Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Fifth Element Madness...

Roommie and I had a movie night last night to celebrate his return from a visit to the (extremely) rainy Midwest. The main feature for the evening was... The Fifth Element. It, of course, features a rather famous solo aria/fight sequence scene with a rather cool mix of a hardcore bel canto aria and techno dance music.

The first part of the solo (until 3:14 into the clip) is the 'Il dolce suono' bit from the very famous Mad Scene from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Albanian soprano Inva Mula Tchako provides the voice for the diva. Here she is, in person.

Does her voice sound different live versus in the Fifth Element clip? Sound editing (in this case, especially reverb-ing) can be a marvelous thing when done right! Don't get me wrong, I'm not even close to knocking her. I rather quite enjoy the Diva Plavalaguna mad scene/music mix... It goes really awesomely with the fight sequence it shares the scene with (tho I'm not quite sold on how fragile the aliens that Leeloo knocks out are).

Anyhow, it's like listening to Queen's heavily process/synthesized music (and, if you must know, Queen is like my all time favorite rock band. Freddie forever!). It's amazing what they cook up in the stereo... Of course, if you had ever gone to any Queen concert, it never sounds the same live. They use so many sound effects to create the vintage Queen sound that it is just not possible to replicate in live setting.

Of course, sound mixing/editing has come a long way since the days of Queen (when all the effects were actually done and recorded rather than digitally manipulated post-recording). There are music snobs who would poo-poo such a thing, but I think there definitely is a place for this. It's like a specialized art form that allows you to experience what the artists hear in their head that they can't do naturally. As far as I'm concerned, getting good glimpses of Freddie Mercury or Brian May or Eric Serra (the composer that created the Fifth Element mix)'s fantasies is a treat!

The trick is to recognize what you hear and admire it for what it is... and what it isn't. The Diva Plavalaguna scene is a cool and memorable (if weird) bit of faux opera enhancement of a weird movie (that obviously did something right to attain its cult following status). It's too bad nobody can sing/sound like that in real life... Though if you go to the opera house near you and get a ticket when they put on a bel canto show (you know, stuff by Rossini, Bellini or Donizetti), you can get yourselves quite amazed by what real life opera singers can do with their voice live... without even the use of microphone, all while acting. I mean... have you listened to Lucia's whole mad scene where the first part of the Fifth Element scene comes from?

Isn't it mad how someone could sing like that over a live orchestra with no sound enhancement at all?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Guest review: La voix humaine and Bluebeard's Castle in Wiesbaden

Guest review courtesy of Mr John Carnegie, submitted promptly and all the delay is down to yours truly's tardiness in reformatting and minor editing stuff. Thank you, John! 


The week beginning Sunday 19th April was due to be one of the busiest in Vesselina Kasarova’s schedule this year: two performances of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde given between her first two performances as Judit in Bartók’s one act opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. I managed to contrive that I had to be nearby in Germany during the week and had booked for the opening performance of the Bartók and the second of the Mahler ones. However, VK cancelled both of her Mahler performances –ostensibly through illness. So I’m afraid  that I am only able to report on her performance in the Bartók.

If she had taken part in the concert in the Beethoven-Saal in Stuttgart’s Leiderhalle, she would have experienced an excellent fellow soloist (Stephen Gould – the first tenor I have encountered who has managed to ride over the orchestra in the notoriously taxing first song), a meticulous conductor (Gabriel Feltz – whose concern for incisive detail was perhaps at the expense of the broader flow of the piece as a whole) and a superb orchestra (the Stuttgarter Philharmoniker – who were at home with this music in a way they weren’t quite in the Mozart symphony that constituted the first half of the programme). On the other hand, VK would  have found an unfocussed and inattentive audience – unsettled perhaps by the curious architecture of the Beethoven-Saal in which there is not a single instance of symmetry.

As the full orchestra was not required for the Mozart, I found myself sitting next to one of the violin sections as I opened my programme to discover that Janina Baechle was to substitute for VK. Upon hearing my exclamation of disappointment at reading this announcement, the violinist assured me that Fraulein Baechle was by no means an inferior substitute – which indeed turned out to be the case. However, given VK’s evident vocal health in Wiesbaden on the previous Sunday, I was curious to learn from the violinist that Fraulein Baechle was already in place the very next morning for  rehearsals for the first of the Mahler  performances in Aschaffenburg on Tuesday.

Anyway, on a happier note, on to the Bartók. The Hessisches Staatstheater inWiesbaden is like a smaller version of the Zűrich Opernhaus at which VK had (until recently) been such a fixture, she must have felt very comfortable performing there. However, given that Duke Bluebeard’s Castle is one of my favourite operas and that some of VK’s recent performances (such as the patchy recital in Amsterdam and her somewhat underwhelming CD rendition of La mort de Cléopâtre) have been less than perfect, I admit that I arrived at the Staatstheater prepared to be disappointed. I need not have worried. For her, the evening was a triumph on the level of her superb Romeo opposite Anna  Netrebko in Munich or her assured contribution to that delightful recent China meets Europe CD.

However, despite a nearly full and buzzingly expectant audience, the evening did not start auspiciously. The first half of the double bill was a performance of Poulenc’s LaVoix Humaine. It starred (and I use the word advisedly) Julia Migenes as the solitary female who is the only onstage character in this rarely performed piece based on the Jean Cocteau monodrama. Ms Migenes’s previous fame had been the principal focus of the publicity campaign to sell the double bill and she was being feted the following evening with a gala performance at the local art house cinema of the film of Carmen in which she appeared opposite Domingo. However, on the evidence of the Poulenc, she is now very much a faded star. She still has manifest stage presence but played the protagonist on an unvaried note of petulance throughout and she under-projected much of the text.

After this,  the Bartók came as a great relief.  Granted the (very good) Hessisches Staatsorchester is much smaller than the vast forces specified by the composer but a bigger band might have overwhelmed the theatre’s acoustics. As it was, there wasn’t enough room for them all in the pit and the harps had to take their places in a box –giving their part on unexpected prominence. The production turned out to be one of the best of the many versions of the opera I have seen. Uwe Eric Laufenberg (who is also the theatre’s Intendant) was clearly influenced (how could he not be?) by the opera’s close parallels with the currently trendy Fifty Shades of Grey.  Bluebeard’s castle becomes his top floor penthouse accessed by lift. VK’s Judit enters into it with an Anastasia Steele-like fascinated faux innocence. The opening of the first door (to Bluebeard’s torture chamber) becomes the opening of his laptop to reveal the hidden images there. At the end, in a dubiously distinct departure from Bartók’s reinvention of the original legend, Bluebeard’s former wives are ghosts rather than still living and Bluebeard stabs Judit to death before she herself becomes a ghost.

The Staatstheater’s Music Director Zsolt Hamar was on conducting duties that evening and a very precise and inspiring job he made of it. As Bluebeard, Gerd Grochowski (who will play Wagner’s Dutchman at Wiesbaden next season) proved to be a most acceptable substitute for the previously announced Johannes Martin Kränzle. Subdued at first (and quite rightly so in terms of both production and opera), he developed stature from the opening of the fifth door onwards into the reluctant dominance required by the text.

However, the emotional and artistic centre of the performance was VK’s Judit. Looking much younger than her years, she succeeded in capturing all the facets of Judit’s complex character from wide-eyed fascination to shocked acceptance of the horrendous bargain she has made. Vocally, there was scarcely a trace of the all too audible inbreathing problems she had been displaying of late and she easily managedto impose herself over even the most extreme moments of orchestration. Of particular note was her subtly stunned realisation on the opening of fourth door (the garden of flowers) of a sense of utter hopelessness. This was the pivotal moment in what was arichly satisfying portrayal.

At the end of the performance, it was audibly clear that  –  despite Ms Migenes’s somewhat presumptively grandstanding re-entry into the centre of the curtain call line-up – it was VK who got by far the biggest ovation during the solo calls.

All in all then, a marvellous evening for VK and she was visibly delighted by the result. She is due to perform in appear in three out of the four performances of the production in Wiesbaden in June.  Provided that she turns up, anybody who can make it along will be richly rewarded.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Where in the world is Vesselina Kasarova? (Spring 2015)

It's been a long long while since my last Vesselina Kasarova post! Smorg's favorite opera singer (and all around cool gal) has been enjoying a stellar 2015 season, however. She gave a very well received Handel recital in Karlsruhe, Germany, in March, which left fans old and new optimistic for more Baroque concerts in her future.

Vesselina Kasarova & Gerd Grochowski in Herzog Blaubarts Burg at Staadtstheater Wiesbaden. (Foto: Monika & Karl Forster)
And, this past weekend, VK drew scores of rave reviews for her role debut as Judit in Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle at Wiesbaden. More performances of this show are still to come on April 25th and June 10, 14, 21. In the meanwhile, there are the concerts of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde in Stuttgart, Berlioz's La mort de Cleopatre in Basel, a Rossini concert in Basel, an Offenbachiade in Heidenheim, and more role debut as Handel's Solomon (in a concert performance) at St Michaelis in Hamburg. I'm tellin' ya'. It's an exciting time to be a Kasarova-fan!

Her unofficial updated schedule can be found on the Kasarova Schedule page, of course. And if you know of any performance date that isn't listed, please feel free to let me know! (Leave a comment... or email the addy on the side-bar).

On another note, I'm afraid Lincoln Center didn't like that I had posted the commercially not-available video broadcast of The Ballad of Baby Doe from the since defunct NYCO on Youtube and flagged them for copyright violation. There being multiple videos (I could only post 15 minute long clips then) of that show, it instantly caused the deletion of my channel, which, unfortunately, also meant that most of the Kasarova Youtube clips went down with that ship. I'm in the process of re-uploading the non-commercial stuff... but it'll take a while.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Bancroft Rock House & Bancroft Ranch House Museums in Spring Valley

I was easy spinning home on my road bike from a group ride down in Bonita a few weekends ago on the inland route through La Presa and Spring Valley when I happened to look right into a narrow lane off Kenwood Dr and spotted a rather magnificent looking stone house that, despite there being no sign around pointing to one, had got to be some sort of a historical structure. What to do but to veer in to investigate?

Bancroft Rock House Museum.
St James Ct is a nondescript dirt lane and skirts by a fenced in park that I suddenly recognized as the spring that gave Spring Valley its name. I was on the east side of the Bancroft Ranch House museum and the stone structure that perched on the high ground above it is the Bancroft Rock House, an unmanned museum on the ground of Bancroft County Park with wide dirt parking lot and lots of information boards and even an automated voice-box curator, so to speak.

The spring that gave Spring Valley its name.
It's pretty cool in a rather impersonal way. After a while I decided to scoot around the corner to 9050 Memory Ln to see if the Bancroft Ranch House Museum was open (I had stopped by there a few times before and it was always closed). This time, I was in luck! A local couple was unlocking the gate as I rolled in. They turned out to be past presidents of the Spring Valley Historical Society, the keeper of the museum!

Bancroft Ranch House Museum.

The Bancroft Ranch House Museum doesn't get many visitors, though, so they were quite pleased that I decided to look in and made me feel quite at home while one scooted off to look for the resident groundkeeper, the walking encyclopedia of all things Spring Valley by the name of Mr Jim Van Meter. The Ranch House Museum is not affiliated with the Bancroft County Park & the Rock House Museum next door. It is a community run place manned by volunteers with a passion for local history and preservation. A wonderful place to visit between 1-4 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
It's a well preserved ranch house with lots of artifacts and stories to be told.
I even got this nice tote bag for a souvenir!
I only meant to drop in for a quick look around before scooting on home, but ended up staying for over two hours and had a lovely time chatting and hanging out with Mr Van Meter and other volunteers who dropped in to deposit stuff for the upcoming fundraiser sale.

Spring Valley Historical Society's friendly volunteers at the Bancroft Ranch House.
Thanks a bunch, guys and gals, I had the best visit and will definitely come back again!


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Guest Announcement: SDSU Coast to Coast Concert (22 March 2015 at Montezuma Hall)

SDSU’s Coast to Coast Concert Showcases Premiere Work, Faculty Stars, and New Facilities
SDSU Wind Symphony and Symphony Orchestra set highlight concert in Montezuma Hall, new Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union

(San Diego) – The SDSU Wind Symphony and Symphony Orchestra present Coast to Coast, a concert featuring music inspired by two of America’s great cities, New York and San Diego, on Sunday, March 22 at 7:00 p.m. in the beautiful, new Montezuma Hall of the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union.   

Tickets for Coast to Coast are $10, general admission, and $5 students, and can be purchased online at music.sdsu.edu or at the box office one hour before performance.  Free admission for high school band and orchestra students.

Coast to Coast will highlight the talents of two of SDSU’s top ensembles, the SDSU Wind Symphony, conducted by Shannon Kitelinger, and the SDSU Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Gerdes, as well as faculty members from the School of Music and Dance, and San Diego Symphony members.  

Jazz faculty Richard Thompson will perform George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.  Composition professor Joseph Waters’s newest piece Suite Noir, inspired by San Diego, will receive its world premiere with the SDSU Symphony and the new music ensemble SWARMIUS.  Other pieces will include Three Sketches, composed by Professor Emeritus Merle Hogg, and Quiet City by Aaron Copland, featuring solos by SDSU faculty and San Diego Symphony members John Wilds (trumpet), and Sarah Skuster (oboe).

This semester, the Wind Symphony and Symphony Orchestra are inviting students, alumni and community members to ‘come home’ to SDSU.  “We have a semester of concerts geared toward engaging our alumni by highlighting our students, faculty, and new facilities,” said Shannon Kitelinger, Director of Bands.  The Coast to Coast concert will display what SDSU has to offer on several levels; our talented faculty, splendid student performers and the beautiful new facilities at the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union.”

Still To Come in the Arts at SDSU:

A Thousand Plates Through March 30, 2015, SDSU Downtown Gallery
SDSU Opera Theatre: Baroque To Britten April 10 – 12, 2015, Smith Recital Hall
SDSU Jazz Ensemble with Sunny Wilkinson April 16, 2015, Smith Recital Hall
Lux Boreal: Fit/Misfit April 19, 2015, Dance Studio Theatre
The Great American Trailer Park Musical April 24 – May 3, 2015, Don Powell Theatre 
To Be Certain of the Dawn April 25, 2015, College Avenue Baptist Church