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The Metropolitan Opera’s 2013-14 Season

(The link above will take you to the Met’s online booklet for its 2013-14 season)

The Metropolitan Opera’s schedule for its 130th season was announced on Tuesday afternoon. It includes six new productions: Eugene Onegin, Two BoysFalstaffDie Fledermaus, Prince Igor, and Werther. The new season also welcomes back several revivals, including many treasured productions. Unlike previous seasons, there has been much controversy over whether this season is “good or bad”. Here are some strong and weak points made over the Met’s new season.

Strong Points:

▪   Three Strauss operas: Die Frau ohne Schatten, Der Rosenkavalier, and Arabella

▪   Three Puccini operas: ToscaLa Bohème, and Madama Butterfly

▪   The operas that everyone is dying to buy tickets to: Werther starring Jonas Kaufmann and Elīna Garanča and La Cenerentola starring Joyce DiDonato

▪   Three Russian Operas: Eugene Onegin, The Nose, and Prince Igor

▪   Maestro James Levine making his return in Così fan tutte, Falstaff, and Wozzeck

▪   The return of impressive and beloved productions such as The NoseLa Bohème, and Rusalka

Weak Points:

▪   No Wagner operas. (This is the first Met season lacking Wagner since 1918)

▪   Only two Verdi operas: Rigoletto and Falstaff

▪   Three Bellini operas: NormaLa Sonnambula, and I Puritani

▪   No Baroque operas

▪   Out of the 26 operas, there is only one sung in French and there are only four sung in German, while 10 are being sung in Italian

No matter what you think of the Met’s new season, it is still the Metropolitan Opera. Buy tickets to come hear great singers, a great orchestra, and a great chorus (including children’s chorus).

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My Wagnerian Weekend in Chicago

This weekend, my family and I took a mini vacation from the Met, and flew to Chicago: Home of the Lyric Opera. As a birthday present for me, my father purchased three tickets to see Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. After six, long months of waiting, the trip finally occurred.

            In addition to the wonderful performance, I also enjoyed sharing deep-dish pizza with a long time Internet friend, Val Demma. Like me, she is a prospering soprano vocal student and she has an incredible interest in choral music and everything musical in Chicago and beyond. @ThatSopranoChic on twitter, Val and I have been corresponding on twitter for a long time and we finally were able to meet each other in person!

            Val and I decided that we would meet for an “Opera Rocks” Twitter party at

Giordano’s: A Chicago restaurant famous for its deep-dish pizza. As a New Yorker, I was equally looking forward to meeting Val and the pizza. We shared a small pie and talked opera the entire time. She told me about what performances and which singers she has seen, Joyce DiDonato being her absolute favorite, and I shared my stories. She also gave me some fantastic advice on colleges and vocal teachers: How to choose them, who to talk to, and what I should get out of them. It was wonderful to talk to her.  I could see from her tweets that she was deeply dedicated to her love of choral music and opera, but meeting her in person showed that on a whole new level.

Photo: Me and Val enjoying our deep-dish pizza

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            After enjoying the Chicago deep-dish pizza, Val walked us over to the opera house and said goodbye. I went into the theater so I could get familiar with the seat that I was going to be sitting in for the next six hours.

            The cast of Die Meistersinger included Johan Botha as Walther von Stolzing, James Morris as Hans Sachs, and Bo Skovhus as Beckmesser. Eva was sung by Amanda Majeski, an alumnist of the Ryan Opera Center young artists program, and Magdalene was sung by a fellow tweeter and follower, Jamie Barton. The David McVicar production was a debut for the Lyric Opera, and it was previously debuted at Glyndebourne in the summer of 2011.

            Morris paced himself well through the long part of Hans Sachs, which he is a veteran of. Botha was a winning Walther von Stolzing, as he was when I sang in it with him at the Met in 2007. Mr. Skovhus played a nitpicky, “always has to follow the rules” Beckmesser. Ms. Barton also played a hilarious Magdalene with added facial expressions that sent the audience into laughter. Amanda Majeski’s performance was outstanding. She had a glorious, beautiful bloom at the top of her voice that matched the character of Eva perfectly.

Photo: The David McVicar production of Die Meistersinger

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            The production is beautiful. It is well lit with plenty of color, just as the music feels. I especially enjoyed the second scene of Act three with all of the colors of the Johannistag Festival. There were jugglers, clowns, and everything that you would see at a summer festival. I also enjoyed the second scene of Act three for another reason…

Photo: Me (little girl in the middle with long blonde hair) in Act 3 of Die Meistersinger at the Met in 2007.  Beth Bergman©

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My first singing opera in the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus was in Die Meistersinger at the Met in March of 2007. It has remained my favorite opera that I performed in. Along with performing in those four performances (plus the dress rehearsal), my father and I attended all of the Act ones and twos before the third acts. Die Meistersinger remains as a sentimental opera to me in that I performed in it and attended all of the performances.

            Between meeting Val and seeing Die Meistersinger, my weekend in Chicago was absolutely wonderful. Seeing Die Meistersinger in Chicago was an absolute joy, and was also a flashback to the sentimental memories that I share with the opera. 

Top 5 Operatic Weirdoes

            Do you ever sit in the audience at the opera and think how strange some of the characters act? Do you every wonder why the other characters even put up with him or her? I have felt this way in several operas, and have debated about which characters are the most weird in all of the operas I have seen.

            WARNING: There is a difference between weirdness and love-lust. Some operatic characters that you think are weird are really just having extreme relationship problems. The following characters, in increasing order, are my top five picks for “Weirdoes in Opera”.

 

5. Herman from The Queen of Spades

            Herman is a troubled man. He is obsessed with the game of cards and cannot focus on anything else. He is completely blinded by the concept of cards. Herman does end up taking a little break from his cards when he is invited to meet Liza at her home. But alas, the one reason that he has for being in Liza’s home is to get the secret card formula from the Countess. Liza ends up killing herself by jumping into a icy river, after Herman failed to meet her there. Herman also ended up killing the Countess, also known as the Queen of Spades, after frightening her in her bedroom. He was in her bedroom with the intention of getting the secret tip.

Photo: Herman being visited by the Queen of Spades (Metropolitan Opera)

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            Herman’s strange obsession with cards was so strong, that he caused the deaths of two people: A beautiful girl who loved him back, and the Countess, who had the answer to his question. He does eventually become satisfied when he gets his answer from the Countess’ ghost, “three, seven, ace”. Almost all other operatic tenors would be thrilled when a girl told him that she loved him! Herman is an operatic weirdo because he lets one thing blind him from the rest of the world: Cards.

 

4. Kundry from Parsifal

            Kundry is a strange one. We know that her past life was not perfect, in that she laughed in the presence of the “Redeemer”. She has forever since been looked down upon. She was also the one to woo Amfortas into Klingsor’s grasp, so he could stab him with the infamous spear. Kundry has two guilts one her plate: Laughing in the presence of Christ, and hurting Amfortas.

Photo: Olive Fremstad as Kundry

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            This guilt has done far more than eat her from the inside. Her guilt affects the way she acts around others. For example: She mocks her master, Klingsor, for being chaste. Klingsor had castrated himself as an attempt to become worthy as a male virgin of the Knights of the Grail. She mocked her boss, which is never the smart thing to do. She is also constantly craving sleep, or schlaf, and even moans several times in the course of Parsifal. In most stagings of Parsifal, Kundry can be found lying on the floor most of the time with ragged hair and a crazy look in her eye.

            Kundry is an operatic weirdo because of her guilt taking over her entire life and being.

 

3. The Doctor from Wozzeck

            I know what you are thinking. Aren’t all the characters in Wozzeck weird? No. Many of the characters in Wozzeck are sick-minded, but not weird. However, the Doctor is weird.

            Wozzeck lives a terrible life. He does not have any money, his wife is not faithful to him, and he has a child to feed. To make more money, he volunteers to act as a guinea pig for this strange doctor. Some of the experiments that this doctor makes Wozzeck struggle through are simply awful, such as only eating beans and not pissing. The doctor then proceeds to scold Wozzeck for not following these crazy directions. At the conclusion of the scene, the Doctor is happy to discover that Wozzeck’s mind and behavior are not in a normal place.

Photo: Dean Peterson as the Doctor at the San Diego Opera

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            If this were the 21st century, this doctor would have been put in jail. The Doctor is an operatic weirdo because of his strange experiments and attitude towards his patient.

 

2.  Senta in Der Fliegende Holländer

            Now, I now I said that love-lust is different from weirdness. It is one thing if an operatic character’s lover exists in person; it is another if they are inside a picture frame. Senta, get it together.

            Senta, the daughter of Daland, is obsessed with the legend of the Flying Dutchman. The Dutchman cursed in the presence of Satan, and was cursed by him to roam the seas without rest. Every seven years, through an angel’s redemption, the Dutchman is able to go ashore and attempt to find himself a faithful wife. If he does not find one, he roams the seas restlessly for another seven years. Senta vows that she is going to save him from this madness.

Photo: Anja Kampe as Senta at the the Royal Opera House in 2011

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            This situation is similar to Elsa’s case in Lohengrin, where she dreams that a knight in shining armor is going to fight for her. Senta, this is a legend. It is something that you would read in a storybook. What makes you think that: A. He exists and B. That you can save him? Senta is an operatic weirdo because she lusts after a man in a picture frame, and not one in person.

 

1. Azucena in Il Trovatore

            Even other weirdoes think that Azucena is weird. That is how weird she is. First of all, she was raised by a witch, putting her several rungs above on the weirdo ladder already.  Second, she burned her own baby in a fire. BY MISTAKE. Instead of sacrificing the stolen baby, she burned her own. You would think that she could have been a little more careful? Third, she does not tell Manrico until he is a grown man that she is not his real mother. Manrico takes this smoothly, saying that he will still love her like she is his real mother. Finally, by the end of the opera when she has been captured and tied up, she has gone loony. She starts singing her aria, “Ai nostri monti ritorneremo”, meaning “Again to our mountains, we shall return”. What mountains? Since when have they mentioned mountains throughout Il Trovatore? Azucena has finally lost her marbles, more than she had lost before.

Photo: Dolora Zajick as Azucena

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Azucena is an operatic weirdo because of her past, her way of doing things, and all in all her entire being.

            Of all the operatic weirdoes out there, I felt that these five fit the bill. These are the characters that make your eyebrows raise and your mind puzzled. Without these characters in their operas, the operas would not be as exciting. If any of you have any other operatic weirdoes that you would like to share, comment away! 

The Dome

            For the past month, 24 children, including me, and 24 women have been singing their hearts out in Wagner’s Parsifal from the very top of the Met in a place called “the dome”. That is 48 people singing in full voice, and yet the sound still sounds like it is coming from very, very far away in the heavens. Why?

            To get to the dome, one has to make it up to the very top of the Met, either by elevator or stairs. The children’s chorus makes it up by stairs. The children’s chorus studio is on the second floor of the Met building, two floors above the main stage. We take the stairs all the way up to the sixth floor, passing costumes for this season and even next season. We finally make it up to the sixth floor where it smells like whatever the Grand Tier and Met Cafeteria are eating that day. The walk down the hallway has windows where one can have a great view of Damrosch Park and West 62nd Street. Then, we go inside the dome…

            The Met is beautiful in most of its venues, but since the dome is rarely used, I do not think it has been able to catch that beauty. It looks like a storage room. You enter the dome and see the motors of the chandeliers on your right. We walk on a little catwalk made of metal and take a couple of steps down. The stairs have gridded squares in the flooring, making it possible to stare down into the abyss of the Met below. We step on the floor, which is not made out of the sturdiest material, and find our places. About seven rows of benches, two on each side, are placed in the dome for the children’s chorus and women’s chorus to sit on. That is still not enough. Most of the children’s chorus ends up squeezing into the narrow spots between the benches and sitting on the dusty floor. The conductor stands on the stairs and the children’s chorus director sits at a tiny keyboard to play our first notes. The conductor has a television monitor to see Maestro Gatti’s beats clearly.

            The dome is lit well enough with some lights in the back and front. The gridded parts of the floor are put in the back of the dome and the front, while the choruses sit in the middle. That way, none of us can be terrorized with the thought of falling to our deaths. One woman during a rehearsal, however, did drop her score over the edge of the dome. The ceiling placed between the dome and the orchestra pit far below was able to catch it. A stagehand was able to climb down and retrieve the score. Near the spot where the score was dropped, I discovered that there is a tiny hole in the ceiling where I believe I saw the light of the conductor’s stand. It was such a bright light that I could not imagine what else it could be.

Photo: Scene from Act 1 of the Met’s new Parsifal. I cannot see this because I am far above the stage!

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            The chorus sits and listens to the end of Act 1 Scene 1 of Parsifal, where Gurnemanz is leading Parsifal to the holy ceremony. Everyone is able to hear the music clearly because of speakers placed in the dome. We listen to the rich music of the transition and then the scene changes. The chorus has five entrances, the first of which is “Der glaube lebt”, in which there is absolutely no orchestral accompaniment. It’s all on us. We sing that entrance and have to wait for the conductor to tell us to sit down. The microphones which assist in amplifying our sound are turned on and off at certain points in the music. We have to wait until they are shut off, because having 48 people get up and sit down sounds as loud as a herd of cattle stomping. After we sit down, we can listen to Titurel, who is only a hundred feet from us. For the audience, he sounds like a voice that is very, very far away, but for us, he is next door!

            Now we have ten minutes until our next entrance: “Nehmet hin mein blut”. Some people spend it watching movies on their laptops (with headphones), playing Words with Friends, knitting, or talking softly. I always follow the score and watch the chromatics go by. I have also fallen in love with Peter Mattei’s portrayal of the pain-stricken Amfortas. His “Erbarmen” scene is so moving, and watching the music and text is simply fascinating. Our next entrance comes after an incredible set of A flat major arpeggios, and we sit again.

            Our next three entrances: “Wein und brot des letzten Mahles”, and the two “Selig im glauben”s come very close together. We hear Titurel closely a couple of more times. We finally hear the alto voice close to the end of the act. She is in another dome or offstage somewhere, because she does not sound close to us. We sing our last line “Selig im glauben” and end on a beautiful C Major triad. The act ends, and we all “sshh” the people applauding at the end of Act 1, because all of us know that Wagner wanted complete silence at the end of that act. All of us gather our belongings, me taking my score, and we make the return journey climbing down four, long flights of stairs.

            It has been a special opportunity for me to sing in the dome of the Metropolitan Opera. It is rarely used and I am incredibly excited to be performing in one of the few operas that use it. It is a magical experience because of how eery and holy the result sounds a long way down in the actual opera house, and listening to and singing the holy music from Wagner’s Parsifal.

Photo: The Siena Cathedral, on which Wagner’s idea for the staging of Act I Scene 2 was based. The “Knaben”, or children’s chorus, would be placed up high in the dome of the cathedral.

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My Happy, Operatic Saturday

            With no school, Saturdays are always great days. But this Saturday was a GREAT Saturday. As I am leaving the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus, I now have Saturday afternoons free. I have rarely been able to go to Saturday matinées at the opera house for the last seven years, but now I can. That is one positive of leaving the children’s chorus!

            My father and I attended the Saturday matinée of Verdi’s Rigoletto today at the Met. Many other millions of viewers watched the same performance in more than 60 countries around the world. The performance of Rigoletto was Live in HD in movie theaters all over the world, so opera fans young and old could attend. I enjoyed the performance in the house in many ways.

            The Michael Mayer production of Rigoletto is set in 1960s Las Vegas, where the Duke’s palace is really set in a casino. The whole stage is filled with slot machines, dancers, neon lights, and things that one would never find in fifteenth century Mantua. The subtitles and translations were even changed to the “rat-pack” language of the set era. Verdi would never have known that “dough” meant “money”, for example. This may sound crazy, but I felt that the production worked.

            The production worked because it did not affect the plot or the music, which is by far the most important part of any opera. The time period shift was a smooth one, in that all of the characters kept their personalities the same as they would have 400 years earlier. Rigoletto was still overprotective, Gilda was still a birdbrain, Sparafucile was still an entertaining villain, and the Duke, well, was still the Duke. The Vegas atmosphere even added to the plot. Gilda entering the Casino, being the innocent girl that she is, made her seem so out of place and yet curious about what the outside world is really like in a place full of gambling and strange activity. The production works perfectly well with the plot and music.

Photo: Act I of Michael Mayer’s new production of RigolettoImage

            The singing was overall very good. Diana Damrau’s “Caro nome” was to die for, and she led the third act quartet and trio like a bird in flight. Piotr Bezcała’s performance of the Duke was hilarious. His dancing with the feathered Vegas girls was charming, along with the infamous aria “La donna é mobile”. Lučić was a truly, fatherly Rigoletto. The Sparafucile was toned darkly, and the low F at the end of his first act scene was held until the very second the orchestra stopped playing. The orchestra sounded lovely after a tiring evening of playing the six-hour premiere of Wagner’s Parsifal the night before. The men’s chorus also sounded great and sneaky after a long evening of Wagner, and at the same time, looked spiffy in their smoke jackets.

            During the second intermission of Rigoletto, my father and I attended the opera quiz in List Hall. We got a nice hello from William Berger and the other members of the radio staff assisting with the preparation of the quiz. Barbara Frittoli was there as a guest to advertise for her role as Elisabeth de Valois in Don Carlos, which premieres next week. I also had the opportunity to meet a fellow Met Trivia King, Chris Browner. A freshman at Columbia University, he is one of few young opera lovers, like me, who appreciate opera and know what is behind it. The Met Trivia Queen and King finally met.

            The quiz was entertaining. The piano identification part of the quiz was based on examples of operas where characters experience realization through the thought of death or death of another character, such as Tosca with Cavaradossi when she does not know he has really been executed. The presto round was naming operas that take place in Spain, and yet are neither written by Spanish composers or sung in Spanish. The quiz is always fun to listen to or watch on a Saturday afternoon.

            You thought I was having the best afternoon ever, right? So did I, until the opera ended.

            My father and I left to beat the crowd after Rigoletto cries that the curse was the cause of Gilda’s death. We both walked down the stairs to get backstage, where we were going to say hello to Diana Damrau. I turned the corner, and standing there talking to someone, was Jonas Kaufmann. Jonas Kaufmann is my favorite singer of today. My feet came to a dead halt, and I turned around to my dad coming down the stairs and intensely whispered, “JONAS IS RIGHT THERE”.  Since Jonas and I are both in Parsifal, I was able to meet him earlier at a rehearsal. Luckily, when I approached him today, he recognized me and waved! I told him how much I loved his new CD, “Kaufmann: Wagner, Tenor Arias and Lieder”, and how it was so interesting hearing the Wesendonck Lieder sung by a tenor. He thanked me and agreed that it was fascinating hearing the Lieder in a new perspective. My father and I congratulated him on a successful Parsifal premiere, and wished him luck for Monday night. He smiled and thanked us again and shook my father’s hand. I told my father never to wash his hand again. For one of the most famous and well-known opera singers of today, Jonas Kaufmann is obviously a down to earth, genuinely nice person to know.

Photo: Jonas Kaufmann and me at a rehearsal of Parsifal in late January

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            After being shell-shocked from the Jonas Kaufmann encounter, my father and I continued on our journey to the backstage artists’ area. We waited to be allowed into the lounge and were finally allowed once the security guard let us through. We walked through the lounge and I passed a woman who looked exactly like Anjelica Huston. I later found out that it was Anjelica Huston herself. Anjelica went in front of me and said her hellos to Diana. She walked out and I shyly said, “Hi, Ms. Huston.” She responded, “Hi! How are you?”. I couldn’t believe that I was talking to Morticia from the Addams Family. I said “I’m fine thank you, how are you?”.  She responded “Great!” and that was it. Wow.

            We finally got into Diana Damrau’s dressing room and were able to thank her for a wonderful performance as Gilda. We even got to meet her little newborn Colyn, who was able to get Diana’s trait of beautiful blue eyes. He even gave me a little smile.  She loves the production and cast and is looking forward to performing her first Violetta in March. As we have become friends over a couple of seasons, she congratulated me on the premiere of Parsifal. Let me repeat that: Diana Damrau congratulated me on the premiere of Parsifal. Wow again. We said our bravas and left Diana to rest and take care of Colyn.

            What an afternoon. I attended a performance of Rigoletto with an entertaining new production and singing with an opera quiz in between. In addition, I got to meet Anjelica Huston and talk to two great Bavarian opera singers: Jonas Kaufmann and Diana Damrau. It was one of the happiest Saturdays that I have ever lived. 

A Review of “Kaufmann: Wagner, Tenor Arias and Lieder”

I am not a religious person, but if God intended for Richard Wagner and Jonas Kaufmann to create beautiful Wagnerian performances, I would believe it. Jonas Kaufmann’s new CD, Kaufmann: Wagner, with orchestral accompaniment by the Orchester der Deutschen Opera Berlin and conducting by Donald Runnicles, portrays a beautiful way of telling Wagner’s stories through the appropriate moods and meaningful senses. Throughout the recording, Mr. Kaufmann shows he has this down to a science. From the desperate “Wälse!”  when in search for Nothung in the tree, to the tender sound of “In fernem Land”, Mr. Kaufmann has proven himself worthy of singing multiple Wagnerian roles and knowing the backgrounds of each character enough to enact them. This recording is a master class for moods of singing, story telling, and dynamics.

            Jonas Kaufmann has been familiar with Wagner since his childhood. He reminisced that when he was a child, his grandfather used to sit at the piano and play operatic scores of Wagner and sing all the parts, from the highest soprano to the lowest bass. Kaufmann was able to succeed in this recording not only because of his natural talent, but also because of the sentimental value that he has with Wagner’s music.

            “Ein Scwert verhieß mir der Vater” started off slowly and in the dark, assisted with the dark, German sound from the Berlin Opera Orchestra. Kaufmann quietly depicts the meaning of the sword and how his father had left it for him to find. Suddenly, with an explosion and desperation for where the sword was hiding with clear German enunciated, Kaufmann gave two very intense “Wälse!”s until the angry clouds lifted. In the recording, one could tell that Kaufmann saw the soft glow of light coming from the tree by the way he dipped his voice into a delicate sotto voce. His voice melted into the glistening of the harps and softness of the oboes, until the sword was found.

            “Daß der mein Vater nicht ist…Du holdes Voglein!” is set in the most green of forests. Each note of the strings in the Berlin Orchestra could be depicted as a flowing river or waving grass and leaves, while the woodwinds depict the creatures of the forest. Siegfried’s frustration with Mime melts away, and he is left wondering who his mother and father really were. The main focus of this aria for Kaufmann was “dreaming” or “Träume” in German. Kaufmann became the wondering, pondering Siegfried, lusting after his parents’ identity.  He especially dreamt about his mother, and Kaufmann showed a sensitivity to the text as it corresponded with the Sieglinde motifs returning from Die Walküre. The dreaming is still unbroken when the orchestra comes back in with the forest murmurs. The English Horn solo brought a bit of humor in to play, drawing us back to why Siegfried was sent in to the forest. Kaufmann came off as an innocent, pondering Siegfried, wondering what life could have been like with his parents.

            Finally, the disc leaves an excerpt from Rienzi, a Wagner opera that not many of us are familiar with. In “Allmächt’ger Vater, blick herab”, Cola Rienzi has been excommunicated because of his leading a rebellion against the Roman nobles. In this aria, Rienzi pleads forgiveness from the “Almighty Father”. Kaufmann starts the aria off as a quiet, delicate prayer to the mighty Father in the sky. One can hear the plea and desire even in his delicate voice. Kaufmann then brings out a little more of his rich confidence, reminding the Father what had been given to him in the past. Kaufmann becomes more and more desperate; seeming to recognize more clearly that this is his last chance for redemption. Kaufmann then returns to the sotto voce at the line “Mein Herr und Vater, o blicke herab”, or “My Lord and Father, look down”. Kaufmann literally lowers his volume, as if to seem at a lower status, and continues to sing as if in fervent prayer.

            “Inbrunst im Herzen” contains very diverse dynamics and moods. When this aria occurs in Tannhäuser, Tannhäuser has just been denied salvation after journeying to Rome to be forgiven by the Pope. He tells his friend Wolfram about the entire journey. Kaufmann sang in an appropriately dark tone when describing the difficult journey over stone and rock. To lighten up the story, Kaufmann uses an incredible sotto voce whenever he discusses the advice that the angel gave him. His voice becomes delicate and light, as one might imagine an angel. Kaufmann returned to his dark tone until he came to the moment when the Pope told him that he did not deserve mercy or salvation. Without ugliness, Mr. Kaufmann was able to imitate the Pope. He made his lines slightly choppier, and he used a slight nasal quality in his sound, to make himself sound similar to an old, crotchety man. To finish off, Kaufmann uses his sotto voce again, thinking of how Venus will charm him and even make him feel better. Jonas Kaufmann, who has only one voice, was able to create three different voices in this ten-minute satire: A dark, disappointed Tannhäuser, an angel-inspired Tannhäuser, and an old, crotchety Pope.

            If Beckmesser was sitting in the recording studio while Mr. Kaufmann recorded “Am stillen herd”, he should not have made a single mark on his little chalkboard. This aria is another example of storytelling. When Kaufmann sang this, one pictured that he was reading a story about a man in “Winterszeit” to a group of school children. He described the story well, keeping it milder when singing about winter and getting more excited when singing about summer. The orchestra appropriately created a carpet of sound, because it is a simple aria that one would sing at a song contest, as in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Kaufmann succeeded the challenge of calling attention to himself and his singing in a performance with important consequences.

            “In fernem Land” was a master class for sotto voce. Kaufmann portrayed the deep, mysterious character of Lohengrin, a knight of the Grail. This aria is placed at the end of Lohengrin, when Elsa has asked the forbidden question of the name of the knight and where he came from. Now, he must leave on his swan and never return.  Listeners, Elsa, and even the evil Ortrud herself should be in tears at this point. The only time that we hear the rich, confident Kaufmann sound in this aria is when he discusses the Grail and his father Parsifal. He then returns to sotto voce, almost pleading to Elsa. Why had she asked him the forbidden question? In this recording, listeners are treated with the second verse of the aria, which is rarely performed onstage. Mr. Kaufmann portrays a beautiful, tender Lohengrin, as he has done onstage in Munich and in Bayreuth.

            Mr. Kaufmann, in a video released by Decca, made it clear that he knew the Wesendonck Lieder were intended to be sung by a female voice. He claims that he does not know why that is so. The text, written by Mathilde von Wesendonck, does not make it clear that it was to be sung by a woman, he points out. Kaufmann was excited to try it.

            The Wesendonck Lieder started with a delicately, tenderly sung “Der Engel”, similar to the quality in the Lohengrin section. “Stehe” was sung as if Kaufmann was placed at the top of a mountain, giving orders and waving around a magic wand. He brought out his tenderness from the diminished chords of “Ich moge alle Wonne ermessen” to the major chords of “Wenn Auge in Auge wonnig trinken”. Kaufmann made it believable that man can truly understand the ways of nature. “Im Treibhaus” begins with the sad drones of the strings that can be heard at the beginning of the third act of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Kaufmann sang it delicately, depicting the divinity of nature. Delicately, Kaufmann confided in plants, that we as humans also reach out to the world for support and life, but are left with nothing. The mood sinks back into darkness as the drone of the strings washes up against an empty shore. “Schmerzen” was sung firmly, and convincingly, that humans should be satisfied that they can take in the sorrows of nature. While humans can live on through the night, the sun disappears and dies each night. Finally, the album ends with “Träume”, the familiar music of the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. The orchestra simply acts as a cloudy carpet of sound while the solo voice takes the stage. Listening to this particular song, one feels as if Kaufmann were sitting on the crescent of the moon, singing to the star-filled night and watching over the Earth. It is an interesting and intriguing experience hearing Jonas Kaufmann, a tenor, singing the Wesendonck Lieder.

            Jonas Kaufmann’s new recording, Kaufmann: Wagner is incredible to listen to. His ability to portray several characters and adapt to their moods and feelings knows no bounds. Mr. Kaufmann obviously pays an incredible amount of attention to the text, while still being able to focus on using dynamics and timbre to change the character. Kaufmann’s recording of Wagner tenor arias and lieder is a stunning success and serves as a prelude to what will no doubt be thrilling performances as the title character in upcoming performances of Parsifal in both New York and Vienna over the next few months.

Photo: The cover photo for Jonas Kaufmann’s new recording

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My Swan Song: Parsifal

All good things have an ending, but all endings have a new beginning. This phrase has been hovering in my mind. My name is Melanie Spector, and I am a seven year veteran of the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus. I have been in eleven operas,  cast nineteen different times, and have performed in 160 performances on the Met stage. These operas include Cavalleria Rusticana, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Carmen, La Gioconda, La Damnation de Faust, Turandot, Hansel and Gretel, Attila, La Bohème, Boris Godunov, and finally, Parsifal.

Parsifal is a special, sentimental opera to me. My father introduced me to Wagner’s music when I was only in kindergarten, and I have been in love with it since. When I was eight years old, he took me to see the dress rehearsal of it at the Met, with René Pape as Gurnemanz, Ben Heppner as Parsifal, Thomas Hampson as Amfortas, and Waltraud Meier as Kundry. A few days later, on May 12, 2006, we attended the premiere, where my father’s friend whispered to my father, referring to me, after the two-hour first act, “She didn’t move.” I was hooked by this Wagnerian masterpiece, and understood the deep holiness that many adults even struggle to understand.

There is one more reason why I treasure and will treasure this opera in the future. I will be singing in Parsifal in the Met’s new production of it, opening this Friday night, February 15.

This Friday night, my father will be in the audience, my mother will be playing second oboe in the Met orchestra, and I will be singing from the dome of the Met. The dome is a room all the way at the top of the Met, on the sixth floor, above the orchestra pit. It is used to make voices and instruments seem like they are coming from the heavens, or from some mysterious place above.  It is so high up, that the children’s chorus is parallel with the motors that hoist up the chandeliers each performance.

Parsifal will be my last run of performances as a member of the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus. This opera will not only remain as a sentimental memory of seeing it with my father seven years ago, but also as a bitter-sweet memory of singing from the heights of the domes and participating in Wagner’s Bühnenweihfestspiel. I hope that this ending will start a new beginning, involving prospering vocal studies and returning to the Met for future performances, to watch and/or sing in. It has been an incredible experience, and one that I will never forget.

Photo: Original sketches for the first 1882 Bayreuth production of Parsifal

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