JONAS KAUFMANN AS OTELLO

otello

When it comes to casting the title role of OTELLO there is a long history of missteps and compromises. There’s also the discussion that takes place with the arrival of a new candidate for the killer role of the Moor, with each generation musing on the past glories of the Otello of their youth: Domingo and before him Vickers and before him Del Monaco and before him Vinay and then those of the eras of which our parents and grandparents spoke in awed tones.

As comparisons can often turn odious let us not succumb to comparing the principals of the excellent new SONY release of Verdi’s next to last opera with those of recent memory, as memory almost always turns to be erratic. Let us instead evaluate these formidable singers on their own merits and not by comparing theirs to those of others.

The mere fact of operatic life is that tenors for the role of Otello don’t grow on trees, so that we have to accept whatever we get. And what we get from Jonas Kaufmann – at the age of 51 a dramatic tenor at the top of his game – is an artist of uncommon sensitivity with the vocal equipment to surmount the perils of a score chockfull of them.

Act II is off to a fine start thanks to Carlos Alvarez’ superb Iago: chillingly venomous, vocally secure, intelligently handling Boito’s text. By the time we get to Otello’s Ora e per sempre Kaufman walks through a vocal mine field that he traverses unscathed. Alvarez always injecting subtlety as in Era la notte saves his vocal arsenal to match Kaufmann decibel by decibel in a stunning Si pel ciel.

The young Italian soprano Federica Lombardi is a marvelous Desdemona, possessing a crystalline voice ideal for the role of the guiltless young wife. Her contribution to the final scene and to the earlier duet with Otello and the Council scene ranks her as a major artist to watch.

The supporting cast is very good, with both mezzo-soprano Virginie Verrez a fine Emilia and tenor Liparit Avetysian a better than good Cassio as standouts.

Always supple and at the ready to hold things together while supporting the singers, Antonio Pappano is the ideal Verdi interpreter, summoning fire and brimstone from his Santa Cecilia forces when needed and at other times eliciting delicate, shimmering playing never better than with Desdemona’s music.

The SONY release ranks for this listener as one for our BEST OF 2020 lineup.

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

HAVANA IN MY MEMORY

Havana is the city where I was born and where I lived and grew up until I left Cuba. It was a home, a place, and a world – all three—holding me as an all-too-willing captive of its embrace. La Habana was held fast by an ocean that surrounded the island with a constant ebb and flow that kept one in the arms of the Motherland.

BAY OF HAVANABut an even stronger force was the call of the unknown beckoning from just beyond the horizon, summoning in me the wanderlust that eventually defined my story in the world beyond the waters of the Caribbean. For me, that vast body of water was not so much of a barrier separating me from the unknown as it was a waterway that led to a different place, a liquid landscape on which I dreamed I could actually walk all the way to that land beyond the sea, ninety miles to the North.

My hometown felt vibrant and clean, filled with sun and the welcoming smells of Cuban cooking being prepared in kitchens, wafting from the open windows, along with music being played on radios and record players, and the laughter and voices of the rapid-fire speech of variety show announcers, being broadcast on newly purchased TV’s.

Adults moved purposefully to and from their jobs, the fragrance of jasmine and gardenias that bloomed near peoples’ front doors filled my lungs. School children on foot, or on the their bicycles, rushed to and from school, and elegantly dressed old matrons, on their way to or from daily Mass, drenched in Bal a Versailles or Joy left a scented trail that lingered long after they had walked by.

As a child I heard conversations that described Cuba as the most sinful, most troubled, and most politically corrupt of countries in Latin America. But in my youthful eyes, I saw Havana not as most sinful, troubled and corrupt  but  as the most exciting, most inviting, most vibrant, and most beautiful of all cities in the world.

A ride on a streetcar down to the Malecón, the long seawall promenade that links Havana from the Bay in the East, to the mouth of the Almendares River in the West that divides Havana from upscale Miramar, followed by a leisurely stroll along Havana’s dramatic shore line, was always a perfect outing. Even on the hottest summer days the smell of salt and sea air forever in one’s nostrils and the ocean breeze always managed to bring relief.

Again and again, there was that climactic walk, experiencing the one-of-a-kind moment: realizing we were right at the edge of the ocean. To me it felt like the edge of the world. The sounds of seagulls, and the waves splashing against the sea wall, reminded me that we were islanders, surrounded and equalized by the sea all around us, with a magical world lying just beyond where the eye could see.

Long after I returned home from those perfect afternoons, my mind would continue to imagine what might lie just beyond the horizon: a land I wanted to know. Growing up, encircled by that deep blue water, filled me from early childhood with a profound love of the ocean, and a pervading longing for what lay beyond it. That feeling became a constant, embedding in me a life-long wanderlust.

Rafael de Acha

An excerpt from my memoir HOME LOST: HOME FOUND which I hope to publish sometime soon.

Theodore Wiprud’s Wind of Many Voices

OIP

Just like the changing North, South, East, West winds to which the ancient Greeks respectively assigned the names of Boreas, Notos, Eurus, and Zephyr, endowing them with the sometime beneficent, sometime deadly, and often capricious attributes of minor deities, so do the moods of Theodore Wiprud’s compelling composition Wind of Many Voices morph by way of tempi, harmony and orchestration ever depending on which way the wind blows in the context of this intriguing work’s programmatic musical narrative.

Auspiciously opening with a noble brass fanfare and ending abruptly, Wiprud’s 17-minute tone poem follows its own compositional path, avoiding atonal clichés and abundant with sudden changes, gradual crescendi that build up to deafening climaxes only to then vanish into moments of moody quietude, dramatically abrupt stops and starts, and surprisingly brilliant touches of orchestration. Short snippets of melodic motifs give way to dissonances, massive cluster chords and unpredictable harmonic changes creep up only to scurry away.

Wind of Many Voices is given a superb reading by the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Delta David Gier in a Soundcloud world premiere recording available on the composer’s website: http://www.theodorewiprud.com 

Rafael de Acha   http://www.Rafael’sMusicNotes.com

TREASURE TROVE OF SPANISH SONG

Bright Shiny Things release IF THE NIGHT GROWS DARK [BSTC-0140, CD], is a treasure trove of Spanish songs arranged for guitar and voice by Graciano Tarragó, and exquisitely performed by soprano Camille Zamora and guitarist Cem Duruöz.

The album includes works by sixteenth-century composers Juan del Encina, Cristóbal de Morales, and Miguel de Fuenllana, along with traditional songs from Andalusia, Galicia, Asturias, Canaria, Salamanca, Castile, Catalonia, Mallorca, the Basque Country, Santander, and Extremadura.

Throughout the impeccably engineered album, the two artists make magic with their honestly straight forward approach to the music. With their easy back and forth musical dialogue, with Zamora’s perfect diction  in Castilian, Catalan, Gallego and Basque, and a supple, clear voice perfectly suited to this music, and Duruöz’s elegantly idiomatic playing, he two artists deliver musical gems throughout the entire duration of the album.

Rafael de Acha’s MusicNotes.com

Eben Wagenstroom at the piano

EBEN WAGENSTROOM 1Hailing from South Africa, Eben Wagenstroom has won numerous prizes and awards from competitions and scholarships. From 2008 to 2014, he attended the Adamant Music School’s Traditional Summer Session, performing twice in the music festival’s anniversary concerts (2010 and 2014) held in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall. He has also participated in the masterclasses of Yossi Reshef, Antonio Pompa-Baldi, Anton Nel, Julian Martin and Ran Dank. He is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Piano Performance under Dror Biran.

Here he plays Mozart’s Sonata in C Mjor, K. 330 in a live performance: https://youtu.be/YUUuKvO4vTU

ABOUT THE ARTIST in his own words

“It was probably during my kindergarten years that I had my first conscious interaction with music. This was primarily in the form of soundtracks to Disney films and their television off-shoots, as well as radio-friendly American ‘popular’ hits (from various genres) of the time being broadcast on local media outlets.”

“However, it was in my eighth year that I seriously became interested in Western Classical music: my father, having being born to musical parents but not having acquired their musical abilities, developed and still possesses a love for opera (Verdi and Puccini in particular). He was a subscriber to the now-defunct Classical Collection-magazine, and had magazines and cassette-recordings of music by Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Dvořák. It was by sheer chance that I stumbled upon these.”

“It was a hearing of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik on one of these cassette-tapes that made me decide to venture into becoming a Classical musician.”

 

DIANA CHUBAK PLAYS LISZT ДІАНА ЧУБАК ВИСТУПАЄ З ЛІСТА

DIANA CHUBAKDIANA CHUBAK PLAYS LISZT ДІАНА ЧУБАК ВИСТУПАЄ З ЛІСТА 

https://youtu.be/IzOqeg0GRfY

ABOUT THE ARTIST
Ukrainian pianist Diana Chubak has concertized widely throughout Ukraine, Poland, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Belgium, and the United States, performing with the National Presidential Orchestra of Ukraine, Poland’s Academia Dell’Arco Chamber Orchestra, the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra, and the Lviv Festival Orchestra. In 2019 she received a scholarship from the Richard Wagner Society for participation in the Bayreuth Festival.

Diana Chubak is currently working towards a Master’s Degree at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music under the guidance of Dror Biran.

ПРО ВИКОНАВЦЯ
Український піаніст Діана Чубак активно концертувала по всій Україні, Польщі, Німеччині, Данії, Іспанії, Бельгії та США, виконуючи з національним президентським оркестром України, Київським симфонічним оркестром, Київському симфонічного оркестру та Львівському фестивальному оркестру. У 2019 вона отримала стипендію від товариства Річарда Вагнера за участь у фестивалі Байройт. Діана Чубак в даний час працює над дипломом художника в університеті Цинциннаті коледж-консерваторія музики під керівництвом Dror Біран.

ABOUT MUSIC FOR ALL SEASONS
Music for All Seasons has presented a series of concerts in Cincinnati since 2016. Due to the current restrictions on public gatherings we have decided to present informal on-line concerts featuring some of the musical artists that have performed in our concert series over the past several years. These are videos created by the artists themselves with the sole purpose of sharing their talents and giving the gift of music during the crisis we are all enduring. We hope you will receive them in the same spirit by giving thanks to the artists and by sharing them with your music-loving friends.

ПРО МУЗИКУ ДЛЯ ВСІХ СЕЗОНІВ
Музика для всіх сезонів представила серію концертів у Цинциннаті з 2016. У зв’язку з поточними обмеженнями на публічні збори, ми вирішили представити неформальну он-лайн концерти Featuring деякі музичні художники, які виступали в нашій концертній серії за останні кілька років. Це відео, створені самими художниками з єдиною метою ділитися своїми талантами і дати дар музики під час кризи, ми всі міцної. Ми сподіваємося, що ви отримаєте їх в тому ж дусі, надаючи подяку художникам і ділитися ними з вашими музикою люблячими друзями.

Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak

Album Artwork (1)In a perfect world of Opera, roles that demand not only the youthful looks but the fresh sound of a young woman – Tatyana, Liu, Micaela, Cio Cio San, Adriana Lecouvreur, the Trovatore’s Leonora, Nedda, Rusalka, Halka, must ideally be assigned to singers that look and sound the part.

Here to satisfy that wish is Polish soprano Aleksandra Kurzak, who in her Sony Classical release of operatic arias titled Desire delivers a gorgeous lyric sound, pinpoint accuracy in all the coloratura passages, intensity, and the sort of respectfulness for the written note that includes observing repeats and executing what’s written rather than what comes to the singer’s whim.

Add to that flawless diction in Italian, French, and Ms. Kurzak’s native Polish and its linguistic relatives: Czech and Russian, and one must quickly conclude that this artist has come into her own with a complete artistic-vocal equipment.

After a random listening through the album’s selections that began for us with a magnificent Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin we kept on the lookout for any moments in which the Verismo demands of Vissi d’arte or Nedda’s scene from I Pagliacci or even some of the declamatory passages in the lower range a singer encounters in Verdi could prove much too demanding for what is essentially Ms. Kurzak’s mid-weight lyric voice.

No problem! She sails through untaxed by even the most demanding moments in Leonora’s Tacea la notte and the last act D’amor sull’ ali rosee. She even caps Elena’s aria from I vespri siciliani with a terrific high E.

It is quite remarkable that Aleksandra Kurzak’s artistic journey has taken her from the Mozartian soubrettes Fach to the leading lady roles that she now sings all over the world. In this quarantined reality in which we now live this album already sits in my Best of 2020 list along with our fervent hope that soon Aleksandra Kurzak will be seen and heard on operatic stages this side of the pond.

Rafael de Acha

You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do

OIP

A few exchanges of comments and replies on my blog and the purchase on Amazon.com of a second hand copy of Martin L. Sokol’s fascinating book The New York City Opera have brought back some memories. That, in turn got me thinking about the uncertain prospects for so many fine actors, singers, instrumentalists, conductors and stage directors being trained in conservatories all over America about to enter a profession that now, in a manner of speaking, has both its long term members and those planning to join its ranks standing by and waiting to see what’s next.

Not that things were that much better back in the fall of 1973, when my wife and I packed up our bags and drove from Shreveport, LA., where right after graduation I had been lucky to land a one-year sub teaching job at Centenary College while their Opera Workshop director finished her DMA.

At the end of that year I had received a grant-in-residence from George London’s National Opera Institute to join the staff of the New York City Opera as a rookie stage director.

We were off on a long drive in a long-in-the-tooth 1965 Pontiac Catalina we had gotten as a wedding present four years before. Our sights were firmly set on arriving unscathed in Brooklyn, where our friends Paul and Maggie Kwartin had an apartment at 39 Plaza Street near Grand Army Plaza. Union Temple, where Paul was the Cantor, gave them those digs as part of his compensation.

We had become friends the year before when the Kwartins were guests at Quisisana, a lakeside resort in central Maine staffed by Juilliard and New England Conservatory of Music grads that would work as waitresses and beach boys during the day and concertize at night for the pleasure of the clientele.

From aspiring baby bass-baritone to fledgling stage director to daytime beach boy I had moved up in the ranks of the Quisisana staff to the August Position of Music Director. Passing around fresh towels and cold drinks to sunbathing seniors was then for me a thing of the past. Instead I was in charge of organizing the nightly entertainment, which never lacking in ambition included among other offerings a fully-staged Boheme with piano accompaniment.

Knowing that we were on our way to the Big Unknown, our friends extended their hospitality and invited us to stay in their 12th floor apartment (13th, actually, but it was bad luck to call it thirteenth) as their guests. Indefinitely. They were there once a week for the Sabbath, between Friday afternoon and Saturday afternoon and then they would drive back to their home in Connecticut.

Our old Pontiac Catalina had seen better days, and it barely made the 1,416 miles between Shreveport and the Big Apple, running out of water several times (broken radiator) and nearly giving out on us. Miraculously, the poor car came to die right in front of our destination.

Our friends had left the keys with the doorman. The car had to be towed to a destination of our choosing. First it was one of those New York garages that charge an arm and a leg monthly and where you have to give them 24 hours notice if you want to take your vehicle out for a drive. How about the parking lot of Union Temple, we asked. Our friends made it possible.

That was the last time we laid eyes on that Pontiac. Weeks later we took a walk to the parking lot of the Temple to say hello to our beloved car and were stunned to see that what remained of the gutted, stripped automobile that had carried us cross-country had been set on cinder blocks and become a residence for the neighborhood rats.

On our arrival we unloaded our bags and were stunned to open the doors to what would be our home for the next several years. The apartment had a 380 degree view from all sides. From our tiny bedroom we could see Ms. Liberty and the Bay. From the kitchen and living room we could see Grand Army Plaza and Prospect Park.

We were in Heaven.

The day after our arrival I contacted City Opera to let them know I was ready to report to work.

Bad news… The chorus, orchestra, and stage hands had gone on strike.

We busied ourselves the best we could. Kimberly wasted no time and auditioned for several of the little opera companies that operated on a shoestring budget around the city. She immediately got cast and soon developed a reputation for being a go-to reliable young artist with a beautiful voice, a solid technique, good on stage, pretty, and a fast learner. She got a nice church job and a nice real job that allowed her to work whatever hours she wanted. I kept the wolf from the door by doing translations of texts in various languages that paid something like ten cents per word.

Eventually City Opera resumed activities. That season and the next I worked as an assistant director in various productions – a crazy Barber of Seville directed by Jean-Claude Auvray, a Gitanne-smoking  Frenchman who preferred to communicate with his cast by screaming at them in a strange mix of French and English peppered with 4-letter words in both tongues.

One of Monsieur Auvray’s staging ideas consisted of using large quantities of baby powder in the shaving scene, a bit which baritone Richard Stilwell took issue with, as the clouds of baby powder that he was asked to apply to Doctor Bartolo’s white wig created some breathing difficulties for him and all those involved in the scene. The bit was scrapped and the foul-mouthed French director was never asked back.

They assigned me to several productions in which I was to put in singers who were making their first appearances on the stage of City Opera in important roles. I will never forget working with Faye Robinson, a lovely young soprano who was making her debut as Micaela in Carmen that night. She got two hours with me and a pianist in a rehearsal room with the outline of the set taped on the floor. I took her through the staging that afternoon, from there she went to a costume and wig fitting, and that night made her New York debut, with the NY Times music critic in the audience, right after meeting Herman Malamood, her tenor minutes before curtain.

City Opera felt to me like an operatic assembly line. Against all odds Jack Edelman did a wonderful Mikado and Gian Carlo Menotti delivered a magnificent production of his own The Consul. Watching artists the likes of Nico Castel and Olivia Stapp work was nothing short of inspiring, but doing the daily grind under a never-supportive regime took a toll on many of the wonderful, underpaid, hard-working artists who never got a word of thanks or praise from Julius Rudel.

The Viennese-born, Mannes School of Music-trained Rudel had a mittel-europeisch management style that made many of those working under him feel bullied and underappreciated. In one dress rehearsal of Delius’ A Village Romeo and Juliet he belittled director Frank Corsaro in front of orchestra, stage crew and principals.

Rudel had been at City Opera for several decades. He was disenchanted. He was tired. His effectiveness had gone. He had to be replaced. It would be nine years before Beverly Sills took over the reigns of NYCO to reinvigorate it.

Since I was there to keep silent and learn, keep quiet and learn I did. At the end of the Spring Season of 1974 I left City Opera. Days later I had a gig directing La boheme and another one staging The Barber of Seville. It was not a MET debut but it was work, though truth to tell it was all hand-to-mouth and waiting for days on end between job and job.

Many of our friends headed for Europe, where German and Austrian opera houses were hiring our much better-trained American singers that were arriving week after week in search of decent work. Coming full circle in my narrative, it is not that much different today, other than the simple fact that today there are hundreds more artists vying for the few available jobs.

Back in those days the MET had a reliable stable of top-notch “house” singers who week-in, week-out filled all the supporting roles throughout the season. Once the season was over, they would be free to sing in Cincinnati or Santa Fé or Chautaqua or Lake George or Central City – often bigger roles than those they sang at the MET. It was as close to a perfect arrangement as one could imagine, and then one day it came to an end. Managements found it much cheaper to hire both stars and supporting role singers on a show by show basis.

A mezzo-soprano friend who landed a MET contract early on in her career once confessed to me her frustration: after singing several seasons in roles as large as Cherubino in Marriage of Figaro and Siebel in Faust to then be offered a per-performance contract rather than a seasonal one. She said how frustrated and financially uncertain she felt when going from appearing on the MET stage with the likes of Placido Domingo and Samuel Ramey in the cast to flying to Omaha to appear as Suzuki in a couple of Madame Butterfly performances.

Back in those days many fine American singers worked hard and managed to nobly cobble together all-American careers in and out of New York. Some ended up singing in European Opera houses, some major, some minor, but in one way or another singing for their supper. Many gracefully transitioned to teaching in American universities, where the security of a steady source of income and, eventually, tenure was a welcome respite from years of piecing together a modest income and living out of a suitcase.

You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. And I firmly believe that the enormously talented crops of young artists coming out of our conservatories year in year out will find a way to make all that fine training count for something, even at a moment like the one in which we now live, one in which the future looks so very uncertain.

Rafael de Acha

 

 

It’s Basque

OIP1OIP

It’s Basque.

The Basques have been around for quite a while, long before anybody else got to the area that divides Spain and France – the Pyrenees chain of mountains. Kimberly and I have never been to the Basque country but hope to go someday.

I dug up some interesting facts about my stubborn, go it alone, hard working grandfather and great grandfather and… before…

In pre-history, the tribes that inhabited the region that today forms the Basque country were direct descendants of the Homo Sapiens that took the place of the older Neanderthals. They occupied the area the Basques occupy today starting around 50,000 BCE, predating the arrival of migrations from Asia by thousands of years.

During the first years of the common era, a Roman scribe wrote that in Navarre, a region at the north of “Iberia” (modern-day Spain) a tribe spoke a language that nobody understood. That language, long dead, was Aquitanian, the father, so to speak, of today’s Basque language.

Both those languages are remnants of the languages spoken in Western Europe before the arrival of the Indo-European tribes that began one million years ago.

Linguists have offered proof that the Basque language dates as far back as 2000 BCE. The Romans began to expand their empire before BCE and by the time of the fall of the Roman Empire around 395 CE they had made repeated invasions of the Iberian peninsula, but had been kept off the extreme northern region (today’s Basque country) because its land-locked geography was so difficult for an army to penetrate. Once the Romans finally made it close to the Basque country, the inhabitants showed a willingness to do business rather than make war.

So that rather than fighting the Romans, the Basques sold them lamb meat, cheese, milk, and send them on their way south to raise Cain with the Iberians and Celts and anyone else who opposed them.

But what about that crazy language the Basques speak?

Basque is so a complex language with so very little similarity to any other living language that just about only the born and bred Basques speak it. In Basque there are no articles (THE, A, AN…) and no prepositions (AT, BY, FOR, WITH…) and no pronouns (HE, SHE, YOU, etc…)  Instead LITTLE ONE-SYLLABLE prefixes and suffices get tacked on to words, making the language SO DIFFICULT, that Satan himself tried to learn the Basque language and finally gave up, so that the devoutly Catholic Basque people claim they are immune to temptation from the evil One…

Its complexity is increased by TWENTY (!) cases that affect the noun and the many verb forms in addition to those familiar to us – present, past, future, etc… And all that is not to mention the syntax – the structure of sentences.

Any and all of those modifiers change the look and sound of the word. Here are some simple examples:

In English we say: Pedro (subject) wears (verb) a (article) hat (object)

In Basque they say Pedrok: (subject) kapela (object HAT ) janzten (wears VERB)

OK… So Pedro hat wears is not so difficult, even if strange.

But what happens to the language that describes Pedro and his hat if he does not wear it is certainly unusual, and it is even worse if he is not wearing the hat while riding a horse and heading south:

ENGLISH: Pedro is not wearing his hat while heading south on horseback
BASQUE: Pedrok ez du kapela janzten zaldia gidatzen eta hegoaldera abiatzen den bitartean … (Pedro his hat no wears on horseback to the south while heading)

The Basques do not like to be called Basques just the same as Hispanics or Italians or Asians do not appreciate the terms: Spic or Wop or Chink.

The Basques call themselves EUSKALDUNAK and their language EUSKARA an their land EUSKAL HERRIA.

HERE IS A NICE VIDEO ABOUT THE BASQUE LANGUAGE AND CULTURE: https://youtu.be/KVp2Wn7prkA

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