L'ultima unicorna della cina

Nadine Sierra at Festival del Sole

Nadine_Sierra_1We have Last Chinese Unicorn as a special guest on The Opera Tattler, as she encountered an impressively ill-behaved audience member at Nadine Sierra's concert at the Napa Valley Festival del Sole on Friday, July 17.

* Notes * 
A review of the performance is posted on GBOpera.

* Tattling * 
The person next to me in Row M Seat 8 takes the cake for being the most badly behaved audience member of all time. After the first song he rushes out to refill his glass of wine, then runs back to his seat, but not before stomping on my foot. Several times during the performance he raised his phone blatantly over his head to take photos and even videos. When the pianist or singer were speaking to the audience to introduce a new set, he would make loud, obnoxious remarks as though he were having a conversation with them. But the pièce de résistance of his string of bad behaviors happened when he played his recording of Sierra back at full volume, all 15 seconds of it, while she was still singing on stage. I guess he really wanted a duet.

David Cangelosi Interview

David-cangelosi-in-siegfried-at-sfopera Tenor David Cangelosi (pictured left in Siegfried Act I, photograph by Cory Weaver) sings Mime in San Francisco Opera's current Ring production. Cangelosi has been blogging himself since 2009, and graciously agreed to meet with The Opera Tattler and Miss LCU before the final dress rehearsal of Das Rheingold last month.

What are your dream roles?
Mime is my dream role! Years ago I received the Solti Ring box set on cassette tape, and for some reason, I started listening to Siegfried first. I got into opera to sing this role.

You are clearly an athlete. How does your training as a springboard diver help you as an opera singer?
I've always been athletic and wiry. I have really good control of my body in the air, so springboard diving came very naturally to me. Being physically strong helps my stamina on stage. In Siegfried I am on stage for 90 minutes without a break, and my Mime is very physical, so it is pretty exhausting.

What makes a good Mime?
For any role, I make sure to listen to what the other characters say to me. 90 to 95 percent of what I do is simply to react. I've never had an acting lesson!

How does Francesca Zambello's production compare to your experiences at Lyric and the Met?
Zambello is great, she really challenged me. She is interested in a longer emotional arc of the character, from Das Rheingold into Siegfried, and she adds a human touch to Mime's narrative. You will notice that in the last scene of Das Rheingold she has me wait around, and then I run off stage right. So it makes sense how I get from Nibelheim to the forest.

Do you sympathize with Mime?
There's really no black and white in these operas, all of the characters have a humanity to them. I don't think Mime planned to kill Siegfried from the beginning. Of course, Mime has his own agenda, but he raised this child, and I think he does care for Siegfried. But there is a point at which Mime chooses himself over Siegfried, obviously.

What are your favorite hair products?
Local business Nancy Boy in Hayes Valley makes some great products that aren't too heavily scented.

Final Dress of SF Opera's Götterdämmerung

Goetterdaemmerung-prologue * Notes *
The final dress rehearsal of San Francisco Opera's Götterdämmerung (Heidi Melton, Daveda Karanas, and Ronnita Miller pictured left; photo by Cory Weaver) was last Thursday. According to Miss LCU, there was still a great deal of chaos as far as the staging is concerned, but parts were quite strong. Much of the singing was out, and Nina Stemme was particularly brilliant. Ian Storey (Siegfried) seems more robust than Jay Hunter Morris. Hopefully it will all come together tomorrow for the production opening.

* Tattling *
One of the norns mentioned that the Prologue pictured above has been challenging. It had been difficult for them to see, as the goggles had been fogging up and the terrain is not smooth.

Die Walküre at the Met (Lepage)

Walkuere-act-3-metWhilst the Opera Tattler attended a performance of Séance on a Wet Afternoon at the David H. Koch Theater on April 28, 2011, Miss LCU was nearby at Lepage's new production of Die Walküre (Act III pictured left, © Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera) with the Unbiased Opinionator.

* Notes * 
Of late, James Levine gets credit for simply showing up on the podium. The audience is so thrilled to see the ailing maestro that it seems he can do no wrong. However, I was not terribly impressed with the orchestra for the second performance of this latest Walküre. For one thing, the prelude was especially lackluster and rhythmically bridled. It was as if the orchestra was playing in exact unison to the measured beat of a metronome. There was a paucity of energy and agitato one would expect from music meant to represent a man who is frantically running from his pursuers in a storm. Thankfully things improved as the evening progressed.

As Brünnhilde, Deborah Voigt hit most of her notes and did not struggle with pitch. While she gave a very youthful, sassy portrayal of the valiant Valkyrie, her voice lacked nuance. She was generally at one dynamic level and yelped the high Bs and Cs when singing the word "Hojotoho." It sounded like she had hiccups and looking at the score, the composer did not intend for those octave leaps to end in clipped staccato. Voigt's interaction with Bryn Terfel as Wotan worked well. The two succeeded in establishing their close rapport and fondness for one another in Act II, making the heartbreak of their farewell at the end all the more devastating.

Terfel's Wotan was multifaceted and robust, even until the very end. He clearly did a fine job pacing himself. As Siegmund, Jonas Kaufmann was both convincing and lyrical. His voice carried effortlessly and his "Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnermond" consisted of one glorious legato line after another.

In contrast, Eva-Maria Westbroek (Sieglinde) gave a somewhat disappointing performance and the strain in her voice was evident as she fought through her last phrases in beginning of Act III, which are among the most beautiful lines of music in the opera. She did have cold on opening night, so perhaps she was still on the mend.

The highlight of the evening was, surprisingly, Stephanie Blythe's portrayal of Fricka. For the first time, I saw Fricka as something other than a vindictive, nagging shrew. I was reminded that she is a woman in pain, someone who has been deeply hurt by Wotan's transgressions. Blythe opens up her character's vulnerabilities to the audience, suggesting that perhaps she, too, deserves a bit of our sympathy. In order to uphold the Law, she demands punishment and justice, but we often mistake her for someone who is solely out to seek revenge.

Wagner was deeply influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer who was known for his pessimistic view of the human condition and his philosophy of the "Will," a concept so important that Wagner felt it was necessary to use Brünnhilde to personify Wotan's Will as a separate entity apart from himself. Schopenhauer also makes a clear distinction between punishment (to prevent future violations of the law) and revenge (motivated by reconciling past wrongdoings with the pure intent to harm and no constructive impact on the future).

Perhaps Fricka is after revenge and cunningly disguises it as punishment. Wagner leaves just enough ambiguity in his score to make us wonder. The true thrill of this particular production was not delivered by Lepage's ostentatious morphing planks, but with subtlety through Blythe's artistry and empathy for her character.

Regietheater seems to operate on the notion that in order for us to make old works exciting and relevant to the younger generations, we must to rely on shock value. The beauty of Wagner's work lies within the inconspicuous moments that expose human frailty and intimacy. Directors may consider paying more attention to the small details hidden in the score rather than embellishing the composers work with obscenely grand spectacles that are neither necessary nor relevant.

Alan Held Interview

AH-Steiner-color Dr Miracle This weekend bass-baritone Alan Held (pictured left, leftmost photo by Christian Steiner) finishes a run of Wozzeck at the Metropolitan Opera. He goes to Baden-Baden next for Salome, Munich in July for Rusalka, Washington DC in September for Tosca, and Bilbao in October and November for Tristan und Isolde. Next season he returns to San Francisco for the Symphony's semi-staged Bluebeard's Castle. The Last Chinese Unicorn and the Unbiased Opinionator caught up with Held last Monday.

LCU: There are those who have difficulty sitting through pieces by Berg, Schoenberg, or Stravinsky. What advice would you give to those unaccustomed to atonal music to prepare for Wozzeck?
AH: I have a friend who's flying in from LA this weekend to see the show and intimidated by it as well. She just wanted to enjoy it and I told her to be familiar with the story. To me a piece like Wozzeck is almost musical theater. There are wonderful sections of the piece that are very melodic, but there is all the atonal music and the Sprechstimme. The first step is to get familiar with the play, it's a gripping story. Then, listen to fragments of it. When you're preparing to hear a piece like this, don't try to listen to it all at one time. People are shocked at how much enjoy this thing, because it is so musical. The orchestra is so strong. But you have to take it in small portions at first, and then when you see it all together it will blow you away. If the artist is doing his or her job, to express the text and the story, to me Wozzeck is more natural and easier to absorb than just about any other operas out there. There's no repetition of the same phrases over and over. The bones of this stuff – the music and the sound palette is put out there to put the emphasis on the drama even more than you would in many other types of opera, or other theater pieces.

UO: That will be quite helpful to those less inclined toward the Second Viennese School.
AH: I'm very committed to this piece and to contemporary music. I do a lot of it. My bread and butter is probably Wagner and Strauss. I've been in the business 25 years this year, and I've seen the tastes and what audiences go for really change in these 25 years. When I was starting out you'd see Verdi, Wagner, Mozart and Puccini; that was the meat and potatoes. Things have really changed. You're getting more contemporary music, Czech music, a lot more of Bartok, and the Russian repertoire. And there's a change in the other direction, too. You're getting a lot more Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini, because of the artists who come around in certain time periods. Maybe we're a little bit low on the Verdi end right now. The economy affects the repertory too. You're not getting as much Wagner in some houses as you once were, because it's very expensive to do Wagner. But I think audiences become more enlightened, more intelligent about different styles of music and more accepting of it. It used to be, when Wozzeck was done, you'd have a very small audience. Same thing for Lulu. Now the audiences are becoming much fuller and more active. The response we received after opening night of Wozzeck was as huge as anything I've ever heard at the Metropolitan Opera House. So, I think audiences, singers, and companies are all becoming more appreciative and open to a wider range of repertoire.

UO: That's great to hear, Alan. I'm looking forward very much to hearing the broadcast and being in the house this Saturday to hear you.
AH: I'm glad you're going to be in the house because this is a production that you must see as well as listen to. I think it comes off one way on the radio, or CD, but this is a production that needs to be seen. You have merits of the theater and the music together, especially in a piece like Wozzeck.

UO: Of course you have the enormous advantage of having James Levine conducting.
AH: We're thrilled to have him step on the podium once again when he came back after being away for so long.

UO: I've done a little bit of chorus work with Jimmy, and I find him enormously inspiring. Would you tell us a little bit about what the working process is like with him as a soloist? I imagine at the point you start working with him it's so integrated that you're working less on details and more on the larger picture.
AH: I've worked with Maestro Levine quite a bit on many different things over the years including the Ring, Elektra, Hoffmann, and Wozzeck. The process that we usually use at the Met is that, unless it's a brand new production, we rehearse the staging first – we do that for a couple of weeks. Then he'll come in when we start to do the stage rehearsals, sometimes before, when we're still in the rehearsal room, and he really puts a lot of polish on it. Sometimes it takes a lot more polish than other things. But we usually do the rehearsal on stage and then we'll get together in List Hall or somewhere else at the Met, really working on details and working on characters. Maestro Levine is such a master at melding the character into the voice and he loves pure sound and expression of the text. He's very good with Wozzeck at not just being such a great technician and a great musician, but he does a great amount with the drama as well. He's so familiar with it; he loves the score and he does so much to help bring more out of you. It's been said so many times what a great accompanist he is and that's absolutely true. He's right there with you all the time and you really feel when you're working with him that you're working together. There's none of this: just someone beating a stick. I've had the privilege of watching him work not only with the Met orchestra but also with the Youth Orchestra at Tanglewood. He's a master technician as far as teaching the orchestra, and he's teaching us all the time.

UO: When you first debuted the role in San Francisco back in 1999, how did you go about learning it? Did you simply pound it into yourself?
AH: I began as a pianist and I also listened in theory class, so I understood the 12 tone style. But again, I approached it from the drama as much as I did it from the music at the beginning, because the two have to be married together. Yes, I did pound out the notes, but I looked at the rhythm and how the language flowed and Berg set it masterfully. It all makes sense, what he did. I think this piece is almost as tough rhythmically as it is note-wise. The rhythm is just as important. And then incorporating it into how I work as an artist, and as an actor, all together. I didn't do it separately: note, note, note, note. That would be the wrong way to approach Wozzeck.

UO: You've sung, as you say, for 25 years on an international level and you’re working in constantly changing acoustic environments. I'm sure you're familiar with most of the big houses but if you're confronted with a very dry, unforgiving acoustic, what do you do?
AH: There's really not a lot you can do. If you go messing around and trying to change the way you're singing to fit the acoustic of a certain opera house, you're going to end up in trouble. You can't change the acoustic. If you try to change your voice you're going to end up hurting yourself. So you have to just accept it. Fortunately, we get several rehearsals in the halls so you have the time to adjust your mind more than anything. A tough house is Amsterdam and it's not simply because of the acoustic, but the stage is very, very wide and you're not used to the audience being almost at your side all the time. But again, you can't really go changing your singing. You may have to sing more straight out, and less to the sides in certain houses, but your technical apparatus is the same.

LCU: What is your favorite city, and what do you love about it?
AH: Boy, you know when I do operas, I think, "Oh, this is my favorite scene! Oh, no, I love this one!" Every time I think that I have a favorite, it's the thing that I'm singing. I oftentimes say the same things about cities and I like a lot of different ones. I love San Francisco. The weather there is fabulous; it's a great walking city. I love Chicago, maybe because I'm originally from Illinois although I didn't spend much time there as a kid. I love New York. In Europe, I like Munich a great deal and Vienna. I just spent two months in Barcelona and that was great because I avoided all the weather on the East Coast! So, yes, there are a lot of places I love to be. There are some places that I don't want to go back to (laughter). I'm not going to say what they are. I may need a job there someday!

LCU: Wasn't it in Barcelona that you took the picture of those pig heads for Valentine's Day?
Oh yes! Nothing says Valentine's Day like a pig head! I tend to walk around, I'm a pretty observant guy when I'm doing so. So in Barcelona there was this meat case and it had all these pig heads and stuff, and they had Valentine hearts all over the place, and I was like "Oh my gosh!" (Laughter)

LCU: I remember seeing that picture, wondering if it was a joke or real.
AH: It was absolutely real.
UO: It's either a joke or another piece of Regietheater.

LCU: What's the story behind your Facebook profile picture (above right)?
AH: Thats Dr. Miracle from Tales of Hoffman in 1993 at the Met, the old Otto Schenk production. I love that picture! I figure that's how I look after four kids. (Laughter) That old production at the Met was amazing. It's one of my favorites. Dr. Miracle pops out of the fireplace, and he pops through the floor. I get so many people commenting on that picture all the time! And someone said that that's the best picture on Facebook so I said "OK, I'll keep it!"

Jonas Kaufmann at Cal Performances

Kaufmann 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.

Elza van den Heever at SF Performances

Elza-van-den-Heever-Dario-AcostaWhilst the Opera Tattler attended the sold-out performance of Takács Quartet in Berkeley last Sunday, the Last Chinese Unicorn was over in San Francisco for Elza van den Heever's recital presented by San Francisco Performances.

* Notes * 
My biggest complaint today when it comes to opera singers is that nobody is willing to take risks anymore. Everyone wants to play it safe for fear of cracking or screwing up a note, so they stay within their comfort zone and manufacture one sterile, cookie-cutter performance after another. I quote the character of Florence Foster Jenkins in play Souvenir: "Nothing is more detrimental to good singing than this modern mania for accuracy...You say the notes are absolute, but what are they, after all? Signposts left by the composer to guide us."

I heard Elza van den Heever sing this past Sunday and the girl has a gorgeous voice. But singers with lovely voices are a dime a dozen. What sets Elza apart from the rest of the herd is that she is fearless. She understands that singing is not just about producing beautiful, precise notes, but about putting oneself out there even if it means being vulnerable and exposed. Elza is not afraid to relinquish a bit of control and allow the music to take her (and the audience) on a journey, potentially into unfamiliar territory. I have noticed on several occasions that she tears up during pieces and asked her how this affects her voice. "It is a give and take situation. You can either disconnect from the meaning to maintain that clear beautiful sound, but I really have no choice but to be in the moment," she says. "Whatever happens with the meaning of the poetry or the libretto, I am there. For me, staying truthful to the poetry and the message is most important and I just work with my voice as the emotions come and the music happens." Yes, the tears may interfere with her breath and distort her sound at times. She does make mistakes, but she just laughs them off nonchalantly in such a charming and endearing way that the audience cannot help but laugh along with her. Watching Elza's performance made me think about the origin of the word "Bravo," which literally means "brave" or "courageous" in Italian. Elza van den Heever is one soprano who is definitely worthy of that praise.

Elza opened with two Handel arias from Rodelinda and Alcina which, in my opinion, does not belong in her repertoire. Her voice, while perfectly suited for the long sustained phrases of German opera and lieder, lacks the agility to handle the fast-paced scales and ornamentation of Baroque music. In "Mio caro bene" and "Ma quando tornerai" Elza's breathing was somewhat labored and the long runs were a bit choppy. The accompanist, John Parr, was disconnected from the singer and appeared lost in his own little bubble of oblivion with his head stuck in the sheet music. Not once did he look at Elza or offer her a little support when she required slight adjustments in the tempi. However, even though the Baroque was not her forte, Elza's delivery was packed with emotion and sincerity, you could tell she knew exactly what she was singing about.

Elza seemed much more relaxed as she shifted gears and entered the realm of German lieder where it was evident that she was in her element. Strauss' Wiegenlied, one of my favorite songs, was beautifully executed with crisp clarity and nuanced coloring. Her Frauenliebe und - leben, a song cycle by Robert Schumann that documents a woman's passage through love, marriage, motherhood, and the death of her beloved, required no translation. Especially moving was her interpretation of "Du Ring an meinem Finger" and "Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan" where her breaths turned into grieving sobs as her character mourned the loss of her husband. The set of Afrikaans songs was a rare treat. Elza sang these songs that depicted the beauty of her homeland with such enthusiasm and nostalgic melancholy that the smells, sounds, and sights described in the text became almost palpable to the senses. She gave two encores, both by Brahms: "Botschaft" and "O komme holde Sommernacht."

* Tattling * 
There was an error in the program notes. The text printed was for the wrong Wiegenlied that was written by Strauss in 1878 with the text by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallerslebenthat that starts "Die Ähren nur noch nicken." The one that Elza performed was Wiegenlied, op. 41, written in 1899, with the text "Träume, träume, du mein süßes Leben" by Richard Fedor Leopold Dehmel.

Measha Brueggergosman at SF Performances

Brueggergosman Whilst the Opera Tattler attended the opening performance of The Makropulos Case at the War Memorial Opera House last Wednesday, the Last Chinese Unicorn was at the nearby Herbst Theatre for a program presented by San Francisco Performances.

* Notes * 
As soon as the lovely Measha Brueggergosman stepped on stage she lit up the entire theater. She was dressed in vibrant colors, wearing a luscious, deep red gown with a bright orange wrap draped over her shoulders, but it was her exuberant ear-to-ear smile that was the source of her radiance. She opened her mouth and what poured out was divine. Her voice is the perfect balance of warmth and brilliance. There are some singers who make you nervous and keep you at the edge of your seat because you are never quite certain whether or not they will deliver the next note with precision or enough nuance, or if they might run out of air. Brueggergosman is not one of those. She produces a sound that is deeply anchored in the belly with excellent breath control and effortless delivery. Her voice puts the audience at ease so they can sit back, relax and enjoy the music. She also sings with such expressiveness on her face that there is no need for her to move her arms, which remain firmly planted at her sides.

The program consisted of songs in German (Mozart, Schubert, Strauss, Berg), French (Duparc), and Spanish (Turina) plus two romantic piano pieces played by the accompanist Justus Zeyen, who is also known for his collaborations with renowned German bass-baritone, Thomas Quasthoff. Zeyen's playing was earnest without the theatrical bells and whistles we too often see from some of the younger pianists today (who will remain nameless, as we all know who they are). His Chopin Nocturne in D-flat Major, Opus 27, No. 2 was especially poetic. Zeyen played with the physical stillness and stoicism of Arthur Rubinstein, but the notes had a tender song-like quality to them filled with bitter-sweet melancholy. Measha's German diction was certain better than her French. Her "Nachtstück" D.672 by Schubert, "Wiegenlied," Opus 41, No. 1 and "Ständchen," Opus 17, No. 2 both by Strauss were sublime. The Spanish songs were fiery and feisty, with elements of magical realism. Musically I did not care much for the Berg, but I suppose they were fine.

During intermission Measha did a costume change and came out in the second half rocking a full-length sassy sparkly silver sequin number. It was hot. Whistles and gasps were heard from the audience. She even changed her lip color to something a little more bright and pink to go with the outfit. This is clearly a woman who knows how to put together a look. For her encore, the soprano sang Samuel Barber's "Sure on this Shining Night." The real litmus test was passed with the purchase of her newly released CD titled Night and Dreams. That is how much I enjoyed Measha's singing and her charming on-stage charisma.

* Tattling * 
My date complained about some unpleasant body odor emanating from the elderly man sitting next to her. Other than that, the audience was well-behaved and appropriately held their applause for the breaks in between sets.

Musica Pacifica at SFEMS

Mood-pencil Whilst the Opera Tattler searched for parking to attend Urban Opera's performance last Saturday, the Last Chinese Unicorn went to the program presented by San Francisco Early Music Society at St. John's Presbyterian Church in Berkeley.

* Notes * 
"Why bother going into the city when there is perfectly good music to be found in Berkeley?" is what I asked myself after the glorious performance by Musica Pacifica with guest soprano Dominique Labelle. The program was comprised of 3 instrumental and 4 vocal sets, the songs having the unifying theme of Love, personified by Cupid with his bow and arrow, as a powerful and unpredictable force and warns us to be on guard for we are at the mercy of his whims.

The ensemble was very cohesive, playing as one entity with good balance and a dynamic exchange of dialogue between the instruments. Especially impressive were the Allegri of Sammartini's Sonata in b minor, Op. 1, No. 6. The long, fast runs were executed with precision, there was no rushing or what I like to call "run-aways," yet they did not sound mechanical nor did they lose momentum. Telemann's Quartet VI in E minor was also nicely done with beautiful phrasing and received copious applause and cheering from the audience. Judith Linsenberg played the recorder with purpose and sprightfully bounced at the knees for added emphasis. The violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock was also very expressive in her playing, with emotion emanating from both her body and face. The only thing that could have made the performance better was if Labelle had committed her songs to memory. A little bit of musicality is lost when one is trying to sing while at the same time looking for the note or word that comes next. However her voice is well-suited for this repertoire with a nice blend of weight and brightness.

* Tattling * 
The venue was humble and the crowd was unpretentious and very Berkeley. Lots of jeans and sneakers, and I even spied someone in a pair of cowboy boots, a gentleman sporting musical socks, and 2 elderly ladies in Row D Left donning some very interesting headgear à la the Opera Tattler. Actually, perhaps they resembled what the OT and I will look like in 50 years or so. Everyone was on their best behavior. No cell phones went off and there was no audible crinkling of candy wrappers, talking, or hearing aid malfunctions. During the pauses some kids running around outside playing and screaming were heard. The only other disruption was when one of Dominique's large sparkly earrings fell off her ear and on to the floor with a loud clunk. Musica Pacifica did a raffle drawing during intermission and gave away some purple mood pencils (pictured above, they turn hot pink when you grip them - chouette!) in celebration of their 20th Anniversary as a group.

Marco Vratogna Interview

Gold_shoes Baritone Marco Vratogna (pictured left in San Francisco, note trousers and shoes) just finished singing Amonasro in the season opening run of Aida at San Francisco Opera. He is scheduled to sing Jack Rance in La Fanciulla del West at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Ezio in Attila at La Scala in June. The Opera Tattler and the Last Chinese Unicorn met Marco with a rather raucous group of friends for dinner at Jardinière after his final performance of Aida last night.

How did you get involved with opera in the first place?
As a joke! I started singing in clubs and places like that, and got a lot of encouragement. I had a deal with my father that he would pay for my training for a year, and I would have to show some sort of success.

It has clearly worked out! Are there singers in your family?
My father's father was a tenor, he won a singing competition and got an engagement to sing Tosca in Rome. He couldn't do it, because, unfortunately, my grandmother became ill with multiple sclerosis.

What do you love about singing opera?
Everything! Especially the adrenaline rush of being on stage.

You sing a lot of villains such as Jago, Macbeth, and Attila. Which one do you identify with the most and why? Is this your favorite role to sing musically?
I don't really identify with these villains, except that they are all powerful men. My favorite is Macbeth because this role has many layers, is very intense, and is different in every moment.

Is it more fun to play the bad guy? Don't you ever want to get the girl though?
Yes, it is fun! No, you see what happens to the tenor! [Gestures to the next table at Marcello Giordani, Radames in Aida]

Do you have a dream role?
Rigoletto! This dream is coming true soon, I sing it in 2012. The opera is a masterpiece, and Rigoletto is the culmination of all the great Verdi baritone roles.

People are already saying that you were born to sing Rigoletto. How will you prepare for this role? Do you typically do a lot of research when learning new roles to try to understand your character both musically and psychologically?
I do research and read. Hugo's Le roi s'amuse is historically based, so my job is find the true story in that, to show you who the real person was.

You are a very physical performer, embodying your roles. Does this come naturally or have you studied movement?
Naturally. People want reality, so in a sense you just have to be yourself.

Are you excited about singing Attila at La Scala? Why is the La Scala audience so notoriously aggressive, booing and cheering with such fervor?
There is such a history at La Scala, the biggest stars have performed there, so the expectations are very high. The audience is crazy for opera.

You and Maestro Luisotti are very good friends. How is he to work with?
I met Nicola in 2001 for Stiffelio at Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi, in Trieste. He is great with singers.

Who would win in a game of thumb war? [OT and LCU demonstrate, and LCU promptly wins]
Me, of course!

How long has Luisotti had that long-sleeved navy polo?
At least 10 years. Nicola has a uniform! It is important, so that he can be identified as the leader, which he is, as the Maestro.

Do you have a favorite opera house?
San Francisco. The audience is responsive and knowledgeable. They can distinguish talent.

What singers do you admire and respect?
Baritones Ettore Bastianini and Piero Cappuccilli; tenors Franco Corelli and Aureliano Pertile; and sopranos Renata Tebaldi and Maria Callas.

Complete this sentence. My idea of happiness is...

Spell horrible:

What do you do when you are not singing?
I am working on an electric and solar powered yacht business.

Here are some stereotypes about Italian men and you tell us if they apply to you:

Italian men like to eat pasta.

Italian men are passionate, hot blooded and jealous.

Italian men are spoiled by their mamas.

Italian men wear speedos, gold shoes, and tight pants.
Yes, in Italy all the football players wear gold shoes! Nice!

Italian men do not like to open doors and close windows.
I don't open the door, but I do close the window!

Werther Medallion Society Book Club Meeting

Werther Book Club, photo from Cory Weaver and San Francisco Opera The Last Chinese Unicorn wrote up this piece about this recent event in the Littlefield Intermezzo Lounge of the War Memorial Opera House, pictured left, photo from Cory Weaver and San Francisco Opera.

* Notes *
Tonight is the opening of Massenet's Werther (pronounced Vair-tair). This past Saturday before the final dress rehearsal, the Opera Tattler and I attended the first book club meeting organized by the SF Opera for its Medallion Society members to discuss Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther (Die Leiden des jungen Werthers), the epistolary novel upon which the opera is based. We were surprised and delighted by the great turnout. Though most were grey-haired opera lovers, we did spot a few young people in their 20s. There was also a Goethe scholar in the mix who made some valuable contributions to the discussion. With this particular opera, because it is more of a psychological drama without an intricate plot, I found it very useful to revisit the literary text before watching the performance. It certainly helped make sense of the video element of the production. Here are some of the topics that we covered in the meeting:

* Albert (rational, responsible, stable) being the antithesis of Werther (emotional, maudlin, reckless)
* Jean-Jacques Rousseau & Romanticism
* Parallels between Werther and Faust
* Werther's descent into madness
* Werther fever and copycat suicides
* The role of Nature in the novel

As for the production itself...stay tuned for the Opera Tattler's review of the opening night show. My lips are tightly sealed!

* Tattling * 
Two young ladies with interesting head accessories came strolling in late. One even had the audacity to march up front and sit right next to the moderator. What a shameless lass!

La donna del lago at Opéra national de Paris

Paris-chagall This haiku is the last of three pieces from Miss LCU's European holiday concerns Rossini's La donna del lago at Opéra national de Paris. The performance in question occurred on July 10, 2010 at Palais Garnier and starred Karine Deshayes as Elena opposite Javier Camarena as King James/Uberto.

* Notes *
Paris Opera
in July is all tourists
admiring Chagall.

Zandra Rhodes Interview

Zandra Rhodes by Gene NoconFashion designer Zandra Rhodes (pictured left, photo by Gene Nocon) created the production of Aida that opens San Francisco Opera's 88th season this Friday. She also designed the Les pêcheurs de perles seen here in 2005. Her Die Zauberflöte closes Seattle Opera's 2010-2011 season. The Opera Tattler and the Last Chinese Unicorn talked to Rhodes over coffee at the San Francisco Opera costume shop.

LCU: Why is your hair pink and what is your natural hair color?
ZR: In 1970, I tried on this lovely green wig, and it just cramped on my head. I thought, just a minute, I'm a textile designer, if you can dye a sheet, why can't you dye hair? So I had my hair streaked green, in those days. In 1980 I went to China and turned it red. It has been this color ever since. Originally though it would have been dark brown. Pink is very easy maintenance, far easier than any of the other colors. Green fades to look like old grass. Pink will last 6 weeks!

OT: Is there a story behind your first name?
ZR: My mother was going to call me Xandra with an X after Alexander. My grandmother said that no one will understand that, so that's why I'm called Zandra with a Z.

LCU: Who is your current muse? What do you look for in a muse?
ZR: I don't currently have a muse, but I have had fabulous muses. One of them was a wonderful girl called Maxine Smith, who first got me to go to LA. It is really someone who adores clothes, who will sit with you at night and try things on, and say this feels great and why don't you wear this. You just need someone who is prepared to spend time, who is fairly exotic, and willing to just play around with things.

LCU: How do you get your inspiration? Do you have style icons?
ZR: I get my inspiration through my friends, talking about things, trying things on, and looking at things, as they happen. I have found that since I have been doing things like the opera, things like that, it is very difficult to always be around to see the "style icons." I like someone who is a bit more below the radar, that you can suddenly think, that person has something wonderful going for them. Like yesterday I went to the farmer's market and we passed this amazing girl with stockings on, in all pink, and she had these pink stockings with bows round the top. This was someone experimenting with style, which is wonderful.

LCU: If your house caught on fire and you had time to grab 3 items from your closet, what would they be?
ZR: Oh, what a difficult question! If you weren't given any time to think, well, because some of the things you could buy again, so you should take things you couldn't buy. Probably my sketchbook. A sketchbook I couldn't redo, so it would be better if I grabbed that. It is only one of them, and the rest are stored. I have to admit, I am a hoarder beyond hoarders. For example, I've got in my library, in front of the books, I've got things, like one shelf is just all Japanese sushi in plastic. Another one has a metal spider I bought in the street in Brazil. I've got rocks from everywhere I've been to. So it's the case of, what would you actually pick? I would probably would pick my jewelry, though it is not valuable. It is just art jewelry, but if it was just hanging there I would probably put on as much as I could. So jewelry, sketchbook. What else? It couldn't be clothes because they are all in chests. Oh dear, what would I pick! Give me a bit longer on that one!

LCU: If you could say one thing to Alex McQueen before he died, what would it be?
ZR: You should have talked to people and not tweeted. I found that really sad that they could say he tweeted this and that, whereas I would have been able to ring a poor, bored friend and say listen, I am really depressed, I don't know what to do. Then the sadness of being in a cupboard, I mean, imagine finding him. But I think for me, talking to someone is important, I find that I am very, very lucky in friends. I can phone someone and say, I'm really depressed, I haven't any new ideas. One of my friends would say "Good God are you still on that again? You are always telling me that, you told me that last year." Friends can help talk you out of things and get you to come round or look at it another way.

LCU: Who is your favorite character on Ab Fab?
ZR: I was on there with Loulou and Brett Eckland. I'm going to say Joanna, merely because she's a good friend anyway. But I think all the characters are good, and both the girls are good.

OT: The first opera you designed was Die Zauberflöte for San Diego, but what was the first opera you attended?
ZR: Before I started on opera, I had hardly seen any. The first opera I saw, it was in Covent Garden, what's the one with the lady that throws herself off the balcony?

OT: Tosca?
ZR: Yes, but she looked like Miss Piggy. [Giggles] The Tosca was very big and Mario had built up shoes.

OT: Do you have a favorite opera?
ZR: I don't really have a favorite. I find when I'm working on a particular one, that one is my favorite. For example, The Pearl Fishers, they had Charles Castronovo singing, and when he reaches that extra high note, not on the main one, when they are both singing, but the song after that ("Je crois entendre encore"), it is gorgeous. It is a gorgeous opera. So I love that. I enjoy Aida, I can't wait for that grand march. It is just such a wonderful art form.

OT: What is your dream opera to design for?
ZR: I would love to have a go at the one they did with David Hockney, the Chinese one with the screaming lady, Turandot. I am also trying to work on ideas for a Salome.

LCU: What do you love about opera?
ZR: The amazing thing about opera is, without you knowing it, it hits all your senses. So it is not just what your eyes are showing you, but the music that's operating on you secretly without you knowing. For example, this is how I realized that, when I am watching rehearsals and they say to me I don't think the chorus looks right in what you put them in for the grand march in Aida. Well, once they start that grand march and they come on, it gets so exciting that I don't notice what they are wearing. [Laughs] It is so amazing, you are looking and you are thinking I forgot to look at that bit, because it was so exciting, with all the rest happening. You know in Aida when they are dying in the middle of the stage? In mine the pyramid closes down on top of them. There are two people with headsets, holding the scenery, and walking in on the stage, being guided, counting. So the singers are having to concentrate on dying in front of you and in the meantime the sets are being moved in by people, so they are not taking any notice of that. Then in back in the corner the chorus (they aren't paid over time to stay on, so they already've got half their wigs off and everything) and the maestro conducting them and the harp music, all in the back. You might not realize that you are not just listening to the principals singing with the orchestra playing. You've got extra music going on with these beautiful voices, but they are just all in the back! I just love all those technicalities.

LCU: Do you ever cry at the opera? Does it move you to tears?
ZR: Traviata always does!

OT: So you live in London and Del Mar?
ZR: That's right, because my partner decided to retire to Del Mar by the sea, but some of me would say, well, I don't know, I am not sure if it has worked out, or if it was a good career move. I go backwards and forwards every month. I have a secretary either end, so for example, I spoke to my London office four o' clock this morning and checked in. It continues either side, thanks to the fax, which I'm better at than email. But if it hadn't been for being in San Diego, I would have never been introduced to opera, because in fact it was Ian Campbell at San Diego Opera that had asked me to do The Magic Flute which is now going to Seattle. I am going up there this September for a day just to talk to them. He asked me to do The Pearl Fishers too. Then Jack DeMain, who used to manage Opera Pacific, saw The Pearl Fishers and said I'd be great to do an Aida. So they gave me a contract to do Aida, and was given in three charges. The first one was to come up with the concept, the second was to produce the designs, and the third would have been to carry it out. Well, I delivered the first two, and then they said they weren't going ahead. Well, I was really pleased with what I'd done, and I felt I shouldn't leave it. So I went to see Ian Campbell at San Diego Opera, and I said "Ian, I've done all this stuff for Aida, and I really want it to work" and he said "We've got an Aida of our own, I can't do it, but I'll give you the name of the guy who is going to Houston Opera, who is still at Welsh Opera." I emailed Anthony Freud and he agreed to meet me in London from Wales, which is only an hour away. We got together and he said "I think I'd like to go ahead with it, but I need to work in Houston, can you come to Houston?" Well, as it happens, I was doing The Magic Flute in Dallas, so I flew over for a day. Freud put together English National Opera, the Norwegian Opera (though they backed out) and San Francisco. That's how it happened!

OT: What do you think of ENO's approach, having opera in the vernacular of a particular place, vs. surtitles?
ZR: Oh! Why not have surtitles! Can anyone not read these days? They have the surtitles, up in English. I can't speak Italian, but when they say "Guerra! Guerra!" it sounds much better than "War! War!" [Laughs] Do you know what I mean? I think very strongly even if you speak the right language, I don't think you can understand what they are singing, except when it is very slow. I don't think it matters if you understand the words or not. Now that they've got surtitles, it is to die for. Years ago you used to have to read the libretto as quickly as you could. I speak reasonable French, but even so, you don't always understand, even in Carmen when they sing "Here come the picadors. Here, come the torredors." It is so easy once you read what the surtitles say.

OT: What medium do you use in your final drawings for the opera?
ZR: My drawings are done in my sketchbook, usually in felt tip pen. It is done on Japanese rice paper. [Pulls out her sketchbook] There's not much in this sketchbook, I mean, I've only got the current one here. So I just draw on this, we scan them, and print them up. We color Xerox them.

OT: How does designing for the opera compare to designing clothes?
ZR: They use lovely big safety pins. Designing for the opera, you have to, well, you do have to have the imagination to make a size 16 feel as if she's a 10. I think the stars are quite amazing. They come at in all this sort of stuff and convey the point about the music and everything, I just think it is incredible, I love all the little tricks you have to use and the things you have to do to make the clothes do things that you can't do when you are working on a practical level. I mean, to me it's been very exciting, being able to use things that as a textile designer, all the things I've done are all, I can use my textiles to "Zandra-ify" all the clothes. For example, hang on, I'll bring a couple around that we are not using. These aren't being worn, these are the ones in London that were for the princess. But the point is, that actually started off as plain cloth. I can take a piece of orange cloth, and print it or paint it or pleat it, because that's what I do, and turn it into a garment that does different things. These are all based on different things that I've done. I did an Egyptian collection in 1986, and I designed a leopard skin, so all the priests have got turquoise printed leopard skin. You also get, in opera, what is clever adaptation. For example, I might have an original design
, but the likelihood is you don't always get someone with that physique, so he might end up more covered up. So you get slight different interpretations. Funnily enough, when we started with The Pearl Fishers, in San Diego, we had them in t-shirts, fully dressed with the leopard skin. It has done 10 towns across America, and since then, all of the guys have done it bare chested, and looked fabulous.

LCU: There was a sighting of you at the farmer's market. What sort of cheese did you get?
ZR: I bought classic cheddar, a mature cheddar. It was a fabulous farmer's market. I also bought this mad cauliflower that looks like a wonderful hairdo! Not like the ones that you get at a supermarche that are all solid. That was what was so lovely, you saw things that you would never see otherwise. So it was a big treat.

LCU: Do you like marmite on your toast?
ZR: I love marmite. It is better than vegemite, which is the Australian one, that Australians swear by, but I don't.

OT: Do you have a favorite pastry or sweet?
ZR: Unfortunately I like sweets, but lately, they have been banned from my menu. I have lost about 18 pounds. That means, don't eat it if it's white, no flour, bread, or rice. I make a very good bread and butter pudding, which is with white bread, butter, and half and half. It is delicious. I can supply the recipe if needed.

Manon at ROH

Roh What follows is a piece about Manon at Covent Garden from Miss LCU, the second of three segments from her European holiday.

* Tattling *
I saw Manon at Covent Garden on July 7th and it is now September. Clearly, I am delinquent with my reporting duties. It does not seem to make sense at this point for me to write an actual review. I will, however, use this performance as a jumping off point for an editorial piece.

Can anyone tell me how old Manon is supposed to be in this opera? Anyone? Well, she is very young - fifteen, perhaps sixteen-years-old. So who got cast to portray Manon in the ROH production opposite the Italian tenor heartthrob Vittorio Grigolo? That would be a sultry and rather rotund Anna Netrebko with her rich, dark voice. So what is wrong with this picture? One word: verisimilitude (or the lack thereof).

For some, a few pretty voices are enough to qualify an operatic experience as good or even great. But for me, opera is a Gesamtkunstwerk - a holistic, all-embracing artistic experience that is greater than the sum of its parts. If one component of the equation is lacking, everything else comes crumbling down. Which brings me to why I (and many others) go to the opera in the first place, I go to the opera because I want to completely immerse myself in an alternate reality. For those few hours I am in the theater I want to escape from my life and my world and walk in the shoes of Violetta, Tatyana, or Wotan. I want to be able to relate to the characters - to sympathize with them and to share their joy, heartache, jealousy, suffering, and agitation as if those feelings were my own. When it all comes together - when the verisimilitude is intact - it is magical. You lose yourself and get sucked right into the production. But it is a rare and fragile cohesion, like a house of cards. If one piece is amiss, the spell is broken, and you find yourself in just another uncomfortable seat before a stage full of costumed clowns shrieking their heads off.

My point is how the heck could I possibly relate to Manon as a young teenager when she looks, acts, and sounds like a 40-year-old woman? It is much easier to condone the silly blunders of a naive, hedonistic 15-year-old coquette who is bound for the convent, but hungry to experience all the pleasures life has yet to offer. Chalk it up to her tender age, lack of experience, and insatiable appetite for curiosity. However, a woman in her late 30s who makes those identical mistakes will not inspire the same level of compassion from the audience. Those mistakes will not be viewed as unfortunate errors of judgment by a reckless neophyte, but considered character flaws of a wicked, manipulative, and seasoned gold-digger.

A poor casting decision could easily result in two completely different takeaways from the same story. Instead of compassion and pity for the female protagonist, the audience will feel that Manon got what she deserved at the end - which completely ruins the tragic effect of the opera. What makes a tragedy tragic is getting the audience to fall in love or at least identify with the protagonist (Manon in this case), despite her hamartia (or rather accepting her harmartia as a part her humanness), and then have her die. It is very formulaic, derived from Greek tragedies, and Manon's youthful charm and naivete plays a huge part in this formula as it allows her to ingratiate herself with the audience. Netrebko failed miserably in conveying these attributes. I did not buy her act and that deficiency alone ruined the verisimilitude of the opera for me. Instead of a spirited young woman, I saw someone who resembled a Russian hooker on stage. I do not have anything against Netrebko (though I did find her bragging about her distressed jeans being $1,200 during a 60 Minutes interview extremely gauche and distasteful). She is simply wrong for the part of Manon. If you want to see what a really good Manon looks like, check out the DVD with Renee Fleming in the Opéra national de Paris production. Now Fleming is no spring chicken either, but she was able to portray Manon beautifully.

Norma at the Athens Festival

Athens-norma2 Miss LCU had a European jaunt this Summer. Her first of three reviews concerns the Greek National Opera's June 18th performance of Norma at the Athens Festival.

* Notes *
Now, I would like to preface the review portion with this: I am a pretty harsh critic when it comes to classical music, opera in particular. In fact, I've been called many things - opera snob, Nazi, Fascist, a mean person with zero compassion. Look, I entered the Shanghai Conservatory at the age of four during the Communist regime. Enough said. But, I did adjust my expectations to account for the outdoor setting - which changes the sound quality drastically and is actually quite challenging for the singers (and the orchestra) as they get very little acoustic feedback.

Greek soprano Dimitra Theodosiou sang the title role and was vocally competent. Actually, I would even say, "Poli oreo!" She demonstrated good breath control through her smooth phrasing and she produced enough sound to fill the theater and made the delivery seem rather effortless. The tenor singing Pollione, Angelo Simos, was another story. Looking at Simos, one would expect a thunderous voice that typically accompanies someone of his size (that would be XXXL). Unfortunately this was not the case. About halfway through the first act, his voice sputtered and just about died. It was obvious that the poor guy was straining his vocal chords and trying to squeeze every bit of sound he could from his pipes, but his voice was breaking and he cracked on several notes. On several occasions the orchestra swallowed his voice and he was barely audible. Oddly enough, he made a triumphant comeback in Act II. Now I don't know if he wasn't properly warmed up earlier, or if he took shot of steroids Barry Bonds style during intermission, but his singing in the second half was decent. A lot of singers who aren't used to singing outdoors make the mistake of trying to hear themselves instead of relying on how the sound feels vibrating in the body as it pours out. If you try to adjust your volume based upon how you're used to hearing yourself in an opera house, well, good luck buddy because you'll be screaming your head off until you're hoarse and you still won't get that same sound quality. Playing the part of Adalgisa was Romanian soprano Cellia Costea who sang beautifully, her voice rich and velvety.

The acting was comme ci comme ca, but the music and setting were so beautiful that, truth be told, I paid little attention to what was happening on stage. At times I would look off into the distant, shifting my gaze from the artificial full moon in the production to the first quarter moon in the sky that lit up the city of Athens. The theater is located just below the Acropolis. I was surrounded by ruins, thousands of years old. During intermission, we were treated with a light drizzle of rain that stopped just in time for the performance to resume. Night had fallen and finally a light breeze picked up, which we all welcomed against our hot moist skin. When my body started to ache from the uncomfortable seats, I brought my legs up and sat yogi style, closed my eyes, and allowed myself to slip away to wherever the music wanted to take me - back in time, across the sacred forest, through the temple, and into the pyre.

Athens-norma1 * Tattling *
I'm pretty spoiled when it comes to opera. You'll usually spy me in a box wearing my tiara with a glass of champagne in hand. Let's just say I'm used to very comfortable seats. So when I got to the formidable outdoor Odeon of Herodes Atticus and found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place, I was tempted to bitch and moan with my 3 fabulous fags who came along for the show. But then I gave myself an attitude adjustment. I was like, "Dude, LCU, you are seeing Norma being performed in one of the oldest outdoor amphitheaters in the world (built in 161 CE). Frickin Maria Callas sang here!" And then the performance started.

Actually, I'm going to bitch just a little bit more. After all, I am writing for the Opera Tattler. Not only did I have the pleasure of sitting for 3 hours on stone seats (we had some lame cushions), but it was also a very warm night. I'm talking 85 degrees here people. No breeze and lots of bodies squished next to each other. It was a sold out show. I sat on the aisle thinking I'd have some extra leg room until some heifer planted her fat ass right on the steps next to me. Then, guess who comes parading in with his phat entourage... the President of the Hellenic Republic. Yup. Interestingly, he was pretty well-received by the crowd and even got a bit of an applause despite the entire country being bankrupt and in a general state of disarray. Then, minutes into the overture, I noticed some commotion a few rows ahead. Someone was telling someone else to shut it. And then all of a sudden, the guy doing the shushing flung water out of his water bottle at the person who was talking. He ended up getting a whole crap load of people wet and there was a lot of hissing and protest from the crowd, but thankfully no fights broke out. We were at the opera after all.