Opera Warhorses

An appreciation and analysis of the 'Standard Repertory' of opera

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Correspondence with Peter, Sam and Paul

November 25th, 2005

On this web-page are responses to the new website. My remarks are bolded.

November, 2005

Bill, It’s a great start. Perhaps after only your first opera you did not feel competent to comment, even retrospectively, on the quality (rather than the star-rating) of the great singers in San Diego. I hope in future chapters (years? pages?) you will become a critic as well as a historian. Did you realize that “war-horse” in this sense was first used only in 1947, by Alfred Einstein, in Music in the Romantic Era? We’ll be at the SFO this weekend for the Sunday afternoon “Norma”, unfortunately no longer first row, center, but there with my daughter & son-in-law, nonetheless. . . Best wishes, Peter

Peter, it is my plan to comment on the quality of singers and all of the other factors of an operatic production, both retrospectively and contemporaneously. In fact, I plan to post my comments on the production of San Francisco opera’s “Norma” to which you refer.

Bill, The quote: from Alfred Einstein,, (W.W. Norton, 1947) p 209. “There is a whole series of operatic transcriptions — all pieces that are great technical war-horses.”According to the OED, the first (and literal) use of the term was in 1653; in 1837 the word first appeared in its figurative sense of an old soldier or veteran. Einstein was one of the dominant musicologists of his generation. Born in Germany in 1880 he left in 1933, when Hitler’s came to power, first to London, then to Italy. In 1939 he came to the US, where he taught at Smith College, from which he retired in 1950. His best known work was on Mozart; his 1945 (Translated by Mendel & Broder, Oxford UP,) is still considered authoritative – at least the musical part (he seems to have been rather misogynistic, as far as Mozart’s women were concerned.) He made many contributions to Mozart scholarship, including updating and improving the standard Kochel numbering system. He was particularly fond of “Idomeneo”, by the way – considered it a work of genius. You mentioned the Bay Area “-stein”, who I assume was Alfred Frankenstein, the revered music critic for the during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Non-San Franciscans remember Frankenstein primarily for his in describing the voice of Eileen Farrell: “Miss Farrell has a voice like some unparalleled phenomenon of nature. She is to singers what Niagara is to waterfalls.” But you knew this already. It is an interesting geographical coincidence that Einstein died in El Cerrito in 1952, and his daughter (I think) donated his library and his papers to the UC Berkeley Music Library.

Thanks for alerting me to your new site, Peter

Thanks, Peter, for following up on an off-page communication from me, in which I asked for further information about your citation of Alfred Einstein’s reference to operatic “war-horses”. I had momentarily wondered if he was responsible for another quote, but then noticed that his date of death was too early. You are absolutely correct that the quotation I had in mind was one of Alfred Frankenstein’s.

By the way, I did an Internet search of Alfred Einstein and was amazed to find a reference to him among some factoids relating to the 1989 movie “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, a teen-oriented movie that was supposed to take place in the San Dimas Mall (although actually filmed in Phoenix). A close student of that film noticed that reference was made to the scientist Alfred Einstein, and wondered if there was a hidden meaning in the substitution of the name of a musicologist for the great theoretical physicist. I will go with a slip of the tongue, or careless writing, unless additional furtive clues in the Excellent Adventure are disclosed.

February, 2006

Bill, What a wonderful website and what a lot of work you have gone to. I am forwarding this to my friends at the Lexington Opera Society. I think I told you that I am on the board of our town-gown opera society. Hope to be in touch with you soon. Sam

Hi Sam –

Thanks for your comments. Hopefully, we will be able to take in a performance one of the next times I am in Lexington. By the way, I am very pleased that the Kentucky Opera in Louisville joined with the San Francisco Opera, New York City Opera and Detroit’s Michigan Opera Theatre to assist the San Diego Opera in the Zandra Rhodes production of Bizet’s “Les Pecheurs de Perles”. I have seen the production in both San Diego and San Francisco and believe that the production advances the cause for this long-undervalued opera in the United States. I hope all goes well with the performances of the opera in Louisville tonight (February 2) and Saturday night (February 4). I will post my comments on the Pearl Fishers According to Zandra Rhodes before too long. Bill

August, 2006

Hi William –

I’d been away from your site for a while and was pleasantly surprised by the new look. Very cool!

Paul at operablog.blogspot.com

September, 2006

Hi William:

Re: Missing “That 70’s Show”: S. F. “Ballo” – September 17, 2006

We here in Denver are looking forward to Opera Colorado’s production of “Un Ballo,” although no one with the credentials of Ms. Voigt will be singing Amelia. In next spring’s performances (Apr 26/29, May 2/5/8), that role will be performed by Doina Dimitriu. Thankfully the two male starring roles here are better represented: Frank Lopardo is Gustav and hometown star Charles Taylor is Anckarstrom. David Agler will conduct.

Paul at operablog.blogspot.com

Hi Paul –

I have not yet seen Doina Dimitriu, although she will come to Denver with a creditable worldwide reputation. She sang in “Tosca” at Opera Pacific earlier this year, and Tom, who does guest reviews on this website, regularly attends performances at that Orange County house.

I will be at Opera Pacific in early October for four operas (Rheingold, Walkuere, Siegfried and Goetterdaemerung) from the Kirov with Gergiev conducting, and will see Tom there and at the Anna Netrebko-Rolando Villazon “Manon” in Los Angeles also. I will check out Tom’s opinion of Madame Dimitriu.


October, 2006

Hi William:

Re: Gavanelli Dominates Strongly Cast S.F. “Rigoletto” – October 15, 2006

Once again you’ve done a fine job in capturing the essence of a performance for those of us unlucky enough to have missed it. I especially appreciate the fact that you’ve named everyone in comprimario roles, as it will help us look for them in bigger things at some future date. Thanks again for a terrific piece.

Paul at operablog.blogspot.com

Tags: General correspondence