Is Opera Color Blind?

A couple of weeks ago I had the immense pleasure of hearing Nina Stemme tear up the house as Turandot live at the Met. The sheer size of her voice brought me back to see her again, only at a movie theater instead of the Met so I could witness her power live in HD. Yet again, her entire range was solid as a rock. She never let a stray note waver or sound out of place in the vast space she creates in her skull for successful resonance. Seeing her Live in HD did leave me with something else to think about other than her musical performance, however.

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Nina Stemme as Turandot © Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera, January 2016

There is no question that the Met HDs are geared towards the movie industry. The film crew behind their production makes a viewer more aware of a singer’s makeup and appearance than he or she ever would sitting in the opera house. As I was enjoying listening to Ms. Stemme’s astounding sound, I could not help but be distracted by the heavy makeup around her eyes, which was utilized to give her more of an Asian look. The character of Turandot the ice princess came from a Persian collection of stories titled “The Book of One Thousand and One Days” ; and the word “Turandot” itself means “daughter of Turan”, Turan being a region located in Central Asia. Puccini set his opera to take place in the city of Peking, or present-day Beijing, China.

While Ms. Stemme’s makeup did not affect my enjoyment of her performance, it did take me back to a contoversy earlier this season over the use of blackface in the Met’s new production of Otello which opened the season. In this case, Shakespeare created Otello as a “Moorish captain”, based on the story “Un Capitano Moro” published in 1565 by Cinthio. While “Moor” has been used as a term to describe Arab and Berber people emigrating from North Africa to Spain, many have simply identified Othello as distinctly darker than Iago and Desdemona, and thus, isolating him from the light-skinned society for which he serves as a general. Countless references are made in both Shakespeare’s text and Boito’s libretto to Othello’s “blackness”. In the duet between Otello and Desdemona at the end of Act I of Verdi’s Otello, Otello describes how “scendean sulle mie tenebre la gloria, il paradiso e gli astri a benedir” or “upon my darkness shown a radiance, heaven and all the stars in benediction”. Desdemona responds: “Ed io vedea fra le tue tempie oscure splender del genio l’eterea beltà” or “And I descried upon your dusky temples genius’ ethereal beauty shining there”. In other words, it is made obvious that Otello should be personified as a character with darker skin than Desdemona.

When posters were first hung up and New York City buses began bearing ads for the Met’s new production, outrage broke out over Aleksandrs Antonenko’s dark makeup. After Nina Stemme’s thick eye makeup was shown to viewers all over the world on Saturday, I wondered where that same outrage was. For many years, the government of the People’s Republic of China banned performances of Puccini’s world renowned work because it gave an unfavorable portrayal of China and the Chinese people. In the past, productions of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly have been criticized for using “yellowface”, or a type of Hollywood-born makeup used to make actors look “more Asian”. As it was obviously intended by the makeup artists to give Ms. Stemme the complexion of a Chinese princess, where was the fuss? Should her face have been left alone to only let her costume advocate her Asian heritage?

With operas like Otello and Turandot, we are lucky. Costumers and makeup artists have the choice and disposal to create certain complexions they have in mind for the stage. In operas like La Fanciulla del West, however, that choice is not provided, as hints of racism are depicted in the speech or vernacular of the characters. Wowkle, Annie’s pregnant Native American servant, and her husband, Billy Jackrabbit, repeatedly say “Ugh”- filling the popular “stupid Indian” stereotype white Americans used at the time they were trying to move further West.

Is there reason for outrage or is the Met correct in following Puccini’s intentions for an Asian title character? I am very interested in hearing your responses. Please comment below if you have any thoughts.

A Tribute to Pierre Boulez and the Centenary Ring

When I heard Pierre Boulez had passed away on January 5, I cannot say that I let his death pervade my thoughts or affect me significantly. One of the few performances I saw him conduct was Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 at Carnegie Hall in May of 2009. The piece was what it was, gargantuan and monumental, but I did not feel uplifted when I left the auditorium, which is normally a given after listening to the “Symphony of a Thousand”.

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Pierre Boulez, ca. 1976 ©Pierre Petitjean

That was until I was introduced to his Jahrhundertring, or the “Centenary Ring” production presented at the Bayreuth Festival in 1976 for the one hundredth anniversary of Wagner’s four-part series of epic music dramas. In a collaboration with the legendary French director Patrice Chéreau, Maestro Boulez and he created a launching pad for “Regietheater”, advocating broad-mindedness for not only musical interpretation, but taking liberties with the staging and setting as well. The artists in this revolutionary production did not channel their characters in traditional mythological garb: Sir Donald McIntyre’s Wotan was dressed in a frock coat as a banker in the Industrial Revolution, and Gunther sports a tuxedo to contrast with his blood-sworn brother Siegfried, who is dressed in rags as a dragon-killing, mountain-climbing, fire-jumping hero. The Ring itself is born from gold stolen from a hydro-electric plant, not from the banks of the peacefully blue Rhine river.The struggle between capitalists (Wotan and the rest of the Godly race) and the working class (the Nibelungs) undermines the conventional Norse mythology found in Wagner’s work.

Boulez and Chéreau’s combined work was booed mercilessly at Bayreuth for years. After its final performance in 1980, however, it was given a 45-minute ovation, showing that the staging of opera was moving in a new direction and that audiences were conforming and opening up in response.

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Sir Donald McIntyre as Wotan in the final scene of Act III of Die Walküre

Nothing like Boulez and Chéreau’s collaboration had ever been done anywhere else previously, let alone atop the sacred Green Hill. Remember in 2013 when audiences for the Met’s new production of Parsifal were getting hot flashes because Jonas Kaufmann unexpectedly loses his shirt before his big smooch with the supernatural Kundry? That erotic style of staging for Wagner was very similar to the staging for Peter Hofmann, another very good-looking German tenor, as he loses his shirt during the Todesverkündigung with Brünnhilde. What seemed deranged and nutty back in the late seventies is perceived as typical on today’s stages. Maestro Boulez was a man ahead of his time.

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Peter Hofmann as Siegmund and Gwyneth Jones as Brünnhilde in Act II of Die Walküre

While I may not have enjoyed some of his speedy tempi and abrupt endings to phrases, I understand that his background of contribution to the development of innovations such as computer music, integral serialism, and controlled chanced allowed him to introduce opera to the future, and looking back from 2016, the longterm. The intense, dramatic acting and intimacy between characters implemented in the Centenary Ring has become a necessity for Ring productions today. Maestro Boulez created a new standard with which opera directors in the present day work, and for that, the music world should be forever grateful.

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)

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

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

Royal Albert Hall: The BBC Proms

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

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

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

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

Bayreuther Festspiele (Bayreuth Festival):

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

Photo: Castorf’s set for Das Rheingold

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

WQXR’s Wagner Week

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

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

Seattle Opera: The Ring

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

Tanglewood:

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

Glimmerglass Festival:

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

The Sydney Opera House:

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

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

Happy Fourth of July!

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Happy Fourth of July to opera lovers and everyone else! As we, the American people, will be firing up our grills and watching fireworks, what music will you be listening to? Take this opportunity to remember all of the great American composers, operatic or not! Here are a few:

American Opera composers:

  • George Gershwin: Porgy and Bess
  • Carlisle Ford: Susannah, Of Mice and Men
  • John Adams: Doctor Atomic, Nixon in China
  • Philip Glass: Satyagraha, Appomattox, Einstein on the Beach
  • Mark Adamo: Little Women
  • Gian Carlo Menotti: The Telephone
  • Jack Beeson: Lizzie Borden (My dad had him as a teacher at Columbia University!)
  • Leonard Bernstein: West Side Story, Trouble in Tahiti
  • Samuel Barber: Vanessa
  • Jake Heggie: Moby-Dick
  • Nico Muhly: Two Boys

America Non-Opera composers:

  • Aaron Copland
  • Charles Ives
  • Stephen Foster
  • John Philip Sousa
  • Milton Babbitt
  • Elliott Carter
  • Amy Beach
  • John Cage
  • Woody Guthrie

So happy Fourth of July to all, and Happy Birthday to the United States!

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Happy Johannistag!

Today, June 24th, is Johannistag, or St. John’s Day in English. It is a celebration of the birthday of John the Baptist, and also a celebration of Midsummer’s Day. Typical celebrations include pyres, flowers, dancing, and beautiful outfits. This celebratory day is featured in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The celebration takes place in the second scene of Act III, where flowers, dancing, and beautiful outfits can be seen, maybe not pyres because nobody would want the fire alarms to go off. This is also where the Prize Song Contest is hosted, where Beckmesser makes a fool of himself and Walther wins Eva as his bride. It is a very fun, entertaining, and beautiful scene to watch, especially after sitting through five other hours of it!

Here are some photos of various productions of the Johannistag scene (Act III Scene 2):

     Glyndebourne’s Die Meistersinger staged at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2013

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Bayreuth’s Die Meistersinger directed by Katharina Wagner

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Covent Garden’s Die Meistersinger in 2011

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A colorful interpretation of Die Meistersinger from Komische Oper Berlin

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The Metropolitan Opera’s Die Meistersinger in March 2007. (I am in the middle, to the left of James Morris, long blonde hair and a brown apron) © Beth Bergman 2007

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What do all of these photos have in common? They are filled with color, life, happiness, and celebration over Johannistag! Now go out and celebrate by listening to a recording of Die Meistersinger!

Julius Caesar vs Giulio Cesare

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Two major adaptions of the legend of Julius Caesar have been put on stage. One being Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and the other being Handel’s Giulio Cesare, which will open at the Metropolitan Opera on April 4. Surprisingly, the opera, which was written 125 years later, is not based on Shakespeare’s play. The opera takes place in Egypt and focuses on the relationship between Caesar and Cleopatra, while the play focuses on the death of Caesar and the conspiracy to kill him. 

Photo: Natalie Dessay and David Daniels in a feature photo of the Met’s Giulio CesareImage

 

     The characters in both the play and the opera are completely different. Julius Caesar is the only common character to both, but he is completely different in the two interpretations. In the Shakespeare play, Caesar is positively despised by the conspirators for several reasons, including that he killed a fellow member of the First Triumvirate: Pompey. Brutus, Cassius, and others all plan a conspiracy to kill Caesar and protect Rome, and end up successful in Act III. The goal of the conspirators was to keep Rome protected from the wrath of Caesar.

     The Shakespeare play also focuses much more on Brutus than Caesar, who dies in Act III. Brutus is already a friend to the Roman people due to his father’s history as a leader and military figure, and he is protective of them. At first, Brutus is hesitant about the idea of killing an authority figure like Caesar, but is drawn into it by Cassius. After killing Caesar however, Brutus justifies the situation for the Roman crowd, telling them that he was protecting Rome and the free lives of the people. Brutus knew that Caesar would put the Roman people in chains, and that he was a terrible man.

Photo: Brutus being visited by the ghost of Julius Caesar in Act IV of Julius CaesarImage

 

     The opera focuses on a different perspective of Julius Caesar’s life: His relationship with the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra.  This relationship takes place earlier than Shakespeare’s perspective of Caesar. Cleopatra is really married to her brother Tolomeo, but he is not the nicest guy on Earth. Almost everyone is upset with him for approving the killing of Pompey by Cesare, and also for seducing and forcing himself on Cornelia, the widow of Pompey. Tolomeo actually ends up being the most hated character in the play rather than Cesare. He is killed by Sesto and everyone celebrates. Cesare proclaims Cleopatra as the Queen of Egypt and promises to give patronage to Egypt and spread that in Rome as well. Everyone loves Cesare!

     To conclude, the only real similarities that Julius Caesar and Giulio Cesare share are that Pompey is killed and the other characters wish to have him avenged, and that Caesar will rule Rome. The two adaptions are almost completely different. 

     Giulio Cesare premieres at the Met on April 4 in David McVicar’s beautiful production. It will include David Daniels as Cesare, Natalie Dessay as Cleopatra, Alice Coote as Sesto, and Patricia Bardon as Cornelia, with Harry Bicket conducting. Get tickets now!

     PS: My mom will also be featured again onstage and in costume, playing onstage in the Act II banda that welcomes Cleopatra. She is very much looking forward to it after her experience playing onstage in Francesca da Rimini.

Here is a photo of my mom in her Giulio Cesare costume (She gets to change in the solo artist dressing rooms!):

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The Irish History of “Tristan und Isolde”

     As today is St. Patrick’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the most famous Irish operatic character in history: Isolde from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

Photo: Princess Iseult of Ireland and Sir Tristan

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     Iseult the Irish princess is the daughter of King Anguish of Ireland and Queen Iseult the Elder. She is also the niece of Morholt, the giant Irish warrior who was killed by Tristan. Interestingly in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Morold is Isolde’s former fiancé. 

     The Arthurian legend of Tristan and “Iseult” originally came from medieval French poetry, and also some Celtic legends. Iseult was an Irish princess who was brought over by ship to marry King Mark of Cornwall. While on the ship, Iseult accidentally takes a love potion, making her fall in love with one of the “Knights of the Round Table”, Sir Tristan. Tristan and Iseult fall in love with each other and keep a secret affair until they are caught by King Mark. Tristan is banished to Brittany where he lays suffering from a poisonous wound. He waits for Iseult to arrive by ship in Brittany so the wound can be cured, but he dies before she arrives. She arrives later, discovers him dead, and dies of grief. 

     …..What a cheery story for St. Patrick’s Day, but hey, it’s opera, right? 

     Some of the great Isoldes in opera history include Birgit Nilsson, Kirsten Flagstad, Astrid Varnay, Hildegard Behrens, Iréne Theorin, Nina Stemme, and Waltraud Meier. Enjoy Tristan und Isolde and its Irish history, and have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Here is Richard Wagner as a leprechaun:

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