LA TRAVIATA IN HAVANA IN 1957

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In 1957 I was a fourteen year old kid living in Havana. It was July, school was out, and it must have been blazingly hot. In the countryside Castro’s revolution was gaining momentum with the Castro Brothers and Che Guevara up in the mountains of eastern Oriente Province, and Camilo Cienfuegos leading a new outbreak of guerrilla warfare in Las Villas province.

In Havana the students in the public high schools and the universities were starting to make trouble for the government, but in Catholic La Salle School, where I had just finished my first year of high school we were mostly oblivious to what was happening outside the school’s walls.

At fourteen I had inherited my love for opera from my father and from his father, Don Alberto de Acha, who had left us a vast collection of 78’s which I played on an old Victrola and sang along with in our second floor apartment in El Vedado, to the consternation of our neighbors. And it was the time for the annual Opera Season at the Auditorium Theatre, presented by the Sociedad Pro-Arte Musical.

The main attraction was the Italian soprano Renata Tebaldi, who surrounded by a mix of then up and coming young American singers (Norman Treigle, Walter Cassel, Nell Rankin, Robert Merrill) would be singing AIDA, LA TRAVIATA, and TOSCA all three within the span of a week.

By the time I heard about this major musical event all the performances were sold out. Undaunted I took a bus to the theatre on a Sunday afternoon hoping to catch a returned ticket to LA TRAVIATA.

Not a chance.

I must have looked close to tears when a lady usher took one look at me and taking me by the hand led me to the mezzanine of the theatre and into a box where a European-looking gentleman sat, wearing a white linen suit. It was the presidential box I had entered, but President Batista who supposedly hated opera was not in attendance.

Who the well-dressed gentleman seated in the same box with me was I have no idea to this day.

The cast, by the way, had Tebaldi in the title role, Robert Merrill as Germont, and an Italian tenor whose name I cannot remember (and never heard again) who must have been a protégée of Tebaldi’s since he sang the tenor leads in all three of the operas (which makes no sense at all). The sets were rickety with backdrops depicting Parisian landscapes (for La traviata), ancient Egypt (for Aida) and 1800 Rome (for Tosca) that swayed to the movement of the singers.

But in spite of the general tackiness of the staging, I was transfixed from the moment Fausto Cleva gave the downbeat for the prelude to Act one of La traviata.

That turned out to be my very first live opera and it made me a convert for life.

Here she is in a live performance in 1957: https://youtu.be/L3xh7Ll1DLQ

Rafael de Acha      http://www.RafaelMusicNotes

 

free opera on tv now

OIP

https://operavision.eu/en/library/performances/operas/alceste-la-fenice#

If you have never seen Alceste, you ought to have a look/listen at this fairly recent production of Gluck’s 1737 opera about the faithful love unto death between King Admeto and his beloved Queen Alceste.

By the time the German-born Gluck reigned supreme in Parisian theatres, the singer-centric ways of his predecessors had all but given way to a more straightforward marriage of text and music, with no showy singing pyrotechnics or vocal grandstanding anywhere within earshot

Here Alceste is given an elegant staging by director/designer Pier Luigi Pizzi, with the orchestra and chorus of the gorgeous La Fenice theatre nicely led by the young French conductor Guillaume Tourniaire. The production features in the central roles of the King and Queen of Thessaly, tenor Marlin Miller and soprano Carmela Remigio, both excellent singing actors.

OIP

https://operavision.eu/en/library/performances/operas/il-sogno-di-scipione-la-fenice#

You don’t have to be a Mozart connoisseur to appreciate the fact that the one-act opera Il Sogno di Scipione (Scipio’s Dream) has some riches worth discovering, including a dozen arias and a couple of choruses that have the Mozart signature written all over them.

Amazingly Mozart wrote this while still an unknown youth in Salzburg, but most likely never saw a full staging of this youthful work. Here, thanks to the enterprising La Fenice theatre you will enjoy the efforts of a promising cast of half a dozen young singers ideally suited to Mozart’s vocal writing in an unfussy, good looking production staged by Elena Barbalich. They are beautifully led by Federico Maria Bardelli.

As is the case with many other Opera Vision offerings one can also watch Il Sogno di Scipione on You Tube.

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lucio-silla-la-monnaiehttps://operavision.eu/en/library/performances/operas/

Antonello Manacorda magisterially leads the superb orchestra of Brussels’ La Monnaie, and Tobias Kratzer helms this modern-dress production of Lucio Silla, Mozart’s 1772 rarity about lust for flesh and power in ancient Rome.

The six-person cast of four sopranos and two tenors calls for some formidable singers to sing virtuosic music and to portray a sorry lot of less than palatable characters in a convoluted plot involving political wrongdoings, love betrayals and little in the way of redeemable human qualities.

The production is preceded by a video that shows all manner of signs of wealth and power including scenes of the Kennedy clan in their Hyannis Port swimming pool, Vladimir Putin shucking oysters, shiny Mercedes limousines, Kim Jong-Ung beaming at the camera, and other disconcerting imagery. Worth checking out..? Yes, if only to bask in the genius of the mature Mozart.

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

Portuguese Fado

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Amália Rodrigues (1920-1999), was a Portuguese singer instrumental in popularizing Portuguese Fado, a type of popular song that the urban poor of Lisbon first sang as early as the first part of the 19th century. Much in keeping with the Portuguese spirit, the lyrics of Fado (Portuguese word for fate) often speak of destiny, saudade (Portuguese word for melancholy, homesickness, or longing) and love in its multiple faces.

Here’s two great fados sung by Amalia, for which I give the English translations:

Ai Mouraria Lyrics & music: Amadeu do Vale / Frederico Valério

note: Mouraria is a working-class neighborhood in Lisbon

Ah! Mouraria with the old Palm Street, where one day I left my soul behind for having had next to me a certain fado singer with dark skin, a small mouth and a taunting look.

Ah! Mouraria where that man whom I adored charmed me and lied to me, whose love like a lament in the wind I still carry within me at all times…

Ah! Mouraria with the nightingales nesting up in the eaves, and girls wearing rose-colored dresses, and traditional street cries of vendors and passing processionals and the severe, crying and melancholy voices of guitars.

Gaivota

Lyrics & music: Alexandre O’Neill / Alain Oulman

If a seagull brought me the sky of Lisbon from a drawing I once did, that sky where the gaze is a wing that doesn’t fly and fades away and falls into the sea, how perfectly my heart would beat within my breast, my love held in your hand where it so perfectly fits.

If a seafaring Portuguese sailor who has sailed the seven seas were the first person to tell me whatever I could concoct, and a look in your eyes filled anew with brilliance entangled itself in my gaze, how perfectly my heart would beat within my breast, my love held in your hand where it so perfectly fits.

And if, when I say farewell to life all the birds in the sky respond in kind and say goodbye, and you, my first and only love, look at me for the last time with that look in your eyes that is all yours, how perfectly my heart would beat within my breast, my love held in your hand where it so perfectly fits.

The Man Hurdy Gurdy & me with music by Howard Skempton…Quirky? Yes. Weird? Not so much. Fascinating? Absolutely!

OIP

Quirky? Yes. Weird? Not so much. Fascinating? Absolutely!

On top of my desk I have a book: Ben Yagoda’s WHEN YOU CATCH AN ADJECTIVE, KILL IT! It has become a sort of writer’s bible for me. So, when I sat down to listen to the métier (msv28580) release of The Man Hurdy Gurdy & me with music by Howard Skempton, I was struck by the music of this English iconoclast, and following that by my utter inability to come up with words to describe my reaction.

I needed not dig for negatives. I got hooked from track 1 through track 14, waiting to hear what this musical maverick next had up his wizardly sleeve. I mean the man plays with sound the way a kid plays with favorite toys, assembling the unlikeliest of instrumental companions in unpredictable groupings. Forget traditional structures – there are none in this music. Harmony..? Yes, actually. Very consonant. Contrapuntal rigidity..? Nope. Melody..? Well, yes, but not your recognizable kind. When he pairs the marvelously malleable soprano Sara Stowe with a gamelan ensemble one quickly comes to understand Debussy’s reaction to the Balinese orchestra he heard back in the day at the time of the Paris World Fair of 1889.

But for Goodness’ sake do not for a minute think of Skempton as being another musical prankster along the lines of John Cage. No. This is seriously fun music, as entertaining as it is complex in its sonorities and its devil-may-care approach to instrumentation. I mean would you EVER pair a hurdy-gurdy with percussion, oboe, flute and keyboard? Some chamber music!

The multi-lingual liner notes shun reverence and musicological gobbledygook in three languages, focusing instead on the facts. The ensemble in charge of these giddy proceedings is named Sirinu (www.sirinu.org) and they take on their multi-instrumental tasks with enthusiasm and accuracy.

If I were you I’d check them out just to hear what’s happening with new music on the other side of the pond and outside of Academia. You just might enjoy it as much as I did.

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

A MULTILINGUAL MESSAGE TO ALL OUR MUSICIAN FRIENDS WORLDWIDE


music-world

Español (Castellano)
Incluso cuando nuestras salas de conciertos y teatros están cerrados, nuestros corazones, mentes y oídos permanecen abiertos a la paz y al consuelo que trae la música. ¡Nosotros en Music for All Seasons y RafaelMusicNotes.com le deseamos a usted y a su familia tanto como a sus colegas y a su público mucha salud, seguridad, paz y buenas artes!
Italiano
Anche quando le nostre sale da concerto e teatri sono chiusi, i nostri cuori, le nostre menti e le nostre orecchie rimangono aperti alla pace e al conforto che la musica porta. Noi di Music for All Seasons e RafaelMusicNotes.com auguriamo a voi tutti e alle vostre famiglie, colleghi e al vostro pubblico salute, sicurezza, pace e belle arti!
Français
Même lorsque nos salles de concert et nos théâtres sont fermés, nos cœurs, nos esprits et nos oreilles restent ouverts à la paix et au réconfort que la musique apporte. Chez Music for All Seasons et RafaelMusicNotes.com nous vous souhaitons, à vous, ainsi qu’à vos familles, à vos collègues et à votre auditoire bonne santé, sécurité, paix et belles arts!
Português
Mesmo quando nossas salas de concertos e teatros estão fechados, nossos corações, mentes e ouvidos permanecem abertos à paz e à consolo que a música traz. Nós da Music for All Seasons e RafaelMusicNotes.com desejamos a você e sua família, seus colegas e seu público saúde, segurança, paz e bellas artes!
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Chiar și atunci când sălile noastre de concerte și teatre sunt închise, inimile noastre și mințile și urechile rămân deschise la pace și consolare că muzica aduce. Noi cei de la Music for All Seasons și RafaelMusicNotes.com vă dorim dumneavoastră și familiilor dumneavoastră și colegilor dumneavoastră și publicului sănătate, siguranță, pace și arte bune!                                                                                                                                                     Deutsch
Auch wenn unsere Konzertsäle und Theater geschlossen sind, bleiben unsere Herzen und Köpfe und Ohren offen für den Frieden und Trost, den Musik mit sich bringt. Wir von Music for All Seasons und RafaelMusicNotes.com wünschen Ihnen und Ihren Familien und Ihren Kollegen und Ihrem Publikum gesundheit, sicherheit, Frieden und gute Kunst!
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Zelfs wanneer onze concertzalen en theaters gesloten zijn, blijven onze harten en geesten en oren open voor de rust en troost die muziek met zich meebrengt. Wij bij Music for All Seasons en RafaelMusicNotes.com wensen u en uw familie en uw collega’s en uw publiek een goede gezondheid, veiligheid, vrede en goede kunsten!
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Nawet wtedy, gdy nasze sale koncertowe i teatry są zamknięte, nasze serca, umysły i uszy pozostają otwarte na spokój i pocieszenie, jakie przynosi muzyka. My w Music for All Seasons i RafaelMusicNotes.com życzymy Tobie i Twoim rodzinom i twoim kolegom i publiczności dobrego zdrowia, bezpieczeństwa, pokoju i dobrej sztuki
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Dokonce i když jsou naše koncertní sály a divadla zavřené, naše srdce a mysl a uši zůstávají otevřené míru a útěchě, kterou hudba přináší. My v Music for All Seasons a RafaelMusicNotes.com přejeme vám a vašim rodinám a vašim kolegům a vašemu publiku dobré zdraví, bezpečnost, mír a dobré umění!
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Silloinkin, kun konserttisalimme ja teatterimme ovat kiinni, sydämemme, mielemme ja korvamme ovat avoinna rauhalle ja lohtua, jota musiikki tuo. Me Music for All Seasonsissa ja RafaelMusicNotes.com toivotamme teille ja perheillenne ja kollegoillesi ja yleisöllenne hyvää terveyttä, turvallisuutta, rauhaa ja hyvää taidetta!
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Jafnvel þegar tónleikar okkar og leikhús eru lokuð, hjörtu okkar og hugur og eyru haldast opin til friðar og solace sem tónlistin færir. Við í tónlist Music for All Seasons (fyrir allar Árstíðir) og RafaelMusicNotes.com óska þér og fjölskyldum þínum og samstarfsfólki og áhorfendum þínum góða heilsu, öryggi, frið og góða listir!                          Norsk
Selv når våre konsertsaler og teatre er stengt, forblir våre hjerter og sinn og ører åpne for freden og trøsten som musikken bringer. Vi i Music for All Seasons og RafaelMusicNotes.com ønsker deg og dine familier og dine kolleger og ditt publikum god helse, sikkerhet, fred og god kunst!
Dansk
Selv når vores koncertsale og teatre er lukket, vores hjerter og sind og ører forbliver åbne for den fred og trøst, at musikken bringer. Vi ved Music for All Seasons (Musik Alle Årstider) og RafaelMusicNotes.com ønsker dig og dine familier og dine kolleger og dit publikum et godt helbred, sikkerhed, fred og god kunst!
Svensk
Även när våra konsertsalar och teatrar är stängda, våra hjärtan och sinnen och öron förblir öppna för fred och tröst som musiken ger. Vi på Music for All Seasons och RafaelMusicNotes.com önskar dig och dina familjer och dina kollegor och din publik god hälsa, säkerhet, fred och god konst!
Latviešu
Pat tad, kad mūsu koncertzāles un teātri ir slēgti, mūsu sirdis un prātus un ausis paliek atvērtas miera un mierinājums, ka mūzika rada. Mēs Music for All Seasons un RafaelMusicNotes.com vēlu jums un jūsu ģimenēm un jūsu kolēģiem un jūsu auditorijai labu veselību, drošību, mieru un labu mākslu!
Lietuvių
Net kai mūsų koncertų salės ir teatrai yra uždaryti, mūsų širdys, protai ir ausys lieka atviros taikai ir paguodos, kad muzika atneša. Mes ne Music for All Seasons ir RafaelMusicNotes.com linkime jums ir jūsų šeimoms ir jūsų kolegoms ir jūsų auditorijai geros sveikatos, saugos, taikos ir geros meno!
English (American)
Even when our concert halls and theatres are closed, our hearts and minds and ears remain open to the peace and solace that music brings. We at Music for All Seasons and RafaelMusicNotes.com wish you and your families and your colleagues and your audience good health, safety, peace, and good arts!

BOUNDLESS, the recent Sono Luminus release (DSL 92240) is a source of joy in our often joyless times.

BOUNDLESS, the recent Sono Luminus release (DSL 92240) is a source of joy in our often joyless times.

If Franz Schubert could join me in expressing delight at this execution of his music he most certainly would.

The album features three Schubert sonatinas from Opus 137: D.384 in D major, D 385 in A minor, and a dozen works later, D 408 in G minor.

The two artists who bring these gems to vivid life are violinist Zachary Carrettin and pianist Mina Gajic. The instrument that Carrettin plays with a bow made by John Dow around 1800 is a gut-strung jewel built after the Second World War by Luthier Franz Kinsberg. The piano is an Sébastien Érard 1835 treasure recently brought back to life by the Dutch piano builder Frits Janmmat.

The playing of these two invaluable artists: gentle, elegant, utterly Romantic and romantically intimate is perfect for these works of the young Schubert, conceived as they were for the salon, not for the concert hall.

There is not an iota of grandstanding or self-serving flashiness standing between the players and the music at any moment during the 56 minutes of sheer delight that BOUNDLESS brings to the listener.

Recorded in an intimate, acoustically-perfect hall in Colorado, exquisitely produced by Erica Brenner, engineered from a to z by the ever flawless Daniel Shores and given an impeccable packaging by Sono Luminus, this one is already at the top of my Best of 2020 list.

Rafael de Acha RafaelMusicNotes.com

ISABEL BAYRAKDARIAN AS CLEOPATRA

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THE OTHER CLEOPATRA: QUEEN OF ARMENIA
IL TIGRANE ARIAS
ISABEL BAYRAKDARIAN, SOPRANO
CONSTANTINE ORBELIAN – KAUNAS CITY SYMPHONY
DELOS (DE 3591) RECORDED SEPTEMBER 2019
ARIAS BY JOHANN ADOLPH HASSE (1699-1783), ANTONIO VIVALDI (1678-1741), CHRISTOPH WILLIBALD GLUCK (1754-1787)

In this intriguing DELOS release the Armenian-Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian explores the story of Cleopatra of Egypt, Queen Consort of King Tigranes II of Armenia in the operatic music of Hasse, Vivaldi and Gluck, all three of whom wrote operas about the Armenian King.

Much of this music is sober and stately and not yet given to the vocal pyrotechnics that Handel (younger than both Hasse and Gluck) gave to the greatest singers of his time. True, both the rival prima donnas Bordoni and Cuzzoni graced the stages of Europe in stagings of works by Hasse, but by the time Gluck began to have his operas mounted in Italy and Austria, Handel’s opera serias were becoming old fashioned and the text-driven French operas, especially those of Rameau were setting different standards for singers.

Isabel Bayrakdarian does a superb job of bringing to life the multi-faceted character of Cleopatra in music that ranges from the poised to the extravagant. The lyrical sound she must have brought to the Mozartian roles she extensively sang during the first years of her career has developed into that of a spinto soprano, complete with an unabashed use of the chest range, so much so that at times she summons the plumy sound of a mezzo-soprano.

Constantine Orbelian authoritatively conducts the Kaunas Symphony Orchestra, eliciting a lean sound perfectly suited to the High Baroque style of Hasse and Vivaldi as well as to the transitional Early Classical leanings of the young Gluck.

The project is given scholarly annotations by the soprano in the CD’s accompanying booklet and the overall project – production and engineering – is first class in sound and looks.

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

Stuart Skelton shines in Die Walkuere

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Let us first establish a couple of ground rules before we move on to reviewing the OPUS ARTE 2018 video recording of Wagner’s Die Walkure: one – no sarcasm or snark, two – no soft pedaling or pulling punches.

Now, with video recording the first thing I do is look at the cover of the DVD, the photographs that are used, how the whole thing entices me as a consumer and reviewer to tear off the shrink wrap and open up the package. In so doing I was not visually pleased by what I saw, starting with the ungainly wigs and costumes by Marie-Jeanne Lecca that do the singers no favors and fail to distinguish the mortal plebeians from the royal gods.

Once the music that opens Act One began to play I became totally enthralled by the sound of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, which led by Antonio Pappano plays superbly through the opera’s four hours. So swept up was I by the sound of the ensemble and by the heroic vocalism of Stuart Skelton, arguably the finest Heldentenor in today’s Opera business that I forgot that I was supposed to be watching a video.

But I soldiered on.

By the time Siegfried/Skelton got to his Welse, Welse outburst I was hooked and oblivious to the puzzling set of scenic designer Stefanos Lazaridis and most of the directorial capriciousness of Keith Warner.

Emily Magee is a spectacular Sieglinde, whose vocalism is a thing of wonder. When she opens up with Der Männer Sippe she forces me to turn down the volume on my CD player. Skelton’s impeccably sung Wintersturme is immediately followed by Sieglinde’s Du bist der Lenz, both Wagnerian tours de force that call for a panoply of vocal colors from Skelton and Magee both of whom generously deliver with a perfect balance of lyricism and stentorian singing.

The superb black-voiced bass Ain Anger is all contained evil as Hunding.

Act two begins with a brief scene for Wotan (the excellent John Lundgren), Nina Stemme, who valiantly makes her precarious entrance down a long metal stepladder and Sarah Connolly – most effective as a visually elegant Fricka. But somehow I keep waiting for Skelton to come back. He does for a few moments until he gets dispatched to Walhalla by the wife-deprived Hunding.

The rest of the opera is at 2 hours to go a bit of a slug for this listener, which puzzles me, as I never experience this with opera, other than Wagner with his endless moments of conversation.

The sound and visuals of the video are top notch. But get those singers some decent costumes.

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

Music for All Seasons is cancelling its May 10, 2020 concert

Music for All Seasons is cancelling its May 10, 2020 concert

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has issued an order prohibiting the gathering of groups of more than 100 people in the State of Ohio, in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, commonly known as “Corona virus.”

Even though most of our largest audience numbers never go over 100 for any but our annual December Holiday concert and live auction, being committed to the health and well-being of our audience members and artists we are following common sense practices regarding social distancing.

Also, because of our close relationship to the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, in which most activities have been cancelled or rescheduled through the end of May, it would be all but impossible for the artists involved in our May 10 concert to prepare and rehearse for it, as they are all closely connected to CCM as alumni, graduate students and or faculty.

This cancellation will have a significant emotional and financial impact for all of us – audience and artists. Throughout our 7-year history we have never had to cancel or even reschedule an event, and we are grateful to all of you for your enormous loyalty and support throughout the years.

This world-wide health crisis is a fluidly changing situation, because of which we are not able at this time or in the immediate future to speak of future plans regarding the possible rescheduling of this concert or its permanent cancellation. Neither are we able to predict the fate of our projected Season 2020-2021 at this time.

Additional updates regarding our future performances will be published on our website (www.musicseasonsinCincinnati.com) on my blog (RafaelMusicNotes.com) and on our Facebook Group page

We send our thoughts and wishes for health and peace to you and yours.

Sincerely,

Rafael de Acha & Kimberly Daniel de Acha