Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Just musing out loud quite topiclessly

Whew, what seriously wet (and literally electrifying) weather we had last weekend! When the local meteorologists mentioned that we might get a visit from remnant of Hurricane Dolores, I thought we might get some rain and cloud for maybe a day (or maybe just half a day). Instead, Coconut the English bulldog, and I were dodging lightning bolts during his visits to the doggies potty yard.

Took Coconut out for a walk after the first set of thunderstorms on Saturday.
Don't get me wrong, though, I'm really stoked that we got really good amount of rainfall over the weekend. We need quite a bit more just to raise the water levels in our local reservoirs to a more respectable level. As of last week, many of them were looking too much like dried up bush bowls than they did lakes.
El Capitan Reservoir a month ago. All the cars would have been submerged same time last year.
The east bit of Lake Hodges has been dry for so long it's now bush land rather than even dried lake.
In the meanwhile, I got to roll into Downtown for a bit yesterday. The place looks so different every time I drop in! There's a new park with some rather cool water features off 14th St in East Village that is still fenced off. The Callan Hotel on Island St in the Gaslamp no longer looks like an ill-maintained public toilet, and most of the restaurants along 4th and 5th are different from a year ago.
The new park off 14th at Island in East Village... looking amazingly lush and equipped with water display in the midst of the drought.

It's still there!
Guess what, that little tucked away Philippine Library and Museum on 5th Ave is still there... and mostly not-open as usual! I wonder how the place survives in such a prime location when it's closed for business most of the time...

Friday, July 17, 2015

Guest Announcement: San Diego Opera 2016 events

San Diego Opera Announces Opera Exposed 2016 Roster and Event
Audience Engagement Ensemble from the Company’s University Partnership Program to Present Free Community Concerts
San Diego, CA - San Diego Opera is pleased to announce the 2015-2016 Opera Exposed artists and events. Opera Exposed is a touring opera ensemble comprised of students from San Diego Opera’s University Partnership Program which currently includes vocal arts students from SDSU and Point Loma Nazarene University. All of the participants have auditioned into the program and represent San Diego Opera in recitals throughout the communities and neighborhoods of San Diego County, with a focus on underserved neighborhoods. In return, the students receive master classes with principal artists from San Diego Opera mainstage productions, meetings with senior staff, internships to bolster their resumés, in-and-out privileges for staging rehearsals and complimentary tickets to performances. This partnership offers young singers ample opportunities to hone their performance skills, while at the same time giving them a better idea of the processes of producing opera on a professional level.
“Last year, in the first season of Opera Exposed, we performed in neighborhoods and venues where San Diego Opera had not been before, like City Heights and Barrio Logan,” shares Dr. Nicolas Reveles, San Diego Opera’s Director of Education and Community Engagement. “This year will bring our first foray into the Diamond Neighborhood, the Malcolm X Library, as well as return visits to some of the venues where we performed last year. It’s tremendously exciting to bring opera to communities that haven’t yet experienced it, especially with these wonderful, enthusiastic young singers!”
All Opera Exposed recitals are free and are open to the public. Performance selections will vary from recital to recital but will include a selection of familiar opera arias, duets and ensembles from composers such as Puccini, Gounod, Mozart, Rossini, Leoncavallo, and Copland, among others.
The 2015-2016 Opera Exposed artists are:
San Diego State University
Alvin Almazan, tenor
Rachel Rothman, soprano
Lisa Parente, soprano
Ivan Ochoa, tenor
Amanda Olea, soprano
Nicholas Newton, baritone
Radames Gil, baritone
Point Loma Nazarene University
Kiana Bell, mezzo soprano
Carina Kazmierowicz, soprano
Jack French, baritone
Krista Wilford, soprano
Jonathan Lacayo, tenor
McKenna Slack, soprano
Kelsey Kammeraad, soprano

A list of currently scheduled Opera Exposed recitals is below. As recitals are added they can be found online at http://www.sdopera.com/Education/SDOU
August 15, 3:00pm                 Malcolm X Library
                                                5148 Market Street
                                                San Diego, CA 92114
August 30, 3:30pm                 Carlsbad Music Festival
                                                Magee Park, 258 Beech Street
                                                Carlsbad, CA 92008
September 30, 6:00pm          Weingart/City Heights Performance Annex
                                                3795 Fairmount Avenue
                                                San Diego, CA 92105
October 10, 7:00pm               Hillcrest Wind Ensemble Concert    
                                                First Unitarian Universalist Church
                                                4190 Front Street
                                                San Diego, CA 92103
October 18, 2:00pm               Central Library Downtown
                                                330 Park Boulevard
                                                San Diego, CA 92101
October 25, 2:00pm               Hope United Methodist Church
                                                16550 Bernardo Heights Parkway
                                                Rancho Bernardo, CA 92128
November 22, 2:00pm           El Cajon Public Library
                                                201 E. Douglas
                                                El Cajon, CA 92020
January 20, 11:30am             LGBT Center
                                                3909 Centre Street
                                                San Diego, CA 92103
The 2015-2016 International Season
René Barbera in Recital                                                                    September 19, 2015
Patricia Racette “Diva on Detour”                                                   November 14, 2015
Tosca                                                   Giacomo Puccini                  February 13, 16, 19 and 21 (mat), 2016
Ferruccio Furlanetto in Concert                                                       March 5, 2016
Madama Butterfly                                Giacomo Puccini                  April 16, 19, 22 and 24 (mat), 2016
Great Scott                                          Jake Heggie                          May 7, 10, 15 and 15 (mat), 2016

Friday, June 26, 2015

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.