Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Guest Announcement: San Diego Opera Tickets Now Selling!

San Diego Opera Single Tickets Are Now On Sale
 
Board President Carol Lazier Shares Update on Company
 
Genovese Vanderhoof & Associates Have Been Engaged to Secure Long-Term Artistic Leadership for the Company
 
San Diego, CA – San Diego Opera is delighted to announce single tickets are now on sale to all performances of the San Diego Opera 2014-2015 season including La bohème, Don Giovanni, Nixon in China, the new mariachi opera El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished), the Company’s 50th Anniversary Celebration Concert at Copley Symphony Hall, and Stephanie Blythe and Craig Terry’s recital, We’ll Meet Again – The Songs of Kate Smith. Single tickets start at $30. A full listing of performances date and times can be found at the bottom of this release.

Here are some of the changes and accomplishments in only five months since the Board of Directors announced the continuation of San Diego Opera:
 
  • An executive search committee has been formed to secure long-term artistic leadership for the Company. Arts consultants Genovese Vanderhoof & Associates have been engaged to lead the committee.  
 
  • The Company has moved its administrative offices next door from its old location to the Center City Building at 233 A St., Suite 500. The reduction in office space from 15,000 square feet to just over 7,000 square feet results in an annual savings of $400,000. The Company was also able to open a store front box office at 237 A St. that is open for walk-ins from 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM Monday through Friday.
 
  • The newly reconstituted board of directors currently stands at 26 members. The board just completed a two-day board retreat that focused on issues of governance, board legacy, and future long-term planning.
 
  • The current fundraising goal for the 2014-2015 season, which was $6.5 million of the Company’s approved $11 million budget, now stands at $1.2 million needed to be raised by June 30, 2015 with $5.3 million already raised.
 
  • Subscription sales continue to trend upward with 89% of all households renewing. The Company has also seen a 377% increase in new subscribers and a 286% increase in lapsed subscribers (former subscribers that did not attend the 2014 season).
 
  • The Company opened the season last month with a sold-out recital presented by Stephen Costello and Ailyn Pérez at the Balboa Theatre.
 
  • The Company continues to explore new venues and partnerships, with performances at The Balboa Theatre and Copley Symphony Hall.
 
  • San Diego Opera’s Education department has announced Opera Exposed a new touring ensemble comprised of the top vocal students from the Company’s University Partnership Program (USD, SDSU, and Point Loma Nazarene University) that will present free concerts around the community, as well as provide the students with professional training.
 
  • The Company’s Education department has developed an in-classroom residency based on the Common Core State Standards. It involves visits to the classroom by singers, designers, costumers, wig & make-up specialists and technical theatre artisans who will give students a close-up view of opera from the inside. The number of school residencies for the 2014-2015 have more than doubled from previous seasons.
 
  • Students attending the Student Night at the Opera final dress rehearsal can now watch the entire performance. Previously they were required to leave at the first intermission. San Diego Opera will continue to pay for transportation to these performances. Included in this year’s lineup, in addition to La bohème, Don Giovanni and Nixon in China, is the mariachi opera El Pasado Nunca se Termina.
 
  • The Company has hired John Gabriel as the Director of School Programs to oversee and further develop the Company’s education efforts.
 
  • The Company has planned and casted the 2016 season and is currently finalizing repertory and contracts for the 2017 season.
 
“San Diego Opera’s 50h Anniversary Season is off to a tremendous start!  Our new direction of programming innovative as well as traditional works, and presenting exciting exceptional performances accessible to diverse audiences, is our future,” shares San Diego Opera Board President, Carol Lazier.
 
Purchasing Tickets
Single tickets for all operas are on sale. Single ticket prices start at $30 and can be purchased by calling (619) 533-7000 or online at www.sdopera.com.
 
Subscriptions range from $105 for a three-opera series to $1405 for a full season package (Orchestra level subscription and the 50th Gala Anniversary Concert at the Jacobs Music Center - Copley Symphony Hall, the two recitals, and the mariachi opera). Some Saturday and Sunday subscriptions are slightly higher. Subscriptions can be purchased by calling (619) 533-7000 or online at www.sdopera.com.
 
The 2014-2015 International Season
Stephen Costello and Ailyn Pérez in recital                                      September 5, 2014
Stephanie Blythe and Craig Terry: The songs of Kate Smith            December 11, 2014
La bohème                                           Giacomo Puccini                  January 24, 27, 29 and Feb. 1(mat), 2015
Don Giovanni                                      Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart  February 14, 17, 20 and 22 (mat), 2015
Nixon in China                                    John Adams                          March 14, 17, 20 and 22 (mat), 2015
50th Anniversary Celebration Concert                                              April 18 and 19, 2015
El Pasado Nunca se Termina               José “Pepe” Martinez            April 25 at 2 pm and 7 pm, 2015                       
 
General Information
San Diego Opera announced its 2014-2015 season and 50th Anniversary on May 19, 2014, after nearly two months of careful deliberations and analysis since the Company announced it was going to close at the end of the 2014 season.  During this time, the Company launched a crowd funding campaign that resulted in an unprecedented $2.2 million in public donations, of which 48% were first time donors from 6 countries and 36 States. The outpouring of public support, the unified vision expressed by the company’s management, staff, partners and contractors, and the expert advice of Opera America and the many General Directors of U.S. opera companies who weighed in with encouragement, logistical assistance and statements of solidarity, led the Board of Directors, headed by Carol Lazier, to confidently rescind the original vote to close.  The Company appointed former Lyric Opera of Chicago General Director, William Mason, as Artistic Advisor in May and has begun a search for permanent leadership to lead the Company as it reinvents itself to better serve the diverse San Diego community.
 

Friday, August 22, 2014

George H Jackson wins this year's Robert J Harth Conducting Prize at Aspen Music Festival

Good news! George Henry Jackson, the young British conductor I had the honor of interviewing last year, had just won the 2014 Robert J Harth Conducting Prize at the Aspen Music festival. Congratulations, maestro!

(Here he is, conducting Mahler's 5th Symphony)

I'm afraid I didn't make it to the festival this year, but I'm elated to have a second chance when he comes back to the USA next summer. Yey!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer days and Sergei Rachmaninov

The summer heatwave had surprisingly (to me, at least) turned humid and quite a bit less heatwavy than expected, much to my heat-wimp delight.
A cool batch of jellyfish clouds out near Mt Helix a couple of days ago.
Somehow the weather and the varieties of clouds (yes, we have some serious clouds this summer! Not quite like the old cloudless brilliant blue summer sky of old) had been putting me in the mood for the music of Sergei Rachmaninov when I should have been listening to the new CD by Anna Bonitatibus that arrived in the mail a week ago. I think I'm saving her for when the dry weather returns later this week.

Anyhow, I started with Rach's two famous piano concertos, of course. There are so many wonderful performances of them on Youtube, though running into a series of orchestra-free version of them by Valentina Lisitsa was a special treat. It's obvious why the music is better with the piano and the orchestra (the two are always complimenting and communicating with each other, so just hearing one is like listening to someone talking to someone else on the phone... You feel excluded and it's hard to get the whole picture of what's being said), but at the same time getting to hear all the millions of notes (because Rachmaninov never wrote just a handful of notes when he could fit in a a whole keg of them) the piano plays - which you wouldn't be able to hear in the presence of the orchestra - really highlight how difficult a piece of music the concerto is for the pianist to play!



After a while I moved on to Rachmaninoff's many wonderful songs... The first, Spring Waters, being a personal favorite. Alas, that thing is really hard to sing and I had to go through many Youtube clips before finally finding one that does him justice. It was no surprise that it was performed by a really amazing singer (because, really, you'd have to be bloody out-of-this-world brilliant to be so enthusiastically endorsed by Astrid Varnay in her autobiography), Lithuania's Violeta Urmana.



What is more? Other clips of her from the same Rachmaninov songs recital were also uploaded and I got to discover a few more gems. Here is today's favorite earworm, 'It's So Nice Here.'



A Smorg can really laze around happily listening to that all day long (well, maybe not... with the current uptick in work load, but definitely in about a week or two!).

Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer evening on top of Mt Helix... Les Miserables!

A few fellow hills-crazy cycling friends and I have been riding up and down Mt Helix in La Mesa a lot lately. It is such a beautiful place with sleepy streets and friendly locals. I don't need a lot of incentive to head that way as soon as I hop on my bike in the morning. All I need is < 87F weather forecast, and I'm there!
 There is an additional incentive to dropping in on Mt Helix this week, though. The Christian Community Theater is putting on a run of Les Miserables at the Nature Theater.


Even if you don't like musicals, it's still a super cool place to be. Usually you are ushered off the mountain withing 1/2 hr after sunset, but during the shows, of course, you can stay longer. Check out http://christiancommunitytheater.com/ for tickets. The show goes on at 8 pm on July 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 30, 31, Aug 1, 2.



I'm afraid there's no parking up at the theater for this (there's a lot, but it's way too small). You'll have to park off Vivera opposite from the fire station near the base of the hill and take the shuttle bus up.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Around Town: Nebo

I was messing about Nebo Hill in La Mesa the other day, rediscovering the area's hidden staircases when I spotted this...
'Beware: Pickpockets and Loose Women'
It lies! I swear I looked everywhere for the loose women. They were all in hiding or something!




Oh, I did find the staircases, too, of course.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Guest announcement: San Diego Opera & Dallas Opera Co-Producing Heggie's Great Scott

Below is a guest announcement from the San Diego Opera:

THE DALLAS OPERA AND SAN DIEGO OPERA
ARE VERY PLEASED TO ANNOUNCE THAT
SAN DIEGO OPERA WILL
CO-PRODUCE GREAT SCOTT
~~~~
THE FIRST OPERA BY COMPOSER JAKE HEGGIE AND LIBRETTIST TERRENCE MCNALLY SINCE THEIR ACCLAIMED DEAD MAN WALKING (2000)
 
            SAN FRANCISCO, JUNE 20, 2014 – The Dallas Opera proudly welcomes a co-producer, San Diego Opera, to the first major project in fourteen years by critically acclaimed American composer Jake Heggie (Moby-Dick) and Tony Award-winning playwright and librettist Terrence McNally (Master Class). 
            GREAT SCOTT will star world-renowned mezzo-soprano, Joyce DiDonato in her eagerly anticipated Dallas Opera debut.  The world premiere performances in Dallas, with support from The Eugene McDermott Foundation, The Hoblitzelle Foundation and The Carol Franc Buck Foundation, will be staged by Broadway legend Jack O’Brien (former Artistic Director of San Diego’s Old Globe Theater) and conducted by one of the fastest-rising young artists at the podium today: Maestro Evan Rogister.
            GREAT SCOTT opens the Dallas Opera’s 2015-2016 Season with five performances scheduled from October 30, 2015 through November 15, 2015 in the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.  Additional performances in San Diego will follow in the 2016-17 Season.
            Composer Jake Heggie shared the big news today in San Francisco at the Opening Session of OPERA America’s Opera Conference 2014.
            “I’m very honored and touched,” said Mr. Heggie, “to be a part of this magical, remarkable occasion.”  Word of San Diego Opera’s commitment to the piece was followed by the first public performance of an aria from GREAT SCOTT by acclaimed American lyric soprano Heidi Stober, a principal artist at Deutsche Oper Berlin and a sought-after guest artist in opera houses around the world.
            Previous co-commissions and co-productions by the two companies include the tremendously successful adaptation of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, brought to the opera stage in 2010 by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer and seen in Canada, San Francisco, Australia and, most recently, in Washington, D.C.; as well as an earlier world premiere production of Thérèse Raquin by composer Tobias Picker and Mr. Scheer.
 
            “For months now, the San Diego Opera saga has been the most closely watched story in the western opera world,” says Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny.  “It is incredibly gratifying to be able to welcome the company as a partner in this exhilarating project.  San Diego Opera’s involvement sends a powerful message to our industry—and the message is this: San Diego Opera is here to stay and planning for an exciting future!
            “We have tremendous confidence in the leadership exhibited by Carol Lazier and the San Diego Opera Board, as well as William Mason, the Company’s new artistic advisor, and we are certain that San Diego Opera will play a vital and productive role in bringing Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s original concept to life for the enjoyment of audiences everywhere.”
 
            “Jake Heggie is no stranger to San Diego Opera,” shares San Diego Opera Board President Carol Lazier. “After his wildly successful Moby-Dick in 2012, when we heard that Jake was working on a new opera we knew we had to be part of it. At its heart, Great Scott asks ‘What is worth fighting for?’ a question that resonates with us here in the San Diego community.
“This opera also gives us the opportunity to work again with The Dallas Opera, who have been champions for our continued survival since day one, offering advice and logistical support during these transitional times. They are a great partner to work with, having been co-producers on Moby-Dick, co-commissioners on Thérèse Raquin, and partners on productions of Madama Butterfly and Aida over the years. Our participation in Great Scott is a show of support for Jake and The Dallas Opera, a commitment to the future of great American opera, and a statement to let the world know that San Diego Opera is still here and we are not going anywhere.”
 
            “It is extremely gratifying to learn about this co-production of Jake and Terrence’s next opera,” wrote Marc A. Scorca, President and CEO of OPERA America.  “The collaboration of these artists promises to add another important work to the American opera repertoire.  It is equally exciting that The Dallas Opera and San Diego Opera will work together as co-producers of the piece, demonstrating that bold artistic plans that include new American operas can and should be part of a an opera company’s strategy for long-term success.”
 
            “What a triumph on every level,” said Jake Heggie.  “I couldn’t be more grateful to all parties involved.”
            “At the heart of GREAT SCOTT are big questions about artistic and personal sacrifice, picking our battles and the kind of cultural legacy we want to leave for the future, as well as our personal responsibility in that legacy.  How appropriate that the Dallas Opera and San Diego Opera—two companies that have recently triumphed over adversity—have now become two of the standard bearers in this challenging dialogue!  Loyal audiences, staffs and highly motivated leadership are embracing artistic collaborations to keep these companies vital—eyes on the horizon—as  they construct a future based on fresh ideas, new works and different perspectives.”
 
~~~~
Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie have set GREAT SCOTT in "an important American city" that boasts a respected but struggling opera company and a thriving football team.  Arden Scott, the hometown girl who has become an international opera star, has returned to her roots to help save the company.  She has chosen not a standard classic or a new work, but a long-lost bel canto opera she recently discovered: Vittorio Bazzetti's Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii, which has been gathering dust ever since its composition in 1835.
By chance, the opera company is set to give the world premiere the same night the local football team, the Grizzlies, will play in their first Super Bowl across town—an event that will be telecast to 100 million viewers.  The owner of the team is married to the opera company's founder, Winnie Flato.  Success on the field is no less important than Arden's and Maestro Bazzetti's in the opera house.  No wonder Arden finds herself is in a state of personal crisis over the career and life she has chosen as every conceivable disaster seems to await the company.
With a large cast and chorus, two mad scenes, an erupting volcano and a difficult unknown score, will mere human resources be equal to the opera's inhuman demands?  And a defeat at the Super Bowl could be end of Winnie's opera company as well.
 
Heggie also remarked, “What an incredibly fun challenge for a composer!  To create the sounds of an American opera company as they rehearse a never-heard Italian bel canto opera—and to throw in a fight song for the local football team, as well.  I think this is a story we can all relate to!”
~~~~
 
            Joyce DiDonato, “probably the most in-demand lyric coloratura mezzo in the world” (Opera News), will sing the title role of opera singer Arden Scott for the world premiere performances in Dallas.  Miss DiDonato triumphed in recent seasons in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Maria Stuarda, as well as in the Met’s 2011 world premiere of The Enchanted Island, prompting Anthony Tomassini of The New York Times to write, “She commanded the stage from her first showcase scene…singing with cool control, then bursting into fearless flights of passagework.” 
            Last spring, she dazzled audiences in London as Elena in La Donna del Lago at the Royal Opera House.  Michael Church of The Independent raved: “…words fail.  No other singer could match what this blonde bombshell from Kansas does, marrying coloratura with the serene liquidity of birdsong to an expressiveness of heart-stopping beauty.  Go, listen, and marvel.”
            Just weeks ago, Ms. Di Donato received an Honorary Doctorate from Juilliard where she also delivered the commencement address at the 109th Commencement Ceremony.  Additionally, Ms. DiDonato was instrumental in the early stages of the “Save San Diego Opera” campaign, encouraging her fans through social media to support the Company’s fight for survival.
 
            For additional information or to arrange interviews, please contact San Diego Opera Director of Public Relations Edward Wilensky at 619-384-7636 or Dallas Opera Director of Media and Public Relations Suzanne Calvin at 817-995-1687 on site in San Francisco.
~~~~

About San Diego Opera:

San Diego Opera announced its 2015 season and 50th Anniversary on May 19, 2014, after nearly two months of careful deliberations and analysis since the Company announced it was going to close at the end of the 2014 season.  During this time, the Company launched a crowd funding campaign that resulted in an unprecedented $2.2 million in public donations, of which 48% were first time donors from 6 countries and 36 States. The outpouring of public support, the unified vision expressed by the company’s management, staff, partners and contractors, and the expert advice of Opera America and the many General Directors of U.S. opera companies who weighed in with encouragement, logistical assistance and statements of solidarity, led the Board of Directors, headed by Carol Lazier, to confidently rescind the original vote to close.  The Company appointed former Lyric Opera of Chicago General Director, William Mason, as Artistic Advisor last month and has begun a search for permanent leadership to lead the Company as it reinvents itself to better serve the diverse San Diego community.

About the Dallas Opera:
 
More than half-a-century of artistic excellence, technical innovation and community engagement have enabled The Dallas Opera to make a major contribution to the international cultural reputation of Dallas and add significantly to the economic impact of the performing arts across North Texas.  The Dallas Opera has presented a host of international stars in their American debuts, including Dame Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballé, Jon Vickers, and Plácido Domingo, as well as designer-director Franco Zeffirelli.  A champion of new work, The Dallas Opera has presented the American premieres of five operas and additional world premieres.  Most recently, the company commissioned composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer to create a tremendously successful new opera based on Herman Melville’s 19th century novel “Moby-Dick,” as well as forthcoming new operas by British composer Joby Talbot (“Everest”), Heggie and Terrence McNally (“Great Scott”), and American composer Mark Adamo (“Young Santa Claus”), all slated to take centerstage in 2015.  The Dallas Opera has pioneered classical music simulcasts in North Texas at locations ranging from Klyde Warren Park to AT&T (formerly Cowboys) Stadium and continues to seek new ways to engage the entire community and bring the thrill of opera to people of all ages, educational levels and backgrounds.
 
~~~~
San Diego Opera 2014-2015 International Season Performance Schedule


Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello in Recital
Balboa Theatre
Friday                   September 5, 2014            7:00pm

Stephanie Blythe and Craig Terry Presents We’ll Meet Again: The Songs of Kate Smith
Balboa Theatre
Thursday             December 11, 2014           7:00pm

La bohème
Giacomo Puccini
San Diego Civic Theatre
Saturday                             January 24, 2015                              7:00pm
Tuesday                              January 27, 2015                              7:00pm
Thursday             January 29, 2015                              7:00pm
Sunday                 February 1, 2015                              2:00pm
 
Don Giovanni
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
San Diego Civic Theatre
Saturday                             February 14, 2015             7:00pm
Tuesday                             February 17, 2015              7:00pm
Friday                   February 20, 2015             7:00pm
Sunday                February 22, 2015              2:00pm
 
Nixon in China
John Adams
San Diego Civic Theatre
Saturday                             March 14, 2015                 7:00pm
Tuesday                              March 17, 2015                 7:00pm
Friday                   March 20, 2015                 7:00pm
Sunday                 March 22, 2015                 2:00pm
 
50th Anniversary Gala Concert
Jacobs Music Center - Copley Symphony Hall
                              Saturday             April 18, 2015                  7:00pm
Sunday                 April 19, 2015                  2:00pm
 
El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished)
Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán / Leonard Foglia / José “Pepe” Martinez
San Diego Civic Theatre
Saturday                              April 25, 2015                 2:00pm
Saturday                               April 25, 2015                 7:00pm
 
Purchasing Tickets
Subscriptions range from $105 for a three-opera series to $1405 for a full season package (Orchestra level subscription and the 50th Gala Anniversary Concert at the Jacobs Music Center - Copley Symphony Hall, the two recitals, and the mariachi opera). Some Saturday and Sunday subscriptions are slightly higher. Subscriptions can be purchased by calling (619) 533-7000 or online at www.sdopera.com.
 
For information about single tickets please visit www.sdopera.com. Single ticket prices will be announced in the winter.
 
 
www.sdopera.com

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Guest Posting: Vesselina Kasarova at the Whitsun Festival in Salzburg

Below is a guest posting courtesy of John Carnegie (who also supplied all the photos) after attending the Whitsun Festival in Salzburg on June 8th, 2014. Thanks very much, John!

ROSSINISSIMO” FESTIVAL IN SALZBURG

Some people experience what is known as a “three Kleenex movie”. Vesselina Kasarova has just had a three frock evening in Salzburg.


Salzburg: that city with its curious concoction of culture and kitsch; in which the streets are paved with beggars studiously ignored by the penguin-suited culture vultures who stroll by them; in which (see below) the birthplace of its greatest son is situated above a Spar supermarket selling the ubiquitous over-priced Mozart Kugel sweets that typify the city’s avidity for art alongside its attempts to strip the tourist’s wallet of all its assets. Mozart famously couldn’t wait to flee the place. One wonders what his reaction would be to the contradictions on display there now.


For once though, Salzburg’s cultural focus was not on Mozart but a composer born a year after his death.  For the third year running, the city’s Pfingstfestspiele (Whitsun Festival) was being curated by Cecilia Bartoli and her chosen theme for 2014 was the music of Rossini. Packed houses were the order of the day as patrons stewed in the sweltering heat wave visited on the city. “Rossinissimo” (as the five day festival was called) covered a broad range of the composer’s oeuvre: comic and tragic opera, song, sacred music and not forgetting Rossini’s principal passion: food. The penultimate evening brought a host of stars to Salzburg – with two concerts at 5pm and 8pm including Frau Kasarova among the array.


The first of these was at the Mozarteum and featured Rossini’s final composition, the Petite Messe Solennelle, and the first of Frau Kasarova’s frocks for the evening: a demure dark brown number that allowed her to merge appropriately into the cast of this spare and sombre work in which individual talents are only occasionally allowed to emerge from the overall texture. Rossini gives his mezzo two stints in the sunlight and Kasarova seized these with aplomb. The first was a duet with the soprano in which Kasarova’s relish at being able to renew her alliance with her old sparring partner Eva Mei was evident. The second was the conclusion of the piece in which the mezzo rides over the chorus (in this case the superbly prepared Coro dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia) in a celebratory Agnus Dei.


There were only two downsides to the concert. The first was the balance between the two pianos (the only instruments apart from a harmonium) and the voices. Although I was in the front row, I had the misfortune to be the pianos’ side and they at times overwhelmed the voices. (However, I think that the awkward balance was only emphasised by my particular seat. I sat further back in the same hall the next day for Joyce DiDonato’s recital and the way that the venue favours the instrument over the voice was still apparent.) The other downside was that one of the two pianists was also the conductor. Normally Antonio Pappano is one of the most considerate conductors to his soloists. Perhaps it was because of his over-exertions on a day on which he had already conducted Rossini’s Stabat mater but it was evident that Sir Tony had his head in the score rather than the score in his head. Oft times the soloists looked to him for guidance but they rarely got it. It was clearly a performance in which some of the individual parts (the chorus and the soloists) had done their own very careful preparation but the ensemble as a whole was under-rehearsed. Still, somehow it all came together reasonably well despite that.

After an hour’s break, it was time to move to the main venue of the Festival for its centrepiece: the Grosse Rossini-Gala. A galaxy of stars had been promised on the bill but a number of them (such as Agnes Baltsa, Teresa Berganza, Montserrat Caballé, Ildebrando d’Arcangelo and Erwin Schrott) didn’t turn up. Fortunately Juan Diego Flórez offered his services at the last minute and his duet from La Cenerentola with Cecilia Bartoli (the two of them appearing opposite each other for incredibly the first ever time) was one of the highlights of the evening. The desertion of so many singers meant that not only was the evening a soprano-free zone (not entirely inappropriate for Rossini) but there were in fact only two female singers onstage throughout the gala - being the two most famous Zurich-based mezzos. After a succession of male “opere buffe” pieces (which ranged from an excellently delivered and genuinely funny Don Magnifico from Carlos Chausson to an over-confident Ruggero Raimondi parting tempo from the orchestra throughout most of Basilio’s La calunnia despite the best efforts of the baton of the otherwise supreme Adam Fisher), the first half concluded with the Act I Finale from Il barbiere di Siviglia featuring Kasarova as Rosina in her second frock of the night: a sleek, silvery-cream number. As Bartoli was already dressed in jeans, apron and yellow “Marigold” washing-up gloves for Cenerentola, she took on the role of the servant Berta. Cue for much clowning between the two mezzos miming severe backache as they exited from their curtain calls.

So far, the programme had consisted entirely of such high jinks and this suited the majority of the audience who had obviously come just for a fun night out. At the astronomical ticket prices charged, only the financially unchallenged can afford most of the seats. Unfortunately, there is not necessarily a correlation between wealth and musical appreciation. The social snobbery on display did not have much to be snobbish about in regard to their cultural sensibility. The insensitive barrage of coughing throughout the purely orchestral numbers was only amplified by the excellent acoustics of the Grosses Festspielhaus; flash photography was taking place during the actual performances; most distracting of all was the woman in front of me who spent over half of the evening texting on her mobile phone. One wonders why she had bothered to come.

In this circus atmosphere, it was obvious that the minority of serious arias on show would prove a trial to this majority element in the audience. Frau Kasarova had the misfortune to be the purveyor of such a piece when – as the first aria after the interval – she delivered Arsace’s Eccomi al fine in Babilonia from Semiramide.  Entering in frock three of the night (a stunning scarlet number), she proceeded to surmount the varied vocal challenges of this virtuoso aria. My only criticism of her performance was that it featured more than usually a defect that has sadly become of late more evident in some of her performances: a very audible and distracting intake of breath between the musical phrases. That though was more than compensated by the accomplishment otherwise on display in this most demanding of musical showpieces. She received respectable applause afterwards but deserved much more.


Much more to the taste of this particular audience was the grandstanding of Javier Camarena. The new boy on the block of star tenors delivered Ramiro’s Si ritrovarlo io giusto from La Cenerentola with the kind of tooth-grinding vocal excesses that excited this audience into a standing ovation and a fulfilled demand for an even more excessive encore. The other standing ovation of the evening went to the veteran José Carreras – mostly, I suspect, occasioned by his fame. However, in his case, the standing ovation was richly deserved.  His voice may be slightly ragged round the edges compared to what it once was but his artistry is undiminished. He brought a laser-like focus to Giocondo’s aria from Rossini’s first opera La pietra del paragone.  It was a privilege to be present for this.

After that, all that remained was for the majority of the cast to wrap up the gala with the Act II Finale from Il barbiere di Siviglia with Kasarova and Bartoli back as Rosina and Berta accompanied by one Figaro, two Counts, two Bartolos and no less than three Basilios. It topped an evening that was mostly enjoyable but – with a different audience and perhaps with the presence of some of the no-show stars – might have been much more than that.

That’s Salzburg for you though. Its distinctly Disneyfied brand of tourism breeds an atmosphere in which a multiplicity of frocks seems more appreciated than artistry. Personally, I would have preferred the chance to employ more than one Kleenex."