Cal Performances is holding a third Fall Free for All this Sunday, September 30th, from 11am to 6pm. Several student ensembles will be featured. Other participants include the Lily Cai Dance Company, the Cypress String Quartet, saxophonist George Brooks, Eth-Noh-Tec Storytelling, the Shotgun Players/Assassins, the Chitresh Das Dance Company, harpsichordist Davitt Moroney, Marcos Silva Brazilian Jazz, Kitka, storyteller Dianne Ferlatte, San Francisco Taiko Dojo, Gamelan Sekar Jaya, jazz and blues vocalist Pamela Rose, pianist Shai Wosner, shadow puppeteer Daniel Barash, and the Kronos Quartet.
September 15-16 2012: National Circus of the People's Republic of China
September 18 2012: Laurie Anderson
September 27-28 2012: Théâtre de la Ville performs Rhinocéros
September 30 2012: Fall Free for All: Open House at Cal Performances
October 10-12 2012: Mariinsky Ballet & Orchestra performs Swan Lake
October 16 2012: Delfeayo Marsalis Octet performs Sweet Thunder
October 20 2012: Georgia's Ensemble Basiani
October 26-28 2012: Einstein on the Beach
November 3 2012: Dan Savage
November 3 2012: Calder Quartet
November 3 2012: Concert Köln
November 4 2012: Dell'Arte Company performs The Fish in My Head
November 7 2012: Chucho Valdés & Afro-Cuban Messengers
November 8 2012: Gloria Cheung, piano
November 9-11 2012: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Philharmonia Orchestra
November 13 2012: Emanuel Ax, piano
November 15 2012: Fran Lebowitz
November 17 2012: Angélique Kidjo
November 23-25 2012: Mummenschanz
November 29-30 2012: Gustavo Dudamel conducts Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela
December 8 2012: Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra performs Messiah
December 14-23 2012: Mark Morris Dance Group performs The Hard Nut
January 19 2013: Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour
January 24 2013: Yo-Yo Ma, cello and Kathryn Stott, piano
January 26-27 2013: Joffrey Ballet
January 27 2013: Nicolas Hodges, piano
February 1-2 2013: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
February 3 2013: Kodo
February 8 2013: Soledad Barrio and Noche Flamenca
February 10 2013: Eric Owens, bass-baritone and Warren Jones, piano
February 10 2013: Ira Glass
February 12 2013: Christian Tetzlaff, violin
February 15-17 2013: Circus Oz
February 17 2013: Leonidas Kavakos, violin
February 19 2013: Milos̆, guitar
February 24 2013: Oakland Folkharmonic
February 24 2013: Susanna Phillips, soprano
March 1-10 2013: The Secret Garden
March 2 2013: Voices of Afghanistan
March 3 2013: Brentano String Quartet
March 9 2013: Nathan Gunn, baritone and Julie Gunn, piano
March 10 2013: Jeffrey Kahane, piano $42
March 15 2013: Trisha Brown Dance Company
March 17 2013: Afiara String Quartet
March 17 2013: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
March 22-23 2013: Australian Chamber Orchestra
March 23 2013: The Tallis Scholars
March 24 2013: Mohammad Reza Shajarian, vocals
March 30 2013: Afropop Spectacular
April 7 2013: Davitt Moroney, harpsichord
April 10 2013: Paquito D'Rivera and the Assad Brothers
April 13 2013: Ray Kurzweil
April 13 2013: Trout Fishing in America
April 14 2013: Simon Trpčeski, piano
April 18 2013: Arlo Guthrie
April 23-28 2013: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
April 26-27 2013: Handel and Haydn Society
May 3-5 2013: Les 7 Doigts de la Main Circus
May 10-12 2013: Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg
May 17 2013: San Francisco Opera Orchestra
June 11-13 2012: Ojai North!
Einstein on the Beach will be performed this October. Philharmonia Orchestra performs Wozzeck on Saturday, November 10. San Francisco Opera performs a new work by Nolan Gasser in March. Handel and Haydn Society performs Jephtha on Saturday, April 27 .
* Notes *
Ojai North! at Cal Performances ended with two performances on Thursday. Program 5 began with two contemporary pieces, Hafliði Hallgrímsson's Poemi and Bent Sørensen's Piano Concerto No. 2. Both were played by the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra (Det Norske Kammerorkester), featuring violinist Terje Tønnesen in the first work, and Music Director of the Ojai Festival and pianist Leif Ove Andsnes (pictured left, photograph by Felix Broede) in the second. Hallgrímsson's Poemi is evocative and tense. The musicians communicated clearly with each other and the playing was beautiful. The Sørensen had a little bit of everything: claves played by the whole orchestra, humming, rumbling, and brightness. The contrasts between the orchestra and pianist were carefully drawn, and the moments of similarity were also lovely.
It was interesting to note the opposite postures the two soloists took, Tønnesen seems flexible, and bends backward as he plays and constantly moves, while Andsnes hunches more or less in the same position. This of course has to do with their instruments as much as anything else.
The second half of Program 5 consisted of Berg's Four Songs Op. 2, sung by mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn with pianist Marc-André Hamelin and Leif Ove Andsnes playing Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53, "Waldstein." Stotijn's voice has a deep resonance, and her singing was sensitive and hypnotic. Andsnes played "Waldstein" with a grim determination. His style is dry, and for the Beethoven, seemed to lack a sense of breath.
After a break of thirty minutes, Program 6 began with Andsnes playing several György Kurtág pieces. Andsnes sounded precise and elegant. This was followed by a pretty rendition of Debussy's Danse sacrée et danse profane from the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, with Ida Aubert Bang as the harp soloist.
Stotijn and Hamelin returned to the stage with Cabaret Songs by William Bolcom. Stotijn's voice is perhaps not quite as well suited for this as the Berg earlier. The Norwegian Chamber Orchestra ended Ojai North! with Grieg's "Holberg" Suite. The musicians, having changed into summery street clothes, played with vigor. Everyone but the cellists stood and even danced during the Rigaudon. The exuberance of the playing was wonderful to see and hear.
* Tattling *
Someone's mobile phone rang during the Hallgrímsson. A service dog seated by Row G Seat 1 made several high pitched noises, and had to be taken outside in the middle of the Kurtág.
Ojai North! began on Monday with a free performance of John Luther Adams' Inuksuit (rehearsal in Ojai pictured left, photograph by Timothy Norris). 6 different performances occur from Tuesday through Thursday this week. Performers include pianists Leif Ove Andsnes, Marc-André Hamelin, and Reinbert de Leeuw; mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn; and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra.
* Notes *
Cal Performances hosted Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra (pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) on Sunday afternoon, their second this season in Berkeley. The concert began with Prokofiev's First Symphony, and the orchestra sounded best in the graceful, dancing third movement. The woodwinds were clear, as was the brass. The piece that followed, Haydn's Cello Concerto No. 1, featured soloist Amit Peled. Peled played with a beautiful, legato line. After intermission we heard Symphony in D Major by Cherubini. The playing was charming and joyous. It was lovely to see and hear this opera orchestra on stage, the camaraderie of the players and their love of music is apparent.
* Tattling *
There was very little noise from the audience. A man in Row A Seat 120 of the mezzanine looked at his phone at 3:30pm and left just a little afterward. Someone else on this level screamed an obscenity after the Moderato of the Haydn. It was unclear why.
* Notes *
Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham (pictured left, photograph by Dario Acosta) is in the midst of a recital tour through 8 North American cities, starting in Quebec and ending in Washington, DC. The recitals are accompanied by pianist Malcolm Martineau and program is thematic, "inspired by iconic female characters." Her Berkeley performance last night, presented by Cal Performances, was winsome. The evening began with Purcell's "Tell me, some pitying angel" (The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation). Graham's breathing was rather audible, but her singing was never breathy, and her high notes had a bell-like quality. In the Berlioz that came next, La mort d'Ophélie, her dynamics were clear, her singing smooth. Martineau's accomplished playing was supportive and never overwhemlming. Before the intermission we heard 6 songs based on Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, each from a different composer. One was able to compare Liszt's setting of "Kennst du das Land, wo die Zitronen blühn" with Wolf's. Perhaps most beautiful was "Нет, только тот, кто знал" ("None but the Lonely Heart") by Tchaikovsky. The piece is set to Lev Aleksandrovich Mei's "Песнь Арфиста" ("Harpist's Song"), based on Goethe's "Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt."
The second half of the show started again with a song in English, Joseph Horowitz's Lady Macbeth, with a text adapted from Shakespeare. Hearing the familiar words sung was chilling, and Graham delivered the words clearly. Poulenc's Fiançailles pour rire, 6 songs based on poems by Louise de Vilmorin, were similarly dark, but, at times, more humorous. The last three songs of the program were announced from the stage, the "spontaneous" part of the recital, as Graham explained. She went on to say that the first songs had been about good girls, and the second set about bad ones, "ladies of a questionable moral compass." She sang Messager's "J'ai deux amants," first asking the audience for a translation of the title, and noting it was "I have two lovers, not I have two almonds." Graham followed this with Cole Porter's "The Physician" from Nymph Errant, which was jaunty and rather funny. Even more amusing was the Ben Moore song written for Graham, "Sexy Lady," in which she pokes fun at her repertoire, including her many trouser roles. There was much merriment, and Martineau played the Mozart, Strauss, and Händel references with exuberance.
The three encores were "Connais-tu le pays" by Thomas, "The Boy from..." by Sondheim, and "À Chloris" by Hahn. Graham made the most of the tongue twisting place names in the Sondheim, whether fictional or otherwise.
* Tattling *
The audience was fairly quiet, some light murmuring was noted, but no electronic noise. The woman in Row L Seat 11 whispered a few times to her companion in Seat 13. After intermission they moved over toward the center. A man in Row K, who happened to be in front of this couple after they switched seats, put on his sweater during the last encore. This incited the woman to complain fiercely (but at least quietly and only for a moment), as he was blocking her view.
* Notes *
Cal Performances presented a recital of Bach's French Suites played by Davitt Moroney yesterday afternoon. There were three harpsichords on stage: one from UC Berkeley's music department, one belonging to Davitt Moroney himself, and one lent by Peter and Cynthia Hibbert of Palo Alto. All three were made by John Phillips from 1995 to 2010, based on historical models. It was interesting to compare the three instruments, each so different. Moroney played Suites No. 1 and 5 on the third harpsichord, based on a instrument made by Johann Heinrich Gräbner from Dresden in 1722; Suites No. 2 and 4 on the first, modeled after Andreas Ruckers (Antwerp, 1646) but enlarged by François-Étienne Blanchet in 1756, and reworked by Pascal Taskin in 1780; and Suites No. 3 and 6 on his own instrument, based on a harpsichord by Nicolas Dumont from Paris in 1707.
The Gräbner harpsichord was cleanest, Moroney's playing came off as elegant and refined. His playing is restrained and not terribly expressive. Personally, I have an irrational affection for this Ruckers-Taskin, as it was likely the first harpsichord I ever heard in person. The instrument has more of a rich muddiness, not entirely appropriate for the French Suites, perhaps, but not unpleasant. The Dumont right in the middle of the stage had a sound that was more subtle than the Ruckers-Taskin but not as neat as the Gräbner.
Moroney spoke quite charmingly between the pieces. His favorite movement is the Allemande of Suite No. 4. Mine may have been the Sarabande of Suite No. 3. I enjoyed Moroney's dry playing, though I occasionally wished for just a bit more capering.
* Tattling *
Many of the attendees read the score during the performance. There was only slight whispering and no electronic noise.
* Notes *
Apollo's Fire, lead by harpsichordist Jeannette Sorrell, performed in Berkeley yesterday afternoon as part of a North American tour with countertenor Philippe Jaroussky (pictured left). The Cleveland-based early music ensemble is aptly named, and the musicians certainly do play with fiery passion under Sorrell's direction. The intonation was imperfect, but it was heartening to hear how much energy was brought to the music. The program began with Vivaldi's Allegro from the Concerto Grosso in D major, arranged here by Sorrell. The ensemble went right into Händel's "Agitato da fiere tempeste" from Oreste as Jaroussky walked onto the stage. This was followed by "Ho perso il caro ben" from Il Parnasso in Festa, also by Händel. Jaroussky's voice is otherworldly, being very flexible and having such an ease to it. The violin concerto (Vivaldi's Op. 8, No. 5) interspersed between the first two Händel arias and the second two was rather more strained. One was struck by how violent the attacks were in this piece. The following arias were from Imeneo and Ariodante. Jaroussky sang both "Se potessero i sospir miei" and "Con l'ali di constanza" seamlessly. His breath control is astounding, and it is odd indeed that such an ethereal, gorgeous sound is produced by a rather awkward, skinny fellow.
The second half of the concert started with Händel's Prelude in A major, for solo harpsichord and his Chaconne from Terpsichore (Il pastor fido). This was followed by three Vivaldi arias: "Se mai senti spirati sul volto" from Catone in Utica, "Vedrò con mio diletto" from Giustino, and "Frà le procelle" from Tito Manlio. Vivaldi's Concerto Grosso "La Follia" gave Jaroussky a break between the first and second arias, and also showed off the ensemble's playing to best effect. Jaroussky sang the Vivaldi splendidly. The three encores were an aria by Porpora, "Venti, turbini" from Händel's Rinaldo, and "Ombra mai fu" from Händel's Serse.
* Tattling *
The audience was, for the most part, quiet and attentive. Unfortunately, someone's watch alarm rang many times during two of the Vivaldi arias, and a cellular phone rang as well.
* Notes *
The Mark Morris Dance Group (pictured left, photograph by Beatriz Schiller) opened the new season at Cal Performances with Dido and Aeneas yesterday evening. The audience seemed completely rapt by the experience, and I have never attended a Baroque opera with so little fidgeting or noise. Morris fills all the music with choreography, so there is not a moment in which audience members feel comfortable speaking, especially since the work is only an hour long without an intermission. The dancing is unsentimental and not overly pretty. Limbs were thrown about at angles, and looked rather different on each of the 12 dancers. There were times when the choreography was much more like miming than dancing, and Morris is not shy of being crude. Humor was infused into many of the scenes, especially when dealing with witches or sailors. The dancers characterized their different roles clearly.
The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra started off less crisply than usual under Mark Morris himself, but did often sound lovely. There was a slight squeaky quality to the dance at the end of Scene 2. The chorus also sounded fine. Since all of the singing was from the pit, most of the soloists sounded a bit like they were singing from the bottom of a well. Soprano Yulia Van Doren (Belinda, First Witch) sang prettily, and soprano Céline Ricci (Second Woman, Second Witch) was distinct from her. Brian Thorsett sounded bright though not hefty as the Sailor. Philip Cutlip (Aeneas) sang with warmth and lightness. Stephanie Blythe gave a vivid performance as both Dido and the Sorceress. Her voice has both volume and gravity.
* Tattling *
The audience members around me were almost completely silent and no electronic noise was noted.
* Notes *
Les Violons du Roy and Bernard Labadie (pictured left, photo by Luc Delisle) had a second performance at Berkeley's Cal Performances yesterday. This one featured the ensemble's harpsichordist, Alexander Weimann. The entire program consisted of pieces by J.S. Bach. Again, Labadie got a lot of airiness out of the players, the playing was together and smooth. There were times when the contrast between the modern instruments and the harpsichord was obvious and even jarring. Weimann did well in the Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, sounding crisp and dry. Both Allegri were taken very fast, and the strings were rather loud in the final one. The Orchestral Suite No. in C major was spirited, but lacked a certain dance-like quality. Labadie did take time to introduce Contrapunctus XIV from the Art of Fugue, and his love of Bach was clear.
* Tattling *
The mezzanine level of Zellerbach Hall was nearly empty. The only disturbance I heard was my own fault, as I dropped my program in the middle of the harpsichord concerto.
* Notes *
Tenor Ian Bostridge (pictured left, photo by Simon Fowler) performed with Les Violons du Roy at Cal Performances yesterday in Berkeley. The performance was odd but certainly of interest. For one thing, the string players of Les Violons du Roy use Baroque bows on modern instruments. The effect was bizarre, given that the bowing technique did not strike me as particularly historically informed. The playing under Bernard Labadie was fairly legato, with clear dynamic contrasts, and a nice airiness. The brisk tempi of Geminiani's Concerto Grosso No. 12 in D minor was particularly dumbfounding.
Many of the pieces Bostridge sang were those that Händel wrote for three particular tenors: Francesco Borosini, Annibale Pio Fabri, and John Beard. His voice is light and pretty. Singing with the ensemble, some of his lower notes did not resonate as nicely has his high ones did. Bostridge showed very little strain in his singing, only a few notes of Vivaldi's "La tiranna" from Arsilda, Regina di Ponto were less than effortless. Bostridge is a somewhat awkward fellow, but this is disarming at times, as when he explained how he considered "From Celestial Seats Descending" the "sexiest music Händel ever wrote." Bostridge and Les Violons du Roy gave two encores, the first from Conti's Don Chisciotte in Sierra Morena, and the second from Boyce's Solomon.
* Tattling *
Sadly, the orchestra level of Zellerbach Hall was only half full. I was seated in front of the wife of a prominent person at Cal Performances, who had the unfortunate habit of tapping her toes to some of the music. She was always on beat, but after intermission I took it upon myself to move up two rows, where I would not be directly in front of anyone.
September 16-18 2011: Mark Morris Dance Group performs Dido and Aeneas
September 21 2011: Herbie Hancock, piano
September 25 2011: Fall Free for All: Open House at Cal Performances
October 2 2011: Cambodia's Khmer Arts Ensemble
October 9 2011: Kronos Quartet
October 11 2011: Yefim Bronfman, piano
October 14-16 2011: Mariinsky Orchestra
October 21 2011:The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer starring John Malkovich
October 22 2011: An Evening with David Rakoff
October 23 2011: The Cashore Marionettes
October 26-29 2011: Toni Morrison, Rokia Traoré & Peter Sellars' the Desdemona project
October 28 2011: San Francisco Opera Orchestra
October 29 2011: Keith Jarrett, piano; Gary Peacock, bass; & Jack DeJohnette, drums
October 30 2011: Philippe Jaroussky, countertenor with Apollo's Fire
November 2 2011: Lang Lang, piano
November 6 2011: Takács Quartet
November 13 2011: Davitt Moroney, harpsichord
November 13 2011: Abraham, Inc.
November 17-20 2011: Gate Theatre of Dublin
November 18 2011: Trey McIntyre Project
November 19 2011: Compañia Flamenca José Porcel
November 19 2011: An Evening of Images & Conversation with Roz Chast
November 25-27 2011: Tomáš Kubínek
December 2-3 2011: Tanztheater Wuppertal
December 4 2011: Takács Quartet
December 10 2011: Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra performs Messiah
January 14 2012: Susan Graham, mezzo-soprano
January 20-22 2012: Peking Acrobats
January 27 2012: Europa Galante
January 28 2012: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
January 29 2012: Alfredo Rodríguez, piano
February 3-4 2012: The Polychoral Splendors of Renaissance Florence
February 5 2012: Kronos Quartet & Alim Qasimov Ensemble
February 12 2012: David Holt
February 12 2012: Kirill Gerstein, piano
February 17 2012: The Assad Brothers
February 18 2012: Ana Moura
February 19 2012: Takács Quartet
February 24-25 2012: Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company
February 29 2012: András Schiff, piano
March 3 2012: Irvin Mayfield & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra
March 4 2012: Wolfgang Holzmair, baritone
March 7 2012: An Evening with Garrison Keillor
March 8 2012: Danú
March 10 2012: Ton Koopman & the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir
March 13-18 2012: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
March 24 2012: Zakir Hussain & Masters of Percussion
March 24 2012: David Finckel, cello & Wu Han, piano
March 25 2012: Richard Goode, piano
March 30-31 2012: Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
April 1 2012: April 13 2012: Quatuor Mosaïques
April 19 2012: Seun Kuti & Fela's Egypt 80
April 22 2012: Musicians from Marlboro
May 4 2012: Dianne Reeves
May 6 2012: Word for Word
May 6 2012: Sweet Honey in the Rock
May 8 2012: Peter Serkin, piano
June 3 2012: San Francisco Opera Orchestra
June 11-14 2012: Ojai North!
Matías Tarnopolsky announced Cal Performances's 2011-2012 season at a press conference today. We were seated on the stage and at one point Peter Sellars joined the conference via Skype from Vienna, where his new work is currently in rehearsal.
Mark Morris opens the next season, and he will be conducting Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. The soloists include Stephanie Blythe and Philip Cutlip. Eric Owens, Philippe Jaroussky, and Susan Graham all have recitals. More New Music and Early Music programming will be announced in September.
* Notes *
This weekend Cal Performances presented Castleton Festival's Albert Herring. The production involves much abuse of artificial fruit. It was particularly unsatisfying when the title character threw fake peaches against a Plexiglas window in Act II. The use of astroturf was, however, entertaining.
The cast, as with The Rape of Lucretia, boasted not a few lovely voices. The three children (Harry, Cis, and Emmie) were amplified, but sounded clean and pure in tone. Rachel Calloway was perfectly hysterical as Mrs. Herring. Adrian Kramer and Tammy Coll made for a funny, attractive pair as Sid and Nancy. Benjamin Bloomfield (Superintendent Budd), Tyler Nelson (Mr. Upfold), Alexander Tall (Mr. Gedge), Ashleigh Semkiw (Miss Wordsworth), and Kristin Patterson (Florence Pike) all acted and sang their roles with ease. Brian Z. Porter did well as Albert Herring, his diction was clear. Best of all was Nancy Gustafson as a very amusing Lady Billows. Her voice is luminous, flexible, and never shrill. The musicians, conducted by Lorin Maazel, played directly, but were a bit loud for the singers.
* Tattling *
The audience members talked lightly, especially during overtures. There were a few watch alarms that sounded at each hour.
* Notes *
Cal Performances presented Castleton Festival's The Rape of Lucretia this week. The opera itself struck me as highly contrived, even for an opera, framed by not one but two narrators. There was a lot of telling rather than showing. The production was not particularly illuminating, though it did have moments of beauty, especially the lighting of the scene in Lucretia's room. On the other hand, the use of flashlights at the beginning of Act II was obnoxiously blinding.
The cast featured a host of fresh, youthful voices. Marnie Breckenridge and Alison Tupay sang Lucia and Bianca clearly. Ekaterina Metlova's contralto was impressive, her low notes had such richness and her high ones soared. Her accent in English was noticable, however. Michael Rice was strong as Collatinus, as was Michael Weyandt as Junius. Matthew Worth (Tarquinius) was terrifying as the villain. "Within this frail crucible of light" was incandescent, and Arianna Zukerman sang the female chorus smoothly. Vale Rideout (male chorus) also sang well. The orchestra played steadily under Lorin Maazel, never overwhelming the singing.
* Tattling *
The backstage noise was distracting. Many stage directions were completely discernable from the audience.
On the evening of Sunday, March 13, LCU and UO attended the highly anticipated song recital of internationally acclaimed tenor, Jonas Kaufmann. Co-presented by Cal Performances and the San Francisco Opera, the performance took place at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. What follows is a discussion of the performance between LCU and UO.
LCU: Kaufmann is typically very expressive in his operatic roles and I was surprised that he employed minimal facial expressions and hand or body gestures with this program. It was pure, honest singing; not mawkish or overly theatrical, which is often the danger when opera singers attempt the German Lied - they can't seem to leave the drama at the door. But Kaufmann sang with disciplined restraint, relying solely on the nuances of his voice to articulate the emotions and meaning of the songs. His delivery was lean and exact, with that touch of German austerity. Now UO, I understand that last summer you sang with Kaufmann in the Bayreuth production of Lohengrin. How does his style and vocal technique on the opera stage compare with what we saw tonight?
UO: Well, I think it all boils down to one thing: Kaufmann knows how to act with his voice. He trusts the material he sings and knows that if he delivers it in a straightforward way, masterpieces such as Dichterliebe will speak for themselves. In this day of live HD transmission and emphasis on extreme naturalism and cinematic facial expression, I think singers feel compelled to exaggerate their facial gestures and body movements. Even when he sang Lohengrin, Kaufmann generally did what was required of him by the director, in terms of gestures and movement around the stage, no more, no less. Certainly he didn't change his technique. That's what makes him so unique. For instance, he sang Lohengrin's Grail Narrative in Bayreuth with all the nuance that he brought to tonight's lieder recital. He isn't afraid employ the entire dynamic spectrum of his voice, from ultra-soft to ringing, metallic forte. He's one of the few singers out there today who has the ability to sing through an entire spectrum of loud and soft, in a way that reads in large halls. And it all carried beautifully, in part, of course, due to the wonderful Bayreuth acoustic. It worked well tonight, in a hall that isn't acoustically as generous.
LCU: As a singer and voice teacher, could you explain the technical challenges of Schumann's Dichterliebe for the tenor voice despite the fact that Jonas made it look so effortless? He sings with the ease of Fritz Wunderlich!
UO: Two of the highest vocal hurdles of Dichterliebe occur in the very first song. The "strong, weak" stresses of the words "aufgegangen" and "verlangen" are situated right in the tenor's so-called "passaggio," right where the voice has to negotiate a register shift that is quite challenging. Then just look at the word, for instance, "verlangen." The pitch change from G to F# -moves through two liquid consonants ("l" and "ng"), so a seamless vowel connection in this tricky part of the voice is quite difficult. Also, most of the songs are set quite low. This is partly in order to accommodate a high note in "Ich Grolle Nicht" that is not so stratospheric that it becomes an quasi-operatic acrobatic feat, with everyone on the edge of their seats waiting for the poor guy to crack! Of course, I think we would both agree that Kaufmann could have managed this with no effort at all, but the tonalities of all the songs have to have a coherent relationship to one another, and not be transposed all over the place. So the cycle is quite "range-ey." You also have potential pitfalls in intonation, particularly in the song "Am Leuchtenden Sommermorgen," where there are a lots of really radical modulations. Coming to Wunderlich: he had a very different, very sweet and less baritonal quality to his sound when you compare him to Kaufmann. You really never think of technique when you hear Wunderlich, it's all like child's play to him. Kaufmann came close to this ease of delivery last night, I think.
LCU: In one of his interviews, Kaufmann said that there is a huge difference between singing and speaking the German language. Kaufmann's diction is deliberately round because he chooses not to 'spit' his consonants, allowing for a smoother legato line. You mentioned that he has been criticized for doing this and for sounding too Italianate as Lohengrin (even though Wagner himself considered it his most Italian opera). However, does the German Lied call for a distinct German sound with all of its idiosyncrasies intact? At Bryn Terfel's recital just a few months ago, I noticed that he was very emphatic with his consonants and even though he's Welsh, Terfel sounded more German to me than Kaufmann. Does the mellowing out of the harsh and choppy qualities compromise the rugged beauty, character, and integrity of the German language?
UO: I think we'd agree that in Lieder, especially, text and music have to be co-equal. You can't have one at the expense of the other. But there are choices to be made; do you maniacally over-pronounce at the expense of vocal quality? Believe me, a lot of German coaches want just that! Zellerbach Hall seems to me to be one of those places that swallows consonants, so perhaps that accounted for a certain loss of clarity. It's a big question, especially in opera: when do you modify text and vowels in order to allow the voice to be free? Kaufmann seems to me to be one of those singers whose credo is "prima la musica, e poi la parola", in other words, music first, then text, to put it a bit simplistically. My impression in Bayreuth was that those who didn't care for his approach to Lohengrin felt that it was too human, not "knightly" enough. It wasn't so much about lack of clear diction or a matter of style, as I recall. But believe me, the supporters of his Lohengrin there far outweighed his detractors in number!
LCU: I have to tattle on myself - I shamelessly hooted and hollered and cheered like I was at a Michael Jackson concert. At one point George Hume, who sat across the aisle from me, even flashed me a dirty look. I was having a religious experience and just couldn't help myself. What do you think of the Berkeley audience? How do they compare with the audience at the Met and Carnegie?
UO: I guess you didn't see me sinking lower and lower into my seat! What's wrong with enthusiasm? I believe European artists in general are gratified by our American, somewhat over the top applause. I thought the Berkeley audience was just terrific -- absolutely silent during the singing. I saw a woman following along with a vocal score, and most people didn't turn the pages of their programs in the middle of a song, causing a rush of brittle sound to interrupt the music. Many times I have the feeling that, at the Met and other big venues in New York, and particularly on Broadway, people leap to their feet in a robotic, automatic standing ovation. Maybe that's just to convince themselves that the evening was great, because the ticket prices are so high! I enjoyed the respectful, informed Berkeley audience – very European – informed, respectful and quiet.