Welcome Back, Dmitri Hvorostovsky!: A Review of the Met’s Il Trovatore

On Friday night, the Met began its run of the second Verdi opera of the season Il Trovatore. The role of Manrico was sung by Yonghoon Lee, Anna Netrebko was Leonora, and Dolora Zajick sang Azucena. The spotlight, however, was on Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who sang Count di Luna and made his first return to the Met after announcing that he is in the midst of a battle with a brain tumor and is currently undergoing treatment. He is scheduled to sing two more performances of Trovatore, after initially canceling many of his performances for the rest of the 2015 year.

Upon Hvorostovky’s first entrance, the Met audience went absolutely nuts. Many were standing and clapping as loud as possible, so much so that Maestro Marco Armiliato had to stop the orchestra and wait for the applause to cease. He and the orchestra gladly joined in the applause despite the halt of the performance. Hvorostovsky put a hand to his heart and bowed his head as thanks for the support. The performance continued after about an entire minute of applause.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky during the finals bows after Il Trovatore on Friday night. Photo credits to Met Oboist Susan Spector

Dmitri Hvorostovsky during the finals bows after Il Trovatore on Friday night. Photo credits to Metropolitan Opera Oboist Susan Spector

That was nothing, however. At the conclusion of the performance during the sequence of final bows, Hvorostovsky was given yet another standing ovation and overwhelming round of applause. This time, however, the orchestra not only applauded, but each member threw a white rose from the pit onto the stage for him to collect. This simple gesture was comforting not only for him, but for everyone in the opera house. It showed that the Met is not just a boasting center of entertainment made up of the essential employees for each department: It’s family. As Canio describes in “Vesti la giubba”, there is more behind an actor than just what is on the surface, the makeup and costume; they can experience pain and suffering just as regular people do. Unfortunately, Hvorostovsky is currently experiencing that very human pain. His illness has hit the Met at a personal level, because every orchestra and chorus member, stagehand, you name it, knows him as a man with and without makeup. On Friday night, Hvorostovsky was as ordinary as any individual in the audience, and more importantly, acknowledged as a beloved member of the Met family.

His performance as Count di Luna might have been a little rocky simply because of his immediate return, however, his vocal power and astounding breath control were still exhibited. Yonghoon Lee used volume as his main tool throughout the evening, enough so that I was concerned he was not going to make it. However, he managed to make it through the evening even while keeping a consistent forte volume. Ms. Zajick was fabulous as always in her honed role as Azucena. Her push for forward resonance makes for a very powerful sound up and down the register. Singing-wise, Anna Netrebko was the star of the evening. Her move towards the Verdi sphere and out of the bel canto belt has benefited her well. Her voice has grown into an authoritative instrument by using the rigid breath support needed to handle Verdi’s difficult ascents and descents on the scale. She also managed to do all this while acting in her adopted “stage-animal” method, as she climbed and hung from the metal grating of the prison during her Act IV aria “D’amor sull’ali rosée”. It was an unbelievable stunt, similar to the ones she pulled as Lady Macbeth last season.

On any opening night, there are always a few disconnections between pit and stage. Maestro Armiliato led the orchestra and chorus with his Italianate cantabile line, allowing them to play and sing freely and beautifully. At some points soloists made wrong entrances, some early some late, but none were trainwreck-worthy.

Performances this fall of Il Trovatore run through October 17 before its return in early February with a different cast. Buy tickets to see it today, and to welcome back Dmitri Hvorostovsky for the next two performances!

A Review of Opening Night at the Met: Otello Obscured

The Met opened its 2015-16 season on Monday night with Verdi’s masterpiece Otello. In a new production designed by Bartlett Sher, Aleksandrs Antonenko sang the title role, Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva was Desdemona, and Želijko Lučić played the villainous Iago. Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin led the Met Orchestra and Chorus.

Sonya Yoncheva and Aleksandrs Antonenko in Act III of Verdi's

Sonya Yoncheva and Aleksandrs Antonenko in Act III of Verdi’s “Otello” © Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera 2015

The production left me craving drama and intimacy. As these two elements are so crucial to Shakespeare’s original play, I felt that they were lost in the shuffle as Sher’s stage simply felt “too big”. The initial storm from Act I plays a role throughout the opera, acting as the backdrop within acts and as a moving projection with churning waves beginning each act. This represented some drama, at least, in that the storm symbolized Otello’s increasing suspicion and unsteady mind, just as his ship had almost capsized. The only solid components of the set were opaque walls that could be rearranged to create his realm, gardens, etc. As the walls were opaque, not transparent, one could say that the lack of transparency and pellucidity represented Otello’s obscured vision at the hands of Iago. Otello is only able to see what Iago has envisioned for him, not reality. Therefore, the frosty walls of his palace represented his inability to see what is truly occurring live. Even with this potential subtext, I missed the intense intimacy between Otello and Iago, as the foggy walls and a plethora of empty stage did not allow for it. Overall, the production was dull and, to a point, tedious after sitting for 150 minutes of music.

Antonenko was a solid Otello. At times, his voice sounded tight, especially near the top, making it difficult to hear him over the orchestra. However, his intensity in both Acts III and IV was frightening, and his voice also seemed to ease up after the first two acts allowing him to sing more strongly. Sonya Yoncheva was an astounding Desdemona. She had the entire audience in the palm of her hand as she sang her Willow Song. She sang it so simply, as the true “old tale” that it is. Her bloom at the top of her register is very attractive and easy-sounding. Lučić was a creepy Iago. I had difficulty hearing the resonance in his sound in order to push past the orchestra, but his acting put his point across. His duets with Otello were thrilling and balanced.

The conducting by Maestro Nézet-Séguin made the performance come alive. His stress for sforzandi and dramatic dynamic changes brought out vigor and agility in the orchestra and chorus. Chills went up my spine at the moment he brought in the double basses on the low E right as Otello enters to kill Desdemona in Act IV. The shifts in mood of the music were so clearly defined. The orchestra followed suit under his baton. The strings particularly sounded like “one voice”, reveling in Verdi’s gorgeous parts. It was also indicated that the brass had the green light to play out, which made the performance all the more riveting. The chorus sounded full and powerful, especially in their two bigs scenes: The drinking scene in Act I and with Lodovico in Act III.

The current run of Otello will be on the Met stage until October 17, until it returns in April with a different cast. Buy tickets today to see one of four Verdi operas this season!

Purebred Opera Stars and Their Canine Companions

Coming up on August 26 is National Dog Day. Anyone who owns a dog knows that they are the best companions, friends, and even listeners when no one else is around. They are loyal, dedicated, and are happy living their virtually simple lives of eating, sleeping, playing, and cuddling. However, some doggies lead more exciting lives, including activities such as traveling the world with their owners and getting to sniff foreign scents. Several furry little friends have accompanied their opera star owners across the world, as they need plenty of love and support for such a difficult career. Here are some singers who have taken their pets to work:

Renata Tebaldi and New II

Renata Tebaldi and her poodle (Source: http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~san/tebaldidog.jpg)

Renata Tebaldi and her poodle (Source: http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~san/tebaldidog.jpg)

New II was not only a traveling companion of Tebaldi, but also a star at the Met himself! On several occasions he would appear as the Marschellin’s dog in Der Rosenkavalier and take the spotlight along with Musetta in La Bohème. He also had his own set of fine vocal cords, warming up along with Tebaldi in her dressing room as she would sing and he would howl. One time, in fact, his singing was so loud that it disturbed Franco Corelli in the neighboring dressing room. Corelli busted into her dressing room half-naked demanding that the dog be silenced, but he continued to howl. The vocal world can be so competitive! (Source: http://www.fondazionerenatatebaldi.org/default.asp?id=1144)

Franco Corelli and Loris

Franco Corelli and his dog (Source: http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~san/corelliscan2.jpg)

Franco Corelli and his dog (Source: http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~san/corelliscan2.jpg)

Loris and Franco had quite a few adventures together. One of the greatest stories about them occurred in and around performances of Turandot. In 1961, while the Met was on tour in Chicago, Corelli’s dog fell very ill on the night before a performance of Turandot. Loris had seizures that were cured by a veterinarian, but she ended up hemorrhaging early the next morning. Corelli had to sing Calaf that same day. He insisted on canceling, but Rudolf Bing told him there was no backing out. Digging in his heels to avoid going on stage, Corelli repeatedly told those around him that he could not go on; he was too distraught to sing. Finally, his manager Merle Hubbard gave him some encouraging words by saying, “Franco, canto per il cane”, (Sing for the dog!), to which Corelli responded, “Provo!” (I’ll try). With those words, he sang that night. The next city on the Met’s tour was Detroit, and Corelli was sent there ahead of the rest of the company. He refused to leave the Detroit train station once they arrived before he spoke to Loris on the phone. Yes, you read that correctly, he wanted to speak to his dog on the phone. A little whimper from the other end of the line satisfied him, and he continued on with his performances and the tour. (Source: Franco Corelli by Rene Seghers, pages 221-224).

Frederica von Stade and Hannah

Frederica von Stade and her Westie © Terrence McCarthy 2014

Frederica von Stade and her Westie © Terrence McCarthy 2014

According to a recent interview with Ms. von Stade, Hannah was a 60th birthday present to her by her children. She takes her adorable Westie almost everywhere with her and said in the interview how wonderful company she can be. Coincidentally, she said that she took Hannah to the same doggy daycare to which conductor Patrick Summer’s takes his dog. Opera dogs are everywhere! (Source: http://www.hometheaterhifi.com/interviews-musicians-artists/interviews-musicians-artists/a-delightful-chat-with-beloved-mezzo-frederica-von-stade.html)

Jennifer Larmore, Sophie, and Buffy

Jennifer Larmore with Sophie (left) and Buffy and her husband (right). © Audra Melton 2007 (left) and Ken Howard (right)

Jennifer Larmore with Sophie (left) and Buffy and her husband (right). © Audra Melton 2007 (left) and Ken Howard (right)

Ms. Larmore has owned two furry little friends, however, I do not know if she had them at the same time or separately. In a 2007 interview for the Divas Divulge, while she was singing in a concert with Music of the Baroque conducted by Jane Glover, she posed with her dog Sophie. In the interview, she answered the fun question “If you couldn’t sing what would you do?”, by saying she would be writing a series of children’s books about her dog’s musical adventures. If that response does not evoke Ms. Larmore’s warm and effervescent personality I do not know what does.

Sophie also starred, alongside Ms. Larmore, in The Barber of Seville at San Francisco Opera in 1996, acting as Dr. Bartolo’s pet. Initially, when Larmore arrived at the theater, she was told that no dogs were allowed inside, but an exception was made for Sophie by company director Lofti Mansouri. Thus, John del Carlo, singing Dr. Bartolo, carried Sophie around on stage as Larmore sang Rosina.

In a more recent 2015 interview, she posed with her adorable dog Buffy, saying in the interview that she was her most prized possession.

(Sources: http://www.nytimes.com/1996/10/10/style/chronicle-739413.html?ref=topics and http://www.chicagomag.com/core/pagetools.php?pageid=4225&url=%2FChicago-Magazine%2FApril-2007%2FThe-Divas-Divulge%2Findex.php&mode=print)

Deborah Voigt and Steinway

Deborah Voigt signing autographs at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. with Steinway by her side

Deborah Voigt signing autographs at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. with Steinway by her side

Steinway has been Ms. Voigt’s loyal Yorkshire Terrier companion for quite a long time now. He has traveled with her practically everywhere she has sung. When she was living in New York, she would regularly take Steinway on walks and to doggy socials in Central Park, according to a New York Times interview done while she was performing the role of Brünnhilde at the Met. Now, she resides in Fort Lee, NJ, where hopefully Steinway enjoys the suburbs. Steinway has also been taken to autograph sessions, greeting fans as they stick photos and pens in his mom’s face (as seen in the photo above). She also loves dressing him up in various outfits and costumes for social media, especially on Halloween. He is an older doggy now, making it more difficult for him to travel extensively. (Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/nyregion/deborah-voigt-soprano-at-the-metropolitan-opera-unwinds-on-sundays.html?_r=0)

Luca Pisaroni, Lenny, and Tristan

Lenny and Tristan getting ready to go on another trip! © gbtimes

Lenny and Tristan getting ready to go on another trip! © gbtimes

Lenny (Golden Retriever) and Tristan (miniature dachshund) are nearly as famous as their opera star owner Luca Pisaroni. They even have their own Facebook page and blog! They travel everywhere with him and his wife Catherine, because according to Mr. Pisaroni, having them with him makes him feel like he has his family even on the road. He takes them to rehearsals and performances when he can, where they lounge in his dressing room with the door closed so they do not go out on stage.They are even smart enough to know when Pisaroni has a performance, as they always lie on the floor quietly and look at him when he is warming up or vocalizing. After shows, he and Catherine often walk the dogs, get fresh air, and talk about the performance or catch up. Traveling with pets may sound difficult, however, in Mr. Pisaroni’s opinion, it can be very easy if you are organized. “Dogs enjoy what they are used to. If you take them on your trips, then they know that traveling is part of their life”, Pisaroni stated. Tristan even had a chance to star in the Salzburg Festival’s most recent production of Le Nozze di Figaro, something his owner had always dreamed of. To summarize, he told gbtimes that he could not imagine life without his dogs, they simply make his life better. (Source: http://www.lucapisaroni.com/press/pressitem.php?id=42)

Two Generations on Morningside Heights

In six days’ time, I will be moved into Andersen Hall at Manhattan School of Music in order to begin my studies as a vocal performance major. I will be living in New York City, the city that has brought me so many friends and opportunities and so much baseball and music over the last eighteen years. I’ve always dreamed of living in the Big Apple, even though my parents, who have both lived in New York in the past, have warned me of the loud noises and pungent odors that can rise from the street and prevent me from getting shut-eye. To me, the excitement trumps all, and that is why I am as anxious as ever to move into my dorm room.

My dad and me on Columbia's campus staring in the direction of MSM and the Columbia chemistry building. Photo credits: Susan Laney Spector

My dad and me on Columbia’s campus staring in the direction of MSM and the Columbia chemistry building. He is sporting a Manhattan School of Music shirt while I sport a Columbia polo. Photo credits: Susan Laney Spector

Specifically, I will be living in a cute corner on the West Side of Manhattan called Morningside Heights. Located between 110th Street (Cathedral Parkway) and 125th Street (the Southern point of Harlem), the neighborhood holds many of the city’s finest learning institutions: Manhattan School of Music, Columbia University, and Barnard College being some of the most renowned. As the area is populated largely by young college students, it is often a warm and bubbly place to be. Why do I know this? Yes, I did spend a lot of time walking around the neighborhood during my breaks at Manhattan School of Music Precollege, however, there is an even bigger reason for my knowledge of the area.

My father also attended college in Morningside Heights, spending a grand total of nine years at Columbia University obtaining a doctoral degree in Chemistry. From him, I have learned the ins and outs of Morningside Heights: Where to walk, where not to walk, where to eat, what businesses have replaced others, etc. For years, even before I had any idea what MSM was let alone that it is located in the very same neighborhood, my parents and I would walk around Columbia’s campus as he would point out where he used to live and attend class. I would gaze at the iconic copper green roofs, the lush green lawn, and the broad steps stacked up to Low Library with Butler Library glowing from across campus, and find it hard to believe that something so spacious and gorgeous could be found in the heart of New York City. He would share past stories as we turned the corner on 116th to Amsterdam Avenue after sauntering across campus. One funny story I always love to hear him tell is how a take-out place called “Ta-Kome Foods” was located directly across Broadway from the esteemed Columbia School of Journalism.

He introduced me to the best place to get pizza in the area: V & T, and where to waddle up the street afterwards to get the best desserts in town: The Hungarian Pastry Shop. According to Dr. Spector, the menus, tables, and atmosphere are exactly the same as when he was going to Columbia, with the exception of a rise in price.

My dad in his laboratory while he was obtaining his PhD in Chemistry at Columbia University

My dad in his laboratory while he was obtaining his PhD in Chemistry at Columbia University

Nine years, four years for his undergraduate degree and five for his graduate, sounds like a long time to be at one university, but he had his reasons. Even though he was accepted to Princeton for graduate school, which has possibly the most beautiful campus on the planet, he decided to stay in New York. Why? Because Columbia is only seven subway stops away from the Met. For nine years, he completed his studies during the day and took the 1 train down to the Met at night (or during the day for Saturday matinées), to see countless stars such as Leontyne Price, Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballé, Marilyn Horne, Grace Bumbry, Shirley Verrett, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Jon Vickers, Sherrill Milnes, Kurt Moll, and Martti Talvela to name a few. He also would take the 7 train out to Shea Stadium to see the Mets play. He even went to a game on the first night he moved into Carman Hall at Columbia his freshman year. He knew that New York was the right place to be not only to go to school, but for great music, exemplary artists, and the Mets as well.

This coming school year, I am going to begin my own Morningside Heights adventure, living only six blocks north at 122nd and Broadway from where my dad started his. I have even started mine a bit early, as I have become the tour guide that my father has been for the past eighteen years in order to help my roommate find her way around. She is a classical pianist coming all the way from Shanghai, halfway across the world. I had the delight of seeing her face light up and her mouth gape wide open when we stumbled upon the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which she had never seen before. This colossal sanctuary has been under construction since the time my dad was in school, thus, forming another connection between his time in Morningside Heights and mine. I also had the opportunity to take my dad’s position and introduce my roommate to the Hungarian Pastry Shop, where we savored their various cakes and tarts with sides of cappuccinos and Viennese coffee. Even from our dorm room windows, we will be able to see iconic components of Morningside Heights such as Riverside Church and the tomb of the eighteenth President of the United States: Ulysses S. Grant. By knowing the neighborhood and now acting as a tour guide, I feel as if I’m passing on a family tradition.

Thanks to my dad, I now know Morningside Heights like the back of my hand. It is a charming neighborhood and truly one of my favorite parts of the city. I look forward to walking in his footsteps as I get on the 1 or 7 train; waddle up the street after a big meal at V & T; see a great artist live at the Met; watch a Mets game; or take in the beauty that is Morningside Heights.

A Review of Mahler 8 at the Shed

On Saturday night the Tanglewood Koussevitsky Music Shed erupted with Mahler’s Eighth Symphony. Stepping up to the plate for this colossal work was the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra and alumni under the baton of Andris Nelsons. The massive double chorus included the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, The Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) Chorus, and the American Boychoir. The soloists were sopranos Erin Wall, Christine Goerke, and Erin Morley as the Mater Gloriosa; Mihoko Fujimura and Jane Henshel as first and second altos, respectively; Klaus Florian Vogt, Matthias Goerne and Ain Anger.

Mahler Symphony No. 8 at the Tanglewood Koussevitsky Music Shed. © Hilary Scott 2015

Mahler Symphony No. 8 at the Tanglewood Koussevitsky Music Shed. © Hilary Scott 2015

Erin Wall was a powerful presence as the first soprano, nailing every one of her many high ‘C’s. It was fascinating watching her at the end of the first movement bend backwards, grab her music stand as if she was driving an 18-wheeler semi-trailer truck, and open her mouth like a lion to finish off on her C and proceeding B flat. Christine Goerke incorporated her dynamic vibrato to reach the top of her register and to achieve proper head resonance. Erin Morely was a beautiful Mater Gloriosa, floating on top of her line as she stood far above the stage in a nook near the ceiling of the stage right side. Mihoko Fujimura and Jane Henschel were fine Mulier Samaritanas and Maria Aegyptiacas, respectively. Klaus Florian Vogt sang the outrageous part of Doctor Marianus (Mahler hated tenors about as much as Strauss did), as if he was singing a Bach cantata. It was very delicate, light, and legato, unlike how many other heldentenors have sung it in the past. Matthias Goerne sang gorgeously, exhibiting his dark and rich tone for which he was praised in his Winterreise last season at Alice Tully Hall. Finally, Ain Anger sang the role of Pater Profondus with volume and intensity.

The chorus, unfortunately, did not sound as immense as I would have hoped. In this case that could have been at the hands of acoustics, however, there were several problems with blending throughout the night and several voices stuck out. There were also times when the chorus began separating from the orchestra and luckily found its way back. I also wish there could have been more intensity present in the second part, as the closing scene from Goethe’s Faust starts from nothing and grows throughout the duration of the movement. For an orchestra largely made up of students, I thought their playing was top notch. Their playing was hesitant at the beginning, but grew to be more comfortable by the end. The brass played out with confidence, with the exception of the trombones of which I would have loved to have heard more. The wind section did a terrific job taking on the terrifying beginning of the second part, playing in fifths and making entrances out of nowhere. They managed to balance very well with each other. The strings, like the chorus, had trouble blending, and the solos for the concertmaster could have had more emotion and warmth. I also missed the sensation of the hair on the back of my neck standing up when that first E flat chord comes crashing down on the keys of the organ.

Andris Nelsons conducted with such fluidity and agility. He brought out a lot of dynamic contrast and color as he flitted and floated on the podium.

Overall, a marvelous performance was given by all. Mahler 8 is a gargantuan work that takes quite a toll and effort from everyone involved. I missed the sensation of a shaking, crumbling concert hall as the piece came to a close, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

In the Wings: An App for Singers in the Air 

This post may veer a little off track for those who read this blog solely for opera. However, I wanted to introduce one of my other big interests, which, in a way, corresponds to how opera singers live their lives: Air travel. Ever since I was little I have loved planes and have been fascinated by carriers, types of planes, and the companies of Airbus and Boeing. My family and I even took a trip to Everett, Washington last year, as a side-trip from our vacation to Seattle, to see Boeing’s large building factory where their wide-bodied Boeing 747s, 767s, 777s, and 787s are assembled. (Fun fact: The Boeing Everett Factory is the largest building in the world by volume, measuring at 13,385,375 meters cubed, or 472,370,319 cubic feet). Imagine having an opera house that big? No beloved productions would have to go into storage or be incinerated!

Maria Callas getting off a TWA flight with her poodle at Idlewild Airport (present-day JFK) in 1958

Back to air travel: Air travel is a given necessity in the life of a modern-day singer. In the olden days, they took ships to travel to Europe or trains to get around the United States and elsewhere. It is much easier for a singer to have an international career today thanks to air travel, because it is far more convenient timewise and far more accessible than it used to be. Now, everyone flies!

This is what brings me to an app, for iPhone and iPad, that I would like to promote: Plane Finder. Plane Finder allows you to see any flight that is in the air, along with its carrier, aircraft, from where it is coming and where it is going, and other fun trivia.

The details of a flight from JFK to DXB (New York to Dubai)

The details of a flight from JFK to DXB (New York to Dubai)

By tapping on a plane, one can call up each of these three pages. The first page on the left, or the overview tells you the airline, aircraft, destination, altitude, speed, and other typical factors that would be displayed within flight for passengers. It also lists the flight number, so for those singers who wish to track their friends as they travel the world from opera house to opera house, it is made easy. Finally, by clicking on the plane pictured above, you can be taken to a gallery featuring various photos of the plane.

The second page tells you the distance that the plane has traveled as well as how far it has left to travel. It also lists when the flight should arrive and how long the flight itself lasts. (A flight from New York to Dubai is definitely not quick!).

The third page provides trivia on the specific plane being used for a given flight. For example: This is an Emirates Airbus A380-800, or the “double-decker” plane with two floors and about 800 seats. It tells how old the plane is, how many engines it has, for how long the plane has been flying, and other details. If you click on the history button, you can see where and how often that specific plane has flown over the past several months.

On the bottom left, you can click the playback button to go back in time and watch selected flights take off or land. On the bottom right, you can click the little funnel to filter certain planes or airlines. For example: You can create a filter specifically for Lufthansa 747s to narrow your view.

As a personal favorite, the most interesting plane I have ever seen on the app is the Boeing 747 Dreamlifter. It is a variation on the regular Boeing 747, in that it has the same iconic hump in the front, however, it also shows off an enormous hump in the back, making it look somewhat fat and awkward. It is used to carry parts for the relatively new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which is assembled differently from other aircraft. Only six Boeing Dreamlifters have been built and are flying today.

A Boeing 747 Dreamlifter, © Scott Wright

A Boeing 747 Dreamlifter, © Scott Wright

Most of the time, we can rely on technology to be correct and one hundred percent accurate for us, but everyone makes mistakes: Even the app! Sometimes the Plane Finder app can make mistakes that are downright hilarious:

Top Left: A tiny Air Tahiti Nui plane flying over Washington. It would be impossible for a tiny jet like this to make the journey from Tahiti to Seattle

Top Right: A small China Eastern jet flying from Harlingen, Texas to Dallas…nowhere near Eastern China.

Bottom Left: An American Airlines flight flying from New York (JFK) to London (LHR) turning around for no reason.

Bottom Right: A small Libyan Airlines flight flying over South Dakota…far from North Africa.

For many, this app may sound like a complete waste of time. However, I think that for singers who are obligated to use air travel for their careers, the app is a way to make planes sound more fun and familiar. Download the Plane Finder app in the App Store! (What I have just written shows the features for the full version, which costs $3.99. There is also a free version with limited features). In addition, check out planefinder.net to watch planes on your laptop or desktop. Happy flying!

Being An Opera-Loving Teenager

Originally posted on A Teenager's Opera Blog:

This week’s post was written by the wonderful Melanie Spector, a fellow opera-loving teenager and blogger- you can check out her blog by clicking on her name and you can also check her out on twitter here!

“Being an Opera ­Loving Teenager” by Melanie Spector

Being a teenager who likes opera is interesting. Many argue that opera companies today should use modern communication, like social media, to encourage more teenagers to discover opera, while others are there to remind us that opera was created for the older elite. I, in any case, am a proud and avid teenage fan of opera who has loved the art form all my life.

Personally, my love for opera was assisted by my mother’s line of work: She is the Second Oboist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. My father is also a big fan. I wish I could say that I would…

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Conquering Fear at BSM Brass Week

Last week I conquered one of my greatest fears: Sleepaway camp. The idea of leaving my tempur-pedic mattress and guaranteed air conditioning to venture to essentially the middle of nowhere had always troubled my mind. For the last few summers, I’ve scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed seeing fellow high school musicians posting photos from countless summer programs such as Tanglewood, Chautauqua, you name it, as I sit in my comfy chair with my laptop wearing sweatpants. Even though I have spent the last several summers continuing voice, piano, and French horn lessons from the academic year, and even participating in a chamber music day camp on piano last summer, I still felt like I could have been accomplishing more at a program that would require me to sleep over. This summer was the summer I would cure this personal fear.

For seven whole days I ate, slept, and played French horn in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, at Berkshire Summer Music, a program initiated my Met Principal Trumpet David Krauss and his wife Kristen that is just in its second year of operation. The program is held on the campus of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, an early college during the academic year for child prodigies and geniuses who graduate high school before the twelfth or eleventh grades. The first week of the program is dedicated to brass players, and is thus known as Berkshire Summer Music Brass Week. For a program so new and small, the faculty is incredibly rich, including David Krauss, MET Principal Trumpet; Joseph Foley, Principal Trumpet of the Rhode Island Philharmonic; Erik Ralske and Javier Gandara, First and Third Horns of the MET Orchestra; Toby Oft, Principal Trombone of the Boston Symphony; and Denson Paul Pollard, Tenor/Bass Trombone of the MET Orchestra. Each day was packed with studio classes, lessons, coachings, mock auditions, recitals, and concerts by faculty and students, leaving me with little to no time at all to fret about being away from home. In fact, by the time I left the camp after the final concert, I was sad to say goodbye.

I felt very intimidated the first day I was there. Many of my new fellow campers had already gone for years to Tanglewood, Kinhaven, Interlochen, and other famed summer music institutions. I was a rookie, and I knew it. I was not only a camp rookie, but as I was coming from a background spiced more with opera and vocal repertoire, my knowledge of horn and brass repertoire was fairly limited. I figured out by the second day that this did not matter at all. In a master class held by Javier Gandara, I played an arrangement of “Va tacito e nascosto”, one my favorite arias from Handel’s Giulio Cesare, featuring a huge horn solo. It was neither a concerto, nor a fancy etude. After having listened to others perform pieces for him such as the Weber Concertino and etudes by Gallay, I walked in somewhat sheepishly feeling that my Handel was overly simplistic. Never would I have thought that I would learn so much about articulation, phrasing, color, and singing through the horn with my uncomplicated piece. I had Strauss 1 and Dukas’ Villanelle as complex pieces on the back burner for the master class, but from a piece as simple as “Va Tacito”, I learned so much, thanks to Javier’s amazing insight. It is astounding just how much he knows about the horn.

Later on, I even gained enough confidence to play the excerpt from the opening of Mahler 9 in front of MET Principal Horn Erik Ralske, who had just played that very same solo so elegantly with the MET Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in October. I had been there to see it and had been moved to tears by his playing. As one can imagine, I was scared right down to my socks. My heartbeat was just as irregular as that of Mahler when he was writing his Ninth; The first movement is underscored by an uneven beat which is meant to symbolize Mahler’s failing heart and health. I then remembered: this is summer camp. We’re all here because we share a love for music and we’re here to help each other. This isn’t an actual audition or performance. I played the solo flawlessly, and with Erik’s invaluable advice, I was able to make more not only of the notes and phrasing but even the rests- something to which I had not previously given any thought.

Berkshire Summer Music Brass Week 2015 Horn Studio on the steps of the Kellogg Music Center. Erik Ralske and Javier Gandara are pictured on the top row

Berkshire Summer Music Brass Week 2015 Horn Studio on the steps of the Kellogg Music Center. Erik Ralske and Javier Gandara are pictured on the top row

Despite my trouble sleeping during the first couple of nights, it was worth the tossing and turning to try new things at camp that I would never have been able to do lounging at home in my sweatpants. Never before had I played in horn quartets, let alone octets. On the first night, I ended up spontaneously joining a pick-up horn quartet in which I played some of my all-time favorite pieces: The Pilgrims Chorus from Tannhäuser, The “Wach auf” chorus from Die Meistersinger, and a bit of Schumann’s Konzertstück. I was even introduced to composers of whom I had heard, such as Gabrielli, but whose music I had never actually played. It did not matter that other people in the group were in the middle of or had completed their masters or bachelors degrees at prestigious conservatories, while I had not even begun pursuing my degree at MSM on a completely different instrument. We all simply loved the horn and the sound it makes. The horn octet in which I played was the performance portion of our horn studio class. Throughout the week and at the final concert, we played Abendsegen from Hansel und Gretel (I played fourth horn next to Javier- MET Third Horn!!), an arrangement of “Soave sia il vento” from Così fan tutte, and arrangements of Requiem and Kyrie, Rex Tremendae, and Sanctus from the Verdi Requiem. After years of feeling honored to be able to listen to these pieces in opera houses and concert halls, it was even more of an honor to actually play them. The feeling of playing in the very quiet beginning of the Verdi Requiem is indescribable.

Another thing that I had never done before is play a composer’s music for a composer himself. American composer Eric Ewazen joined the camp for a couple of days to listen to ensembles play his pieces in master classes and recitals. One morning, I woke up having never heard of Eric Ewazen or his Grand Canyon Suite for horn octet. In the afternoon, I was playing the first movement of it under his baton. In the evening, we sat at the same table for dinner discussing Wagner and other fun music trivia. Any anxiety about my lack of knowledge of his music was completely wiped away by his beaming smile, as I sat fascinated by the fact that I was eating dinner and conversing with a live composer. Thanks to BSM Brass Week, this was made possible.

Berkshire Summer Music Brass Week 2015 students and faculty. Eric Ewazen is pictured in the blue plaid shirt. (From left to right at the bottom of the photo: Erik Ralske, Javier Gandara, Denson Paul Pollard, David Krauss (up a step), and Toby Oft)

Berkshire Summer Music Brass Week 2015 students and faculty. Eric Ewazen is pictured in the blue plaid shirt. (From left to right at the bottom of the photo: Erik Ralske, Javier Gandara, Denson Paul Pollard, David Krauss (up a step), and Toby Oft)

Berkshire Summer Music became a family. I would be sitting alone at a table for dinner, and it would later fill up with renowned faculty and students, who are now friends, from all over the world. Discussions ranged from different types of mutes to appreciation of the structure of Bruckner symphonies versus Mahler symphonies to Wagner’s Ring. We even watched all of Das Rheingold together as part of BSM Brass Week’s movie night. By the end of the week, I felt like I truly belonged at this wonderful institution, surrounded by great and talented people. Now, I feel ready to take on any previously scary-sounding six to nine week music program out there and meet more of the small world of classical music. Thank you, BSM Brass Week, for helping me conquer my fear…and enabling me to learn a lot about music and a bit about myself, too.

Things to Learn from Marilyn Horne: The Song Continues

Marilyn Horne’s autobiography, published in 2004 with the help of Jane Scovell, serves not only to discuss her career and artistry, but also to enlighten young singers in their endeavors to become professional musicians.


She begins her book telling how she played the mighty and powerful soldier Tancredi, who has been exiled in Rossini’s opera of the same name. In the end, Tancredi wins a victorious battle and is united with his lover Amenaide for a happy ending. Throughout her book, Horne evokes this very confidence as she fought for her career in music; never was there any doubt in her mind that she could make it, even if it took embarking overseas to Europe for opportunities. She eloquently described the fear factor of this whole process, crossing over the Atlantic to countries in which language barriers were prevalent, living conditions were questionable, and the uncertainty of success, even after traveling such great distances, loomed. (Nowadays, as she mentioned, singers are able to start their careers in the United States, whereas up until the mid to late twentieth century singers were obligated to venture over to Europe and beyond).

Cover of Marilyn Horne's 1989 recording of Rossini's Tancredi

Cover of Marilyn Horne’s 1989 recording of Rossini’s Tancredi

As the book is written chronologically, she also describes how she was able to overcome the loss of her parents, siblings, friends, and many others in order to get her job done on the stage; an almost impossible feat in light of such emotional events. This confidence factor that she carried throughout her career is something young singers should take to heart and remember over the course of their trials and errors.

However, just as Rossini revised the ending of Tancredi to have him mortally wounded in battle and learn then that his lover never betrayed him, Horne goes into great detail the pain and anguish the very life of a singer caused her. Even though opera singers largely have individual and self-motivated careers, they all have people in their lives who can be affected by the unattractive aspects of the career: traveling being a big factor. It is clearly shown through her warm reverence that family meant a lot to Marilyn Horne, even though she could not be around for every single life event. She and Henry Lewis loved each other dearly, yet due to the gruesome aspects of the life of a singer, as described by Horne, their marriage was not meant to succeed. There was no operatic betrayal involved, like that found in Tancredi, it was just a real-life, offstage tragedy.

On a lighter note, Horne’s humor made her book truly enjoyable. It is evident how funny she is simply based on what she did for her career. Even at the times when her weight became an issue, she managed to turn it on other people. When one German opera company hesitated in hiring her because of her weight, she stood back and sang a ringing “Ritorna vincitor” for the director, who later ended up hiring her. As weight has become a prevalent issue in recent years for singers due to the Met Live in HD series and more stress placed on productions and “vision”, carrying Horne’s passive and humorous attitude towards the matter is an idea to keep in mind. It is a shame that there was even a slight chance that Marilyn Horne’s weight would have spoken louder of her ability as an artist than her immense talent, corresponding to what happened earlier last year with Irish Marilyn Horne-esque mezzo soprano Tara Erraught at Glyndebourne.


Marilyn Horne giving a master class at Carnegie Hall on January 13, 2014 (Pete Checchia/Carnegie Hall)

It was a delight reading about Marilyn Horne’s career as both a singer, and later the proponent of the Marilyn Horne Foundation, launched on January 16, 1994. The organization allows young artists to explore the world of recital-based singing, and to participate in master classes, a few of which are held at Carnegie Hall annually during the week of Horne’s birthday, held by guest artists and Ms. Horne herself. I have had the lucky opportunity over the last few years to attend her master classes, as well as adjunct ones taught by Christa Ludwig and Anne Sofie von Otter, in 2014 and 2015 respectively. She is sharp as a tack when it comes to dealing with singers’ proper breath support, of which she is a huge advocate, as well as diction, and having an idea of the background information. In her 2013 master class, I vividly remember her getting on a singer, whose art song was based on William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, for not having read the play. This proved to be a valuable lesson in song preparation for not only the poor singer but to every vocal student sitting in Carnegie Hall that night. Her tact and aptness in her preparation during her career showed brilliantly in her autobiography, just as they do in her master classes.

I would recommend this book to vocal students who are looking to pursue solo careers like she had. Many of the hardships she described relate to traveling and feeling far away from home, therefore, I think anyone pursuing a career that requires being separated from family and friends would appreciate her confessions of how tough that life can be. Her book was truly enlightening, just as she acts as a beacon of light for the next generation of classical vocalists.

A Tribute to Margaret Juntwait: The Host of My Days


Margaret Juntwait in the MET Opera Radio booth

Earlier this morning, the longtime radio host of the Metropolitan Opera Margaret Juntwait passed away from ovarian cancer. She died at the age of 58. The last Met broadcast she hosted and the last time her voice touched the ears of opera enthusiasts live was during last year’s New Year’s Eve gala of Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow. To think that her beautiful voice will never soar live through the airwaves again is tragic.

I first met Margaret Juntwait when I was an outgoing, nine-year-old fourth grader. I had joined our elementary school’s Literary Magazine committee, and as MET Opera Radio SiriusXM was new that year, I wanted to write a feature on it. She kindly agreed to be interviewed about it, and I finally had the opportunity to journey to the sixth floor of the Met where the radio department is located. When I arrived, she was just as sweet to me, a nine-year-old literary magazine reporter, as she would have been to a New York Times critic or anyone from the press. I asked her the questions I prepared and she answered them to the fullest.

Little did I know that after our interview she would ask me if I would like to be interviewed on MET Opera Radio as one of the first guests on the new station. I had only joined the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus about a year earlier, and I had only mentioned the fact that I was in it once to her. I could not believe it! My family and I ventured back up to the sixth floor during a March 2007 broadcast of Turandot, in which I would be interviewed during one of the intermissions. She made me feel right at home; I did not feel nervous at all. She made the interview seem as if I was talking to an old friend; we were chatting, laughing, and even singing a little bit! I will forever cherish that sensation of friendship that she made real that night live in the studio.

Every morning I wake up to MET Opera Radio. I keep my stereo singing all through the night because I cannot get enough opera during the day. Sometimes I would even wake up in the middle of the night to Margaret’s recorded introductions to a 1980s broadcast of L’elisir d’amore, or credits after a long haul of Götterdämmerung. I one time even joked with her that I used to think she would sneak in my room and talk to me in my sleep. That is how close a presence she was, even though there were always a stereo and microphone between us.

Each morning at 7:30 when my dad and I leave the house for school, we often check what the 6:00 AM broadcast is (even though most of the time I know what it is from already having checked), or what excerpt is being played. Whenever it was timed well enough so that Margaret could tell us what it was, my dad and I would look at each other and say simultaneously, “That’s our friend!”.

In the evenings after dinner, my family and I always gather in our den to listen to MET Opera Radio broadcasts on certain days of the week. As I launched into my homework or a new book or my newsfeeds on Facebook and Twitter, I would smile when I heard Margaret arrive on the air welcoming everyone for the night. It was comforting to know that she was hosting my evening’s soundtrack as I worked on my assignments. During intermissions, William Berger often asks trivia questions, for which one can email answers to radio@metopera.org to get possible shoutouts. Whenever I was mentioned for my responses, Margaret would cheer or even say “what a surprise!”, because she always admired my knowledge of the art form.

Once I was ready to fall asleep, Margaret’s voice would often be the last one I heard for the day. Sometimes if I heard her, I would say “Goodnight, Margaret!” before I turned over and shut off the light. I wish I could have had a chance to say that “Goodnight” in person, just as she said to me hundreds of times at the end of live broadcasts. Her curiosity, passion, and love for opera will be missed by the thousands of people who tune into MET Opera Radio and WQXR every week.

As I enter as a freshman vocal performance major next year at Manhattan School of Music, just as she did after her senior year of high school, I will think of her as I walk through the hallways and when I continue to have MET Opera Radio playing in my dorm. Thank you, Margaret Juntwait, for always being a part of my day, a familiar voice, and a friend. You will be missed.