AN ACQUIRED TASTE: OPERA

Listening to opera is an acquired taste; it takes many years of listening and growing into it in order to truly enjoy it. The good news is, as time passes, you can enjoy it at many levels.  I remember how much I loved “La donna mobile” when I first heard it. Now I often fast forward it while I am listening to Rigoletto.
Learning how to enjoy classical music started with my first exposure to it by my junior high school music teacher, Mr. Berry.
It was twenty years later when I noticed Opera and now I think it as the ultimate zenith of music. 
I first heard of Pavarotti in 1987 by a tape cassette I purchased while I was working in Saudi Arabia. Ever since, my enjoyment gradually progressed from Mozart to Rossini to Verdi to finally to Wagner. Now that I am enjoying Wagner, I look back the times when I could not stand him was only five years ago.
Opera is the most complex art form combining sophisticated orchestral music with human voice, theatrical arts including acting, stage decors and costumes. 
It is performed through a dramatic work called libretto, which combines music and text. It incorporates theatre and even dances in the performances. 
There are some tastes that come naturally to us, while some habits have to be attained with time, in order to really enjoy them. Opera falls more in the second genre. It uses words and music to evoke the emotions within us. Moreover, sometimes it can be overwhelming for even an aficionado, not to talk about the novices. However, cultivating the taste for this art form can not only make you fall for it, but also give a knowledge of one of the most famous and brilliant art forms in the world today. With the tips given below, know how to listen to the opera.
 
Listening To Opera 
  • Instead of directly heading towards an Opera House and acquiring a ticket for a performance, listen to it for sometime, say on TV, before you actually watch a show onstage. It will help you get acquainted with the show and make sure that the experience is not overwhelming.
  • Familiarizing yourself with the terms related to opera will help you understand it better. The logic here is – if you know the rules of a game, you understand and enjoy it better. An opera is made up of arias, which follow a pattern beginning with a tune, followed by another tune and then a reprise of the first tune.
  • Another thing you need to know, before you actually visit an opera house, is the story that will be performed. It will help you relate with the emotions. You can read the synopsis of the opera. The best thing will be to read the libretto. You will find them with the CDs or even online.
  • You can also read about the composer or the opera singer and their influence. Also, gather information about the historic period in which the opera is set. The knowledge about the origin will also help you relate with the performance better.
  • While you are reading the synopsis and libretto, pay attention to both the original and the translation. It will help you associate with the words. You will also be able to imagine the scenes and situation better.
  • In addition, before you plan to visit an opera house, you can start by listening to operas on CDs, which are easy to understand and help you familiarize with the opera as well. For the basic elements of the drama, listen to Rigoletto or La Traviata. If you are interested in lyric drama with music and without interruption, you can listen to Tosca or La Boheme. If you want to hear classical Opera, the best start for you will be Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

 

FAZIL SAY WINS “ECHO” AWARD

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TURKISH  PIANIST AND COMPOSER FAZIL SAY WINS THE PRESTIGOUS “ECHO AWARD” WITH HIS “ISTANBUL SYMPHONY”
FAZIL SAY’A ECHO ÖDÜLÜ

Dünyanın en saygın klasik müzik ödülüdür, Echo.. Klasik Müziğin Oskarıdır.. Tam da Oscar gibi, bir müzik
akademisi önce adayları belirler ve sonra oylar..
2020 Olimpiyatlarına aday olan İstanbul’un sloganı “Birlikte köprüler kuralım”di. İstanbul’un bu seçimi Arjantin’de Tokyo’ya karşı kaybettiği saatlerde Almanya’da Echo Jürisi büyük özel ödülünü açıkladı.. “Fazıl Say İstanbul Senfonisi ile..”

“ECHO” Jürisi ödülün gerekçesini, şöyle yazdı..
“İstanbul Senfonisi’nin, Doğu ile Batı arasında oluşturduğu sanatsal
köprüdeki başarısı ile, Fazıl Say!..”

Avrupa’nın önde gelen eleştirmenleri bu eser için “21. Yüzyılın ilk başyapıtı” demişlerdi. Senfoni kısa bir
süre içinde 12 değişik ülkede, 50’den fazla seslendirildi.

Ödül töreni 6 Ekim’de yapılacak ve Alman Birinci Kanalından naklen
yayınlanacak.

AIDA AT METROPOLITAN OPERA

“AIDA” AT METROPOLITAN OPERA ( A REVIEW BY T. SUMER )
The Metropolitan Opera’s “Aida”
As Aida, Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska (still cannot spell -or pronounce- her name without cheating) sang the role beautifully. Her rich spinto soprano ( having both lyric and dramatic quality ) voice is capable of great range. She was able to sing incredibly soft and perfectly placed spinning sounds, which is a requirement for the role. It may be that she was more effective as an actor in the opera house, but on the screen she was cold and uninvolved.

Olga Borodina was much better as the pharaoh’s daughter Amneris—in all respects. Vocally, she is a powerhouse; able to sing the highest notes with muscle and she popped out some almost bartitoneish low notes. Almost more importantly, she created a complex character out of a role that is all too often sung as a caricature of the spoiled brat who is used to getting everything she wants. This was a love triangle that she intended to win.

Borodina actively did battle with Aida for the affection of the war hero Radamès, portrayed by the handsome tenor Roberto Alagna. She casted Aida a couple of daggered glances that would have frozen a five-alarm fire and she turned on all the charm in the world around Radamès. True, she caused his downfall in a moment of jealous weakness by exposing his tryst, with Aida and her father Amonasro, King of Ethiopia (imposingly portrayed by George Gagnidze), where she treasonously gives away the Egyptian battle plans. However, her grief at his trial and death sentence is so real that you tearfully forgive her, even if she can’t forgive herself.

The set, costumes and stage decorations were imposing, and there were over 200 actors and three horses onstage in the justly famous triumphal march. The stage direction and the acting on the other hand, was completely absent other than “you stand here and you stand there.” Those with some acting chops, like Borodina and Gagnidze ( who was constantly popping his eyes wide open in a most disconcerting manner) created their characters out of their imaginations.

The ballerinas and the choreography was impeccable ; indeed awakened some of the somnolent audience, like Joseph Haydn has done with his “Surprise” symphony (Symphony #94).

The worst non-moment was the final duet. Radamès is condemned to die by being sealed in his tomb alive. Aida sneaks in to share her lover’s fate. And there they stood, eight feet or more apart for most of the duet. There was no impassioned greeting, not even a handshake. Finally, they managed to get into a very awkward scene in which they didn’t even sit down, or hug, let alone embrace and kiss. Of course, that had been typical of their very chilly romance for the entire show. You never believed that they were in love. Somewhat more energetic Roberto Alagna indicated some affection for Aida, but Monastyrska was frozen all afternoon, just walking through the role without any affect. She never went somewhere because it was natural; she went because the director told her to take three steps stage right on this note.

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It worth mentioning Roberto Alagna in more detail. This mediocre French tenor arrived on USA stage when he won the Luciano Pavarotti voice competition. It is rumored that, upon their arrival, his graceful and accomplished Romanian wife Angela Gheorghiu set a condition to Metropolitan Opera : “Either take us both otherwise no deal..”. I am not sure if this story , I think I had read in “Opera News” years ago, is true or not. After listening to him in Aida, I believe it might be true. Appearantly Gheorghiu and Alagna now have decided to divorce.

Alagna made international headlines of a different kind in this opera in 2006. The scene was Teatro Alla Scala in Milan, one of the world’s great opera houses. The tenor usually sings lighter roles and he has received mixed reviews in previous performances. In Milan performance, the booing started as he made his first entrance and continued all the way through his opening aria, “Celeste Aida.” He supposedly gave, what Daniel Wakin of the New York Times called, a “military salute” (maybe with one finger raised) and stalked off the stage. He refused to go back stage and finished the performance. Naturally and rightly so, was barred from future performances by the opera house.

No one booed him in the movie theater on Saturday. He sings this heroic role with a pleasant lyric tenor voice. It is hard to tell the power of his voice in the movie theater. However, he frequently escaped to “falsetto” tones, especially at “legatos” when high notes were required. “High” tenor notes at finales and “crescendos” are relatively easy to produce; even for mediocre tenors. It usually brings big applause and, in United States, standing ovation. The real skill and power lies in singing the “high” notes at lower decibels and “legatos”; as skillfully sung in the past by Domingo, Pavarotti, Corelli, Di Stefano, Del Monaco and by many others. It is hard to understand why Alagna has so many roles in this year’s repertoire; then again, even Andrea Bocelli was allowed to perform (!) on this stage.

The set is gigantic and uses all seven of the Met’s rotating stages and fills 17 tractor-trailer trucks when it travels.  Here, the roving camera shrunk the stage as it gave close up after close up. In fact, even when it pulled back as far as it could, you never really saw the entire stage. Besides, the closer you saw Monastyrska, the less effective she was. Even from the most expensive seats, the Opera house audience probably never saw her emotionless stare.

Dr. Timur Sumer

MARIA STUARDA : OPERA REVIEW

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MARIA STUARDA : OPERA REVIEW

The Metropoliten Opera HD presented “Maria Stuarda” by Geatano Donizetti on selected movie theaters around the world on January 19, 2013. I was there at Flint, Michigan Rave theater to enjoy the show.

There were about fifty aficionados in the 500 seat theater. As usual, almost all men were gray haired or depilated  and the women were elegant.

This is my first time viewing or listening to this masterpiece.

The sound system and camera were impeccable. Most of the scenes on the other hand, were too dark for my taste and this was shared by a few friends I chatted after the performance. This trend seems to occur in many performances lately; one thinks if this is a new way of saving energy for Met Opera :)  

This is a well known story in English history. Although it is a tragic story, compared to some of the Ottoman-Turkish palace tragedies of  the same period, it would rank like a high school play. As the tradition goes, in the name of preserving the unity and preventing civil war, Ottoman sultans killed all of their male siblings and their offspring for hundreds of years.

Donizetti’s “Maria Stuarda,” the challenging bel canto tragedy that recounts the clash between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart (Mary, Queen of Scots) and ends with the anguished Mary heading to the executioner’s block.

The great American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato (CLICK ON NAME) is in the title role. Ms. DIDonato’s will be pointed to as a model of singing in which all components of the art form — technique, sound, color, nuance, diction — come together in service to expression and eloquence. Her high mezzo voice is crisp  and velvety. Her acting is sincere, comfortable but not exaggerated.

In the second scene, in a park outside the prison at Fotheringhay Castle, where Elizabeth has had Mary confined, the trees are like telephone poles, without branches and leaves against poorly painted , unnatural gray skies.  As we learned during the intermission interview, Elizabeth & Maria Stuarda’s meeting was not a historical fact and never took place.

Mr. McVicar’s production and staging is more visually striking and imaginative than what he came up with for Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena,” (CLICK ON BLUE) which opened the 2011-12 season, the first installment of the Met’s planned presentation of Donizetti’s Tudor trilogy, of which “Maria Stuarda” is the second. (“Roberto Devereux” will be next.)

Maurizio Benini  http://www.stagedoor.it/en/artist/Maurizio%20Benini , with the best opera orchestra and chorus in the world, no question is the right conductor in the pit: He brings a sure hand and insight to this masterpece. With his supporting style, he draws a  glowing performance from the orchestra and the chorus.

The cast is excellent. In a notable Met debut, Elza van den Heever, (CLICK ON NAME) a 33-year-old South African soprano whose career is rising internationally, is a vocally bright and successful Elizabeth (Elisabetta). Although, her volume was somewhat suppressed in the first 30 minutes or so, her voice warmed up to an excellent quality later in the first act and raised to a penetrating depth and character. She turns flights of coloratura passagework into bursts of jealousy and defiance as Elizabeth contends with the threat that Mary, a blood relative, poses to her reign in England. During the intermission interview, she explained how she was changed to this character with the help of the director. She initially was preparing to play an eloquent royal lady, but the director suggested her character  to be an almost a quarrelsome  almost that rhymes with “witch” or “rich” :) quality. I also think, this is what Donizetti would have wanted.

These intermission interviews have  been very educational and entertaining for the Met HD audience in movie theaters, and has been an advantage for the Med HD viewers over the real on site viewers. Also the back stage action is interesting to watch; opera goers normally do not have access to this aspect of the art.

Another advantage of movie theater audience is close up camera action to singers , orchestra players and the conductor. It is amazing how camera moves between the instruments in orchestra  as the relevant passages are played. Wiewing the maestro face on is a great treat. After viewing these performances dozens of times, I am still impressed and excited when I hear the call “Maestro to the pit please, maestro to the pit”. As if I am the one who is being called to the pit :); truely.

In her final scene, in which Elizabeth orders Mary’s death, Ms. van den Heever, in cumbersome queenly regalia, almost waddled around her palace room, looking physically shaken by the course she could see no way around. This may have been a bit of overacting. But I admired the rawness and vulnerability of Ms. van den Heever’s performance. She was so committed to this role that she shaved her head,(CLICK ON BLUE) the better to accommodate the queen’s elaborate wigs. And her bright, intense voice sliced through the orchestra whenever the queen’s ire was provoked.

Matthew Polenzani, (CLICK ON NAME) who is becoming the Met’s go-to tenor in bel canto repertory brings melting sound and appealing vulnerability to the role of the hapless Robert Dudley (Roberto), the Earl of Leicester.

He is caught between love for the doomed Mary and entangled feelings for the imperious Elizabeth, and early scenes in “Maria Stuarda” suggest a typical bel canto romantic triangle. But his character fades into the background as the story increasingly focuses on Mary’s plight. Still, in early scenes, he must do a lot of fancy, ardent singing, and Mr. Polenzani embraced the challenge, singing with vigor  crispness.

Matthew Rose brings a robust bass voice and dignified presence to the role of George Talbot (Giorgio), the Earl of Shrewsbury, who is loyal to Mary. The baritone Joshua Hopkins captures the mix of genuine concern and political calculation that drives William Cecil (Guglielmo), Elizabeth’s secretary of state. And the rich-voiced mezzo-soprano Maria Zifchak is touching as Jane Kennedy (Anna), Mary’s devoted lady-in-waiting.

In the last extended scene, Donizetti excelled himself. Facing her execution, Mary confesses her sins to Talbot, then, surrounded by faithful servants, leads a noble, prayerful chorus. As Mary has a last moment with the guilt-ridden Leicester and bids Jane farewell, the music goes on and on, with what seems like aria after aria. But Donizetti knew what he was doing, and his inspired score carries every shift of emotion and drama.

Ms. DiDonato is simply magnificent, singing with plush richness and aching beauty. At a few moments, from the collective sounds of the subdued chorus and orchestra, a pianissimo high note, almost inaudible, emerged from Ms. DiDonato’s voice, slowly blooming in sound and throbbing richness. At that point, I thought she turned from mezzosoprano to high soprano.

I left the house mesmerized , moved and excited.

Many thanks to Metropolitan Opera HD for bringing these masterpieces to those of us who are so far away from New York.

Dr. Timur Sumer

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HENRYK GORECKI Symphony No. 3

This album must be listened with upmust attention, in a serene atmosphere and by a very good stereo system. My car stereo was inadequate in capturing neither the harmony nor the range of crechendo – decrechendos. 24 Score harmony and the wide range of decibels creates a harmonic distortion, if not listened by an excellent audio system with powerful woofers. This is one of the best music ever composed; at least it feels like when listened in the right mood. Dawn Upshaw’s voice and interpretation is heavenly. This probably is her best performance and should place her on the top of the short list of sopranos of our time. David Zinman’s conducting haunts the listener.He sounds like he has Gorecki in his soul; almost like they are the same. London Sinfonietta’s performance is impeccable and raises the bar to unreachable levels. This masterpice should be heard by all music afficionados.

Timur Sumer

WAGNER: TRISTAN UND ISOLDE

Tristan probably is the most difficult and the longest tenor role in opera literature. Many tenors got burned out after performing this role and there have been very few tenors who have performed Tristan role on stage more than once. Therefore it is understandable why Placido Domingo never wanted to sing this role on stage. I doubt that he could have been more successful on stage than he is in this studio recording; especially considering the passion, and intensity he has put into this performance.

Domingo fans have been hoping for this recording for a long time. No doubt that this will be a historical recording, for many generations to enjoy.

Timur Sumer, MD

ARTURO TOSCANINI

 

This DVD is an extraordinary visual and auditory experience for the Toscanini admirers.
Camera emphasis on Toscanini reveals maestro’s technical perfection, his communication skills and his authority, and turns this DVD into an education in conducting. Superimposed images of the conductor with orchestra members make this communicatition easy to appreciate for the viewer. Maestro’s repeated gestures such as touching his nose or mouth with his index finger to decrease the volume or occasionally resting his left hand on his collar at the chest level etc. are very interesting to watch.
Considering the date of recording, sound and picture quality are very good, with the exception of the second half of the Brahms concerto where the picture is fuzzy; this problem has been narrated before it occurs.
I found a few other aspects of this recording interesting: Orchestra’s seating lay out is very different than today’s orchestra seating pattern. Today’s conductors would have to exert a considerable effort orienting themselves to this pattern. Also of interest is, there are no women musicians in the orchestra. Unlike in most of the modern concert halls, orchestra members do not rise when the conductor walks on stage. I believe this attitude is much more civilized than the current practice.
I had read by some expert critics about Toscanini’s conducting style being, “fast”. I was unable to appreciate this criticism, until I watched this DVD; especially Brahms, Mozart and Beethoven. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the maestro’s style as is.
I am not a professional musician but only an enthusiast.
I watched only Volumes one and two of The Television Concerts and I am planning purchasing the rest.
Timur Sumer, MD