Monday, 29 August 2011

August Opera Challenge Days Twenty Eight and Twenty Nine: Fabulous Fanciulla

I'm combining days twenty eight and twenty nine of the August Opera Challenge, as both posts concern one of my favourite operas, Puccini's La Fanciulla del West. In response to the first question, 'If you could play any role, what would it be?' I'm going for Minnie. Like any opera fan without an operatic voice, I have fantasies about waking up one morning and discovering I'm actually the best singer on the planet. Given the choice of voice classification, I think I'd opt for dramatic soprano (purely for the theatrical potential) and despite harbouring deep desires to sing a Tosca or a Brunhilde, I think I'd be swayed by the opportunity to mess about with guns and have a stage full of men chanting my (character's) name...

So sticking with the wild west theme, I'm going to choose Fanciulla for the next instalment of the challenge- 'Opera dream cast.' The reason for this is that.... I can't understand why Bryn Terfel has never been asked to sing/agreed to sing Jack Rance. His Scarpia proves that he's already got the unrequited love thing down, and there's no denying that he's got the voice for it (and judging by this picture, he can work the outfit..)

Obviously, I adore Domingo's Dick Johnson, but he's a bit older than Bryn, and I'm not sure whether I'm allowed to alter time and space for this part of the challenge. So who do you call in 2011 when you're in need of a sexy outlaw with a beautiful tenor voice? It can only be Jonas Kaufmann. Seriously, how good would it be if he added Fanciulla to his repertoire?

And given that I'm not likely to have my fantasy of waking up as the world's greatest dramatic soprano fulfilled, I better pick a Minnie. Sticking with the modern vibe, I think I'll go with Eva Maria Westbroek. I love her voice, and was really moved by her performances in Die Walkure and Anna Nicole this year. Eva has mentioned in interviews that Minnie is her favourite role, and I'm sure she wouldn't mind being sandwiched between Bryn and Jonas for the evening. Also, can we do the whole thing at ROH with Tony Pappano in the pit? Thanks.

 And now for some music...

Saturday, 27 August 2011

August Opera Challenge Day Twenty Seven: First Favourite Opera

Without hesitation, my pick for first favourite opera is Verdi's La Traviata. It was the first opera I saw in full- first on film, and then when Scottish Opera came to the Bradford Alhambra. I can't remember much about the Scottish Opera production, but Zeffirelli's film, which I watched with my parents in the late eighties, has always stuck with me. It was my first experience of Domingo, and my first exposure to the wonderful glamour and drama of opera. When I hear the haunting opening chords of the overture today, I am immediately taken back to my childhood and that magical moment when my obsession began.

There are so many amazing La Traviatas out there, from the sumptuous Richard Eyre production to the more modern Willy Decker that premiered at Salzburg, but it was the almost obscenely glamorous Zeffirelli film that started everything for me. It turned me into an opera fan from a ridiculously young age, and of course ensured that no romantic hero would ever quite live up to the Domingo standard. I've chosen a very depressing picture, so let's raise a glass and hum along to the Brindisi.

August Opera Challenge Day Twenty Six: Least Favourite Opera Misconception

My least favourite opera misconception? No, it's not about fat ladies in horned helmets. It's the creation of the common misconception that opera is all about screetchy posturing through the mass marketing of third rate singers who don't actually perform in operas. The misconception often leads to opera/classical novices asking me things like "So you're into opera- do you like Katherine Jenkins?" KJ is obviously not the only offender, but she might be the worst.

Oh, and it's not just restricted to singers anymore:

And no, you don't get a Youtube clip today. It's too painful.

Friday, 26 August 2011

August Opera Challenge Day Twenty Five: Opera You Would Sell A Kiidney To See

A year ago I was actually trying to sell a kidney (as well as my soul) to see the ROH Pappano-conducted Tosca with Kaufmann, Gheorghiu and Terfel. Luckily, all it took in the end was a combined twenty eight hours of queueing and I got to see both performances with all of my vital organs still intact. Now that's all over, I'm back to wishing Mephistopheles would pop up and exachange my soul for a ticket to La Scala's upcoming Don Giovanni. From the 7th of December to the 14th of January the world's most famous opera house are staging one of my favourite operas. Daniel Barenboim and Heinz Steffens are conducting, and the casting is amazing.

Sadly, Elina Garnaca won't be singing Donna Elvira any more because of her pregnancy, but the rest of the performers and their alternates are still worth the sacrifice:

Don Giovanni- Peter Mattei, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo
Leporello- Bryn Terfel, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo
Donna Anna- Anna Netrebko, Tamar Iveri
Donna Elvira- Barbara Frittoli, Maria Agresta
Don Ottavio- Giuseppe Filianoti, John Osborn
Zerlina- Anna Prohaska, Ekaterina Sadovnikova
Masetto- Stefan Kocan, Kostas Smoriginas
Il Commendatore- Kwangchul Youn, Alexander Tsymbalyuk

I won't be getting anywhere near Milan this year (or next) so my only hope of witnessing this piece of opera heaven is to see a cinema broadcast on the 7th of December, but according to the Opera in Cinema website, there aren't any scheduled UK broadcasts (yet?) Until all becomes clear, I'll just have to play Bryn singing Guardate!- Madamina, il catalogo e questo over and over again...

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

August Opera Challenge Day Twenty Four: Best Opera To See Alone

I don't mind going to the opera alone. Quite often, when I take people with me who don't share my love of it, I find myself getting nervous or apologising for less than amazing performances. This year, I saw the British premiere of Weinberg's The Portrait alone. I was glad no one had come with me- from the moment it started, I knew that nobody I knew would have enjoyed it, and I would have been sitting there worrying about how lost and bored they felt, rather than becoming immersed in the music and the drama myself. The last year has been quite dominated by Wagner, and I've dragged my parents along to a few performances, but I've come to realise that any future performances of Der Ring des Nibelungen might best be enjoyed solo.

Wagner isn't everybody's cup of tea. I don't think that, as a rule, his works are great for opera beginners. Italian opera was the background music to my childhood, and it took me some time to get used to the different sounds and structures of his operas. Once I did, I fell in love and have had some seriously sublime experiences listening to and watching Wagner operas, but I think I might be done exposing others to him. On my father's birthday I took him to Opera North's concert performance of Das Rheingold. He likes listening to Wagner, but the long interval-free performance in the crowded, almost tropical Leeds Town Hall nearly resulted in him passing out, and I sat there feeling terribly guilty.

Having someone beside you that you've dragged along and feel responsible for does alter your experience of the opera, and sometimes it's better just to admit that not everyone finds a five-hour performance in high German particularly easy going. From now on, I think I'll go alone and lose myself in the music without having to worry about anybody else. I don't need anyone sighing, yawning or sleeping through one of my favourite pieces from any opera ever- Wotan's Farewell from Die Walkure.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

August Opera Challenge Day Twenty Three: Best Opera To See With A Lover

For the first time in the August Opera Challenge, I'm completely at a loss. There are so many operas full of romance and passion, but not many of them end that well. The only operas I have been on dates to are Verdi's La Traviata and Wagner's Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg. I suppose it depends what kind of atmosphere you're looking for, but neither of those are exactly ideal- La Traviata is a real heartbreaker, and Die Meistersinger is many hours long. The way I see it, you have two choices- something light hearted and lovely (Le nozze di Figaro?) or something along the lines of La Traviata (full of sexy passion but with a very unhappy ending). I'm sort of edging towards the latter, because at least you'll get to experience some really intense, romantic music and a poetic libretto, even if you do need a hanky at the end.

So Puccini's La Boheme. One of the world's most popular operas. It's very accessible, so if your companion isn't an experienced opera attendee then they'll still enjoy it, and it's definitely full of passion (has any composer written about love better than Puccini?) If it's a first date, then you'll relate well to Mimi and Rodolfo, although apart from the initial magic between them, you probably shouldn't take too much inspiration from their love story. If you're as skint as they are, you could just stay in and watch the wonderful film featuring Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon. And the best bit? If you realise by the glorious O soave fanciulla that what you feel for the person sitting next to you doesn't come close to what's emanating from the stage, at least you've saved yourself a whole lot of heartache...

Monday, 22 August 2011

August Opera Challenge Day Twenty Two: Best Opera To See With A Friend

I haven't seen a lot of opera with friends, because most of them aren't that into it. After one of my closest pals decided to go and see The Tsar's Bride at the Royal Opera House, I took her to see the Royal College of Music's Cosi Fan Tutte, which I think she enjoyed. I have a male friend I've known since university who came to Welsh National Opera's The Magic Flute with me and more recently to Jonathan Dove's new opera Mansfield Park, but on the whole, my friends are opera sceptics and opera virgins. That's why I was quite surprised when a few people I know who 'don't do opera' confessed to me that they'd watched (and enjoyed) Anna Nicole when the Royal Opera House production was broadcast on BBC4 earlier this year.

I would have loved to have gone to ROH to see Anna Nicole in the flesh- I considered it, and thought of buying a friend of mine a ticket to come with me, but in the end I settled for watching it on television and sort of regretted it. I had expected to like it (I'm not precious about opera and am offended by very little) but I hadn't expected to love it as much as I did. I was so entertained and so moved in places (the scene where Anna has lost her son and climbs into a body bag had me sobbing) and the performances from Eva Maria Westbroek, Gerald Finley and the rest of the cast were amazing. The music was really special too- I really liked the jazz elements that Turnage worked into the score, and I thought the way it went right back to the origins of opera with a Greek Tragedy style chorus was so clever.

I guess my friends liked Anna Nicole because it was modern- a story that they were familar with, sung in a language they could understand. The pink, sparkly look of the whole thing was very visually stimualting, and I think that although it annoyed a lot of ROH stalwarts, it showed a lot of opera newbies that the art form isn't stale and boring, but constantly evolving and telling stories relevant to them.