Monthly Archives: July 2010

do you remember the ring?

Courtesy the great Anna Russell, here’s pretty much everything you need to know about today’s opera at Bayreuth, Siegfried. (For the record, Siegfried is my favorite part of the Ring, but I’ll admit that it’s not an easy work to love.)


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nur eine waffe taugt

To mark the opening of the Ring Cycle at Bayreuth this week, I posted three recordings of Wotan’s Farewell yesterday. Today’s offering on the Green Hill is Parsifal, so I thought we might listen to a few different approaches to the final scene from that opera.

Lauritz Melchior (rec. 1924)

Gotthelf Pistor (rec. 1928)

Torsten Ralf (rec. 1946)

Wolfgang Windgassen (rec. ca. 1954)

James King (rec. 1971)

(Parsifal, accompanied by Gurnemanz and Kundry, has appeared unobserved among the knights and now steps forward and extends the Spear, touching Amfortas’s side with its point.)

But one weapon serves:
only the Spear that smote you
can heal your wound.

(Amfortas’s features light up in holy ecstasy; he seems to stagger under overpowering emotion; Gurnemanz supports him.)

Be whole, absolved and atoned!
For I now will perform your task.
O blessed be your suffering,
that gave pity’s mighty power
and purest wisdom’s might
to the timorous fool!

(Parsifal steps towards the center, holding the Spear aloft before him)

I bring back to you
the holy Spear!

(All gaze in supreme rapture at the uplifted Spear to whose point Parsifal raises his eyes and continues ecstatically)

O supreme joy of this miracle!
This that could heal your wound
I see pouring with holy blood
yearning for that kindred fount
which flows and wells within the Grail.
No more shall it be hidden:
uncover the Grail, open the shrine!

(Parsifal mounts the altar steps, takes the Grail from the shrine already opened by the squires, and falls to his knees before it in silent prayer and contemplation. – The Grail gradually glows with a soft light. – Increasing darkness below and growing illumination from above.)

Miracle of supreme salvation!
Our Redeemer redeemed!

(A beam of light: the Grail glows at its brightest. From the dome a white dove descends and hovers over Parsifal’s head. – Kundry slowly sinks lifeless to the ground in front of Parsifal, her eyes uplifted to him. Amfortas and Gurnemanz kneel in homage to Parsifal, who waves the Grail in blessing over the worshipping brotherhood of knights.)


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leb’ wohl

The 2010 Bayreuth Festival Ring Cycle opens this week, and I can’t think of a better excuse for posting sound clips of great Wagner singers of the past than that.

In honor of today’s opera, Die Walküre, here are three versions of Wotan’s Farewell, including one en français.

Alexander Kipnis (rec. 1926)

Marcel Journet (rec. 1928)

Hans Hotter (rec. 1942)


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super scene

One of my favorite moments in the season premiere of Mad Men last night was this little exchange between the now-divorced Don Draper and his dinner date, a young woman named Bethany, at Jimmy’s La Grange:

DON: So, what do you do?

BETHANY: I’m an actress, but right now I’m a super in the opera.

DON: And what is that?

BETHANY: A supernumerary. We’re the actors that fill the stage.

DON: Like the chorus.

BETHANY: No singing. I do a lot of mock drinking. I’m a wench, I’m a courtesan, part of a harem. It depends on the opera.

DON: That is truly fascinating.

BETHANY: I love the music, and I love backstage. Our costumes are as good as the singers, and I love the stories. They’re very romantic. Have you been?

DON: I have, but only for business, so I’ve never enjoyed it.

I don’t imagine we’ll be seeing Don settle into a seat at the Old Met any time soon, but I’m glad series creator Matthew Weiner, who wrote the episode, gave a shout out to supers, who are–let’s face it–the opera world’s true unsung heroes.

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conducting mahler

I shared this recently on Facebook, but it deserves a posting here as well. Bernard Haitink’s reaction at the very end of the clip is priceless.

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solemn, slight or beautiful

Thanks to a relatively small but still impressive discography, we tend to associate Dame Janet Baker with a specific body of solo and operatic repertoire by such European-born composers such as Elgar, Britten, Mahler, Berlioz, Schubert, Handel, and Mozart. It might surprise you to learn that she premiered one of the most important pieces of 20th-century American vocal music, Dominic Argento’s Pulitzer Prize-winning song cycle, From the Diary of Virginia Woolf, in recital in Minneapolis with pianist Martin Isepp on January 5, 1975. That concert, which also included selections by Wolf, Fauré, Duparc, and Debussy, was recorded for broadcast by Minnesota Public Radio and released on the d’Note label back in the mid-1990s. The disc is available through various online sources, but when I stumbled upon a cheap used copy at a local CD store yesterday–horribly misfiled, I might add–I could hardly believe my eyes. Once home, I cued up the Argento. Within a few minutes, I was completely captivated; by the end, I was absolutely speechless.

Here’s the opening song of the cycle, “The Diary (April, 1919)”:

From the Diary of Virginia Woolf : “The Diary (April, 1919)” – Dame Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano, and Martin Isepp, piano

“What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something…so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk…in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life.”

In his 2004 autobiography, Catalogue Raisonne as Memoir: A Composer’s Life, Argento mentions that because of their busy touring schedules, neither Baker nor Isepp had a chance to run through the work together until just a few days prior to debuting it. After the final rehearsal on the morning of the performance, Baker asked the composer to critique her interpretation. “I have nothing to tell you,” he said, “except that I’m a blubbering mass of gratitude and will never be able to thank you enough.”


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round two

I’m baaaaack! Did you miss me?

Five month ago today, I published what I thought was going to be my final blog entry. After working on it for almost a year and half, I decided to pull the plug and move on to other things. I only realized later that I liked having my own forum for talking about opera-related stuff, and I that enjoyed interacting with people from around the world who stopped by every day to read what I had to say. I always knew I’d revive dramma per musica; the question was when.

Well, folks, I guess that time is now. And so here I am, (barely) tanned, (mostly) rested, and (definitely) ready for round two!

I’ll start posting in earnest tomorrow. For now, let me say how happy I am to be part of the opera blogosphere again. Onward and upward!


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