STILL FIVE MORE ESSENTIAL POP SINGERS – Third of a series

DOLLY PARTON

Her achievements as a singer are often overshadowed by her accomplishments as a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, actress, author, businesswoman, and humanitarian. But make no mistake: no other singer has done more to popularize country music than Dolly Parton has, primarily because of her uncomplicated, unmannered and completely honest way with any song. Her sound is as fresh and her voice as pretty in her seventies as it was over fifty years ago.

NAT “KING” COLE

Nathaniel Adams Coles was known professionally as Nat King Cole. A consummate vocalist, jazz pianist, film and Broadway actor, he recorded over 100 songs during an all too brief career. His trio was the model for many jazz combos that came after his, and his smooth baritone voice and stylish singing ranked him as one of the finest male singers of his generation. Cole was the first African-American artist to host an American television series

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BARBRA STREISAND

Singer, actress, and filmmaker, with a career that has spanned over six decades, she has achieved success in multiple fields of entertainment, and is among the few performers awarded an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony. She began her career by performing in nightclubs and Broadway theaters in the early 1960s. Throughout her recording career, Streisand has recorded songs like People, The Way We Were, Evergreen, You Don’t Bring Me Flowers and hundreds more that helped establish her reputation as an impeccable musician and vocalist.

TONY BENNETT

Now in his nineties and still singing, Tony Bennett retains the youthful vocal freshness of sixty years ago, paired to superb musicianship and elegant phrasing. Throughout his career Bennett has held on to his high standards, always refusing to embrace trendiness and always performing in elegant business suits and in a simple manner the best of American pop standards, especially those from the American Song Book, while continuing to earn the admiration of critics, colleagues, and audiences.

PEGGY LEE

Peggy Lee first sang professionally at age 16 and then continued to perform in her seventies well into the 1990s, sometimes using a wheelchair, never abandoning her cool, laid back approach to lyrics about love and loss. Hers was a smallish voice on which she capitalized by scaling down the dynamics of all the songs she sang in cabaret, in concert, on television and in recordings. Lee was a masterful interpreter who turned minimalism into a virtue.

FIVE MORE ESSENTIAL POP SINGERS – Second of a series.

CELIA CRUZ

By 1950 Celia Cruz was rising to fame in Cuba as the lead vocalist with the Sonora Matancera, a popular orchestra with which she developed her one of a kind style, singing the whole gamut of Cuban music. In 1960 Cruz left Cuba and continued her career internationally, eventually settling in the United States and singing well into her seventies.https://youtu.be/5AACnDcAix4

MERCEDES SOSA

Sometimes known as La Negra Sosa was an Argentine singer popular throughout Latin America who became one of the preeminent exponents of La nueva cancion (The New Song), a kind of folk song utilizing texts by Latin American poets that gave voice to songs written by many Latin American songwriters. Her music made people hail her as the “voice of the voiceless ones” https://youtu.be/jAlKfFLFnRI

CARLOS GARDEL

Gardel was a French-born, Argentine singer, songwriter, composer and actor, as well as the foremost exponent of Tango music. As one of the most influential interpreters of popular music in the first half of the 20th century, Gardel was recognized throughout the world for his unique voice and style. Gardel wrote several classic tangos, among them Volver (To return) https://youtu.be/d9r6AAyEsis

BARBARA COOK

During her years as a Broadway soprano, Cook was widely admired. As she aged, her voice took on a mature, womanly quality. Cook became recognized as one of the foremost interpreters of musical theatre songs and standards, which she continued to sing in cabaret and in concert well into her eighties. https://youtu.be/Y_G4JNMURj4

CLEO LAINE

Cleo Laine is an English jazz and pop singer and actress known for her uncanny vocalism, her facility with scat singing, and her enormous three-octave vocal range. Laine is a stylish interpreter of standards, jazz, and even comfortable in classical and show music. https://youtu.be/PVx3Rndi2W4

FIVE ESSENTIAL POP SINGERS – First of a series.

Essential: absolutely necessary; extremely important.

Recently I organized my CD’s and realized that I had three Ella Fitzgerald recordings that I had not played for a while. After binging on Ella for several hours I decided to post a list of five of my all-time favorite pop singers, including European cabaret artists and folk singers. Here they are, in random order:

ELLA FITZGERALD – She had a honeyed voice that can caress up in the soprano range and down in the alto octave. In addition she phrased like an instrumentalist and paired that to a command of technical issues such as breath control, dazzling flexibility, flawless intonation, perfect diction, and what in Italian is called legato: a way of connecting note to note seamlessly. In other words: a supreme artist, about whom Ira Gershwin wrote: “I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them.”(296) Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” – YouTube (296) Ella Fitzgerald “Someone to Watch Over Me” – YouTube

AMALIA RODRIGUES –   Amália da Piedade Rebordão Rodrigues was known worldwide simply as Amália. She was an original who sang almost exclusively in her native Portuguese, giving voice to fados – a kind of song that variously expresses sadness, joy, melancholy, passion and the Portuguese saudade, a word that can all in one mean all of those emotions. Her plangent, at times raucous sound could turn into an instrument that often needed no words to reach the heart of the listener of any country. (296) Ai Mouraria – YouTube (296) Gaivota – YouTube (296) Uma casa portuguesa – YouTube

EDITH PIAF – She sang torch songs about love, heartbreak, and disillusionment in an unmistakably emotional way. She was a tiny woman with a large voice. The French cabaret owner who helped kick off her career nicknamed her La Môme Piaf (the little sparrow, in Parisian slang. In spite of having a career interrupted by car accidents, health issues, addiction, broken marriages, and troubled personal and professional relationships, she rose to become the biggest French singing star ever. (296) Edith Piaf – Non, Je ne regrette rien – YouTube (296) Edith Piaf – La Vie En Rose – YouTube

MEL TORMÉ – He was an accomplished all-around musician, arranger, pianist, and drummer. He sang all kinds of music – except for Rock, which he loathed – in all kind of settings: on the radio, on television, on film. But it was as a cabaret jazz singer who had the ability to spin a perfectly phrased melody and then scat like no other male vocalist ever that he made his mark. Gospel singer Ethel Waters said about him “”Tormé is the only white man who sings with the soul of a black man.”(296) Mel Tormé – Lulu’s Back In Town. 1967 . – YouTube (296) Mel Tormé-Blue Moon – YouTube

JUDY COLLINS – Like good wine, Judy Collins voice has aged well. At the age of 82, her sound remains fresh and her artistry as good as ever. Hers is a voice that comfortably embraces show tunes by Stephen Sondheim, folk songs by Pete Seeger, her own songs, and even now and then a classical song. Unencumbered by mannerisms, her pop soprano sound and her exemplary diction have made her a favorite of many. (296) Judy Collins – Both Sides Now (Official Audio) – YouTube (296) Judy Collins – Send In The Clowns – YouTube

Rafael de Acha

Not so good Verdi is certainly better than no Verdi at all.

IL TROVATORE – Giuseppe Verdi

Recorded on 19 June 2021 at Circo Massimo, Rome.

 Sung in Italian.

Available from July 28, 2021 through January 28, 2022 on Opera Vision

With Roberta Mantegna, Clementine Margaine, Fabio Sartori, Christopher Maltman, and Marco Spotti. Conducted by Daniele Gatti, directed by Lorenzo Mariani. Orchestra And Chorus of Rome Opera

After the success of Rigoletto, Verdi did not waste any time getting Il Trovatore, his next opera up on the boards. It premiered in January of 1853 and, from that point the work it entered the repertory of every major opera house in Italy, then Europe, then America.

Il Trovatore is not an easy opera to sing: it requires four major Verdian voices to bring it off: a lyric spinto soprano with plenty of flexibility, a dramatic mezzo with a rock solid top range, a dramatic tenor with enough guts to stop the show with Di quella pira, and a baritone who can both spin out Il ballen del suo sorriso and hold his own in several major ensembles, duets and trios. A pretty tall order!

In the Opera di Roma production, now available through January 28, 2022 on Opera Vision, not all four principals are able to rise up to the occasion. Soprano Roberta Mantegna is an engaging Leonora, at best in her opening scene, where she delivers a good Tacea la notte placida and its ensuing cabaletta. Best of the quartet is the French mezzo-soprano Clementine Margaine, a singer endowed with a fiery temperament, impressive top notes, and an equally good lower range, all needed to deliver an impressive Stride la vampa and a hair raising Condotta era in ceppi. Ms. Margaine’s attractive good looks make her perhaps a trifle too pretty to convince as a half-crazed old gypsy hag which make her as pretty as the Leonora of soprano Roberta Mantegna.

The under par Di Luna of English baritone Christopher Maltman disappoints, the singer – an elegant lyric baritone at best in much better suited roles  is unable to rise up to the demands of his Italian baritone assignment, never more so than in a perilously-sung Il ballen del suo sorriso. Fabio Sartori’s silent- movie acting and plus-size strain credulity notwithstanding his fine vocal gifts, which he displays to good effect in his scenes with Ms. Margaine.

Daniele Gatti conducts with stylistic assurance and for the most part manages to keep his cast, orchestra and chorus under control. The staging by Lorenzo Mariani avoids clichés while working on a modest production budget.

In any case, not so good Verdi is certainly better than no Verdi at all.

Rafael de Acha

MAY I ASK: WHERE ARE THE WOMEN CONDUCTORS?

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The 18/19 brochure for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, titled Create your… just arrived. Coincidentally a post on a friend’s blog recently listed several female conductors, some well established, some up and coming.

I set out to compare my friend’s list in one hand with the CSO line up for next season on the other. I was stunned to see that the CSO had but only one female conductor, Karina Canellakis leading a pair of the 40 concerts in the upcoming season.

Check my math: I think that is 5% of the potentially available CSO gigs for gals. And I think that’s not good enough. Sorry.

The Swedish National Orchestra, similar in size and budget to our top ones (and note that I include Cincinnati’s there) has 47 concerts this season. Of those, 8 are led by female conductors. Check my math again: that is 17% of the Swedish orchestra’s concerts.

Can we not do better than that or at least as well as the Swedes?

The Gothenburg ensemble is welcoming this season Barbara Hannigan, Simone Young, Han-Na Chang, and Joanna Carneiro. There are other female conductors, some Caucasian, some of color who would do the CSO musically proud and help diversify the traditional parade of WMAM’s (white, middle-aged maestros) who stand year after year on the Queen City podium.

Here is a short list of women conductors.

Giselle Ben-Dor (Israel). Xian Zhang (PRC). Odaline de la Martinez (Cuba), Susanna Mälkki (Finland), Emmanuelle Haim (France). Sian Edwards (UK). Jane Glover (USA). JoAnn Falletta (USA). Alondra de la Parra (Mexico). Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (Lithuania), Zoe Zeniodi (Greece).

Ms. Mälkki is a superb cellist. How about programming the Haydn or the Boccherini cello concerto and have her solo and conduct one of them. Emmanuelle Haim is a Baroque specialist and a fine harpsichordist. How about programming the rarely performed (at least in these parts) Concert champêtre for harpsichord of Francis Poulenc, pairing it to selections from Les Indes Galantes by Rameau and flying Ms. Haim to Cincinnati for an appearance with our fabulous orchestra in a future season?

The possibilities are endless.

American Symphony Orchestras still remain, by and large, uniformly and conservatively white, largely male in personnel and leadership, and numbingly repetitive in repertoire. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has taken some positive strides to improve matters. Roughly one third of its orchestra personnel is made up of female musicians. With each new season one can see Louis Langrée’s impact on the choice of repertoire – this upcoming season featuring at least eight 21st century compositions, several in their world premieres.

Now all we need to do is send out to some of these female conductors’ agents and artist reps emails with dates detailing when the French maestro will not be at the helm in Cincinnati and offer a contract to any one or more of those women conductors before other orchestras snap them up.

With all of the above in place we will have finally entered the 21st century.

Rafael de Acha

A plea for inclusiveness

This past season, on Sunday April 28 the program of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was as politely planned as any I have heard then and before from our big band in town. And yes, of course, the music making was wonderful. But I wish that a flight of the imagination would point guest artists appearing in ours and in other American orchestras and our music directors in the direction of the treasure trove of the music of Falla, Granados, Albeniz, Turina, Montsalvatge, Mompou, and Rodrigo, to name but a handful of great Spanish composers from whose compositions some unpredictable programming choices could be made.

The concert opened with Claude Debussy’s Ibéria, a tryptich of orchestral pieces evocative of Spain and its music. Par les rues et par les chemins (“Through the streets and roads”), Les parfums de la nuit (“The perfumes of the night”) and Le matin d’un jour de fête (“The morning of a holiday”) depict in Debussy’s very French terms his impressions of a Spain of his very Gallic imagination.

The unresolved progressions that make up so much of Debussy’s harmonic language, the signature evanescent strains of melody that capriciously come and go, and, of course, the easily mimicked Moorish flavor of so much of the music of Spain are all there, but all put to work in a methodical, respectful manner that belies its provenance as Paris, not Seville. This is music that’s elegant, compositionally comme il faut, but lacking a true Iberian DNA.

In between, a new work for cello and orchestra by composer-conductor Mathias Pintscher was played by Alisa Wilerstein. Un Despertar (An Awakening) is based on a poem by the late Mexican poet Octavio Paz.

In the second half the CSO gave Maurice Ravel’s Alborada del Gracioso to give a taste of real Spanish musical flavor. First the title: Alborada at its basic meaning: dawn, sunrise…and, in this case, the music of sunrise. The Gracioso is a buffoonish character from the theatre of the Spanish Golden Age that appears in the comedies of Cervantes, Lope and Calderon.

Here we have then a mini-tone poem – one of three in the composer’s Mirroirs in which he depicts a dreamlike scene that perhaps involves more than just the clownish Gracioso.

Ravel, please note, is not altogether a French composer, in spite of his residency and passport, but a pan-European composer who, unlike others like Rimsky-Korsakoff and Debussy and Bizet, who depicted in some of their music a storybook, sanitized Spain, instead wrote gutsy, roof-raising, sun-drenched, toe tapping, earthy music with the soul of Iberia imbuing every bar. Ravel meant to not only evoke, but to celebrate the Spain of his Basque ancestors with his music.

It is my fervent wish that the CSO should begin to expand its horizons beyond the repertoire in which it, along with so many other American symphony orchestras seems to be stuck. Let us hear some more music from outside the bread and butter box of European 19th and early 20th century’s bearded men. Let us begin to see more female and Black and Latino-Hispanic and Asian and Brazilian guest conductors up on the podium. Let us hear some more soloists of color. Add more women and Blacks and Hispanics and Asians to the rank and file of the players. Expand your Rolodex. Let us hear more music from the far reaches of the world. Let us hear more music written in the immediate, not the distant past. Let us hear more music composed outside Germany, Austria, France, England and Russia. Let us have an orchestra that looks and sounds not like some of us but like all of us.

Rafael de Acha

WHERE ARE THE FEMALE CONDUCTORS AND THE MUSICIANS OF COLOR?

conductor-cartoon

Look at the program book of the symphony concert you are attending. Then look again at the musicians on stage. Then have a third look at the conductor just entering the stage. Take one more look to one side of you and then the other, and then glance in the direction of those sitting in the rows in front of yours. Once you’re done looking at all this tell me in a few words what you see.

Let me tell you what I see and hear at most of the dozens of concerts I attend and review on a regular basis. Let me add, if I may, my similar take on the hundreds of CD’s I review and write about on my blog. Let me tell you in a few words what I have been seeing and hearing for most of the sixty-plus years I have been going to the opera, the symphony, the ballet, chamber music concerts, conservatory recitals, and watching Live from Lincoln Center on PBS and Ed Sullivan on Sunday evenings before then.

I have been enjoying the music-making of a large number of mostly Caucasian, middle-aged men – marvelous musicians one and all – and wondering why they are always playing the same old pieces by the same old early 20th and 19th and 18th century composers mostly with Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic names, depicted in the program books with impressive portraits or vintage photographs of faces that look like nobody in my family.

As for those seated round and next to me at the concerts, I would describe them succinctly as a vast sea of white-haired, white, mostly female faces. Same goes for those up on the stage, except the majority of them are males and also white-haired and white.

Now in my mid-seventies I still remember back in the early years of this century when the first pioneering women conductors took on major podiums and rocked the music establishment. I was not around when Antonia Brico guest conducted the Berlin Philharmonic in 1930, but outside a gig here and another there, she had to go it alone and found her own orchestra in 1937, which at first had an all-female contingent. After that, years of unemployment for women conductors followed.

Gallons and gallons of water flowed under the bridges of the musical establishment until we finally saw Marin Alsop come on board to helm the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2007, years after JoAnn Falletta took up the baton in Buffalo in 1999. The classical music world moves at a snail’s pace.

Conductors of color… May I count them with the fingers of one hand? Singers of color… Many females in my time, few males, now a little better than my memories of Julliard and the old MET in the 1960’s but still a ways to go… Look at the current MET roster. Look at the casts of most of their productions this season. I don’t know what you see but all I look at is another sea of white faces.

For us to build a future for classical music in our country we better have a good look around and see where we need to go from here, so that our grandchildren will be able to enjoy the wonder of classical music written and performed by people of all races and all ages and all sexes that look and sound like those seated in the darkened auditorium that make it possible for the music to go on and for the players to get paid.

Rafael de Acha         http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com

More Korn than Gold: Die Tote Stadt

In 1934 Erich Korngold moved to the U.S. to write music scores for films. He was lucky to get out of Germany when he did at the insistence of his friend, the stage director Max Reinhardt, for the Nazis immediately banned his music from all German stages. By age 37 Korngold had written two one-act operas and one full length one: Die Tote Stadt (The Dead City), which he composed to a libretto written by him and his father. After that point in his career he only occasionally turned to concert music, busy as he was contributing 16 film scores to Hollywood films.

Bayerische Staatsoper Recordings has released a DVD recording of a 2019 production directed by Simon Stone, conducted by Kiril Petrenko, and respectively starring German soprano Marlis Petersen and tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Marie/Marietta and Paul. The supporting cast features baritone Andrzej Filonczyk as Frank/Fritz, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston as Brigitta, and Mirjam Mezak. Corinna Scheurler, Manuel Guenther, and Dean Power as the theatre friends of Marietta.

It was interesting to read that the great Austrian lyric tenor Richard Tauber was one of the singers who took on the role of Paul. Jonas Kaufman, after a steady diet of Wagnerian heavies takes an unrelentingly stentorian approach to the part, which soon starts to overstay its welcome in music that is admittedly high lying but does not call for an excess of lung power at a high decibel level. Marlis Petersen, on the other hand, is sympathetic, pretty as a picture, and blessed with a top register that does not for a minute get challenged by Korngold’s writing.

Of the well-known moments, Marietta’s song remains a favorite with opera fans. Pierrot’s song is a go-to number for lyric baritones. For the rest of the two hour-forty minute score much of it sounds like Richard Strauss minus the truly memorable moments. For top-drawer, truly-inspired Korngold, it is strongly suggested the listener check out the great violin concerto and any one of the many film scores.

Rafael de Acha       ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

A perfectly delightful Blue Beard

Other than The Tales of Hoffman and now and then revivals of La Perichole, Jacques Offenbach gets short shrift in our shores. And that is a shame, for among the 200 little gems written by the German born French comic operetta genius for his very own Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens there are some treasures waiting to be produced on this side of the ocean. In France, major opera companies include some of Offenbach’s best works in their seasons, side by side with Bizet and Massenet, while in America the bulk of his work is by and large ignored.

Meanwhile before things change for the better we can enjoy delights on video, such as Barbe-Bleue in its original French or better, in a decent English translation waiting to be written so that we can get all  the humor in Ludovic Halévy’s libretto.

The 2021 Opera de Lyon/Telmondis/France-TV production, now released in an OPUS ARTE VHS receives a perfectly delightful staging brought to life by the French baritone/stage director Laurent Pelly, who directs an inspired cast of singing zanies in the story of the notoriously evil Count who murdered half a dozen wives.

Set to lively music the potentially gruesome tale is given an improbably happy ending by Offenbach and his librettist. With tongue-twisting patter songs alternating with charming ditties and madcap choral interludes and ensembles, Barbe-Bleue keeps things moving at such a clip that the show’s two hours duration seem to fly by never overstaying their welcome.

The chorus of the Opera de Lyon is extraordinarily gifted, with what looks like over two dozen singing actors who obligingly commit to Laurent Pelly’s complexly clever direction with wonderful results.

Then there are the singing-acting principals ranging in age downwards from the older Chistoph Mortagne whose King Bobeche is a brilliant study in royal silliness, to Heloise Mas in the central role of Boulotte, the fleshy peasant big girl with a heart of gold .

Also in the cast  are Yann Beuron as Bluebeard, Christophe Gay as Popolani, Jennifer Courcier as Fleurette, Thibault de Damas as Count Oscar, Carl Ghazarossian as Prince Zaphir, and Aline Martin as Queen Clementine each of them contributors to the rampant comic madness.

The Lyon production is a large affair endowed with highly effective changing sets by Chantal Thomas, wonderful costuming by director Pelly, pretty lighting by Joel Adam, and a world-class orchestra led by Michelle Spotti with quintessentially French joie de vivre.

Rafael de Acha                  ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Sheer musical intricacy and inspired lunacy in Glyndebourne La Finta Giardiniera

NAXOS has just released a DVD of a charming 2014 Glyndebourne production of Mozart’s 1775 treasure LA FINTA GIARDINIERA.

With a good looking international ensemble made up of European Mozartians, beautifully led by Diego Fasolis at the helm of the Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, playing on period instruments, and performed on the stage of the Milan Opera House where the show was revived in 2018, the results are very nice indeed.

Predating in 1775 the DaPonte comic collaborations of Mozart’s mid-career, LA FINTA GIARDINIERA anticipates in its many enchantingly complex ensembles and singer-friendly arias the greatness of things to come over the next sixteen years of Mozart’s all too-brief life.

The roles in LA FINTA GIARDINIERA are not particularly challenging, demanding simply a good command of the Mozart style and a proper penchant for the Italian language, fleshed out in the libretto attributed to a certain Giuseppe Petrosellini.

In the cast of seven principals everyone gets his or her moment, with a couple arias each. The story is vintage 18th century comedy, with a subtle frisson between the upper and the serving classes, which stage director Frederic Wake-Walker elegantly pinpoints without driving things too bluntly. In fact, his deft staging never goes too far in making things obvious: the upstairs-downstairs divisiveness and the rampant randy goings on are already vividly present in the story and in Mozart’s ever seductive music.

Gems abound: the opening quintet Che lieto giorno is pure musical sunshine, Sandrina’s Geme la tortorella is a plaintive cantilena to melt the heart, and the finales of Act I and Act II foretell the genius creations of the Mozart of Nozze di Figaro in many minutes each of sheer musical intricacy and inspired lunacy.

The buffo bass-baritone role of Nardo has the DNA of the Figaro, Leporello and Guglielmo of years to come, with the aria Con un vezzo all’Italiana among the many moments of sheer musical gold sung to perfection by the superlative Mattia Olivieri.

Each and every one of the seven principals shine in their roles: the silvery-voiced soprano Julie Martin du Theil as Sandrina, the bright-voiced Annett Fritsch as Arminda, the pert soubrette Giulia Semenzato as an ideal Serpetta, and the fine lyric mezzo-soprano Lucia Cirillo in the pants role of Ramiro all four make up the female contingent. The excellent Croatian tenor Kresimir Spicer as Don Anchise, and, in the role of Belfiore the superb lyric tenor Bernard Richter complete the cast.

Antony McDonald designed the elegantly appointed set and the stylish costumes, beautifully lit by Lucy Carter, with Daniela Vismara directing the excellently realized film version.

Rafael de Acha         ALL ABOUT THE ARTS