The 2015 Metropolitan Opera Guild Holiday Card, Designed by Melanie Spector

2015 handed me some incredible opportunities. I was accepted to Manhattan School of Music, am studying with my first-choice voice teacher, and I even got to see my favorite team, the New York Mets, battle it out in the postseason – to the bitter end. One last opportunity granted to me in 2015 was to have the honor of designing the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s holiday card. After seeing some of my other works, such as my 2013-14 Met Season drawing, those on the Guild were interested in having me design their card. Here is the final product:

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The front of the 2015 Metropolitan Opera Guild Holiday Card © Melanie Spector 2015

As the English-version of Die Fledermaus is being performed at the Met right now and as it is always associated with New Year’s Eve and the holiday season overall, I figured it would be a perfect theme for a holiday card. Champagne bubble letters, I believe, are appealing to everyone. I did have another idea, however, that I was hoping would pull through as the favored design of the two I created. Here is my other card design:

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2015 Metropolitan Opera Guild holiday card alternate design © Melanie Spector 2015

One with any prior knowledge of opera would understand that this is a reenactment of the end of Act II of Puccini’s Tosca. Instead of Tosca stabbing Scarpia with a knife, however, she kills him with snowballs. The two candelabra set on either side of him are seen in any production that is true to the libretto. The snowman is obviously not in the libretto, but I thought it would be a nice touch to a relatively vulgar holiday card. This design was not chosen to be used, however, I’m sure I can make use of it in the future.

I hope all of you readers have a wonderful new year. Thank you so much for keeping up with my posts in 2015. I look forward to writing more about opera and other subjects in 2016. Happy New Year!

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Ms.OperaGeek’s Favorite Classical Music Performances from 2015

2015 was a great year for classical music performances given in New York. From some of the new productions put on stage by the Met to visiting orchestras at Carnegie Hall, the stages of New York oozed with talent. I estimate having attended around fifty to sixty performances just this year, but here are some of my favorites, in chronological order, as I look back on 2015:

Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 and the Schumann “Rhenish” Symphony, January 2015

This program featured Maestro Riccardo Muti conducting both Yefim Bronfman in Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto and the Schumann “Rhenish” Symphony. What I took especially from this performance was the honor of being in the same hall as the CSO brass section. Even without the leadership of Dale Clevenger, the longtime Principal Horn of the CSO who retired two years ago, the notoriously clear and rich sound of their brass section plays on. Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 begins with a gentle horn call, followed by the “Rhenish” which gives very generous parts particularly to the horns. The symphony itself is in E-Flat Major, a heroic key and a favorite among brass players. The Chicago Symphony played it heroically at that.

Iolanta and Bluebeard’s Castle at the Metropolitan Opera, January and February 2015

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Nadja Michael as Judith in Bartók’s “Bluebeard’s Castle”. © Marty Sohl, Metropolitan Opera, 2015

With the help of two ghoulish new productions by Mariusz Trelinski, a terrifically haunting evening of two rarely staged works was presented. It is doubtful that Iolanta would have been performed at the Met without the help of Maestro Valery Gergiev, who conducted it superbly. Both Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczala, Iolanta and Vaudémont respectively, gave proof of how their voices have grown and how they are going to take on heavier roles in the future. Nadja Michael’s intensity as Judith in Bluebeard’s Castle drew the audience in with her, as Mikhail Petrenko contrasted with an eerily passive portrayal of Bluebeard. Trelinski’s production made the evening. His use of eternally dark moving projections and ominous voices and noises coming from speakers around the house made it like a ride in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland rather than a dismally dark experience.

La Donna del Lago at the Metropolitan Opera, February and December 2015

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John Osborn, Joyce DiDonato, and Juan Diego Flórez in La Donna del Lago at the Metropolitan Opera; Photograph: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

I had never seen such a battlefield of coloratura singing before the Met finally brought Rossini’s La Donna del Lago to the stage in 2015. Both casts, in the 2014-15 season and the 2015-16 season, were made up of all-star bel canto repertoire artists: Juan Diego Flórez, Joyce DiDonato, Daniela Barcellona, Lawrence Brownlee, and John Osborn. Each time the trio in Act II between the two tenors and Ms. DiDonato came back, I would sit at the edge of my seat, frozen and immovable, as I witnessed the “battle of the high Cs” between John Osborn and Juan Diego Flórez and later Lawrence Brownlee. Then came the final aria of the opera for Elena, “Tanti affetti”, or “so many emotions”, which is exactly how I felt hearing Ms. DiDonato nail all her runs every single time she went for them. It was amazing to not only hear a new addition to the Met’s bel canto repertoire, but to also hear an entire cast of artists who are always consistent and perpetually prepared.

Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, Ein Deutsches Requiem, March 2015

As part of their US tour, the Vienna Philharmonic brought with them one of their specialities: Brahms’ German Requiem. Listening to those Viennese musicians play that music was like comfort food. It felt as if the music was coming straight out of their veins as they played and breathed together as one being. Daniele Gatti conducted gently, exactly what the piece deserves. Diana Damrau and Christian Gerhaher, both accomplished singers of lieder, gave personal and intimate performances as the two soloists. The Westminster Symphonic Choir exemplified versatility, as they sang powerfully in the trembling “Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras” and later came all the way down for a very moving “Selig sind die Toten”. One could pick up on the great amount of care given by every person on stage to deliver Brahms’ non-liturgical messages to humankind.

Boston Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, Beethoven Violin Concerto, Shostakovich: Symphony No. 10, Mahler: Symphony No. 6, April 2015

In April the Boston Symphony toured to Carnegie Hall with Christian Teztlaff and the Beethoven Violin Concerto, Shostakovich 10, and Mahler 6, all conducted by Andris Nelsons. The Beethoven was played tenderly by Teztlaff with a very interpretive and relatively long cadenza. Both the Shostakovich and the Mahler were fluid and chamber-like under Maestro Nelsons. Instead of going for the big band sound like many conductors do, Nelsons went the other way for a smoother, more velvety sound even out of these two huge works. His animation on the podium, even solely in his eyes as they connect with his musicians, is always worth the price of admission.

Berlin Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, Beethoven: Symphonies No. 4, 7, and 9, November 2015

The Berlin Philharmonic is the rock star orchestra of the twenty-first century. Tickets to see them at Carnegie Hall are the highest for the entire season each year they tour. From Karajan to Abbado to Sir Simon Rattle, their sound has been transformed into possibly the best in the world as far as classical orchestras go. These rock stars gave it their all as they brought with them a cycle of Beethoven. Out of the three symphonies I saw them perform, my favorite had to have been Symphony No. 7. Yes, many complain that it is performed too often, but when it is performed that well and with such high standards as those of the Berlin Philharmonic, it is a perfect choice.

An entire section of violins sounded like one violin, their blend was that melded. The winds’ first priority was to listen to each other, as they moved and made eye contact as they commingled. Albrecht Mayer, the Principal Oboist of the Berlin Philharmonic, paid particular consideration to listening to his fellow musicians and blending his sound. The brass playing sounded magnificent. As always, they were perfectly in tune and created a big, clear sound together. Sir Simon Rattle looked like he was having a blast as he danced and leaped on the podium. At times, however, he would stop conducting the orchestra entirely, demonstrating that the trust between him and the musicians is unquestionably mutual.

Lulu at the Metropolitan Opera, November 2015

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Marlis Petersen in Lulu at the Metropolitan Opera; Photograph: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

To call Marlis Petersen a stage animal is an understatement. How she ran around the stage while simultaneously singing Lulu’s long and strenuous part boggled everybody’s mind. She practically won the Olympics. A busy new production by South African director William Kentridge allowed some of the attention drawn to Ms. Petersen to be drawn elsewhere, as projections of newspaper clippings and encyclopedia entries were blotted with inky drawings of people, including the characters on stage, Alban Berg, and others. It was eccentric, but for an opera as kooky as Lulu where everyone is busy dying, the production was allowed to be busy too. The Met Orchestra outdid themselves by effortlessly playing Berg’s complicated twelve-tone rows.

With 2016 coming in, I am very excited for all the performances the new year has to offer. Thank you, 2015, for a fantastic year of performance-going!

 

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Handel: A Review of the New York Philharmonic’s “Messiah”

New York City is brimming with “Messiah”s this December. Whether one wishes to attend one with period instruments, a full-on orchestra, or something in between, the New York Baroque scene awaits. I chose to attend the New York Philharmonic’s “Messiah” on Saturday night. With a more petite version of the ensemble, including only three stands of first violins for example, a more chamber-esque sound was created on a smaller-scale. Unlike the cherished Sir Thomas Beecham recording, trombones, tuba, triangle, and cymbals could not be found on the stage of David Geffen Hall.

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Jane Glover conducting the “Messiah”; Credits: Robert Altman of the New York Times

Jane Glover, making her debut with the New York Philharmonic, conducted a very loving performance. Without a baton or a score, she genuinely connected with the soloists, orchestra, and chorus to make the whole experience very warm and inviting. I particularly liked her own clever articulation of “All we like sheep have gone astray”, as she placed a pause or lift between “we” and “like”, in order to clarify the meaning of the sentence. Often people take it to mean that the chorus really, strangely, respects sheep, whereas it should be taken to mean that the people are wandering in the manner of sheep.

Heidi Stober demonstrated her versatility through the contrast of her fast gait in “Rejoice  greatly” and her beautiful legato in “I know that my redeemer liveth”. Tim Mead exemplified the fluidity in his voice, never spending too much time singing in straight-tone and making sure to incorporate full vibrato. As his part is commonly sung by a mezzo, he managed to maintain the appropriate timbre for Handel’s requirements. Paul Appleby’s voice has grown since the last time I heard him as David in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Met last season. He gave great emphasis for clarity and diction on “Thou shalt break them”. Roderick Williams was difficult to hear at times, especially in “The Trumpet Shall Sound”, but who could blame him for being covered in that aria? The piccolo trumpet itself was played very clearly and bravely forte.

The Westminster Symphonic Choir sounds professional in everything they do. Sir Simon Rattle just recently led them triumphantly in Beethoven’s Ninth at Carnegie Hall with the Berlin Philharmonic and they are soon preparing to sing under Yannick Nézet-Séguin with the Philadelphia Orchestra for Mahler: Symphony No. 8 in March. Their blend deserves great admiration considering how young the average age is of each member of the ensemble. They sang freely, kept their faces out of the music, and even moved together in a joyful fashion.

As my first time ever attending a live performance of the “Messiah”, I was very impressed with how uniquely and specifically it was interpreted. The two and a half hours flew by for me. I look forward hopefully to more appearances by Jane Glover both at the New York Philharmonic and the Met.

Saturday by the Lake: A Review of the Met’s La Donna del Lago

On Saturday afternoon I attended my second ever performance of Rossini’s La Donna del Lago at the Met. The cast was virtually identical to last season’s run, with the exception of Lawrence Brownlee singing the role of Uberto, or King James V in disguise, instead of Juan Diego Flórez. Joyce DiDonato, John Osborn, and Daniela Barcellona triumphed again in their efforts to combat Rossini’s merciless coloratura and extreme tessituras.

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John Osborn, Joyce DiDonato, and Lawrence Brownlee in La Donna del Lago, Credit: Sara Krulwich/New York Times

I was shocked to see how sparse attendance was for a Saturday matinee of a performance with singers as well renowned as Joyce DiDonato and Lawrence Brownlee. The new production by Paul Curran sold very well last season, possibly with the help of Juan Diego Flórez who has been notorious for being one of the few twenty-first century artists to repeatedly sell out houses. La Donna del Lago has not yet been fully embraced as a permanent member of the circle of custom bel canto repertoire, however, it surprised me to see multitudes of empty seats for a Rossini opera with such acclaimed singers of that very repertoire.

Joyce DiDonato was fabulous as always, bringing down the house after her glorious aria “Tanti affetti”, which ends the opera. Her voice soared over the orchestra while also blending with other soloists, especially in her Act I duet with Daniela Barcellona, “Vivere io non saprò/ potrò, mio ben, senza di te”. At times, it was difficult to hear Ms. Barcellona over the orchestra. However, her lower register opened up and was audible enough to sound very impressive. Lawrence Brownlee’s Uberto was driven and focused, making his multiple high As, Bs, and Cs sound very exciting. John Osborn’s extension up to his upper register seemed effortless, so much so that his high Ds sounded just as facile as the rest of his upper register. The battle of the “high Cs” between the two tenors, moderated by Joyce DiDonato as part of a trio, at the beginning of Act II left me on the edge of my seat.

The conducting of Michele Mariotti made an afternoon of Rossini all the more enjoyable. He stressed for lightness and character which by no question the versatile Met Orchestra was able to match. The chorus sang robustly to fit the spirit of the camaraderie in the Scottish highlands.

To conclude, here is a bit of fascinating trivia which my father Garry Spector pulled out of the air for both last Saturday’s and this coming Saturday’s double bills: For the first time in history, the Met on both December 19 and 26 will put two Rossini operas on the stage the same day, La Donna del Lago and Il Barbiere di Siviglia. This coming Saturday, La Donna del Lago will switch with Il Barbiere to be the evening show.

Lots of Lieder: A Weekend of Recitals with Tara Erraught and Diana Damrau

Despite the cold that has come upon New York during these past few early days of December, two fulfilling lieder recitals warmed me up this weekend at Carnegie Hall: One by Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught on Friday night and one by German soprano Diana Damrau on Sunday afternoon. Ms. Erraught made her New York Recital Debut on Friday after making her Boston Recital Debut two nights before, while Ms. Damrau took a break from her rehearsals of Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles at the Met. Each of them gave monumental performances and exemplified fluidity on their respective programs.

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Diana Damrau (© Michael Tammaro/ Virgin Classics) and Tara Erraught (© Dario Acosta 2014)

Even the biggest of American opera buffs have difficulty placing the name of Tara Erraught. She simply has not sung a lot in this country. Those Americans who are familiar with her might know her from the live simulcasts provided by the Bayerische Staatsoper and Glyndebourne. She recently gave performances as Sesto alongside Kristine Opolais as Vitellia in a production of La Clemenza di Tito from Munich, and as Octavian in Glyndebourne’s new production of Der Rosenkavalier, directed by Richard Jones, both of which were viewable online worldwide.

The iconic richness of her voice is something that cannot simply be appreciated through computer speakers or even a reputable audio system; Her sound in Weill Recital Hall’s intimate space wrapped itself around the audience like a velvety cape. As a mezzo, her middle and bottom registers were rich, however, even her upper register remained sunny, especially so in the Strauss. Her residency in Munich for the past several years as a member of the Bayerische Staatsoper’s ensemble has evidently helped her in building an appropriate German character for the meaningful songs of Brahms and Strauss. She was just as strong in her inherent inflections of the English texts used by Quilter and Delius. Her assiduous attention to text made for a very devoted, entertaining, and warm performance. Her “Allerseelen” and “Morgen” in particular left me very convinced of her respective messages for each. The playing of Henning Ruhe was attentive and sensitive, especially in the huge, chromatic swells Liszt composed in some of the more stormy repertoire Ms. Erraught performed.

Diana Damrau gave a very similar program, if one subtracted English songs and replaced them with French. After a period of vocal rest, her voice sounded healthier and fuller as she characterized and tore through the lust of Schubert’s and Strauss’ lieder as well as some very comical French works. Her grasp of the German language brought out the true colors of Schubert’s purposeful songs. Her pianissimos were so delicate, especially in her show-stopper (her last encore), “Morgen”. This gorgeous portrayal of Strauss’ sensual prospect of “Tomorrow” was accompanied slowly and dolce by the very sensitive Craig Rutenberg. One could feel the chemistry between the two of them even in the 2800-seat Stern auditorium. Even if the German language is one of her strong suits, the French language draped easily off her tongue in both the Poulenc and Rosenthal. She was absolutely hilarious in the funny, sentimental Chansons du Monsieur Bleu of Manuel Rosenthal. Her versatility truly shined as she showed her mastering of both German and French.

While Diana Damrau is a veteran to the New York stage, Tara Erraught as a newcomer matched her in lingual versatility and sensitivity. Each of their recitals made for a great weekend in New York.