100 years of Opera

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Latvia’s capital, Riga was already a center of musical culture in the 18th century. By the time of the 1918 founding of the National Opera Theatre of the Baltic nation, Richard Wagner, Franz Liszt, Clara Schumann, Anton Rubinstein and Hector Berlioz had left a mark on the musical life of Latvia, involved during their careers as either resident or visiting artists.

Later, during the 20th century, notwithstanding the vicissitudes of wars and occupations, the fiercely proud and deeply cultured Latvians developed a truly authentic brand of national music exemplified by the works of Jēkabs Ozols, Jāzeps Vītols, and Jānis Mediņš, and an abiding love of Opera.

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Up until today I must confess to have been totally ignorant about this rich history. What sent me on a quick visit to Wikipedia was the opportunity to listen to and watch a live concert from the Latvian National Opera as it celebrates its 100th Anniversary.

Streamed on OperaVision and available for 6 months at http://www.bit.ly/AnniversaryGalaEN, and on You Tube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPLnat46a38) the 3-hour plus long event is worth watching during each and every one of its 188 minutes.

Divided into several parts, the first section of the concert is dedicated to excerpts from Latvian operas. It opens with a stirring choral number from Jānis Mediņš ‘ Fire and Ice and follows with arias and duets by Romualds Kalsons, Arvīds Žilinskis, Bruno Skulte, Jāzeps Mediņš, Zigmars Liepiņš, And Jānis Kalniņš. The music is attractive, straddling the post-Romanticism of Strauss and 20th century modernism.

As the concert moved into familiar territory, this listener was afforded the opportunity to listen more critically to arias and duets by Wagner, Verdi, Donizetti, Puccini, and other usual suspects from the standard canon. The choices, as is often the case in this type of concert were not surprising, even though they were very well sung by a diverse number of artists.

Rame Lahaj a tenor from Kosovo opened with Nemorino’s Una furtiva lagrima, impressively sung although with perhaps a tad too much sound for the Latvian jewel box in which the concert is held. He later delivered a perfectly heroic Ah la paterna mano.

Mezzo-soprano, Olesya Petrov raised the temperature with a fine Amour viens aider from Samson et Dalila, later returning to raise both temperature and the roof with Condotta ell’era in ciepi from Verdi’s Il trovatore.

Azerbaijani soprano Dinara Alieva, obviously and not surprisingly an audience favorite, passionately dispatched Sola, perduta, abbandonata from Manon Lescaut. She later followed with Pace, pace from La forza del destino, bringing the house down.

Rigoletto’s Cortigiani, vil razza dannata got a show-stopping rendition by Russian baritone Vladislav Sulimsky. He later joined Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska in a high-octane Leonora-Di Luna duet from Il trovatore.

The chorus, the orchestra and the several conductors who helmed the concert give proof that Opera is alive and well in the ancient Baltic nation.

Mēs novēlam Latvijas Nacionālās operas vēl simts gadu panākumiem!

Sunday, December 9th, at 2:00 PM

 

OUR UPCOMING MUSIC FOR ALL SEASONS EVENT:

CONCERT & SILENT AUCTION: Sunday, December 9th, at 2:00 PM

Thomas Hammons, bass-baritone; Dale Hodges, actress; Wind Quintet with Fred Martens, clarinet, Elisabeth Farney, flute; Sara Powell, oboe; Lynne Reckman, French horn; Jacob Davis, bassoon; Mary Henderson Stucky, mezzo-soprano and Rod Stucky, guitarist; Aubrey Berg, actor; Pamela Myers, vocalist; James Meade, classical guitarist; Mary Southworth-Shaffer, soprano; Kim Pensyl, jazz pianist; Kimberly Daniel de Acha, narrator/singer; James Bunte, jazz saxiphonist; Yaoyue Huang, pianist; Joseph Rebman, Harpist; Samuel Krausz, tenor/pianist; 12 year old cellist, Miriam K. Smith, and C-CM Opera and Musical Theatre Students, Amanda Olea, soprano; Aria Braswell, Mathew Copley, Dylan Dougal, Jenny Mollet, and Alex Stone; Cindy Beatrice Candelaria, mezzo-soprano…


Tickets & information: 
musicseasons@zoomtown.co

MUSIC FOR HARP AND FLUTE

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Lil’ David played on his harp in biblical times long before anyone conceived of actually writing music for it or employing it as an essential member of the symphony orchestra.

But in spite of its advanced age, the harp did not earn the respect it merits until the Franco-American Marcel Grandjanny adopted it as his chosen musical companion. It is a good thing he did, for were it not for his efforts to validate its importance, the very large and very hard to play harp would be one of the most underused members of the symphony orchestra.

And were it not for DELOS one would be hard put to find many CD’s dedicated to harp music. Music for Harp and Flute is the name of this 2002 release featuring two instruments long associated with ethereal sounds.

Center stage in this splendid recording are the Russian harpist Tatiana Oskolkova and flautist Oleg Sergeev, generously supported with the accompaniment of Constantine Orbelian’s Moscow Chamber Orchestra and its String Quartet, and the clarinet of Sergei Bolshakov.

The CD includes Mozart’s ubiquitous Concerto for Flute and Harp, Grandjanny’s Aria in Classic Style for Harp and Orchestra, Svetlanov’s Russian Variations for Harp and Orchestra, and Ravel’s miniature masterpiece Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet and String Quartet.

The playing of both soloists is exquisite, with Oskolkova producing a myriad sounds ranging from gossamer filigree to tapping on her instrument. Sergeev’s playing is agile and elegant in the Mozart and perfectly in sync with his fellow musicians in the Ravel.

Rafael de Acha

ALL-RUSSIAN HVOROSTOVSKY

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On Friday September 15, 2006 Siberian-Russian baritone, Dmitri Hvorostovsky was backed by The Moscow Chamber Orchestra, led by Constantine Orbelian, and the folkloric group, Style of Five in an all-Russian concert at Oktyabrsky Hall in St. Petersburg.

At age 44, and years before the illness that took him from us so prematurely, Hvorostovsky was then at the pinnacle of his prime.

The vocal wealth that made him one of top baritones of our time, the elegant sobriety of his stage persona, his impassioned way with the poetry and music of his homeland, his unflagging intellectual and emotional commitment to music and lyrics in equal parts were all there.

Only an artist of the stature of Hvorostovsky would dare program an all-Russian or all-anything lineup of songs belonging to neither the strictly-classical repertoire, nor to the world of Pop. But Hvorostovsky and his unimpeachable collaborators pull off this feat with impeccable taste and honest simplicity.

Mind you, this repertoire is enriched by the words of Russian poets of the level of Yevtushenko and Turgenev, and set to intensely emotional music by composers whose names are largely unfamiliar to listeners outside Russia but which are not only familiar to but beloved by Russians.

One gem follows another in seamless succession, with most of the songs provoking enthusiastic response from the capacity audience. The Bulakhov-Vyazemsky Troika (a favorite after repeated listening) enlivens the end of the first half with its brisk tempo and catchy melody, given an all-Russian color by the accompanying Style of Five ensemble.

Music director Constantine Orbelian, whose work this listener has long admired and frequently reviewed on this blog, provides inspiring support to Hvorostovsky in all the vocal selections.

The maestro opens the concert with two orchestral selections that involve the superb Style of Five. He then warms things up with the Spanish Dance from the 1955 Soviet film, Ovod (Gadfly) for which Dmitri Shostakovich contributed the score.

Still later Orbelian interjects the well-known waltz from Aram Khachaturian’s Masquerade, brilliantly conducting it with whatever the Russian equivalent word is for pizzazz.

The DVD, released by DELOS a few years ago merits renewed attention as yet one more sampler of the magical voice and art of one of the great baritones of our time.

Rafael de Acha

ALEKO

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Rachmaninoff composed Aleko at age 19, as a student project at the Moscow Conservatory. The work is a great vehicle for a star baritone, with the part’s vocal writing hueing closer in range and tessitura to that of the baritone. The list of both dramatic baritones and high basses who have sung the role since Chaliapin first did reads like a who’s who of low-voiced 20th century singers: Petrov, Nesterenko, Leiferkus…

Vassily Gerello, a baritone whose sterling-bright voice vividly reminds this listener of the great Armenian baritone Pavel Lisitsian, fully inhabits the title role. Now that I hear Rachmaninoff’s music for Aleko sung by Gerello’s bright-voiced baritone I much prefer it to having a bass struggling with the frequently high-lying vocal line. Especially in his cavatina, Gerello sings with great depth of feeling and attention to the music, though never at the expense of the exemplarily-enunciated text.

The story, inspired by a Pushkin poem, was shaped into a libretto by Vladimir I. Nemirovich-Danchenko, Stanislavsky’s dramaturge and second in command at the Moscow Art Theatre. The story of ill-fated love, jealousy and murder belongs in the world of Italian Verismo, which makes sense when one recalls that the New York City Opera once gave Aleko in a double bill with Pagliacci.

Rachmaninoff’s music explicitly points here in the direction of the 20th century, bearing some of the unpredictably far-afield harmonic journeys of which the composer was so fond. But the vocal line is unmistakably Russian, though colored with Romani inflections depicting both the seemingly carefree gypsy life and the pain and passions lurking underneath it.

Aleko is structured in thirteen scenes each of which gets a track in this recording. Orchestral interludes, choral numbers, dance sequences, arias, ensembles and duets follow each other in quick succession, with no scene overstaying its welcome. The part of Aleko gets the one true aria in the entire score: a lovely cavatina that becomes a great solo scene for the baritone.

But notwithstanding a couple of small-scale chamber operas, and yet another two lyric projects that came to naught, Rachmaninoff found more fertile pastures writing for the piano and the orchestra. How unfortunate that is, for the composer of all of those grand piano concerti evidences here a wonderful flair for all that makes Russian opera so unique, with its use of old Slavonic gestures, long, overarching, sweeping vocal lines, and terrific dance and choral interludes.

The cast of five principals, the State Academic Choir, and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra led by Constantine Orbelian are all excellent, with the American maestro imprinting the music with his formidable knowledge of and flair for Russian music.

As the Carmen-like spitfire Zelmira, soprano Olga Guryakova displays a beautiful full-voiced lyric soprano and plenty of passion that she injects into every note of her music. Bass Mikhail Kit as The Old Gypsy is immensely effective in his role. Tenor Vsevolod Grivnov, possessor of a quintessentially Russian tenor sound  is very good in his brief but important part as The Young Gypsy object of Zelmira’s extra-marital affections, and impressive in his brief romance. Contralto Elena Manikhina, makes a memorable impression as The Old Gypsy Woman.

This is an interesting release, accompanied by a complete text of the opera in Russian, transliterated into our alphabet, and accompanied by a sensible English translation. The CD with the music is accompanied by a second CD in which the actor Michael York reads the Pushkin poem, The Gypsies in English, and Russian stage and film star Vassily Lanovoy reads it in Russian.

DELOS invites its customers to link to http://www.delosmusic.com , where additional links to Rachmaninoff sites and other interesting features are available to the curious fan.

Recorded in 2000, this well engineered DELOS recent release (DE3269) is yet another contribution by the ever-enterprising label to the operatic catalogue.

Rafael de Acha

LAWRENCE BROWNLEE IN A BEL CANTO CD

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LAWRENCE BROWNLEE IN A BEL CANTO CD

Time was when the so-called tenore leggiero or tenore di grazia or, in plain English, light lyric tenor held his own in the Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini repertoire.

In the early 20th century artists like Tito Schipa and Alessandro Bonci had exclusive ownership of the Bel Canto repertoire. That trend continued well into the 1970’s, with light tenors Ernesto Palacios, Luigi Alva, and Cesare Valletti singing whatever Rossini or Bellini was offered them.

These fine singers knew how to stay within the boundaries of their area of specialty. But then the big-voiced boys arrived and suddenly invaded the leggiero turf.

There was Pavarotti taking on The Daughter of the Regiment and Placido Domingo being cast as Nemorino.

Fortunately we have returned to times in which common sense prevails.

Welcome Lawrence Brownlee, a full-blooded Bel Canto tenor with enchanting style, awesome technique and just the right mix of sweetness and squillo in his ample voice to fearlessly conquer everything from the light folderol of Donizetti’s Rita to the stillness, gravity and legato of Bellini’s A te, o cara, over a two-octave plus range.

In the DELOS CD Allegro Io son Brownlee has an exemplary partner in Constantine Orbelian, who leads the Kaunas City Symphony with unflagging attention to his singer’s needs.

The CD comes with a nice booklet with translations of all the arias. We got a winner.

Rafael de Acha

OPERA BINGE

Today I binged on Opera most of the day.

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In the morning I watched a very fine Flying Dutchman, courtesy of OPERA VISION, taped live at the Latvian National Opera, with the formidable bass-baritone Egils Siliņš, impressive vocally and dramatically as the Dutchman, and soprano Vida Miknevičiūtė a marvelous Senta.

How amazing it is to some of us who grew up as musicians during the 60’s and 70’s that the world of opera, once insular and inaccessible to many nationalities, now spans dozens of countries – some once seemingly isolated and remote – each with its own crop of world-class singers. Witness, if you will, the rapid and impressive ascent of Latin American, Asian and African opera singers now forging international careers.

WQXR had a broadcast of a live performance of Rossini’s William Tell from Opera Southwest, with the young baritone Shawn Anderson, son of the late baritone Al Anderson.

Just to assemble the cast to take on Rossini’s farewell to opera is a challenge. The central role is sizeable but does not present major vocal hurdles to the baritone who undertakes it. Shawn Anderson acquitted himself honorably, singing elegantly in idiomatic French. The rest of the cast was up to the challenge, as well including the very length of the opera, which clocked in at around four hours.

Rafael de Acha

Deeply honest music – dazzling execution

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Straddling the northern region of South America and the westernmost areas of Central America, Colombia is a crossroads for music with Native Indian, African and European roots. And so we get the languidly melancholic bambuco, the up tempo bambuco fiestero, the elegant vals, and the rhythmically-driven porro.

Travel further south and you will encounter the sometimes intricately-syncopated or (depending) laid-back Brazilian choro. Go east from Colombia to Venezuela or south west towards Ecuador and you will hear the strains of the warp-speed pasillo in both those countries.

Rich stuff!

The Ambar Music Group became a quartet specializing in world music, among many other kinds of music, especially that from Colombia, the country of birth of three of its members. By happenchance or by design of the gods of music, a Russian violin virtuoso Sasha Rozhdestvensky joined the Ambar members, carrying, no less a Guarnieri del Gesu and a Strad on loan from an angel.

The peripatetic Constantin Orbelian was invited by DELOS to accompany the Ambar members in two of the thirteen tracks, and two more musicians augmented a couple of the tracks.

The results are marvelous.

The entire album, even when the music is nice and slow and voluptuous, is energizing. Often toe-tapping cross-rhythms defy one to get up and dance (which I did a couple of times). The playing is virtuosic, not surprisingly given the conservatory chops of these four musicians.

But past one’s visceral reactions to this deeply honest music and its dazzling execution, one feels gratitude to Delos and to Francisco Gonzalez, Nelson Gomez, Juan Fernando Garcia, Sasha Rozhdestvensky and Constantin Orbelian for introducing a vast number of us to this fabulous repertoire.

Rafael de Acha

Beautiful music for December

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It’s time to fill your December calendar with some beautiful music!

Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite Corbett Auditorium CCM December 2, 4 pm

Enjoy a jazzy retelling of The Nutcracker Suite, brought to life with choreography by Diane Lala TKTS AND INFO: 513-556-6638

concert:nova – Holiday Party  Union Hall (1311 Vine St)  December 2, 2018 -5 pm

Enjoy food, beverages, gifts and music by concert:nova and friends
TKTS AND INFO http://www.eventbrite.com

SALON 21   Weston Art Gallery December 6 7 pm
Come listen to pianist Susan Yang play pieces by Bach, Chopin and Shostakovich
TKTS AND INFO: http://www.salon21.org

CINCINNATI POPS  Music Hall  December 7, 8 pm (additional performances)

Share the holiday cheer by bringing and donating winter clothing to City Gospel Mission and listen to Broadway star Ashley Brown join the Pops in a program of Holiday Favorites.
TKTS AND INFO: 513.381.3300

Feast of Carols Corbett Auditorium CCM December 8, 2 and 5 pm (additional performances)

Bring family and friends to CCM to welcome the 2018 holiday season with festive choral favorites performed by fabulous choirs and outstanding guest choirs.

TKTS AND INFO: 513-556-6638

MUSIC FOR ALL SEASONS IN CINCINNATI  Peterloon Estate in Indian Hill  December 9, 2 pm

Come to this Holiday Concert and Silent Auction to benefit CCM Scholarships and listen to singers, actors and instrumentalists in a program of spoken, vocal and instrumental Pop, Show, Jazz, Folk, Traditional, and Classical Holiday Favorites

TKTS AND INFO: musicseasons@zoomtown.com

VOCAL ARTS ENSEMBLE  Memorial Hall  December 15 7:30 pm

Treat yourself to beautiful holiday music by the Vocal Arts Ensemble and Cincinnati Collaborative Ringing Project in an unusual musical pairing of voices and bells.
TKTS AND INFO: 513 331 3300

The Bach Ensemble of St. Thomas  Messiah  St. Thomas Episcopal Church December 17, 7:30 pm

Come listen and even sing along to G. F. Handel’s stirring music with the voices and instruments of the Bach Ensemble of St. Thomas, led by Carlton Monroe
TKTS AND INFO: 513 831 2052

Amahl and the Night Visitors  Xavier University December 21, 7:30 pm (additional performances)

Singers, dancers, puppets, and the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra join forces to tell the tale of the shepherd boy Amahl and his encounter with the Three Wise Men.

TKTS AND INFO: 513 723 1182