Opera Warhorses

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

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Correspondence with Tom and Bob

February 2nd, 2006

November, 2005

Hi Bill: I love your new opera “Warhorses” site!! Excellent idea, and you, a true scholar on the idiom, are more than qualified to do it!! We’ll talk more at dinner before Parsifal which I will see this weekend!! Meanwhile, I’ll see L A Opera’s Tosca with Samuel Ramey as my hero Baron Scarpia on Dec 1 — this should be fabulous!! Tom.

Thanks, Tom. Note the reference to Los Angeles Opera’s February 2005 “Romeo and Juliette” (which we both attended) in my note to Stephen above. I look forward to the “Parsifal” and dinner beforehand.

December, 2005

Hi Bill; Me, and I suspect many others, are anxiously awaiting your review of L A Opera’s musically wonderful Parsifal. On the radio or a CD it would have been fabulous, as to the blind or visually impaired in attendance,

But some of us were unfortunate enough to see it. I’ll make up for that ghastly mistake by seeing the MET’s glorious production this next May in NYC in the same week as Franco Zeffirelli’s famed production of Tosca (on their DVD) and their equally superb reading of a delicious L’Elisir d’Amore (also on their DVD), plus their new Rodelinda which, hopefully, will not look like [San Francisco Opera departing general manager][ Pamela [Rosenberg]’s flim-flam-flop.

We’ve but merely to count the few remaining days of Pamela’s Dark Age at SFO. She will be organizing concerts for the world’s premier symphony orchestra in Berlin — but in a back office. She won’t be selecting any music and won’t darken their stage.

On Jan 1, 2006 the Gockley Era [incoming General Manager David Gockley] begins. Look for lots of classics, lots of Wagner, big productions, and productions from Santa Fe, Wash DC Opera and Opera Philly in which he has had a major hand. We’ve seen some of these in LA and OC as well as SDO, all of which have been terrific. I saw his marvellous Ahkneton in Houston — he raided every museum everywhere for repro Egyptian props and produced a modern-day Aida of monumental proportions — to roaring standing ovations. He’s dramatic, very forceful, full of vitality and quite intense about opera. Enjoy the Holidays!!! Tom

Hi Tom. I have concluded that you regard the Rosenberg to Gockley change of command in San Francisco as a good thing.

Not only did I enjoy your Dec 18, 2005 review of LA Opera’s mercifully now-ended Parsifal, but I agreed with your overview of Wagner’s utter transformation of his musical genre into something the opera-world had not seen (nor heard) before, this forever changing what opera could be, how it sounded, and certainly how in looked. As you firmly point out, Wagner was extremely precise just how his masterpieces should be presented, insisting on Bayreuth performances for this reason. However, for those who’ve been to Bayreuth Wagner performances of late have found out, vast liberties have been taken with Der Meister’s directives. I saw a Bayreuth Parsifal some years ago with essentially no sets, with blue lights being almost the only memorable event – but the music was sublime.

As indeed it was in Los Angeles magnificently conducted by Kent Nagano, fabulously sung with real emotion by Placido Domingo and Matti Salminen. One of my dear friends attending that night’s performance indicated she was having a difficult time seeing the production from her Founder’s Circle seat having just had cataract surgery, to which another dear friend (whose name is on the theater) replied How lucky she is to be spared having to see it!!

As I marched out at the end of Act II along with battalions of other disgusted opera patrons voting with their feet, I thought this all the way home: how could a masterpiece containing some of the most intense emotional overlay in all opera, accompanied by Wagner’s musical genius’s apotheosis, have been so little understood by those who staged this production?

The contrast to the MET’s current (forthcoming again next May 2006) could not be more stark. Legions of opera-lovers in tears (like me) as the drama moves towards its catharsis in Act III as Kundry bathes Parsifal’s feet and the music reaches it’s overwhelmingly sublime climax. L A Opera’s production may well have produced tears, but for an entirely different reason.

I did indeed enjoy it, but I only listened to it from my front-row-center seat, just taking a furtive and occasional peak to see what was going on, only to look away in disgust. As I marched out with those battalions of other opera-patrons, I overheard many exclaiming that they, too, just listened. Is that Robert WIlson’s legacy from his L A Parsifal? Tom

Hi Tom – Despite the controversy around this “Parsifal”, what I will remember kindly are the Domingo-Salminen-Nagano performances. I think I am forewarned and therefore fore-armed with the knowledge that I will want to avoid “Robert Wilson’s Pelleas et Melisande”, the reports of which suggest the same inarticulateness of concept [with similar costumes and faux-Noh gestures], in an opera that is often pegged as being basically inarticulate (though wonderful) anyway. Bill

October, 2006

William –

I read your review of MANON. [See “Thriller”: Paterson Links with Netrebko, Villazon and Domingo in L. A. “Manon” – October 5, 2006] The review was spot on. I feel pretty much the same way and could not have said it better. We enjoyed MANON very much and tried to see it up close a second time to no avail because of its sold-out status. Annie and I recently saw Penelope Cruz in VOLVER, the new Almodovar film and I believe that just as Almodovar is paying homage to the great acting divas, Anna Magnani and Sophia Loren, by creating an amzaing role and performance with Penelope, Anna Netrebko is recreating roles in her own way with great help from her directors that give her opera diva status in much the same way as opera divas of yesteryear. These are exciting times for performance art!

Because of our Guild status, we see a lot of movies this time of year that are being considered for awards. I can really recommend NOTES ON A SCANDAL with Judi Dench and also VOLVER. They are both daring and exciting and leave you wanting more.

Thank you for your intelligent insights. They are much appreciated. Bob.

Hi Bob –

Note my (admittedly tangential) references to Pedro Almodovar’s film characters in my comments on the DVD of the Stuttgart production of Handel’s “Alcina”, on the web-page entitled: Separating Art from “Eurotrash”: S.F.’s “Rodelinda” & Stuttgart’s “Alcina”


Tags: General correspondence