Friday, July 17, 2015

Tutto nel mondo è burla

"Everything in the world is a jest!" With these words Giuseppe Verdi began the colossal final fugue of his only comedy, Falstaff. It was this monumental work which I had the pleasure of seeing this Thursday produced by Utah Vocal Arts Academy and Utah Lyric Opera for their Principle Artist Summer Program. I had attended their performance of Gianni Schicchi two years ago and certainly enjoyed it, but was absolutely blown away by the professional nature of their current program. Falstaff is the tale of the great "fat knight" of Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV. Not exactly Spring chicken, the rotund and reprobate Falstaff has become interested (well, maybe more than just interested) in the fair Alice (in Italian pronounced ah-lee-chay) and her friend Meg. After sending the same note of solicitation to both, scheming ensues (what else in an opera?) to bring down the proud cavalier.
Anyone can read a Wikipedia article, so I won't recount the entire story. However, the opera goer is constantly entertained by this never slow plot. The quick pace of the opera is aided by seemingly endless strings of text in the ensemble numbers which were expertly navigated by the large cast of principles. The cast consists of small groupings of two or three characters whose music is complimentary and they spend most of the opera together.
First, I must mention the comic duo of Bardolfo and Pistola played by Bjorn Eriksson and Spicer Carr. Their performances as the two cronies of Falstaff provided an extra measure of levity to the already comic opera in excellently timed slap-stick interactions.
Next, the pairing of the young couple Nannetta and Fenton. Jenny Smith as Nannetta played the reserved but playful daughter of Alice and Ford. Her rendering of the character was wonderfully youthful and she sported a rich voice to match. One of my personal favorites of the night was Jonah Hoskins. The quality of his voice is unmatched by any tenor of his age in the state of Utah and was perfectly matched to the music of the enthusiastic Fenton.
Dr. Caius and Ford, the latter trying to marry off his daughter Nannetta to the former, present an interesting twist in the plot. Dr. Caius was played by a confident Jordan Reynolds. In his first tenor role (audiences in Utah have seen him as Belcore and Count Almaviva) he immediately commanded the stage upon the opening lines of the opera. Baritone Christopher Clayton was an excellent Ford, a role full of outbursts of anger but also reserved calm. In his oration "È sogno? o realtà" he established the conflicted character who both mistrusts women and swears vengeance on Falstaff.
The trio of women composed of Mistress Quickly, Meg and Alice are responsible for the bulk of the plotting against Falstaff. Mistress Quickly was wonderfully portrayed by Valerie Hart Nelson. Her silky contralto was a pleasure to experience, always very commanding and present in the sometimes dull acoustics of the Provo High theater. The constantly drinking and scheming Meg was played by the wonderful character actress Lennika Wright. Her ability to weave subtle humor into the many situations of Falstaff was admirable. Jennifer McKay absolutely embodied the role of Alice, knowing how to string Falstaff along and yet providing the right amount of rejection to his advances. Alice is a bit of a thankless role having no aria, and yet she has many wonderful moments as the Prima Donna. McKay perfectly navigated this difficult role.
The sole character with no single partner in the opera is of course Falstaff. In his late years he has become quite proud of his size and deludes himself with respect to his ability to seduce women. The Don Giovanni who never was, his character is one of the most complex and perhaps also the most simple-minded. His role is full of wonderful music including but not limited to his first act lecture on "honor," the scenes with Quickly and Ford, and of course the final fugue. Well equipped both in body and voice was baritone Gregory Watts. His portrayal was spot on in characterization as he moved about the stage with pride and sang with a gruff yet richly colorful voice both comic and commanding. He was truly a magnificent Falstaff.
A word must be said for the stage direction of Marc Reynolds, whose productions have proven to be quite well received here in Provo. His direction is beautifully musical coming from one who understands the role of music in the drama, a trait that is often severely lacking in modern opera theaters. Maestro Nicolas Giusti led a slightly reduced and yet fully present orchestra. His understanding of Italian stylistic elements in Verdi's score helped to bring out all the most important colors in the orchestra.
This production was the wonderful product of UVAA's summer program headed by Dr. Isaac Hurtado. They will also feature performances of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers. Performances of both operas will run on Saturday the 18th of July and should not be missed. Information can be found at

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bring on the Baritones #1: Figaro

This is going to be the first of a new series of posts on my blog where I work my way through the baritone repertoire highlighting a certain baritone role from a well (or maybe lesser) known opera. It helps me keep all the roles straight in my head....there's a lot up there and sometimes I just need to dump it all somewhere, but that's why I created this blog anyway...right?
I figured I would start with the most iconic of baritones. Anyone who grew up with Looney Tunes can tell you a little something about opera. And one of those things is that there's this really cool aria that's really hard and the singer says FIGARO FIGARO FIGARO a bunch of times. For those of you who don't know, Figaro is in fact the title character of Gioachino Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia better known in the English speaking world as the Barber of Seville. Yes, he is a barber but as he explains in his entrance aria, he is in fact much more than that. He actually spends his days running around conducting the business that it seems no one else wants too do. Of course his services come at a certain price, but he's such a charming person, who could say no?
I think it's time for a little example of one of the finest renditions of Figaro's "Largo al factotum" by the incomparable Thomas Hampson in a gala performance at the Met when he was a rising star in the opera world.

Any baritone will tell you that if you can make it through this aria without dying (let alone sing it well) you can win any competition. It has a well earned reputation for showing off the baritone voice. And how? The tessitura (the general part of the voice where you sing most of the notes in a song) of this aria is rather high and coupled with the patter speech typical of the bel canto period makes for a really tough aria.
Another highlight of Figaro's role is his duet scheming with Almaviva about how to get him into Rosina's house. I want to share my favorite version of this duet. A lot of people are opposed to this version because it is in German, clearly unaware of the fact that the opera world didn't really begin the whole original language fad until the second half of the 20th century. I, on the other hand, fully appreciate this rendition for it's wonderful recitative which actually sounds like real dialogue and the wonderful tempo at which they take this difficult duet. Here is Hermann Prey as Figaro and Fritz Wunderlich as Almaviva.

One last example of the awesomeness that is Figaro. He later sings a duet with Rosina which is simply charming. Once again he is scheming, this time with Rosina, to bring a letter to Almaviva who Rosina thinks is the poor student Lindoro.

I share this production more for Joyce DiDonato than for Peter Mattei, but they are really great in their roles. I think that most baritones hold Figaro as one of their dream roles, and rightfully so. Though there are many operas based on the orignal Beaumarchais trilogy of plays about Figaro, three have stood out as the best. These are the Barber of Seville (by Rossini of course), the Marriage of Figaro (Mozart), and the Ghosts of Versailles (Corigliano) and for a baritone to perform all three Figari is quite the accomplishment. I can't wait to tackle at least the first two (we'll see about the third) because the music is so wonderful. These roles are what makes Being a Baritone so wonderful!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera: Musicals....with opera singers?

Ok, let me start out by saying that it is really hard for me to write something like this because I just have a hard time in general making up my mind. However, I've thought about this for a long time, basically since I've started listening to opera. It doesn't take an opera singer to come to the conclusion that both Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera are very operatically driven musicals. Surely when you are writing a musical on the subject of a 19th century French novel (two of the greatest, by the way) and you are trying to decide which style of music you are going to choose to underscore the drama, romantic era opera music is probably going to be your first source for inspiration. We'll not talk about some of the stranger exceptions to this rule....ahem Notre-Dame de Paris. Anyway, reports of Lloyd Webber's desire to portray late romantic opera in his blockbuster musical range from parody to imitation to downright plagiary (I'll let you decide for yourself on this last one but it is certain that he was masterful at creating an entire generation of people who wholeheartedly believe that Phantom is an opera. Many have also realized that Les Miserables is also "through-composed", more so even than Phantom. This leads to the notion that maybe Les Mis is in fact an opera. It's not, but that's a reasonable conclusion to draw. Like I said, since I've been singing opera I have asked myself, "How would I cast a production of Les Mis/Phantom with only opera singers?" Now I know what you're thinking, "That would sound awful because opera singers don't know how to switch into musical theater voices." I've thought about that, and I think you'll just have to bear with me on this one because that's just something I can't compensate for. Surely music is allowed to be sung in multiple styles. Just look at what the crooners did to all those songs written for musical theater. Mack the Knife: written in German to be sung in a classical-jazz mix, ends up being a big-band crooner song. Anyway, I digress. Now to the real reason why I brought you here: my cast lists. We'll start with the more difficult one.

Coming to an opera house near you: Phantom of the Opera!
Phantom- Thomas Hampson
Christine Daae- this is a hard one because of her range, but maybe Joyce DiDonato
Raoul de Chagny- Roberto Alagna or maybe Rolando Villazon
Carlotta- Diana Damrau

I won't try to cast every role, but those who are the most important make it to the list. The next list will be a little more extensive, but there are more roles in Les Mis.

Les Miserables
Jean Valjean- Placido Domingo
Javert- Eric Owens or Erwin Schrott
Fantine- Renee Fleming (because I figured she should be in there somewhere)
Thenardier- Bryn Terfel
Madame Thenardier- I had trouble on this one, so if anyone can think of someone, I'm open.
Eponine- Elina Garanca
Cosette- Olga Peretyatko (I just wanted someone relatively young)
Marius- Nathan Gunn (because I like him and he has actually done musical theater)
Enjolras- Jonas Kaufmann

Now of course these casts may not work all that well together, but they're mostly people that I think would be interesting to see in each of the roles. Thanks for going down this path of opera fandom with me. Since this is a baritone blog above all things, I leave you with some wonderful clips of baritones singing musical theater. I told you he was good. Just Bryn being Bryn. But really, can we get this man in a mask?!?!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Modern Opera in Provo....

Now, don't go running away just yet. This is important. I believe that opera can and will thrive where people are willing to accept it and they are given the opportunity to experience it. Even modern opera. So what is this all about? A Parking Lot for Hyacinths, an experimental opera by Logan Hone and Jesse Nicholas Quebbeman-Turley. Many an epic quest has been embarked upon by the hero (tenor) of an opera. If we but look back upon the great epics of the operatic tradition we find Orpheus ever in search of his Eurydice, Siegfried in search of something to fear (failing miserably, I might add), Papageno in search of something to eat (I had to get a baritone in there somewhere). Well, when a Star Queen comes to you in a dream and bestows upon you silver acorns, you have to go out and figure out how to plant them. This is exactly the situation in which James Jeremiah Johnson finds himself. He's a student of city planning who's fed up with the the lack of respect for nature and dadgummit he's going to change that. He's going to restore nature to the city even if he has to travel out to the desert (?) to find out how. I'll admit, the premise of the opera is a little strange, but this is modern opera. What did you expect? I won't tell you the whole story in the interest of avoiding a spoiler.
Let's talk a little about the cast of this opera. First of all, I have to praise the wonderful usage of chorus as both narrative body and as passive onlookers in certain scenes. Their part, though musically minimalist, was finely woven into the fabric of the opera. The hero of the opera was performed by tenor Elijah Hancock. I feel bad for performers of the role because of the strange tessitura in which it forces the tenor to sing. Hancock's voice was, though not overtly operatic, well suited to the role and made the character very endearing. Carli Hansen was Professor Hauptmann, the minimalist city planning professor who desires no connection to nature and thrives off of getting to the point. Minimalist in both stage business and musical line, this role was really nothing to smirk at, giving life to a character with so little vibrancy. The girlfriend Natalie, my favorite character of the evening, was powerfully portrayed by Michelle Alexander. As a struggling artist, her character spoke to many of us in the audience, whether we are actually struggling or not. Her aria was my favorite part of the composition. Alexander's voice lent a perfect amount of power to the character. One last singer who made an impression was Olivia Custodio who played three different characters in the course of the opera. She was certainly the busiest singer and yet brought life to all three roles making them equally interesting.
My biggest beef with the opera: Where are the baritones? I have to admit, I was hoping that the tree in the desert scene would end up being a baritone or a bass. It only seemed right. He ended up being a spoken role. That's just me though....
Well, I hope that A Parking Lot for Hyacinths continues to be performed. I enjoyed it and would even go see it again, something that I can't say of all modern compositions that I have heard. I congratulate the cast and production crew on an opera well done. Keep doing what you're doing.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Where have I been all summer?

You know, I don't think I'll ever be good at this whole blogging thing. I do want to wrap up the summer since I wrote last. There have been some fun things. I went home to California instead of going to Spring term at BYU. I hadn't been at home for more than a week since 2009. It was time to just chill for a while. It started out pretty good and I got to hang out with my best friends from home and I had all day long to sing to my heart's content. Unfortunately, that gets old REALLY fast. It didn't take too long to learn the role of Frank for Die Fledermaus, so I turned my musical attentions elsewhere. Needless to say, there was a lot of musical theater and even (gasp) Disney songs. May I just say, those two genres in particular are not very friendly to baritones. But it's just so fun to sing!
I celebrated Richard Wagner's birthday by having an all-day Wagner Fest where I did nothing but sing the great Wagner baritone roles: Wolfram, Wotan, Dutchman, Hans Sachs. It's really fun, but at some point your voice is not going to think so. At that point I turned to just listening to the Ring. My Ring has the great Theo Adam as Wotan and boy does he do the role justice. When my mom got home that day, this is what she saw.
I also went home for a more specific purpose, namely to get my driver's license. This is one of those secrets that should probably have remained so, but I don't really care as much any more. I had never really run into any huge problems not having a license, so I never got one. I now have it and I drive my (sister's) car all over the place as if I've always had a license. Following that lovely ordeal it was time for me to bid farewell to my beloved homeland and return to the fair state of Deseret...I mean Utah. I brought a few friends/colleagues along on the trip. One is a wonderful pianist and the other is an excellent tenor. Over the break I helped organize one of the most fun gatherings I've attended at BYU. We got together everyone that was around for that weekend and had a salon/soiree up at a cabin near Sundance. We ate food, we sang, we got to know each other better. It was really great. I can see us doing it again. This semester has been mostly me trying to learn all the music that I have been assigned/hired to learn in the short amount of time that I have. I've been singing three Italian pieces. Dolente immagine by Bellini, O cessate di piagarmi by Scarlatti, and Ah! Per sempre io ti perdei also by Bellini. They are fun and I'm learning a lot about "bel canto" style, especially how it works in my voice. It's been fun. I have also been involved in a production of Gianni Schicchi with the Utah-Idaho Performing Arts Company. We will be performing on the 23rd and 24th of this month and it promises to be a great show. I love all the people I'm working with and their awesome voices. I'm singing the role of Marco by the way, for all of you who care. This has been a really long blog post so thanks to all of you who stuck through it just to know what I've been doing with my life. I'm going to try doing more frequent, shorter posts. Thanks for reading, until next time I'll keep loving Being a Baritone.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

When life gives you a should write on it.

So I know that I've been slacking since getting back from my mission. It has been a pretty crazy 2 1/2 months, but I've done a ton. We had an awesome opera scenes concert where I sang in a lot of scenes (mostly to justify taking the class for three credits) and I even did the translations for the supertitles, since it was in German it wasn't hard. I had a great time getting to know some of my fellow students of voice that are new since I left. If there's anything that I've learned however, it is that one should not wait until the last minute to learn music for something. After opera scenes was over I had all of a few weeks to learn all of the music for the opera chorus concert. That included some awesome choruses from Tenderland, Die Meistersinger, some other operas and a huge scene from the end of the third act of Otello where I sang the role of Jago. This was my first time singing a role by Verdi and I loved it. This is where that thing that I learned comes into play. I realized very quickly that music is not simply learned in an afternoon at the piano. Honestly, I didn't know the music at all to the extent that I should have. In the concert I made up several parts where Jago is just conversing with Otello. I just threw in some lines here and there where they sounded like they belonged. In my defense, the solo lines where I was the only one singing were awesome. I did really well on those parts. I got to be menacing and evil like I've always wanted to be and I loved it. my teacher liked it too because he says that the music made me really sing like I should. It was a great experience, but I need to learn to focus and commit myself to learning music better. Speaking of learning music, I really need to get around to learning my own music for juries at the end of the year. It's been a wonderful adventure this year so far. I'm grateful for all the friends that I have made and for all the friendships I've been able to reform with people that are still around. Friends make it so much easier to get through college. I'm looking forward to all the performing opportunities next year and experiencing post-mission college life with all my friends because Being a Baritone in college is awesome!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Back into the swing of things

I have to start off by saying thank you to all the people that wrote to me while I was in Europe. Those letters really were a great help to just keep me going. If you didn't write me, I forgive you. That's a joke. As the title would suggest, I am back at my beloved Brigham Young University and this Californian Baritone is loving every bit of it. I went back the Monday after I got home and it was pretty crazy getting readjusted to college life, but you know I think it was better that way than if I had just waited and sat at home doing nothing for a semester. So I'm right back in the thick of it singing in opera scenes. The best of it all, we're doing Wiener Operetten!!!!!! That's Viennese operettas in case you didn't catch that. I will be playing Populescu in a scene from Kalman's Gräfin Mariza. This is a typical place for a baritone to complain. It is really simple music, but all of a sudden Kalman expects me to sing Gs and Fs all over the place. What's up with that? The other scene is the trio from the first act of Die Fledermaus where I will be singing the role of the prison director Frank. I even get to slide a little bit of Wienerisch into the mix. Leiwand, ge? Later on in the opera scenes I'll also be singing Falke in the Fledermaus chorus scenes. Brüderlein, Brüderlein und Schwesterlein. I'm so excited. We're also doing Die Fledermaus for the Fall opera next year, so I'm just way excited. If you really want to hear a good recording of Fledermaus, there is an excellent one from EMI with Hilde Güden, Erika Köth, and Walter Berry. Walter is my favorite Falke. He just brings so much Viennese charm and awesomeness into the role. I hope you're all ready for me to get back to making posts on all things Baritone. There's a lot to be said.