had really worked on the acting aspect as well as the vocals. The final confrontation scene came around and Don Jose pulls the knife on her. She told how she backed up to the window of the set and the Don Jose smashed the knife into the wall beside her, and she did a slow "death" where she tore the curtain from the hanging and fell to the floor. She said when the knife hit, the audience gasped and was totally silent, completely wrapped up in the realistic portrayal.

Another of the great singers has passed away. A passing of an era, really. However, we can relive her beautiful voice and captivating performances on home video and CD. A true star of the opera.


Here are links for several large obituaries from newspapers.



Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Anna Netrebko: Souvenirs

Souvenirs - Anna Netrebko
2008, Deutsche Grammophon

A friend from Australia pointed me towards Anna Netrebko, and I have found a new favorite! This CD is absolutely amazing! Honestly, Anna Netrebko is a stand-out in modern opera. What a voice! This CD provides her with the opportunity  to sing many different styles and in ten different languages! For me, there are several standouts. The tops is track 13, a traditional Jewish lullaby. Words can't even describe how gorgeous it is! It is one of my new favorite songs, which I am afraid the family will get tired of hearing. I even took this up to the surround sound system and played it on a loud setting. Absolutely fantastic! Her voice is so rich and dark and  amazing! What can I say? She does a piece from a requiem mass with boy soprano Andrew Swait. Oh, it is so moving! Almost as fabulous as the Jewish song. Actually, there are many stand-outs, including a duet with Elina Garanca (who sounds so much like Rise Stevens, it is uncanny!) and songs by Dvorak, Rimsky-Korsakov, Strauss, Grieg, and others. Really, if you haven't heard her, you need to. She is really an amazing singer. Watch the video below to hear my very favorite song!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

"La Boheme" with Teresa Stratas (2009 DVD)

La Boheme (1982)
2009 DVD release, Deutsche Grammophon, 125 minutes
Featuring Teresa Stratas, Jose Carreras, Renata Scotto, Richard Stilwell, Allan Monk, James Morris

Finally, Deutsche Grammophon has released a masterfully restored version of this stunning performance. This features restored video, remastered audio with options for stereo or 5.1 surround, choices of subtitles in six languages, and the BTS featurette. If you have the 1999 Pioneer release, this is a fabulous upgrade.

This was filmed live at the 16 Jan 1982 performance for a MET telecast and features an all-star cast, led by the amazing Teresa Stratas. The film shows the sometimes inadequate lighting, due to the non-studio sets. However, this DVD has restored it and given it a much clearer and detailed picture. The sound is remastered beautifully and features a crisp 5.1 channel as well as a stereo option. The sound is much, much sharper and has more depth than the previous DVD version.

One of the largest differences for me was the option of choosing or removing subtitles. The older disc has permanent English titles, which was not my choice. This one gives you the option of six different languages or simply having no subtitles at all. Fabulous!

This new version also features the featurette, "Zefferelli on La Boheme". Although the Pioneer DVD said that it was included, it wasn't. You could only see it on the VHS tape. The featurette is about 20 minutes long, I think and show the set being assembled on stage and Mr. Zefferelli directing the singers in a few scenes. Very fun and informative as well as providing a nice glimpse behind-the-scenes. This DVD comes with a nice booklet that gives you an overview of each chapter and tells you about the production.

All in all, this is a fabulous version, worht adding to your collection or upgrading from the previous edition. Carreras and Stratas give excellent performances as Mimi and Rodolfo, emotional, heartfelt, beautifully acted and sung! This is my very favorite version of Puccini's masterpiece, and one that I watch over and over. The new DVD release definitely wins praise from me and I highly recommend it for any fans of Boheme or any of the singers.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Helen Traubel: Wagnerian Soprano and Mystery Author - A Look at her novel, "The Metropolitan Opera Murders"

A Note About the Author

"Helen Traubel has been called "the greatest Wagnerian soprano singing today," and "the finest singer, male or female, in the world today." The associated Press, in its poll of member newspapers, unanimously selected her "the woman of the year in music" two years in succession, the first such event in history. In the career she chose when she was thirteen, she has won for herself a truly exalted position in the world of music.
But this does not wholly explain the hold she has on the public imagination. Her simplicity, her unconventionality, her utter lack of professional snobbism and temperament that so often affect great artists - it is these qualities that have made her one of the best-known figures of our times and one of the best beloved.
Miss Traubel is as American as blueberry pie. She is a passionate baseball fan; is, in fact, a stockholder of the St. Louis Browns, the American League Club of her home town. One of the sorrows of her life is that she cannot go to many games because she roots so intenslyand so vocally that she might damage her voice. She loves to cook and to shop. She loves her occasional television appearances, in which she can play straight man for Jimmy Durante and convulse millions of listeners with her enormous, infectious laugh.
She loves mystery stories. In 1950 she decided to try her hand at writing one. It was a very amusing novelette, The Ptomaine Canary, and its warm reception, when it was serialized in newspapers all over the world, encouraged Miss Traubel to write a full-length book, which had to be called, inevitably, The Metropolitan Opera Murders."

I was first introduced to the fantastic Helen Traubel when we watched the 1954, Deep In My Heart, a bio-pic of the life and works of Sigmund Romberg. She has a substantial role and sings five whole songs. I had heard of her and read about her, but never had heard her sing. I was pretty impressed after hearing the first two songs she sang, but then she sang Romberg's hauntingly beautiful Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise. I was dumbfounded. It was so gorgeous I couldn't even take it in. I had to pause the movie for a moment and let the feeling sink in. Then I had to listen to it again. Amazing! Later on in the film she sings Auf Wiedersehn to the dying Dorothy Donnelly (played by Merle Oberon) and I was in tears when she finished! Honestly, she is absolutely thrilling. It is one of my favorite songs, which I listen to all the time. (Actually, I never liked the song before and when Merle Oberon asks for them to play it, I thought to myself, "Oh, no! Not this." It is the classic example of the fact that not every singer is right for every song.)

video

In the days that followed, I started doing some research into Miss Traubel and found out that she is really a neat individual. I also found out that she wrote two mystery novels! And to make it even better, one is titled The Metropolitan Opera Murders! As I love mystery books, I knew then and there that I had to get a copy. Finally, last month I was able to get one through our local library. I spent two days pouring over it and thoroughly enjoying myself. The story itself is kind of like one of the old Perry Mason shows in book form. However, the entire thing (as the title explains) happens in an opera house and the characters themselves give a fantastic insight into the personalities that you find on and behind the great opera stages of the world. From the opera house's reigning diva to the broker's daughter who wants a career to the bitter has-been tenor who turned to teaching. Elsa Vaughn, the heroine, is Miss Traubel herself (under another name, of course!) and I am sure that many of the characteristics of all the characters came from her own experience in the operatic world. I loved it. An ideal intro to the world of opera.

CAST OF CHARACTERS:

Elsa Vaughn - The star soprano who someone is trying to eliminate.
Dave Lang - Her publicity agent, who decides to investigate on his own.
Jane DeBrett - Who wants to sing Wagner, but whose voice needs to sing Puccini.
Lt. Sam Quentin - The police detective who has a lot to learn about the politics of opera.
Hilda Semple - The rising soprano who wishes she could take Elsa's place as queen of the Met.
Karl Ecker - The heldentenor whose life is cluttered with too many ladies.
Edwina DeBrett - Jane's step-mother who spends too much time backstage.
Stanley DeBrett - Her husband who refuses to spend any more money on opera.
Alden Willard - The DA who is too anxious to make an arrest.
Aaron Van Cleff - The stage director who wishes the murder had happened somewhere else.
Howard Stark - Elsa's manager who has spent his career looking after her best interests.
Ivy DeBrett Ecker - Society girl who wants an opera career but has no vocal talent.
Rudolph Salz - The has-been tenor whose two needs are money and the bottle.

Here is a portion of a scene between Karl Ecker, the star Wagnerian tenor, and Detective Sam Quentin (I couldn't help chuckling at the name she chose for her policeman).

"How did Miss Vaughn get along with other members of the company?" Quentin had quickly seized the opportunity to do a little fishing.

Ecker hesitated. He moved his shoulders expressively. "How can I explain this, Lieutenant? It applies not only to Miss Vaughn, but to all of us. An opera house is a strange place - a melting pot of nationalities and temperaments. Salz [the murder victim] was an Austrian. I myself am half Czech, half English. We have a Swedish contralto, a Hungarian Bass, a Rumanian conductor, an Italian wardrobe mistress. Backstage is like the Tower of Babel. Music is the common denominator that keeps us working together in some degree of harmony. But always there are undercurrents of antagonism, intense jealousies seething below the surface. Singers are by nature an egotistical lot, convinced of their own superiority, constantly suspicious of their colleagues. Each is certain that he belongs on top and is inclined to resent anyone who stands in his way." A wry smile twisted his lips. "Such a state of affairs, as you can see, is not conductive to harmony or an atmosphere of friendliness. It's like working in a tinderbox. Anything can touch off the explosion."


A highly entertaining piece of operatic fiction. Plenty of excitement and plot twists. This will definitely be on my "to buy" list. Fantastic to finally have been able to read this hard-to-find novel written by a great lady.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Puccini Gold

Puccini Gold
2007, Decca, 2-cd set
Featuring Luciano Pavarotti, Montserrat Caballe, Carlo Bergonzi
Mirella Freni, Renee Fleming, Jose Carreras, Renata Tebaldi, Roberto Alagna, Placido Domingo, Joan Sutherland, Anna Netrebko, Rollando Villazon, Jonas Kauffman, Rolando Panerai, Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto de Candia, Sherril Milnes, Christa Ludwig, Kiri Te Kanawa, Andrea Bocelli, Giuseppe di Stefano, Robert Kerns.

This is a very well mixed compilation cd. It features two discs of famous singers doing famous Puccini pieces. Some of the recordings are from complete opera recordings, some are singles. The sound quality is very good, with very few of them less than lovely. The mix of tracks and different voices is well done and easy to listen to. The very last track is from the Three Tenors 1994 concert where they all sing Nessun Dorma together. Even if you aren't a big Three Tenors fan, it is a fitting end to this Puccini tribute. For any Puccini fan, this is an album well worth trying.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Bartered Bride (Prodana Nevesta) 1981

The Bartered Bride
1981 Czech
Supraphon; 138 minutes
Featuring Gabriela Benackova and Peter Dvorsky

I know it has been ages since I posted on here. Time just seems to have been flying! For this post, I decided to feature the 1981 Czech TV film of Smetana's "Prodana Nevesta", which features Gabriela Benackova and Peter Dvorsky in the starring roles of Marenka and Jenik. This is a filmed-for-TV movie, traditional staging an costumes. The soundtrack was prerecorded and the sets are full studio sets (no orchestra is seen). If you are not a fan of Smetana, "The Bartered Bride", and/or the stars, then this would probably drag on a bit. It is very stagy, and and Smetana does tend to repeat lines in this opera. However, the singing is simply fantastic! Gabriela Benackova and Peter Dvorsky are hailed as two of the leading Czech opera interpreters and this certainly shows why. There arias and duet in Act 1 are simply gorgeous. Their acting is subtle, somewhat stage-like, but very good. They never make you feel like they are not the characters that they are playing. The supporting cast is very good and well sung. The costumes are colourful and very traditional. The cinematography is very stiff feeling and adds to the stagy look. However, Gabriela Benackova and Peter Dvorsky make this worth viewing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Tribute to Dame Joan


Tonight, the Met is hosting a special event. Stupenda! A Loving Tribute to Dame Joan Sutherland. It will be hosted by her long-time friend and colleague, Marilyn Horne, and her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Handel: Renee Fleming

Handel: Renee Fleming
Decca

Handel is not one of my favorite composers. Sure, he did write some beautiful music, but a little tends to go a long way. However, this CD is a wonderful collection. Great as background music and her renditions of “Ombra Mai Fu” and “Let the Bright Seraphim” are brilliant. The quality of the recordings is excellent and her voal renditions are very nice. I have listened through the entire album many times and enjoyed every minute of it. It has definitely raised my opinion of Handel. All in all, very nicely done. “The Beautiful Voice” is really beautiful.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Joan Sutherland: Greatest Hits

Greatest Hits
Featuring Joan Sutherland
London/Decca

This is a fantastic compilation cd of Dame Joan. The best thing for an established fan or a new comer! She really shines throughout the entire disc and every song is a gem. The recording quality is super and very nicely remastered. As the finale they have included the Mad Scene from Dame Joan's very first recording of Lucia di Lammermoor. Personally, my favorite song (and one of my all-time favorite Joan Sutherland numbers) is Let the Bright Seraphim, which is absolutely stupendous! All in all, highly recommended! This was one of the very first opera cds that I purchased and is still my favorite!

Handel: Let the Bright Seraphim from Samson
Arditi: Il Bacio
Lehar: Vilja from The Merry Widow
Strauss: Nuns' Chorus from Casanova
Donizetti: Salut a la France! from La Fille du Regiment
Delibes: Bell Song from Lakme
Bellini: Casta Diva from Norma
Gounod: Jewel Song from Faust
Donizetti: Mad Scene from Lucia Di Lammermoor

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The American Opera Singer
Featuring Emma Eames, Louise Homer, Mary Garden, Geraldine Farrar, Rosa Ponselle, Lawrence Tibbett, Marian Anderson, Grace Moore, Lily Pons, Edward Johnson, Richard Crooks, Helen Traubel, Rise Stevens, Dorothy Kirsten, Patrice Munsel, Eleanor Steber, Jan Peerce, Leonard Warren, Roberta Peters, Richard Tucker, Robert Merrill, Anna Moffo, Beverly Sills, Leontyne Price, Jon Vickers, Marilyn Horne, Sherrill Milnes, Shirley Verrett, Ben Heppner, Deborah Voigt, Carol Vaness, Tatiana Troyanos, Jerry Hadley, Samuel Ramey, Frederica Van Stade, & Dawn Upshaw.
RCA; 2 discs

A very cool cd set. This features many famous American opera singers, each performing a famous aria/duet. The remastered recordings are simply wonderful, allowing you to hear good quality recordings of some of the older singers. Mary Garden is really amazing. Not the best opera compilation I have ever listened through, but very interesting to hear the different singers. There are a few Canadians and Lily Pons, but most of the singers are American. All in all, very interesting for any fan of American opera.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Madame Butterfly

Madame Butterfly
featuring Ying Huang, Richard Troxell, and Ning Liang.
Sony; 2 discs

This is actually the soundtrack to the 1995 film. I have always liked certain numbers from Butterfly, but have never actually explored the opera other than listening to highlights. However, a friend sent a link to Un Bel Di from the film and I was awestruck at the beauty of Miss Huang's rendition of the famous aria. Wishing to hear a little more, I got a copy of the entire soundtrack thinking that I would at least try to find the love duet as well as Un Bel Di. I found it, and WOW! I was really thrilled. After listening to my few favorite parts, I kept rewinding tracks to just hear a little more. Pretty soon I had listened to practically the entire first disc! What comes before Un Bel Di is fantastic. Miss Huang as Cio-Cio San and Ning Liang as Suzuki work very well together and when the music climaxes right before the aria, it sends chills up and down your spine! Mr. Troxell's very high and clear tenor is different from the usual Pinkerton and he is very good in the role of the totally unlikable sailor. The love duet is simply fantastic!

A really phenomenal cast. Well suited to each other and beautifully sung. You can't beat the quality of the recording and the set comes with a full four-language libretto. I highly recommend this for any fan of Madame Butterfly or Puccini.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

La Forza del Destino (1958)

La Forza del Destino
Featuring Renata Tebaldi, Franco Corelli, and Boris Christoff
1958 Teatro San Carlo, Naples performance
160 minutes; Hardy Classics DVD

This is simply fantastic viewing. You listen to the records and imagine these famous people singing, but it is so great to be able to actually see them perform on stage at the peaks of their careers. Gives you a much better feeling when you listen to a disc, knowing how they actually sing.

The quality is a little old, but so much better than I thought it would be when I ordered this DVD. The sound is absolutely wonderful, especially considering they had to remaster old TV film. I took the disc upstairs onto our 42" plasma TV and it looked and sounded great! The end scene is fabulous, worth watching twice in a row.

The staging and costumes are traditional and the acting is great (although modern viewers would consider it old-fashioned). Corelli is always convincing and, actually, this is his debut in the role of Alvaro. You would never know it, he is so natural. Tebaldi is simply breathtaking as Leonora, an opera treasure. You can really appreciate her fame and the power of her voice. You can't help but notice her. She really must have been something to hear live!

The disc has subtitles (in several languages, but I can't remember which other than English and Italian) which can be turned on or off as well as an interview with Renata Tebladi that is very fun. All in all, it is so worth the viewing time. A must for any Tebaldi or Corelli fan.



Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Voice of the Violin

Voice of the Violin
Joshua Bell
Featuring Anna Netrebko
Sony Classical

Joshua Bell's 2006 CD is an experience not to be missed. I just checked it out from our library and fell in love with it so much that I just had to go buy it. Every song on this disc has been adapted for violin from vocal pieces (hence the name "Voice of the Violin"). He plays several opera arias, including "Pourquoi me reveiller?"and Rusalka's "Song to the Moon". Every song is a gem and so worth listening to, however, the last two are the icing on the cake. Bizet's haunting "Je crois entendre encore" is simply wonderful. Joshua Bell has indeed made the violin sound like a voice, creating a wonderful effect for this beautiful number. For the final song, he is joined by famous opera soprano Anna Netrebko, for Richard Strauss' "Morgen!", a song originally written for voice and piano. They are simply wonderful together and the only trouble is that it is over too soon. Actually, that is the only trouble with the entire cd - it is over too soon. But the nice thing is that you can start it all over again from the beginning!

The disc has wonderful quality sound and features a nice booklet, which is worth reading as it has notes about each song. All in all, definitely worth listening to and this will be on the top of my shelf from now on! Whether you want to hear a few songs or go all the way through, this is a fantastic cd.

RACHMANINOFF: Vocalise
SCHUBERT: Ave Maria
MASSENET: Pourquoi me reveiller? from Werther
FAURE: Apres un reve
DVORAK: Song to the Moon from Rusalka
MOZART: Laudate Dominum
TCHAIKOVSKY: None but the Lonely Heart
DONIZETTI: Una furtiva lagrima from L'Elisir d'Amore
ORFF: In trutina from Carmina Burana
MENDELSSOHN: May Breezes from Songs Without Words
DEBUSSY: Beau soir
PONCE: Estrellita
DE FALLA: Nana from Seven Popular Spanish Songs
BIZET: Je crois entendre encore from The Pearl Fishers
R. STRAUSS: Morgen! - featuring ANNA NETREBKO -

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Producer's Showcase: Festival of Music Vol. 1

Producer's Showcase: Festival of Music - Volume 1
89 minutes; Video Artists Int'l

This is the complete January 30, 1956 live broadcast featuring artists Leonard Warren, Jan Peerce, Rise Stevens, Zinka Milanov, Roberta Peters, Blanche Thebom, Mildred Miller, Renata Tebaldi, Jussi Bjorling, and other classical performers.

A great way to see many of the older singers, however, the standout is Renata Tebaldi and Jussi Bjorling singing the end of Act 1 from La Boheme. It starts a little before "Che Gelida Manina" and goes until the end of the scene. Two great artists in a superb performance of a classic piece. Thrilling and beautiful.

The DVD is nicely restored and contains all the original Ford commercials. Actor Charles Laughton is host and has some very funny descriptions of opera stories!



Monday, October 11, 2010

Opera Legend Joan Sutherland Dies 1927 - 2010

Legendary coloratura soprano, Joan Sutherland died on Sunday evening at her home after a long illness. She was 83 years old. Vocally brilliant, she rose to overnight fame with her performance in Covent Garden's "Lucia di Lammermoor" in 1959. Possessing true pitch, great breath control and a powerful upper range, she became one of the foremost interpreters of the Bel Canto repetoire. Her career spanned over 40 years and she sang over 60 roles with such opera greats as Pavarotti, Marilyn Horne, and Franco Zefferelli. After her retirement in 1990, she conducted master classes and judged vocal competitions. She is survived by her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge, of 56 years; her son, Adam and his wife and two daughters.
Such an outstanding talent - who can forget her Mad Scene or her magnificent rendition of Handel's "Let the Bright Serephim" or her fantastic recording of Turandot? In 1997 she published her autobiography A Prima Donna's Progress, which is a great book filled with career information and funny stories. During her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1959 (as Lucia), she received a twelve minute standing ovation at the end of the Mad Scene alone!
Opera Australia's artistic director a simple statement that is conveys the perfect feelings. "We won't see her like again. She had a phenomenal range, size and quality of voice. We simply don't hear that any more."
To read an obituary with a full bio, click the links below:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Joan Sutherland: The Reluctant Prima Donna

Joan Sutherland: The Reluctant Prima Donna
60 minutes; 2007 Kultur Video DVD

A look at the career of opera legend, Dame Joan Sutherland, as told through interviews with her and her contemporaries (including Franco Zefferelli, Luciano Pavarotti, and her husband, Richard Bonynge). Really fun DVD that gives a nice glimpse into a legendary ladies' career. This does include a clip of her guest appearance on "The Dinah Shore Show" where she sang two trios with Dinah Shore and Ella Fitzgerald! A very fun DVD for fans of Dame Joan.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

With a Song in My Heart: A Tribute to Mario Lanza

With a Song in My Heart: A Tribute to Mario Lanza
Jose Carreras
Teldec

Very cool to hear a great modern tenor saluting his “role model”. All the famous Lanza songs,opera, popular, and folk. Not my favorite Carreras CD, but it is still fun to listen to if you are a fan of Lanza or Mr. Carreras.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Lucia di Lammermoor

Lucia di Lammermoor
Featuring Montserrat Caballe, Jose Carreras, and Samuel Ramey
New Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Jesus Lopez-Cobos
Decca; 2 discs

Unusual interpretation by Caballe. The “Mad Scene” is very different from Joan Sutherland’s style, closer to Callas’ interpretation. Caballe’s famous pianissimo high notes are nowhere to be found and she is somewhat strained on the high-C’s. If you are a fan of Caballe or “Lucia”, this is worth listening to. Carreras is wonderful and his ending aria, which is sometimes an anti-climax, is superb.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Great Singers

The Great Singers: From the Dawn of Opera to Caruso, Callas, and Pavarotti

by Henry Pleasants
Illustrated history of great singers, including Jenny Lind, Caruso, Flagstad, Sills, Callas and Pavarotti. Gives the reader a nice overview on many of the great singers, along with photographs and personal stories about them.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Deep In My Heart (1954)

Deep In My Heart (1954)
Starring Jose Ferrer, Merle Oberon, and Helen Traubel.
132 minutes; MGM Studios

A bio-pic of operetta composer Sigmund Romberg, this film shines from the presence of Wagnerian Soprano Helen Traubel, who steals the show as Romberg's lifelong friend. She sings five numbers; "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise", "Auf Wiedersehn", "You Will Remember Vienna", Stouthearted Men", and "Leg of Mutton". Wonderful to be able to see such a great operatic personality in a role that is more than a walk-on appearence. Here are video clips of two of her numbers. She is fantastic!

Here she is singing "Auf Wiedersehn" as Merle Oberon, Jose Ferrer, and Doe Avedon listen.

video

Singing "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise" while Merle Oberon listens in raptures (as I do!).

video

Friday, March 26, 2010

Korngold: Orchestral Works

Korngold
Featuring Willy Mattes, Thomas Hampson, and Kiri Te Kanawa
EMI Classics; 2 discs

Beautiful, top quality recordings of some of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's orchestral works. Includes the Symphony in F Sharp, a violin concerto, "Much Ado About Nothing" Suite, a piano trip, and two arias from his opera "Die Tote Stadt". The instrumental pieces are beautiful and very different from his well-known swashbuckling film scores. However, the final track is so stupendous that the cd is worth getting for it alone. Famed opera baritone, Thomas Hampson, sings the gorgeous aria "Mein Sehnen, Mein Wahnen" from "Die Tote Stadt" so beautifly that the listener can't help but be enthralled.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Renee Fleming: By Request

By Request
Featuring Renee Fleming
Decca

A great introduction to “The Beautiful Voice”. Together with her album “Signature Scenes” you get to hear all her greatest songs. She does, however, omit the E flat in “Sempre Libera”, which is different. Her rendition of Rachmaninov’s “Vocalise” and Dvorak’s “O Silver Moon” are the highlights.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Zefferelli's "La Traviata" with Teresa Stratas

La Traviata (1982)
Featuring Teresa Stratas, Placido Domingo, and Cornell MacNeil. Directed by Franco Zefferelli
105 minutes; Universal Studios

This is an “Opera Film”. Actually filmed like a movie, elaborate sets (maybe too elaborate?). More acting from the performers than in a stage production and about twenty minutes of the score was trimmed to make the movie a better length (I have never listened to a complete recording of “Traviata” so I don’t know it as well as some, but I didn’t notice any abrupt sounding cuts or anything). Teresa Stratas gives a wonderful acting performance of the dying Violetta. The scene in Act II where Germont asks Violetta to leave is very well done and vocally pleasing. The lip syncing is sometimes noticeable to a watchful eye but generally all right. The dresses tend to be rather low-cut and a bit immodest. Widescreen, it does have removable subtitles.



Here is a clip from the film of Teresa Stratas as Violetta singing "Addio, del passato".


Thursday, December 17, 2009

La Boheme - The Dream Cast

La Boheme - The Dream Cast [Highlights]
Decca
Featuring Carlo Bergonzi, Andrea Bocelli, Kiri Te Kanawa, Renata Tebaldi, Renee Fleming, Mirella Freni, Jose Carreras, Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna, Gianni Maffeo, Luciano Pavarotti and Nicolai Ghiaurov.

All the famous arias from La Boheme, interesting mix of people. If you like the opera, it is worth listening to so that you can see how many different styles can sing the same music. Interesting, but lacks flow.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Golden Age of Opera

The Golden Age of Opera
by Robert Tuggle
What makes this book REALLY exciting is that it features the photographs of Herman Mishkin, Met photographer from 1910 to 1932. Wonderful stories (and photographs) about some of the legendary performers during the “golden age”, including Caruso, Claudio Muzio, Ponselle, Farrar, Jeritza, and Frances Alda, just to name a few.