A Recollection of the Met’s 2013-14 Season

Hi, followers!

I know I have not blogged in a long time, since November in fact, but I am hoping to get back on here this summer with more posts and reviews. I have had a lot going on with the obligations (complications) that come with junior year in high school, such as AP exams, SATs, ACTs, and the rest of the alphabet. I have also been doing a lot with music, including studying both voice and French horn at Manhattan School of Music Precollege this year, taking piano lessons, singing and playing recitals, and continuing to see performances at the Met, as well as at l’Opéra Bastille (My family and I took a trip to Paris for Spring Break). This year has been a great challenge for me, however, I have enjoyed it thoroughly because of the more rigorous environment in which I have been placed to prepare for senior year and college, musically and academically.

This year may have been exciting, however, I have not had time to talk about all that I saw at the Met last season! I was very impressed with the performance level last year, and was not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. There was no Wagner last season, which is my absolute favorite, and I am not as big a fan of Donizetti and Bellini, which came in abundance. However, I enjoyed going to the opera last season not only as a relief from the constant studying that came with junior year, but also how great the singing was! My top three favorite performances last season were Die Frau ohne SchattenWerther, and  La Cenerentola.

Die Frau ohne Schatten:

Before last season, I had never sat down and listened or watched a Frau in its entirety. I knew that it was by Strauss, and that I loved Strauss, so why wouldn’t I love it? I also never knew that it would become my favorite opera, and that I would return to the Met to see it three more times after the final dress rehearsal. From listening and seeing most of Strauss’ operas, I have found that each one has its own unique tone and style. For example: I feel that Elektra is just the craziest of the crazy, Der Rosenkavalier features a lot of personifications of both people and objects in the orchestra, such as trilling clarinets for candles, and Capriccio is very talky and light. Last season, I determined that Frau is my favorite style of Strauss: Wagnerian. The way in which the motif for Keikobad kept returning in its natural form or arrangements, as well as the repetitive C sharps to signal the Falke, reminded me a great deal of the style of my favorite composer: Wagner.

The music of Frau not only struck me, but all of the performances just drew me in and left me in awe at the end. I had never heard Christine Goerke live before, but boy did I ever hear her whenever she opened her mouth as the Dyer’s Wife. She had such control and maintained her superb vocal quality throughout her entire range. She also brought energy and personality to each of the performances I attended, I especially loved how hilariously she treated Barak’s three brothers by spraying them with water, and how she acted lavishly whenever the Nurse conjured up the paradise she would live in if she gave up her fertility. Through all of the performances of Frau that my dad and I attended, we found each other constantly turning to each other with our mouths gaping open, later saying, “Could you believe how freaking amazing she sounded?!”

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra also outdid itself in this Strauss masterpiece. The swells and waves of sound that constantly emerge from this piece came off as magnificent, yet natural for an orchestra of that level. Even at the relatively fast tempi that Maestro Vladimir Jurowski took, the Met Orchestra went right along and produced big, magnificent, perfect Strauss sounds.

Photo: Die Frau ohne Schatten, production by Herbert Wernicke

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Finally, I also absolutely fell in love with the Met’s production of Frau, designed by Herbert Wernicke. There were two main elements of the productions: Mirrors and stairs. Colorful lights and crystal-bedecked costumes yielded extraordinary reflections on the mirrors. The stairs were a key element of the production, because they were constantly used to move between the spirit world and the real world. I found that this abstract, colorful design really worked for Frau, as it is a magical fantasy more than a relatable story. I truly wonder why the Met decided not to feature Frau as an HD broadcast in movie theaters around the world. The mirrors may cause problems with camera reflections, and the opera is also lengthy, but it is an absolutely beautiful production that people around the world should see! This production really caught my eye and drew me further into Frau.

Werther:

I decided to watch Massenet’s Werther on DVD (the 2010 one with Jonas Kaufmann from the Bastille) last summer in preparation for the Met’s coming season. I think I went through one box of tissues through watching the short fifteen-minute fourth act in which Werther (spoiler!) shoots himself. My dad came upstairs and asked why I was sobbing and I said, “You told me it was sad, not this sad!” Yes, I did cry over how sad the plot is, but I also enjoyed Massenet’s music, the French style, and of course, Jonas Kaufmann.

I attended three performances of Werther at the Met last season, all of which left me moved to tears, not only because of the plot, but the unbelievable level of singing. As much as I like Kaufmann in heavier German repertoire, I loved his lush and sensitive portrayal of the fragile Werther. His dark tone worked especially well as he sorrowfully sang “Pourquoi me réveiller”, as well as the duets with Sophie Koch as Charlotte. Just as he does in every role I have seen him perform, Kaufmann inhabited the role of Werther, conscientiously displaying his despair and desperation. Sophie Koch was a magnificent, reserved Charlotte, who worked with Kaufmann very well, possibly because they did the same opera together in Paris in 2010. Lisette Oropesa was a delightful Sophie, she truly held up the only joy and happiness that emerges from the opera. Werther has a very easy structure: If Sophie is on stage, things are going fine, everything is beautiful, life is grand; If Sophie is not onstage, and either Werther, Charlotte, or others are onstage, things are depressing and melancholy. Oropesa’s voice soared when she sang about the sun and flowers and all of the delightful things that Sophie sings about, and kept a healthy balance between the happiness and the gloominess of the opera. Finally, the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus did a fantastic job, both the seven solo roles for the siblings of Charlotte and Sophie and the chorus that sings “Noël! Noël! Noël!” at the end.

Photo: Werther, Metropolitan Opera, © Ken Howard

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This production of Werther was a premiere for the Met, directed by Richard Eyre. From my first time setting eyes on it, I truly loved it. It focused very much on nature, greenery, and simplicity, and left enough of the stage alone for more attention to be drawn to the singers. I felt that because of the tremendous amount of focus on nature, as trees, various landscapes, skies, birds, snow and other elements were shown, this production could easily be used again for Siegfried! The production also enabled Werther to really stand out from the other characters, in that he was dressed in a long black coat, while the others were adorned in colorful dresses, hats, and suits. By standing out physically, Eyre allowed Werther to be perceived as an extreme outsider to the world of Charlotte and her family. My preference in opera productions is for the singers and the music to be my primary focus, and the sets and possible director’s concept to be secondary. I felt that this production matched my preference perfectly, in that it focused on a simple theme: Nature, and let my attention be drawn to the outstanding singing of Jonas Kaufmann, Sophie Koch, and Lisette Oropesa.

La Cenerentola

Cenerentola was outstanding for only one, but one very important reason: The singing. As most bel canto operas go, many people go for the thrilling coloratura and the light, happy music, rather than for the (usually) simple and uncomplicated plots. For those who attended performances of Cenerentola, including me, we were not disappointed. Joyce DiDonato, Javier Camarena, and Juan Diego Florez all outdid themselves as the leads, as well as Luca Pisaroni and others in smaller roles. From the flying coloratura and forte spots, to the precise, staccato, piano spots such as “Questo è un modo avviluppato”, the Act II ensemble, the performances of Cenerentola were extraordinary.

This run of Cenerentola included Joyce DiDonato’s last run singing the role of Angelina, as she is retiring the role. She may have been retiring the role, but she left it with a bang. Her coloratura is simply unmatched by anyone on today’s stage, as it soared through the house and made each performance I attended absolutely exciting and thrilling. In whatever she is singing, DiDonato always displays acute breath control and electrifying dynamics that always define her performances. It is always an incredible opportunity to hear her live simply for her very conscious effort of maintaining breath control while simultaneously giving a solid, thrilling performance. DiDonato also displayed fantastic acting techniques as the poor, barred, yet hopeful Angelina, as she bounced around the stage the entire evening showing a mix of annoyance and scattered-attitude as she assisted her step-sisters, and absolute starry-eyed, whimsical movements whenever she was in the presence of the Prince. I absolutely loved DiDonato’s Angelina, vocally and acting-wise.

Photo: Joyce DiDonato and Javier Camarena in La Cenerentola, Metropolitan Opera, taken by © Sara Krulwich/New York Times

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Javier Camarena had made his Met debut in the 2011-12 season in another leading Rossini tenor role in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Juan Diego Florez was scheduled to sing all six performances of Cenerentola, however, he canceled the first three performances, allowing Camarena to fill in. I was blown away. I found that Camarena had the same flourishing, thrilling coloratura that Florez has, but he actually had a bigger voice. His voice especially rang when he sang his top Cs and Ds in “Si, ritrovarla io giro”. The audience, in fact, was so impressed, that he did an encore of the aria for the second and third performances in which he sang! It was incredible to hear him sing this aria, one or two times per performance, and I look forward to hearing more of his incredible coloratura in future seasons: Camarena is scheduled, according to Peter Gelb’s comment in the New York Times, to sing the lead tenor role in Rossini’s Semiramide opposite Joyce DiDonato at the Met in the 2017-18 season.

Juan Diego Florez, in the last three performances, was also outstanding. Even with his slightly smaller voice compared to Camarena, Florez played his usually incredible coloratura game. Florez, unlike a lot of singers, is virtually flawless vocally each time he performs. It is amazing. Very rarely, if at all, does one hear that Florez cracked this note or that note, or was sloppy in this or that passage of coloratura. For Cenerentola, Florez showed his elite vocal accuracy, precision, and consistency.

The Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra were also wonderful in Cenerentola. It is amazing how each of them can sing heavy, Strauss operas one night, and sing light-Rossini the next. Fabio Luisi did an incredible job keeping light tempi throughout, and leaving me on the edge of my sight throughout each of the performances I attended.

The Metropolitan Opera’s 2013-14 season was fantastic, and I especially enjoyed it through each of my top three operas. I am anxious and excited for the 2014-15 season to begin in the Fall! I am also looking forward to preceding the Met’s 2014-15 with a fulfilling summer of writing, playing music, watching performances, traveling, and relaxing.

 

“Chatting” about Two Boys

This fall the Met has featured many operas that many people call “typical”, such as NormaRigoletto, and Tosca on its stage. However, Two Boys is far from typical. It is like nothing the Met has ever done before.

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The story deals with, in fact, two boys (no, really?), one named Jake, age 13, and the other Brian, age 16. The opera deals with a murder mystery, a case assigned to Detective Anne Strawson, involving evidence posted on the internet through chat rooms, only it is difficult to know who is who in these chats. It is difficult, because Jake, at the tender age of 13, has several different personas that he uses to chat with Brian. There is Rebecca, a teenage girl/love interest around Brian’s age, the “Fake Jake”, or Brian’s imagination of who Jake would be, Peter, the “perv” gardner, Fiona, a friend of Jake’s who is responsible for telling Brian to kill Jake, eventually, and the real Jake eventually chats to Brian as himself. So why does Jake use all of these personas to chat with Brian? At first, Jake is interested in Brian for a relationship, but later on in the opera when the two boys meet each other in person, Brian rejects Jake’s love interest. After that, Jake twists the story and plans a murder plot…for himself. Through his personas, Jake tells Brian exactly where to get a knife and where to meet him and kill him, and Brian does exactly that, hence the first lines of the opera, “Help! Help! My friend has been stabbed!”

Nico Muhly, the composer of Two Boys, and Craig Lucas, the librettist, have something in common that no other opera composers and librettists have at the Met this year (unless you count Enchanted Island)…they are both still alive! When my mother rehearsed Two Boys on C-level and on the stage, Mr. Muhly would be listening intently, talk to orchestra members, and communicate with Maestro Robinson. Imagine if Mozart, Verdi, or Wagner could come back from the dead and do that today! My mother was even able to ask Mr. Muhly about a certain spot in the music, where the oboe was supposed to be playing in a certain way where the mouth surrounds the entire reed, or a shawm. My mother was able to play the passage a few times for Muhly, and he, (yes, the composer), was able to say “Yes, that is exactly what I want!”

Photo: Alice Coote and Paul Appleby in Two Boys

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When I walked into Two Boys, I was worried that it was going to be too modern and too eery for my taste, and that the music would sound like the work of some modern composers that I do not particularly like. I had nothing to worry about! When I first heard Two Boys I heard a lot of music that sounded like Wagner and Debussy, rather than random clinking and clonging. After the second time hearing the opera I was able to pick up on leitmotifs that follow characters around, such as the rhythmic ‘G’s on the timpani and low brass that follow Fiona around, or the chromatics that follow Anne Strawson’s mother around. The music was very interesting and indeed modern, yet I enjoyed listening to it!

The production by Bartlett Sher really caught the darkness and travesty that can occur on the internet. He used many projections of various prisms, shapes, lines, boxes, and other figures that we, as the audience, were supposed to interpret as the internet. Sher also used projections for the chat windows, where moving text could be seen line by line along with profile pictures, and even a video camera! The production also used dancers to express the randomness and complicated nature of the internet, and the chorus held laptops that produced light to glow on members’ faces. Overall, the production was very dark, except for the light of computers and projections, which captured the mysterious nature of the internet perfectly.

Photo: Act II of Two Boys, chatting between Fiona (Sandra Piques-Eddy) and Brian (Paul Appleby)

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The singing in Two Boys was magnificent. Alice Coote outdid herself as Anne Strawson. Her acting and her singing were amazing, in fact, if Two Boys ever comes back to the Met, I cannot imagine anyone else except Alice Coote singing that role! She became the detective! Paul Appleby played and sang a perfectly smug, stubborn sixteen-year old Brian. Jennifer Zetlan had a lovely lyric sound and some great high notes as Rebecca. Sandra Piques-Eddy was a very dark, evil Fiona, whenever she sang to Brian I was on the edge of my seat! Keith Miller sang a very evil Peter, in fact, he was so scary that when I told him that I was coming to see the show he said “Oh dear…”. The singing done by the chorus, and the orchestra under Maestro Robertson were also amazing! All of these roles must have been very difficult to memorize, because there are numerous short lines that characters sing when they are in “chat mode”, so bravi to everyone!

I thoroughly enjoyed Two Boys. When I first heard that this opera was coming to the Met, I honestly thought that it would be a piece that I would not like, and that I would first listen to on the radio to hear if I really would want to go see it. The complete opposite occurred. I saw it on Opening Night, and went back to see it again! Why did I like this opera so much? It felt so relatable to what I do as a teenager on the internet. First of all, I am on it all the time, just like Jake and Brian, and I love to use my blog, Twitter, and Facebook to chat with people, some I know better than others. Two Boys served as a reminder to me to be very careful on the internet, and remember that you never know who’s out there. As Fiona sang, “You don’t know me, but I know you. Choose your friends wisely”.

Opening Night at the Metropolitan Opera: Русский-Style

Last night was Opening Night at the Metropolitan Opera for the 2013-14 season. It opened with Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, starring Mariusz Kwiecien as Onegin and Anna Netrebko as Tatyana. This was the second time in Met history that a season was opened with Eugene Onegin, as the Met’s 1957 season opened with it starring George London as Onegin, Lucine Amara as Tatyana, Richard Tucker as Lensky, Rosalind Elias as Olga, and Giorgio Tozzi as Prince Gremin. In that year, Tchaikovsky’s work was sung in English, but this season it is being sung in the native-Russian language of Tchaikovsky. Interestingly enough, all of the stars of this season’s run are either Russian or Polish, making the language and text of Shilovsky and Tchaikovsky’s libretto come alive more for Met audiences, including last night’s audience at opening night!

Photo: Anna Netrebko as Tatyana in the Letter Scene (Act I Scene 2)

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Mariusz Kwiecien played the perfectly careless, selfish, almost lazy Onegin. His darkly toned, Slavic voice matched the character perfectly. Anna Netrebko’s Tatyana was incredibly moving and stunning. In the letter scene especially, she sang some pianissimos that made the audience’s hearts stop. One feels that this is the repertoire that really fits her like a glove, along with some of the Verdi roles, such as Elisabeth from Don Carlos, that she recorded for her new CD: “Anna Netrebko: Verdi”. Oksana Volkova’s Olga was incredibly bright and fun. Volkova made her debut as Maddalena in Rigoletto last season. She played Olga to Tatyana as if she was singing the role of Sophie in Werther to melancholy and conflicted Charlotte. She hopped around the stage, often in step to the music, teasing her sister Tatyana and Lensky, singing brightly with her complimentary, high cheekbones. Her singing was one of the highlights of the evening. Piotr Beczała’s Lensky was also so incredibly moving. His “Kuda, kuda” was so heart-wrenching, that no one in the audience wanted him to be shot in the duel only seconds later.

Photo: Mariusz Kwiecien (Onegin) holding Piotr Beczała (Lensky) after the duel (Act II Scene 2)

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This fantastic performance was conducted by Maestro Valery Gergiev, who last conducted Eugene Onegin at the Met in 2007. Throughout the evening, Gergiev conducted and formed a very velvety and mellow sound, especially through the woodwinds and the brass. In the letter scene, when the oboe and the horn exchange the melodic line, the sound was perfectly seamless and connected. The Mazurka and the Polonaise were both greatly and entertainingly conducted, but one was quite impressed with the legato line and velvet texture he gave for the orchestral sound. He also obviously worked with the chorus on their Russian, because their diction was fantastic, and they sounded wonderful!

The production was perfectly satisfactory. There were no random leaves and sweeping, as the previous production had. It might have been a bit ahead of the time period of Eugene Onegin, in that Onegin came into the Larin Estate to tell Tatyana that her act of writing the letter was childish wearing a Panama-type hat. Had Panama hats really reached Russia in the 1820s? The sets were perfectly traditional and simple. The ballroom in Act II was very open with one giant carpet in the middle of the room where dancing, arguing, and dual-calling would take place. One of my favorite sets was for the Polonaise: Simple white columns, with enough room to dance around, with a beautiful shade of blue in the background, and the dancers wearing lightly-colored dresses.

Photo: My favorite set of the opera (Act III Scene 1)

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One of the aspects of the production that one was not particularly enthusiastic for was the unnecessary kissing and intimacy between Onegin and Tatyana. At each point in the opera when one confronts the other in interest of love, the other is not interested or is too self-absorbed to realize what he or she wants in his or her love life. It did not make sense when Onegin told Tatyana that he was not interested in her childish love letters, and then giving her a passionate kiss to say goodbye. Later on, in the last minute of the opera, a humongous pause was taken for Onegin and Tatyana to really “make out” as a goodbye to each other. It is indeed true that Tatyana admits her love for Onegin in those last few minutes, but it is also true that she is supposed to run offstage, away from Onegin, encouraging herself to remain faithful to Gremin and to completely escape her previous life. The relationship between Onegin and Tatyana in this production was a bit too intimate, in that the relationship should really have been portrayed as more cold and careless.

Attending opening night was an incredible experience. This was my second Met opening night because I attended the opening of Das Rheingold in 2010. Seeing so many opera enthusiasts, opera singers, and famous actors dressed up in long gowns and tuxedos was a fantastic sight. Half of the fun of opening night was people-watching! Part of the “fun” in people-watching/hearing was the ruckus that was made when Gergiev took the podium before Act I. LGBT protestors from the Family Circle tried to make their voices heard, but were eventually defeated by the choruses of “SHUT UP”s and “BASTA”s. This opening night also began my 11th season of attending operas with my father, who introduced me to opera, and seeing my mother play second oboe in the pit of course! Congratulations to the Metropolitan Opera on a fantastic opening night, and a strong start to the 2013-14 season.

Photo: My dad and me at Opening Night!

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“Tuning up” for the Met’s 2013-14 Season with Metropolitan Opera Oboist Susan Spector

Opening night at the Metropolitan Opera is approaching quickly! The Met will open its 2013-14 season with a new production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, starring Anna Netrebko and Mariusz Kwiecien. For this opening night to be put on, however, a lot of work has had to be put in by the star singers, the chorus, the stagehands, the radio department, lots of other departments, and of course, the orchestra! My mother, Susan Spector, is the Second Oboist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and has been for twenty-two years. She sat down with me and gave me the scoop on how pre-season went, and what to expect for the upcoming season:

Photo: Susan Spector © Michael Ouzounian

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Melanie Spector (Ms.OperaGeek): Overall, how was pre-season? You just finished it yesterday with the final dress rehearsal of Eugene Onegin.

Susan Spector: It’s a shift of gears from summer to spending all day rehearsing. Some of the orchestra members have come to call it “boot camp” *laughs*! After three weeks of pre-season, it’s awfully nice to play for an audience, which is what we did in the dress rehearsal yesterday.

MS: Which operas did you rehearse in pre-season?

SS: I rehearsed Così fan tutte and Eugene Onegin, and one day with just orchestra of Falstaff with Maestro Levine. Other people have been playing The Nose and there have been a couple of rehearsals of Norma.

MS: Now that James Levine is back, I would expect that conducting from a wheelchair would be slightly different—for him and for the players in the orchestra.  Can you elaborate?

SS: There has been major construction inside of the pit and outside, leading up to it. One lift has been installed outside of the pit, a special ramp has been installed in the pit behind the players, and we’re still working out the logistics of having him enter and then resetting certain seats and stands in the orchestra once he is in the pit. As a matter of fact, the area most directly in the path of where the wheelchair needs to come through is the oboe section–where I am. Ironically, oboe players tend to have the most “stuff” or “fiddly reed things”, tuners, knives, etc. It might be a challenge for us, but we’ve done it once and it went mostly smoothly, and I have some ideas for a more speedy departure from and re-entry into the pit! (And, no, my ideas do not include skipping the overture and coming in late!”) *laughs*

MS: What are you most looking forward to playing this season and why?

SS: I am really looking forward to playing Die Frau ohne Schatten. My two favorite composers to perform at the Met are Wagner and Strauss. They probably have the most colorful, intricate, and challenging orchestral palettes of any composers of opera. Frau is also so rarely done, that I am really looking forward to its return. Also, another opera I’m looking forward to is Prince Igor. Even though I do not have a part, I am really looking forward to watching it from the audience. I look forward to hearing Noseda conduct, but I will miss playing for him. I always find his performances to be very committed and riveting (and he’s a nice guy!).

Photo: The Met’s production of Die Frau ohne Schatten

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MS: Have you had any fun encounters backstage or down on C level during pre-season, or heard any other people rehearsing?

SS: I hear the Ballet rehearsing at the same time we are, and the Chorus has been back since July. I’ve run into James Morris who is here for Norma, I’ve seen the cast of Onegin, the Children’s Chorus for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Also, our orchestra lounge has also served as a temporary repair shop during pre-season:  a place where stagehands make their annual repairs to the backs and seats that need to be reupholstered in red velvet for the house. This was another surprise:  I saw the set for Onegin and there were so many mirrors on it that I thought it was the Met production of Frau!

MS: Who are you looking forward to hearing sing this season?

SS: Juan Diego Florez and Joyce DiDonato, even though La Cenerentola is all the way in April. I love Jonas Kaufmann, and I am not scheduled to play Werther, so I will be in the audience!

MS: Which conductors are you looking forward to working with this season?

SS: I love working with Yannick Nézét Séguin, and am looking forward to seeing him conduct my teacher Richard Woodhams in the Oboe Concerto of Richard Strauss with the Philadelphia Orchestra next month, and then playing Rusalka with him at the Met! I also am glad that James Levine is making his return to the podium.  He has a particular affinity for the works of Mozart and Verdi, in my opinion, so Così and Falstaff will no doubt be highlights of the season.

MS: Is there anything that you are dreading about the upcoming season?

SS: No Wagner! Where’s the Wagner? Where’s the beef?! I love playing Wagner, and I am sad that there is none of his music this year. Also, I am not playing A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I love Britten, so I am a little disappointed in that. I will also miss looking up from the pit and seeing my daughter singing on the stage with the Children’s Chorus…and I will miss seeing her in light-up horns at the Ring!

MS: What happens over the summer? Are there any meet-ups during the summer? Festivals?

SS: Once the opera season ends, the members of the Orchestra usually do not see one another. We had one Carnegie Hall concert immediately following the end of the season, and then we were on vacation until after Labor Day. On September 4th, we returned and rehearsed Mahler VII in anticipation of the December Carnegie Hall concert. Some Orchestra players saw one another at the Tahoe SummerFest at Lake Tahoe, some played at other festivals, others like myself used the vacation to get a little time away from the instrument. Some people like to play different kinds of music other than opera during the summer, symphonic or chamber music, for example.  I love having the chance to go hear performances during the summer. I loved going to Covent Garden and Glyndebourne this past summer, listening to BBC Proms concerts over the Internet, and watching the performance of Elektra with Esa Pekka Salonen that streamed live from Aix-en-Provence was totally riveting.  Finding the time for opportunities to attend and listen to other performances is much more difficult when I’m in the midst of a busy opera season and my own performances.

MS: That’s nice that you get to attend things during the summer and be in the audience! What was the highlight of your summer musically, as an audience member?

SS: Seeing Britten’s Gloriana at Covent Garden while being in London at the same time as Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee to celebrate her reign was amazing! It was written for her, making it a very unique piece, and I just love his music. Also, being in London- seeing so many things on Queen Elizabeth I, the subject and main character in Gloriana, was very cool!

MS: Any last words for anxious opera fans waiting for the season to start?

SS: I think it’s going to be an exciting year for the Met: in the opera house, on the airwaves, and in the movie theaters. Opera fans can be the most fanatical fans (in a good way!), and members of the Orchestra hear that in your applause and “Bravo”s as well as in your excited tweets and blog posts. It can sometimes be difficult repeatedly playing the same repertoire, so your excitement keeps it exciting for us! It is so nice seeing a passion for opera by so many people, and it helps us remain passionate about playing.

If you would like to read more about Susan Spector read here: http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/about/whoweare/detail.aspx?customid=3 (Scroll to Susan Spector in the oboe section)

Thoughts on “The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer” by Renée Fleming

In between reading the books that I was assigned in June for my summer assignments, I picked up The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer by world renowned soprano Renée Fleming. I had wanted to read this book for a long time, but I felt that reading it while I was preparing to go to Manhattan School of Music for precollege voice would be a good idea, so I could familiarize with how music schools work and how students, specifically voice students, make their way in the music world. I am so glad that I read it this summer, because it really did make me more aware of what I am getting myself into by pursuing entrance into the field of music.

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Every young singer should read this book. Ms. Fleming’s book is different from most other opera singer’s autobiographies. Instead of just talking about her career and background, Ms. Fleming goes in depth about her voice lessons, her teachers, her audition techniques and the results, and many other things that are always in the minds and schedules of young singers. She even gives vocal tips and practicing tips that she learned from her teachers, such as holding your upper lip to release tension around the mouth, and bring out more sound. Who would have guessed that? She also admitted that it is a rough road to drive on to succeed vocally in the music world, and even spoke of times when she almost gave up on her idea of a singing career, or other people told her to wrap it up. During college, she won a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Frankfurt, Germany for a year. She said that she was lucky that planes do not turn around once they are in the air, because she was asking herself what she was doing on a plane flying to Germany, not knowing a word of German or where to go when she got there! That sounds so scary, yet so relatable to a young singer traveling the world to study. Ms. Fleming’s book can be very relatable, and almost comforting to read, or even re-read, for young singers who are struggling to keep faith.

Once Ms. Fleming finishes her parts about her schooling and auditioning and hits the many big, operatic stages, it is very interesting reading about her actual performances! For example: She talks about her Met Debut as Countess Almaviva in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and how she was so giddy and excited to be singing onstage with some of her idols: Samuel Ramey as Figaro and Frederica von Stade as Cherubino. Today, so many young singers look up to Renée Fleming and would feel the same giddiness and excitement singing onstage with her that she did back on March 16, 1991 in her Met Debut. Ms. Fleming also said the same about autographs. She had the amazing opportunity to meet Leontyne Price when she was 10 years old where she grew up in upstate New York, and Ms. Price became an idol and mentor to her in the future. Now, Ms. Fleming signs autographs for 10 year olds and young singers today, just as she did when she was younger.

Renée Fleming as Countess Madeleine in Strauss’ Capriccio

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I would recommend this book to any voice student, or even music students in general, more than the regular opera attendee. This book not only talks about her career, but also her journey to where she is today, voice lessons, technique, teachers, and tons and tons of auditions. Every young singer should read The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer by Renée Fleming.

2013-2014: A Busy Season for the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus

Today the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus returns to the Met to rehearse for next season. This season will be very busy for them, because there are eight operas featuring the children’s chorus! That is quite a lot compared to past years, such as last year, where there were only four operas for the children’s chorus: Turandot, Tosca, Carmen, and Parsifal. You
might be saying to yourself, “Well, the children’s chorus parts are not very long or difficult so what’s the big deal?”. The children’s chorus rehearses vigorously for at least three days a week in the summer, two days a week during the school year, and each chorus member cast in an opera knows his or her part cold and backwards. August 5 is a very early date for the children’s chorus to return to the Met, in itself proving how busy the season will be.

Here are the operas that will feature the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus this season (I was able to take a photo of the chalkboard before I left the children’s chorus last season):

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

This opera by Benjamin Britten is a very busy opera for the children’s chorus. It features the children’s chorus as fairies along with the four solo fairies: Cobweb, Mustardseed, Moth, and Peaseblossom. The children sing in all three acts, and it is not a short opera. The rhythms and melodies for the children are also very complicated. Try saying this phrase quickly (not even to a melody): “Are you not he that frights the maidens of the villagery”. It may not be difficult now, but with a complicated rhythm and melody, it is challenging. This opera was already cast in May with members of the children’s chorus because it is so close to the beginning of the Met’s season in September. I had the opportunity to learn some of Midsummer before I left the children’s chorus, and I discovered myself that singing in Shakespearean English is not easy. At all.

Tosca:

Tosca has a short part for the children’s chorus in Act I with the sacristan and then the “Te Deum” at the end of Act I. The part with the sacristan features both boys and girls, but the director, Luc Bondy, only wanted boys featured in the “Te Deum” scene, and those stage directions have been kept. The sacristan part flies by and can be difficult, especially the phrases: “Si festeggi la vittoria, e questa sera, gran fiaccolata”, which conductors tend to speed up. Since it can be sped up, the children’s chorus will rehearse those phrases to death to adapt to the conductors’ (This season: Riccardo Frizza and Marco Armiliato) tempi. It is a short part, but a difficult one.

Photo: The Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus in Zeffirelli’s production of Tosca

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Tosca also features a solo in Act III, the shepherd that sings on the morning of Cavaradossi’s execution day. It can be sung by a girl or a boy soprano (most of the time a boy soprano), and it is a scary solo, because you have nothing under you except some double basses skipping fifths from E to B, and the oboe singing in between your lines. The solo really
leaves you alone, like a lone shepherd singing to the sheep in the fields.

Die Frau ohne Schatten:

This incredible Straussian opera is making its return to the Met stage after 10 years of not being performed! It is also going to be uncut, under the baton of Vladimir Jurowski. This children’s chorus part lies very high, as they represent the poor, hungry children that Barak brings home. It is in two parts, but the tops start on a high A: “O Tag des Glücks, o Abend der Gnade!”, which is a high start for a children’s chorus. As it is uncut, there might be other places where the children’s chorus could be featured, such as the voices of the unborn children near the end. Strauss is not easy.

Der Rosenkavalier:

The children in this opera are all younger children and short children, with a maximum height of five feet approximately. They are featured in Act III and play the pretend children of Baron Ochs under the plotting of Annina and Valzacchi. They sing, “Papa! Papa! Papa!” and bat Ochs to get him flustered and annoyed. It is a short part for the children’s chorus, but it is difficult because of the entrances, and identifying entrances with certain words does not help in this case because the only word the children sing is “Papa!”.

The Magic Flute:

Photo: Diana Damrau with the Three Spirits at the Metropolitan Opera in Julie Taymor’s production :

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This opera by Mozart (Well, not really since they cut almost half of it including many great parts and changed it to English) features the three spirits, or three boy sopranos. They are a key part in The Magic Flute because they guide Tamino and they prevent the suicides of both Papageno and Pamina. Solos are always exciting for the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus, special classes are even scheduled to rehearse for auditions for the solos! What boy soprano would not want his name on one of the giant posters out on Lincoln Center Plaza?

La Bohème:

Puccini gave this children’s chorus part as a gift. It is fun all around. First of all, the children’s chorus is onstage for all of Act II (I know, it is only 15 minutes long), and they have a whole lot of fun singing and not singing. The Met performs La Bohème with the iconic production by Franco Zeffirelli, and Act II features bagels, lollipops, Oreos, toys, French flags, flowers, and even gigantic wheels of cheese for the children’s chorus to use in acting. If you are in the children’s chorus and you have a cool prop (or costume as a matter of fact), you are automatically popular. You are also cool and popular if you receive a toy from Parpignol, the famous toy salesman that the children’s chorus bombardes in their solo part of the act. The children’s chorus also enjoys getting to sing in the crowd scenes, welcoming Musetta, and of course, the big parade at the end…and then waving to the audience at the end of the act.

Photo: Act II of La Bohème at the Metropolitan Opera (I am somewhere in there…)

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The singing n La Bohème itself is somewhat challenging, because there are many unexpected entrances in the various crowd scenes. Some children’s chorus directors feel that this opera is a good “first opera” for a children’s chorus member
because it is not difficult, just as it is considered a good first opera for audience members. I do not believe this, at least for the singing part of it. Crowd scenes are always difficult because you are surrounded by people who are singing different lines, and for a young child who is singing in his or her first opera, it can be overwhelming. It takes a while to learn because the children’s chorus sings for the entire act, and it takes some diligence to know when to come in for those rough entrances, such as “Parpignol Parpignol Parpignol Parpignol”, before Colline can finish singing “Salame!”.

Werther:

This opera is returning to the Met’s stage for the first time in nine years! The children’s chorus is featured as the brothers and sisters of Charlotte. It is a similar part to the children in Der Rosenkavalier as the pretend children of Baron Ochs. There are about the same number of them in Werther and they are just as cheery, unlike the opera. They sing at the beginning and the end of the opera, singing “Noël! Noël! Noël!” even though it is not Christmas. They also get to interact with Werther, Sophie, Charlotte, and Le Bailli, making them a real character all together in the opera. It is almost erie when you hear them come back singing “Noël! Noël! Noël!” at the end of the opera, after Werther has shot himself and all is not happy like Christmas.

Wozzeck:

This is possibly the most difficult of all the children’s chorus operas, and yet has one of the shortest parts. The opera was composed with atonality, meaning it does not define any key. The notes are somewhat random, making it very challenging to memorize and sing for adults, let alone a children’s chorus. The children sing “Ringle Ringle Rosenkranz!” while dancing in a circle. This is complicated in two ways. First, the children have to sing this difficult melody while holding hands and skipping in a circle, and second, half of them are not facing the conductor on one diameter of the circle. The children have a difficult entrance off the beat from the orchestra, while the curtain is rising, so some children can see the conductor while others have to crane their necks to spy a monitor. All in all this is a very, very difficult opera for the children’s chorus, musically and acting-wise.

Photo: Alan Held and Waltraud Meier with the “Hop hop” boy in Wozzeck at the Metropolitan Opera

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Wozzeck also features a solo boy, who is the son of Wozzeck and Marie. He acts through many scenes of the opera, but he has his little, sad solo at the end. In the children’s chorus, we call him the “Hop hop” boy, because that is all he sings. The other children yell, “Dein Mutter ist tot!”, meaning “Your mother is dead!”, but he just sits on his hobby horse and sings “Hop hop” to himself, as if he does not understand or is preoccupied. At the end of the opera, the other children run off to see the bodies of the boy’s dead parents, while the poor, little boy is left with his hobby horse, all alone while the curtain descends.

The Metropolitan Opera Children’s is featured in other non-singing operas. For example: There are newspaper boys that yell in Giordano’s Andrea Chenier, there are children that play insects and animals surrounding Ježibaba while she makes the potion in Dvořák’s Rusalka, and there are acting parts for children in the Met’s productions of Norma and L’Elisir d’Amore. Surprisingly, the Met’s new production of Falstaff opening December 6 does not feature any children. The old
production, that even appeared at the old Metropolitan Opera House, featured children dressed as fairies and witches!

I will miss performing with the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus terribly, but I wanted to write this as an outsider to show to myself and the world how busy, yet fun, being in the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus can be. I wish all the luck and “Tois” to my friends in their performances this season. I will be cheering on from the audience…and maybe even singing along a bit…

Summer 2013: Wagner’s International 200th Birthday Bash!

This year the classical and operatic music world are celebrating the 200th birthday of composer Richard Wagner. Many opera houses and festivals around the world have been pushing to perform more Wagner this year than ever before. That effort is showing particularly well at this point in the year. So many opera houses, radio stations, and festivals are putting on Wagner all at the same time, even while the Metropolitan Opera is closed for the summer (The Met did throw their Wagner Birthday Party by doing the Ring and Parsifal in the Winter and Spring)! Here are the numerous venues where Wagner is being performed this summer:

Royal Albert Hall: The BBC Proms

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For the first time ever the BBC Proms is presenting an entire, complete Ring Cycle. This is also the first time that Maestro Daniel Barenboim will conduct a Wagner opera in Britain. Das Rheingold was performed on Monday night, starring Iain Paterson as Wotan, Ekaterina Gubanova as Fricka, and Stephan Rügamer as Loge. Die Walküre was performed on Tuesday night starring Bryn Terfel as Wotan, Simon O’Neill as Siegmund, Anja Kampe as Sieglinde, and Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde. These were Proms numbers 14 and 15. Proms 18 and 20 will be Siegfried on Friday night, starring Lance Ryan in the title role, and Götterdämmerung on Sunday afternoon, starring Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde, Andreas Schager as Siegfried, and Mikhail Petrenko as Hagen. The whole Ring includes the wonderful orchestra of Staatskapelle Berlin under Daniel Barenboim.

IN BETWEEN the long Wagner operas of Proms 18 and 19, Tristan und Isolde will be performed as Prom 19. No, thank goodness, they are not working the same orchestra to death. The BBC Symphony Chorus will play under Maestro Semyon Bychkov, along with the BBC Symphony Chorus and Singers. It will star Violetta Urmana as Isolde and Peter Seiffert as Tristan.

In August, Tannhäuser will be performed on the 4th with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Donald Runnicles. Robert Dean Smith will sing the title role of Tannhäuser and Heidi Melton will sing Elisabeth. On the 25th of August, the Wagner fest will continue with Parsifal starring Lars Cleveman as Parsifal, Katarina Dalayman (who just outdid herself in the part at the Met) as Kundry, Sir John Tomlinson as Gurnemanz, and Iain Paterson as Amfortas. It will be conducted by Sir Mark Elder with Hallé, the Royal Opera House Chorus, the Hallé Youth Choir, and Trinity Boys Choir

Other excerpts of Wagner such as the Wesendonck Lieder and the overtures to Rienzi and Die Meistersinger will be performed. You can listen live to these Proms through their website (Click the link at the top and you can go to their site).

Bayreuther Festspiele (Bayreuth Festival):

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The Bayreuth Festival has been around since 1876. Wagner built it specifically to perform the Ring and Parsifal with the financial support of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. After Wagner’s son Siegfried, and after his grandson Wieland, and after his other grandson Wolfgang, the festival is now run by Richard’s two great granddaughters: Eva Wagner-Pasquier and Katharina Wagner, who are the daughters of Wolfgang Wagner.

Photo: Castorf’s set for Das Rheingold

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This season Bayreuth is performing an entire new production of the Ring, and revivals of Der Fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, and Lohengrin. The new production of the Ring will be directed by Frank Castorf. The whole Ring will take place on Route 66 in the United States, making many people think it is going to be “regie”. Kirill Petrenko will conduct the Ring Cycle. Singers in the Ring include Johan Botha as Siegmund, Anja Kampe as Sieglinde, who is also singing it at the Proms, Lance Ryan as Siegfried, who is also singing it at the Proms, Wolfgang Koch as Wotan and the Wanderer, and Bayreuth’s new British Brünnhilde: Catherine Foster. Conductors include Kirill Petrenko for the Ring, Christian Thielemann for Der Fliegende Holländer, Andris Nelsons for Lohengrin, and Alex Kober for Tannhäuser. You can listen to broadcasts live from Bayreuth during their season through various internet streams, look on the internet!

WQXR’s Wagner Week

(One of many hilarious Ring cartoons WQXR has put out on its Facebook Page)

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This week WQXR’s station is holding its Wagner Week, celebrating his 200th birthday. They started out on Monday by playing broadcasts of the Ring from the Metropolitan Opera under James Levine. On Tuesday they played Wagner excerpts such as Wotan’s Farewell, the Magic Fire Music, and the overture to Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman).They also played Tannhäuser conducted by Daniel Barenboim with Staatskapelle Berlin (The same duo that is performing the Ring at the Proms). All of the Operavore shows on WQXR this week are Wagner themed as well. All day today, July 24, you can hear all four operas of the Ring conducted by Clemens Krauss with the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra. Wagner Week will continue all of this week on WQXR and Operavore.

Seattle Opera: The Ring

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The Seattle Opera gets to join the 200th birthday party with its Ring Cycle. It will be performed in three cycles, running from August 4 to 25. Das Rheingold will star Greer Grimsley as Wotan, Stephanie Blythe as Fricka, Richard Paul Fink as Alberich, Wendy Bryn Harmer as Freia, and Mark Schowalter as Loge. Die Walküre will star Alwyn Mellor as Brünnhilde, Stuart Skelton as Siegmund, Margaret Jane Wray as Sieglinde and Greer Grimsley as Wotan. Siegfried will star Stefan Vinke in the title role, Dennis Petersen as Mime, Greer Grimsley as the Wanderer, and Alwyn Mellor as Brünnhilde. Götterdämmerung will star Alwyn Mellor as Brünnhilde, Stefan Vinke as Siegfried, and Daniel Sumegi as Hagen. Single tickets and Cycles are on sale now!

Tanglewood:

Tanglewood and the Boston Symphony Orchestra have given several Wagnerian programs in the shed this summer. They have an All-Wagner program on July 21 with overtures from Rienzi, Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, and Tannhäuser, and also the Siegfried Idyll, the “Liebestod”, Forest Murmurs from Siegfried, and the iconic Ride of the Valkyries. They also performed Act III of Die Walküre with Katarina Dalayman as Brünnhilde and Bryn Terfel as Wotan on July 20.

Glimmerglass Festival:

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The Glimmerglass Festival is performing Der Fliegende Holländer until August 24. It stars Ryan McKinny as the Dutchman, Melody Moore as Senta, Peter Volpe as Dalland, and Jay Hunter Morris as Erik. It is being conducted by Maestro John Keenan and the production is by Francesca Zambello.

The Sydney Opera House:

The famous and brilliant looking Sydney Opera House performed Der Fliegende Holländer in the land from down under on July 20 and July 22. David Robertson conducted Eric Owens in the title role, who was making his Australian debut, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

The bicentennial of Wagner’s birth is a huge reason to celebrate, and opera companies, radio stations, and festivals all over the world are making it huge. It is incredible that all over the world, Wagner fans are invited and are attending one big birthday party for one composer. Happy 200th, Richard!

Viva! Viva! Viva Simon Boccanegra from the Royal Opera House!

I recently returned from a vacation to London where I saw two performances at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden: Britten’s Gloriana and Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra. The experience of being at that opera house once was so amazing, that my family and I had to go back! I am so glad that we returned, because seeing great Verdi with a great cast was an excellent finish to our vacation.

Photo: Council Chamber Scene (Act I Scene 2) of Simon Boccanegra at ROH

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The singing was marvelous all around. Thomas Hampson was a powerful Doge, sounding much more full and less forced than he can sound at the Metropolitan Opera. Russian soprano Hibla Gerzmava as Amelia was my favorite. Her voice has this bloom in it that I cannot get over, just as I could not get over it in her first aria Come in quest’ora bruna. She also sang beautifully as Stella and Antonia in Les Contes d’Hoffmann and as Liù in Turandot at the Met in past seasons. Ferruccio Furlanetto played an excellent Fiesco, and his voice rang more complimentary in the Royal Opera House than the Met. It was lovely hearing Russell Thomas in a bigger role as Gabriele Adorno. He has a very focused and beautiful sound that worked with the acoustics of the theater. I would love to hear him in bigger roles, like Adorno, back in New York. Dmitri Platanias was a marvelous Paolo, a role that is often undercast at the Met even with its importance in the plot. I particularly enjoyed his scene where he debates over how to kill Boccanegra, with poison or with a knife. He was dramatic, and he was far from undercast in his role as Paolo. Finally, I heard a tremendous amount of potential in Jihoon Kim singing Pietro. Even for his small role, the bass had a strong and memorable voice. He has sung many small roles at the Royal Opera and participated in several young artist programs there, giving him potential to fly over here and sing at the Met some day!

Photo: Thomas Hampson as Simon and Hibla Gerzmava as Amelia

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The Royal Opera House Chorus did a fabulous job. Simon Boccanegra is one of the many operas that Verdi composed that includes the chorus almost as another character. The orchestra under Sir Antonio Pappano played brilliantly. In some spots, especially the Council Chamber scene, the tempi was taken a bit more leisurely than in other performances I’ve seen. However, it still had adrenaline and I left Act I feeling invigorated.

It was lovely and relieving to see a traditional production after watching regie productions of Ariadne auf Naxos at Glyndebourne and Gloriana. The production took place where it was supposed to be in 14th century Genoa. Most of the sets were made up of simple columns with the sky as a background, or golden writing in Latin discussing Simon Boccanegra. I enjoyed seeing the rich materials, colors, and details of the costumes for the Doge and his congress, and all in all seeing a traditional production where I did not have to think about representation or ask myself “What does that supposed to mean?”. I knew what everything meant in Moshinsky’s production, and I was able to focus on Verdi’s great music.

Attending not one, but two performances at the Royal Opera House was a major treat. Hearing opera in a smaller, more traditional sized opera house than that of New York was a very interesting and special experience. From seeing two performances there, I have found that singers do not have to force their voices to reach the 4,000th seat in the Family Circle as much as they do at the Met. In this theater, singers sound much more comfortable because there are far fewer seats and there is less distance that they have to make their voices travel. It was even more comfortable to listen to! I cannot wait to one day go back to London and see another performance at this special opera house.

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