Friday, June 2, 2017


Written by, and posted courtesy of Mr John Carnegie. Thank you, John!

ON 28TH MAY 2017

A year after the last time that Vesselina Kasarova’s schedule and mine last coincided, I was fortunate enough to be in Berlin when she was appearing in series of concerts at the prestigious Konzerthaus.  This is an excellent venue with good sight-lines, resplendent décor and (most importantly) superb acoustics. 

 Appearing alongside the venue’s own orchestra (a top flight band), VK featured in two performances of a full length concert of Haydn (cantata and symphony) and Saint-Saëns (aria and symphony) – plus a shorter morning concert for family audiences in which the Haydn items were featured alongside a Mozart aria. I managed to catch this morning concert and the repeat performance of the full length concert later the same day.

The morning concert was part of a long-standing tradition at the Konzerthaus entitled Mozart-Matinee in which parts of the full-length concert on at the time are combined with something by Mozart to form an hour-long event to which concertgoers are encouraged to bring their children and grandchildren. The presentation is very informal with spoken introductions to each item and onstage interviews with the conductor and soloists. Most of the many children in the audience were very well behaved and attentive. The only exception was a young boy with a clear case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder who was sitting a few seats along from me in the front row. VK charmingly managed to calm him down during her interview by including him in the conversation. Thereafter he was putty in her hands and sat entranced and alert.

VK opened the proceedings with Haydn’s cantata Ariadne auf Naxos. Dressed in a simple black jump suit but with a resplendent pair of earrings (more about those later), she was given an exceptionally large area between the conductor and the first violins in which to perform – and perform she certainly did. This was no standard-issue concert performance of just the notes. Prowling around her allotted space like a caged tiger, VK gave a full-on operatic rendition of Ariadne’s passion and grief that proved totally involving for the audience. (There was scarcely a cough to be heard from them throughout.) However, it was not just the theatrics that were enthralling. Vocally, VK was in as fine as condition as I’ve ever heard her. There was not a trace of the problems that have occasionally marred her performances in recent years. This was VK at the top of her game and she produced some thrilling singing.

She followed the Haydn with an aria from Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito – not one from her usual character of Sesto but the Non più di fiori of Vitellia. Again this was a superb rendition that was enhanced by something that could have wrecked its effect but which VK took completely in her stride. Halfway through the aria, one of her earrings disengaged itself and fell to the floor. Unfazed, VK whipped off the other earring and then scooped up the fallen one from the floor – all within a few notes and while maintaining character and vocal production. It was an excellent example of her innate stage craft (and also the reason why the earrings do not appear in the photograph of her curtain call above).

Later in the day, VK reappeared on the same stage for the full-length concert – dressed in the flaming red ball gown that features on the cover of her Russian Arias CD. (No earrings this time – presumably so as to forfend against any further malfunction!) She repeated the Haydn cantata to equal effect and later gave her familiar rendition of Dalila’s Mon Coeur from Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila. Although the latter was more of a challenge for VK with her having to contend against a greatly expanded orchestra that she is more used to having down in the pit of an opera house for this aria, both offerings went down a treat with the audience and they gave her sustained applause.

For both concerts, conductor Jean-Christophe Spinosi proved to be a sympathetic accompanist and he came into his own with his witty rendition of Haydn’s Symphony No. 82 (with its multiple false endings designed to provoke premature applause) and his mastery of the huge forces involved in Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony.

All in all, this was a thoroughly satisfying double helping of VK’s artistry.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Greetings from San Diego North County

It's nice and peaceful at the new Smorghaus this morning. The California towhee wanted a piece of my breakfast bagel, and the Anna's hummingbirds think I'm a slowpoke at refilling the birdfeeder. They are probably right, too, seeing as the Nuttal's woodpecker is taking his frustration out on the little tree just beyond the fence!

I've better get a move on it...

Hope everyone is having a good start to March!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Enjoying a day off and a lovely new Youtube clip of Alcina from Paris Opera 2004

Finally a day off! It's been a brutal week with me catching the 4th flu of the year (I really have got to get out of Riverside, CA before too long. I had gone 3 yrs without a flu before I moved up here last December. This place is really bad for me!), but still having to go back to work the first day after the fever finally broke. It seemed the whole town of Redlands knew the Thai resto I've been working at finally had a bartender in residence again after 4 days, and we were absolutely swamped for 3 straight days. I'm telling you, people start drinking martinis and other hard core cocktails at lunch time here!

Anyhow, I somehow survived, but was quite something of a post-halloween zombie this morning until I stumbled onto this awesome audio upload of the Alcina broadcast from the Paris Opera in 2004. It stars Luba Orgonasova (Alcina), Vesselina Kasarova (Ruggiero), Vivica Genaux (Bradamante), Patrizia Ciofi (Morgana), Toby Spence (Oronto), and Luca Pisaroni (Melisso)!

That was VK's first foray into the Handelian repertoire, I think, and a marvelous treat to start a day off with!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Innsbruck, of all places!

By now most of my fellow fans of the Bulgarian - Swiss operatic mezzo soprano Vesselina Kasarova would probably have heard of her run in, a few days ago, with a couple of muggers in Innsbruck ahead of her scheduled performances as Fidalma in Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto. Frau Kasarova is one tough cookie and operatically screamed off her attackers, but not before getting roughed up enough to require the cancellation of her appearance and a return home to recuperate.

She is reportedly recovering okay, considering the circumstances. We fans are still quite shocked by the incident, of course! (Honestly... of all places for this to happen!) I'm personally in awe as to how well she handled the whole experience. Shame on the two perpetrators and may they never forget her voice.

Sending the White Shirt Republic's favorite dame all the best of wishes for a complete and speedy recovery. Gute Besserung, Frau Kasarova!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Guest Review: Vesselina Kasarova in Verdi's Rigoletto at Opera Bastille

The following review of the current run of Verdi's Rigoletto (with particular attention on our mutual favorite singer, Vesselina Kasarova) in Paris is guest-posted here courtesy of John Carnegie of Scotland. Thanks very much, John!


Through shuffling round work assignments, I managed to attend the second performance of the Opéra National de Paris’s new production of Verdi’s Rigoletto at their unlovely Opéra Bastille venue – a vast and gloomy barn of a building that makes the New York MET seem almost intimate by comparison. 

Vesselina Kasarova was billed to play the comparatively minor role of Maddalena, the assassin’s sister/accomplice who causes the downfall of the title character and his daughter by succumbing to the charms of the opera’s philandering baddie, the Duke.  Given that Maddalena does not show up on stage until the very last scene of a long evening and that VK had cancelled her announced appearances on the two previous occasions that I had booked to see her, there was always a doubt in my mind as to whether she would turn up this time for a task that might seem somewhat beneath her.  On the other hand, the fact that Maddalena is a prominent participant in the Quartet (for my money, the single most sublime passage of music in the whole history of opera) made for a compelling reason to hope against hope that VK might actually appear.  Well, she did and to great effect.

Before one got through to her eventual entrance, however, one had to surmount the hurdles of the visuals on offer.  Claus Guth was on directing duties and his typically high concept piece of “regie-theater” proved to be a very mixed blessing.  The curtain rose at the start to reveal the figure of “Rigoletto’s Double”, a mimed role who represented Rigoletto looking back retrospectively on the events of the opera by mourning over the contents of a brown cardboard box he carried: his ex-jester’s costume and the blood-stained robe of his deceased daughter.  This distracting figure was onstage throughout the evening and his non-stop gurning succeeded in constantly pulling the focus from Quinn Kelsey’s portrayal of the singing version of the title character.

As the set unfurled around the “Double”, it quickly became evident that it represented a gigantic sideways version of the cardboard box he carried.  Brown cardboard is a very drab surface indeed and (combined with mostly monochrome costumes) made for a visually dull experience.  However, that proved to VK’s great benefit.  When she made her entrance in sparkling black thigh-high boots, a tight-fitting jump suit surmounted by a top hat a la Marlene Dietrich and carrying off a choreographed Las Vegas-inspired routine backed by a bevy of half-naked showgirls, this was the first visual excitement of the evening and the audience rose to the spectacle and VK’s panache in accomplishing it.  This compensated for the fact that she was having to deal with the inconsiderate accompaniment of Nicola Luisotti – one of the breed of conductors whose head is mostly in the score and rarely paying attention to the performers on the stage.  He spent much of the evening drowning out the singers with his vast orchestra.  Fortunately, VK managed to gradually overcome this unwarranted competition – first in a very telling contribution to the Quartet and then in her successful attempt to put some backbone into Rafał Siwek’s dour assassin.  Her portrayal could definitely be counted as a success and was richly rewarded with the audience’s applause at the curtain call.

As for the three principal roles, Quinn Kelsey made for a touching Rigoletto and often managed to command the stage (despite the distractions of his “Double”).  Michael Fabiano’s Duke was a less compelling assumption and was the singer who suffered most from being swamped by the orchestra.  Still, he perked up greatly in the last act – spurred on perhaps by the attentions of VK and the dancing showgirls.  The star of the evening though was Olga Peretyatko’s Gilda: pin-sharp in her coloratura and hugely affecting throughout.  Her final appearance was particularly moving.  In one of Herr Guth’s happier inventions, Gilda does not spend her last minutes onstage in a sack but as a disembodied spirit diagonally traversing the stage as she disappears from her father into eternity.  It was not just Ms Peretyatko’s nationality, talent and looks but also her manner that brought to mind a young Anna Netrebko.  The packed audience took her to their collective hearts and gave her a huge round of applause at the curtain call.  It was notable that VK (who has always been demonstrably appreciative of her fellow performers onstage) was particularly enthusiastic in her applause for Ms Peretyatko.

The current run of performances of Rigoletto in Paris is playing through to the end of May and VK (unlike her fellow principals) is scheduled to appear in all of them.  If you go on the 14th and 30th of May, you will not get the benefit of Ms Peretyatko’s Gilda but you will at least be spared Mr Luisotti’s conducting.  So, is it worth braving the travails of getting through the oppressive security arrangements of contemporary Paris (post Charlie Hebdo, the most militarised city in the western world) and enduring some of the vagaries of Herr Guth’s production?  On the whole (and particularly for VK and Olga Peretyatko), I would say yes.