Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Divas both fun & fierce

Did you know that you can listen to a different live Metropolitan Opera performance, streamed once a week? Coming up soon are Rossini's Le Comte Ory; Verdi's Il Trovatore, Rigoletto, Don Carlos, and La Traviata; Wagner's Parsifal; Bizet's Carmen; Handel's Giulio Cesare; and Poulenc's Dialogues des Carm√©lites. That's quite an assortment! This is in addition to the longstanding Saturday radio broadcasts, which have made opera lovers of millions. Last week I had the pleasure of listening to  Trovatore (which you can hear Thursday Jan. 24 at 7:25). The cast—especially mezzo Stephanie Blythe as Azucena—blew me away.
Monday was the anniversary of the debut of Tosca, one of the many great operas by Puccini we have on DVD. The 1900 premiere was in Rome, its fictional setting, and the role of the beautiful, passionate, and tragic singer has always been a choice one (many fans believe that Maria Callas owned the part, and she patently identified with it). To be as realistic as possible (he was angling for "verismo"), Puccini visited Rome to listen to the early-morning church bells from the ramparts of the Castel Sant' Angelo, the setting of Act III, and to consult with a  priest on the liturgy for the spine-tingling "Te Deum" that concludes Act I.
What it takes to rise to the top of this incredibly demanding art form is explored intriguingly in Maria-Cristina Necula's Truth, Tempo, and Soul: Encounters with Stars, Innovators, and Leaders of Today's Opera World
A special note: If you want to see and hear an unparalleled operatic rarity at a ridiculously low price, get a hold of the 1969 concert DVD of Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos featuring Beverly Sills. So exhilarating ... and mind boggling! It was well-nigh impossible not to love Sills: both the person and the artist. Here's some of what the Washington Post wrote when she died in 2007.
Ms. Sills was America’s idea of a prima donna. Her plain-spoken manner and telegenic vitality made her a genuine celebrity and an invaluable advocate for the fine arts. Her life embodied an archetypal American story of humble origins, years of struggle, family tragedy and artistic triumph....
During her performing career, with her combination of brilliant singing, ebullience and self-deprecating humor, Ms. Sills demystified opera — and the fine arts in general — in a way that a general public audience responded to. Asked about the ecstatic reception she received when she made a belated debut at La Scala in Milan in 1969, Ms. Sills told the press, “It’s probably because Italians like big women, big bosoms and big backsides.” Her obituary in the Arts section of the NYT  is mammoth, going on for four sections. That’s appropriate. She was a vital part of the fabric of the city of New York for three quarters of a century, practically from babyhood.
Sills performs a skit with Johnny Carson for a 1971 Tonight Show. Above: Tatiana Troyanos as Romeo and Sills as Juliet in Sarah Caldwell’s 1975 production of Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi
How about you? Favorite operas? Singers?


  1. Beverly Sills came off as a really down to earth opera star, joshin' around with Johnny Carson, hanging with The Muppets. Good-natured, she seems as if she didn't take herself too seriously,humble yet highly talented. Fun Fact, her BFF was Barbara Walters, she even Co-hosted an episode of The View in 2006.

  2. I've seen Tosca more than once, and love every moment. Who will replace Placido Domingo as tenor of first choice?
    Another favorite is not so much an opera as a darkly-lit medieval romance experienced in sound-- Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande.

    Anyone here like Wagner?

    1. Me me! I just watched our DVD of Die Walkure and really got into it. It's a production from the Netherlands, and the staging was great, as were the performances. Even though it's about gods and valkyries and all that, I found it very affecting on an emotional level.