Sunday, May 26, 2013

No bed of roses

I feel like I’ve neglected this blog a little bit over the past few weeks. Yes, of course I wrote a 7 page long post about Tosca just last Saturday but even though. Oh and by the way I delivered the Tosca essay (my last post) in English to my teacher, he was kinda shocked and said “No, I mean, it’s ok with me, it’s quite marvelous actually, but I don’t know about the school. I mean, this has never happened before.”
Well my week could be easily described with a roller coaster; there were ups, downs, upside downs, throw up moments, utter joyous moments, butterflies in my stomach moments and finally the “what the hell am I doing here” moment.
From the very beginning our teachers try and show us how this career we’ve chosen is not easy and you’ll sometimes lead a “love/hate” relationship with it. And you feel prepared; you know it’s no bed roses and that you have to protect yourself against the bad energy ill intentioned people throw your way. But knowing it only gets you as far as being aware of it; it doesn’t magically help you be strong in the moment when needed.
As I said before this week was tough, I even thought about giving up completely (for about 30 seconds I think). It all seemed to be thrown right at me, tests, rehearsals, due dates, rehearsals, and tests, and more rehearsals and tests, tests, rehearsals…
As I am desperately studying for my tests I also have rehearsals for many a number of things I’m doing this semester, the end of semester recital (in which I’m graduating in and singing two arias and a duet); the Il Combatimento di Tancredi e Clorinda operaish performance (in which I’m playing Clorinda) and Monteverdi’s Ariana’s Lament (in which I’m the second soprano, only the hardest vocal line ever invented and most uncomfortable one too).
And it was during the rehearsal with the orchestra for the opera that it happened. I was kind of nervous because it’s a very difficult piece especially because even though all my parts are written in 4, my teacher wants to do them in 2. But I’m no Monteverdi specialist so I fight all of the 4 studying that I did to do it the way the maestro wants. But then I start making a mistake, I get out of air, getting more nervous meaning being able to hold in even less air and the maestro starts getting pissed off about it and shouting comments about how I made a mistake here and there over the music he’s conducting.
It is at that moment that time seems to freeze around you, you see everything in slow motion,  the musicians in the orchestra (some of them being really good friends of yours) look embarrassed or smug about the whole thing, you see the girl who is also playing your part laughing quietly while she mouths the correct way to do the line you just missed, you have a girl that was supposed to get the part you are playing but didn’t sitting right next to you during the ENTIRE rehearsal playing with her phone, you see the juniors standing by the door watching the rehearsal with dilated eyes. And all the eyes are looking at YOU! Burning wholes into your skin, that’s exactly how I felt, like Snow White when she goes into the forest to run away from the hunter and she sees all those evil eyes looking at her. And you can just listen to yourself inside your head say frantically “Don’t cry, don’t cry, DON’T CRY!”
And then you think “What the hell am I doing here? This is utter torture! I’m not having a good time, not by a long run. Why am I still here? I should just give up and go and work with my good friends back in my home town. This is making me miserable.”
All this happened in about 15 seconds I think, and then I was up to sing. I had to do something in order to go on and not break down, so I fixed my eyes in the sheet music and just sang my part (correctly, must I add) and when the teacher said he wanted to rehearse it with the other girl I asked to be excused. I went straight to my piano teacher (who also acts as a sort of grandma figure to me) for a shoulder to cry on. But she was rehearsing her duo with a clarinet player and as I sat watching them play I suddenly thought to myself “This is it! This is how it’s supposed to be, you can see they are having so much fun.” Their lines entwined with one another then went to different paths but still connected and you could see that they were having a ball, and that comes through in the music like a slap on your face.
And when he left I sang my two Cherubino songs that I’m doing in the recital and felt it again, “SENTO UN AFFETO PIEN DI DESIR, CH’ORA È DILETTO, CH’ORA È MARTIR!” There’s some deep Cherubino wisdom right there, isn’t that exactly what we feel? At least I do, when I sing I feel utter delight and utter fulfillment, but sometimes there are moments when it hurts you so bad! Cherubino sings of love, but I found that this aria speaks much more than just about the teenage hormones he’s experiencing but about being in love with anything in general. Love is never easy; it’s no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise, ma pur mi piace languir cosi! I love what I do even though sometimes it requires of me to be strong in a way I didn’t even know I could. (Because in normal circumstances I would have just started crying or shouted back or something, I’m cancer, VERY EMOTIONAL)
And after chatting with my teacher I found out why I was also kind of miserable to the point of thinking about quitting. Because I hadn’t seen my TRUE friends in weeks! My friends from my home town from the theatre group, my real friends, people I’ve known for years and years, I’d neglected them and didn’t even notice!
So on Friday I had my singing lesson and told my teacher about all this that had happened and she gave me everything I needed: understanding, love, compassion and killer advice (this woman is the best I tell you!). And she also told me to do something quite torturous, to, for the day, make it my reality that I truly gave up on singing. Only for that day, for me to feel how it feels to not do what I love anymore. And let me tell you, it hurts like hell!
But that day I decided I would treat myself like a normal human being and went to straight to Cultura (the language school that is like my second home where we rehearse our plays). As I got there I met my best friend in the entire world (who is also the director) and helped him out with some ideas for both plays he’s directing. My other friends arrived for rehearsal I felt home, I felt so wonderful that the next day I went there again to watch their rehearsal and help. And turns out that was exactly what I needed, my friends, the family I chose.

Me and some of my marvelous friends at a party yesterday. I hadn't had this much fun in weeks!

So this was different, hun? More like a diary passage or something, but I felt like writing it down, I don’t feel people talk about the hard aches as much as it’s needed. So, yeah, it was awful, horrible, but I managed to get through it with inner strength and the help of my marvelous singing teacher and a little help from my friends. (And also with the encouraging words of my opera bff by the phone)
Peace everyone! ;)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Tosca Feelings

Ok, first of all I know I should be posting the La Boheme thing, BUT something happened. My teacher gave a very special assignment, to write about anything we’d like for our final grade. First I thought I’d just use something from the blog, I got plenty of options, but then I thought I’d be much more productive if I actually wrote something new and posted it here as well as handing it in for my professor. I wrote it primarily in English, since as many of you know I can express myself better in, and am still going to translate it to portuguse and probably cut a little bit of it, because it’s 7 pages long. I tried to be objective but that doesn’t really work when I’m talking about things I love and this opera is my favorite Puccini opera and this is my favorite production of it, so here it goes. Good luck ;) Ah I’m gonna leave the video here should anyone want to watch it.

Tosca, an opera by the Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, is one of the great master pieces in all music history. The action takes place during a real day in history, the 17th of June 1800 in Rome, when from morning to dawn a chain of events unfolds which leads us to ultimate tragedy. The story revolves around Floria Tosca, a prima donna who is in love with the painter Mario Cavaradossi. But since this is opera things aren’t so uncomplicated, the third end of this love triangle is one of opera’s truly evil characters, Baron Scarpia. In this article the production in particular that will be reviewed is the Royal Opera House’s 2011 production.
As Floria Tosca we have the Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu who is famous for her performances in Puccini opera, she actually made her Royal Opera House debut in the role of Mimi from Puccini’s La Boheme in 1992. As Mario Cavaradosi we have the German tenor Jonas Kaufmann who has an extensive repertoire that ranges from Mozart to Wagner, going by Verdi, Puccini, Strauss and many others. And finally the amazing Welsh bass baritone Bryn Terfel as Baron Scarpia, Terfel also has the most exquisite repertoire singing from Wotan (from Wagner’s Ring Cycle) to Leporello (from Mozart’s Don Giovanni).
The maestro Antonio Pappano drops a remarkable quote just before he goes into the pit to conduct Tosca “The beginning of Tosca one of the great openings in all music. Three very, very simple but iconic chords, that speak of Rome, oppression, power, lust, everything!”

And so the opera begins with those chilling chords described by the maestro, Puccini does not take his time to write an overture for this piece, for after we hear the chords the curtains opens and the story begins. Of course you could think of the one minute of orchestral music which follows the chords as an introduction but that is hardly the case for the music presented demands action and seems to narrate what’s happening on stage. The curtains reveal the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle where a runaway political prisoner, Cesare Angelotti, seeks safety. He finds the key to the chapel hidden by his sister by the feet of the statue of the Madonna and there he hides.
The Sacristan enters, he prays frantically, and is followed by the painter Mario Cavaradossi. He is working on a painting of Mary Magdalene and introduces himself musically with a beautiful aria, “Recondita armonia” in which he describes the differences between his lover, Floria Tosca and the lady he has been painting. Kaufmann’s rendition of the aria is divine, his dark colored voice puts away all kinds of stereotyped thoughts one might have of how a tenor sounds. It is interesting to notice how while he describes the painting with some enthusiasm, when he speaks of his lover his voice is filled with power, joy, love and devotion. This aspect can be found in the music itself but Kaufmann’s interpretation of it makes it more explicit and shows the public Cavaradossi is truly head over heels in love with Tosca, in particular when he sings “L'arte nel suo mistero le diverse bellezze insiem confonde; ma nel ritrar costei il mio solo pensiero, Tosca, sei tu!” (The mystery of art blends two beauties together. But while I paint her, all my thoughts are of you. All my thoughts, Tosca, are of you!). The sacristan doesn’t approve of Cavaradossi’s ways and leaves.

As soon as the sacristan has left Angelotti reveals himself and asks for Cavaradossi's help. Tosca’s voice is heard and Cavaradossi tells him to hide back in the chapel.
Tosca arrives and is already suspicious of her lover having heard whispered voices and hurried footsteps on her way in. Tosca is a very passionate woman, a very loving partner but also extremely jealous of her lover. And because of this aspect the interpretation of this iconic character can go downhill if the performer does not know how to handle and show Tosca’s characteristics. But Angela Gheorghiu is the perfect performer for the part, apart from her golden voice which fits the role quite rightly; she manages to deliver a very believable Tosca, not an over done diva but a real person with real intense feelings, an artist.

Tosca is quite convinced Mario is hiding someone from her and he pleads to convince her otherwise with loving words. Tosca is easily convinced of his innocence and offers her flowers to the Madonna. The instrumental music written for this particular moment when Tosca prays is brief but delightful, it speaks of peace and bliss the right introduction to Tosca’s first aria “Non la sospiri la nostra casetta”. In this Tosca delights on the memories of them together and what’s to happen that evening since she’s got everything arranged for them to meet at their villa. Cavaradossi is worried for he has promised to help his runaway friend but manages to hide his concerns.
Gheorghiu sings this Puccini repertoire masterfully, having many, many years of experience up her sleeve she lets herself flow along with the melody and captures every subtle nuance of the text and music. She delights in every word and note, giving us just the right amount of bliss when she sings “Arde a Tosca folle amor!” (Tosca burns with desire) and then is joined by Kaufmann’s passionate “Mi avvinci nei tuoi lacci, mia sirena!” (You’ve caught me in your snare, my siren).
They kiss and Cavaradossi is almost able to send her away when she notices what he’s been painting, a blonde blue eyed young woman. Tosca’s suspicions are raised again and after she recognizes the woman as the Marchesa Attavanti she’s sure Cavaradossi is seeing the other woman and that it was she who was there just before Tosca herself arrived. She is enraged and is about to destroy the painting when Cavaradossi explains the lady had been there the day before praying for so long he ended up painting her face on the Magdalena figure.

He reassures Tosca of his fidelity telling her how her dark eyes are so superior to the blue ones in a bittersweet aria that then turns into a luscious duet. Kaufmann and Gheorghiu have a unique kind of chemistry; the way they regard each other is deep and full of feeling. Every gesture seems to come from within with an almost immediate response from the other with the perfect amount of energy. It’s a truly exquisite exchange. And as soon as Cavaradosi starts singing his passion filled aria Tosca is overcome with pleasure and love, forgetting about the quarrel. They delight in each other’s embrace, but she asks him to make Magdalena’s eyes dark, like hers. So we see they go through this road quite a few times, with Tosca’s unexpected bursts of jealousy and Cavaradossi’s soothing words when he says “Mia Tosca idolatrata, ogni cosa in te mi piace; l'ira audace e lo spasimo d'amor!” (My Tosca, I love everything about you. Your flashes of anger and your pangs of love). Having gotten all the praises and loving words she came for Tosca leaves reminding Cavaradossi to make the eyes dark.
She leaves and Angelotti comes out of his hiding. Just as he is telling Angelotti to hide in his villa there is a cannon signal meaning the police know Angelotti has escaped, they both flee the church rapidly. The Sacristan is back and is followed by Baron Scarpia who releases the order to search the entire church for his fugitive while he interrogates the Sacristan. If Trefel’s Scarpia could be described in one word it’d be frightening. With very little gesture he manages to suck all of the oxygen from the room by simply standing there with his eyes wide open always in alert.
And as the Sacristan speaks Scarpia is able to connect Cavaradossi to the runaway and figure out he must be helping him get away, plus he finds a fan Angelotti left behind that belonged to his sister. Scarpia is not only interested in re arresting his prisoner but is also quite obsessed with the singer Floria Tosca, who he knows is Cavaradossi’s lover and will use all means to get what he wants.
Tosca arrives back to tell Cavaradossi they can’t meet that night but as she learns he has fled goes back into her melancholy thinking he’s betrayed her. Scarpia seeing the woman is naturally the jealous sort snakes his way into her confidence to try and convince her that what she fears the most is actually true. This duet, unlike the previous one Tosca just had, is tense and feels as if Tosca is fishing not for compliments but for proofs she doesn’t really want to see, but Scarpia shows them in a way one would be left with no doubt Cavaradossi was indeed betraying her, especially when Scarpia shows her the fan. Both performers have great energy and Terfel’s Scarpia seems to cling to every word Tosca says with desire and want while Tosca is more and more desperate. The more miserable Tosca gets the more Scarpia is delighted and the closer Scarpia gets the more disgusted Tosca is. She finally decides to confront Cavaradossi in their villa thinking he’ll be there with his other lover and leaves.
Scarpia is left alone to sing one of the most achingly gorgeous arias of all time “Va, Tosca! Nel tuo cuor s'annida Scarpia!”, he tells his man to follow Tosca and when they all leave raves about his plan to win Tosca over whether she wants it or not. Terfel lets the music do its job of showing exactly who his character is; his acting is punctual and absolutely fitting for the role. Scarpia is much more than a villain, he is truly evil and that is expressed in his gigantic voice that can be clearly heard over the chorus and the eighty piece orchestra. The act ends with Scarpia’s promise to get what he wants no matter the cost.

Act two as the first measures are played the curtain opens to reveal Scarpia’s apartment in Palazzo Farnese. The scenery is truly magnificent; all candle light with big windows showing that day’s twilight and an enormous sculpture of a warrior angel pointing his spear down dominates the room but doesn’t stand out to the point of total distraction. Scarpia is waiting for Tosca to arrive, he is serene, his plan is working.
To truly show Scarpia’s twisted nature he gets the aria “Ha più forte sapore la conquista violenta” to express exactly what he likes. He’s not the romantic sort, he wants to conquer what he desires, squeeze it dry and then throw it away. Spoletta, Scarpia’s right hand, tells him that even though he didn’t find Angelotti he brought Cavaradossi as his prisoner. As Scarpia starts interrogating Cavaradossi Tosca’s singing voice can be heard at the distance which confuses and distracts Cavaradossi and Scarpia delights at the man’s suffering. Cavaradossi and Scarpia seem like two snakes hissing at each other, none gives in, and Cavaradossi says nothing. Scarpia was predicting this kind of attitude and just as Tosca arrives he sends Cavaradossi to further interrogation in a special room, the lovers only get a few moments to see each other as he is taken to another room.
One thing that is interesting to notice is that as soon as Scarpia’s focus changes from Cavaradosi to Tosca his eyes gleam showing a bit of all the intense unholy feelings he holds towards her. And Cavaradossi notices this and starts to fight against Scarpia’s man having seen in Scarpia’s gaze his true goal, this to me is true artistry, because those same signs can be heard in the music beneath them and is perfectly interpreted in their acting.
Tosca is wearing a gorgeous dress, cream colored embroidered with silver and pearly small stones with a high Pride and Prejudice waist, long gloves and jewels that would make the Queen of England jealous. In other words, she looks divine, and Scarpia quite literally eats her up with his intense lustful gaze. Scarpia starts questioning her about how she confronted Mario with the fan and she assured him it was silly jealousy and that Cavaradossi was quite alone when she met him. Scarpia is not quite sure she’s telling the truth and turns to more unorthodox ways to getting information.
What’s interesting about this scene is that it starts quite serene; both are very serious but polite. But as it proceeds both characters civil mask fall and just as Scarpia shows what kind of monster he really is, Tosca shows him how insanely desperate she is and how easily he can get to her nerves. As Scarpia explains just what sort of torture Cavaradossi is being put through Gheorghiu actually speaks instead of singing “Sogghigno di demone!” (You sneering demon). As she hears Cavaradossi’s cries Gheorghiu’s expressions of hate mingled with concern and desperation do the character justice.
Gheorghiu plays Tosca in this moment as a person that’s beyond desperate, her eyes are wide opened, and she can’t even believe that that is actually happening to her. The first signals of someone who is slipping out of their sanity and taking decisions that are unlike her, the music moves in the same way, the melody feels round, as if she’s spinning out of her sanity.
Tosca is being bombed with Scarpia’s anger and we the cries from Cavaradossi. The whole situation tortures Tosca’s mind to the extreme and she finally gives in and the music accompanies her on that. All this time the melody was hanging never going anywhere and as she says she’ll tell him what she knows the melody finally descends. It is quite heart aching as she utters “No! - Ah! Più non posso! - Che orror! Cessate il martîr! È troppo il soffrir!” (No! I can’t take it anymore! Stop this agony; it’s too much to bear!) She actually throws herself against the book case, where the room Cavaradossi is, crying and pleading for Cavaradossi’s consent for her to speak, but he does not give her that permission. But she is quite over the edge now, desperate, as Tosca herself says, Scarpia is torturing her as well as Cavaradossi, she tells Scarpia where Angelotti is hiding and the torture immediately stops.
They bring the fainted Cavaradossi in, he’s got some nasty wounds on his face and she denies telling Scarpia anything. But Scarpia sends out an order quite loudly to where Angelotti is and Cavaradossi promptly turns against Tosca, telling her she’s betrayed him and cursing her. Another brief and yet so emotional moment for Tosca, she’s just been through hell having to hear the love of her life being tortured and he turns against her, there’s no floor beneath Tosca’s feet at this moment.
But news reach them of Napoleon's victory at Marengo; Cavaradossi gloats, telling Scarpia that his rule of terror will soon be at an end, before being dragged away by Scarpia's men. He has signed his death warrant, way to go Mario!
Scarpia and Tosca are again left alone and he tells her there is a way she can save her lover, if she gives herself to him. She’s disgusted and refuses his advances but the more she hates him the more he wants her. Terfel makes his “lust declaration” in an intense almost animal way that really shows the essence of his character, a predator who needs to conquer his prey no matter the cost.    
Tosca is distraught, this is rock bottom for her, and with that comes one of the most iconic arias in the whole history of opera. As Gheorghiu sings “Vissi D’arte” her eyes are like pools of sadness but her voice is pure legato bliss she asks God why he has abandoned her. Her long masterfully well sustained tormented long notes seem to penetrate our very souls and we feel as she feels, betrayed, abandoned and lost.
Scarpia is not amused and asks her to make a decision, and as Tosca begs for his mercy he gives into her desires. They make a bargain, if she gives herself to him, Scarpia will give her a free passage out of the Papal States, but as for Cavaradossi since he’s defied Scarpia in public he must be executed, but he promises Tosca that it will be a faked execution, not a real one. As they seal their deal Scarpia’s eyes are terrifyingly wide with desire but Tosca stands firm and tells him to write the safe passage to her right then.
As Scarpia writes Tosca is quite defeated, she does not want to give into Scarpia, but she is no fool, she knows their fate lies in his hands. As Scarpia gets ready to attack and the music starts building up, getting more and more intense, Scarpia says “Tosca, finalmente mia!” (Tosca, finally mine!) touching Tosca’s back and as soon as that sentence is done she stabs him hard with a dinner knife. He immediately starts calling out for help, but he himself has shut all doors, Tosca who is overcome by anger and revenge screams “Questo è il bacio di Tosca!”  (This is Tosca’s kiss). Gheorghiu’s eyes, that only moments ago were filled with sadness, now shine in a mad way, she’s actually enjoying what she’s doing she asks “Ti soffoca il sangue?”  (Are you chocking on your blood?), she grabs him by the hair and makes him stare at her when she mocks him as she says “E ucciso da una donna!” (Killed by a woman!). She stabs him quite a few times screaming “Muori dannato! Muori, Muori!” (Die, damned you! Die!). After he’s quite dead, Tosca starts to look for the passage he’s written for her to leave, it is only after she takes the blood soaked note from his grip that she realizes what she’s actually done. But what’s remarkable is that she pays the respects towards the body, puts up candles but not in one glance or in one movement does she show she regrets what she’s done.
We start the third act quite differently with a long passage of instrumental music, very calm and serene music to imitate the early morning that’s to come. We are taken to the roof of Castel Sant’Angelo as the guards bring the defeated Cavaradossi the music changes and gets dramatic melancholic lines. Cavaradossi is sure he’s going to die without ever seeing the face of his beloved Tosca ever again, and so he offers the officer his only possession, a ring, so a note can be delivered to Tosca after his execution.
The officer agrees and Cavaradossi writes his final farewell singing the aria “E lucevan le stelle...”as he remembers his happy days with Tosca. Kaufmann is the master in dynamic, he can start a phrase forte and end pianissimo in a long high note, steal your heart and then bring it back to you.  At one moment his voice is sounding tender and warm, thinking of Tosca, then bang, reality, it grows frustrated and saddened. Kaufmann’s acting follows suit so you can actually see as well as hear all these states he’s going through.
And just as we think the music is going downhill with Cavaradossi it suddenly changes into a brighter tune as Tosca appears. They embrace and Tosca hands him the passage she’s gotten and explains what she had to do to get it, and also that she’s killed Scarpia with her own hands. Again there is no sign of regret in Tosca’s ways as she narrates how she stabbed Scarpia in the heart. Mario is at first quite surprised but can see she’s troubled and tells her how her hands will only now serve for tender duties, never more for this kind of vile business. They have another tender moment in which you see that wonderful chemistry these two performers have work its magic; they are absolutely connected just like a real couple in love.  
Tosca delights in telling Cavaradossi how his execution will be faked and he must fall down when they shoot and soon they’ll escape and run away together. One thing I find quite interesting about this duet is that the orchestral parts give us an idea that they are describing a mere dream and nothing more and that pretty soon they will wake from that beautiful dream of love. And oddly enough Tosca does speak of a time when they both will have passed away in a blissful way “Finché congiunti alle celesti sfere dileguerem, siccome alte sul mare a sol cadente” (until together we shall fade away, beyond the sphere of earth, as light clouds fade, at sundown, high above the sea).

They continue their passionate exchange and again, their eyes locked with each other in a way you can almost see a string connecting them. The joy of two artists being together united by love and art is clearly expressed when they both sing in unison “Armonie di colori. Armonie di canti diffonderem! Trionfal, di nova speme l'anima freme in celestial crescente ardor. Ed in armonico vol già l'anima va all'estasi d'amor.” (Harmonies of color... And harmonies of song! Triumphant, the soul trembles with new hope in heavenly increasing ardor. And in harmonious light the spirit soars to the ecstasy of love.)
Tosca and Cavaradossi quite literally laugh at the executioner as Cavaradossi says he’ll act “come la Tosca in teatro” as the shooters arrive they pretend to be desolated and Cavaradossi is tied up to be shot as the Sun rises. As they get ready to shoot him the music grows into an intense mix of angst and hope, Cavaradossi is shot and falls down. As the shooters slowly leave she warns Mario not to move, the music is dragging as slowly and tensely as the pace of the shooters. As soon as they are again alone she calls out to him in a manner as if all the hard ache has been taken from her back, but the feeling does not last for long, for Mario has indeed been shot and lies dead in front her his beloved Tosca.
It is then that Tosca goes back into the place she was when she stabbed Scarpia, desperate and irrational, but now she’s lost everything. As she rushes to the edge of the roof top the soldiers’ voices can be heard as they have found Scarpia’s dead body and know Tosca was responsible. They reach the roof top just in time to see Tosca as she screams “O Scarpia, avanti a Dio!” (Oh Scarpia, before God!) and she jumps, killing herself as the music explodes, the first rays of Sun appear and the curtain closes.
Tosca is the ultimate tragedy having all its principal characters die in awful ways, and most of them killed by the leading character. But it’s also the ultimate melodrama, it has everything, love, passion, lust, power, politics, religion, torture, murder, execution and finally suicide all wrapped up in the most masterfully composed music.
Principal cast and conductor Tony Pappano at curtain call (picture by Irina Stanescu)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

La Boheme RENT

Oh my world it’s been more than a week that I haven’t posted. But this is just like when I wrote the Vesselina Kasarova posts and had such a wonderful response from everybody and then didn’t know if I could write something as good as that. So I’d like to start off by saying a huge thank you to everybody who read, commented, send me messages, it was really such a terrific surprise. Because I really thought no one would bother to read it because it was so long.
Well anyways, my life is completely upside down, everything is happening at the same time. I’m moving, which is wonderful but so stressful, having tests in college, that is just stressful really, trying to go to the gym and eat well plus studying like crazy.
As some of you know I’m getting my minor degree in music this year, and here in Brasil it’s a requirement to write a thesis on something that is connected to your course. Since I spend the majority of my course focusing on musical theatre but in the last year changed to opera I thought it fit to write about something that embraced both. And as I was going through my intense opera education program I couldn’t help but notice how the musical RENT is so much like La Boheme. The stories are basically the same, so I decided I would write about that. So that was my thesis La Boheme and RENT.
And since I was quite pleased with the result I decided to translate it (yes, because it’s in Portuguese for obvious reasons) and post it here. But I’m not gonna post the whole thing at once, since it’s a pretty big text; let’s just see how it goes shall we? So first there’s a very brief introduction to get everybody on the same page in regards to, what is RENT and what is La Boheme and then we go to the thesis itself.

The purpose of this thesis is to compare the pieces “La Boheme” by Giacomo Puccini and “RENT” by Jonathan Larson from a story point of view, pointing out its differences and similarities from the most apparent to the hidden ones. For such a study the librettos from both pieces were used as well as videos from many different productions of both.

La Boheme is an opera in four acts by the composer Giacomo Puccini with its libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa which is based on “Scènes de La vie de bohème” by Henri Murger. Puccini composed La Boheme in the middle of his career, he had already written operas of great success like Manon Lescaut, Edgard and Le Villi. But La Boheme was his first big piece. It had its premiere on the 1st of February 1896 in the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy. The story from the book from which the opera was based in is actually a compilation of stories about artists who lived in the Latin Quarter in Paris around the 1840s. But it could be said that the libretto of La Boheme had many episodes that were inspired by Puccini’s own early years living as a young artist in Milan.
The opera was a huge success in Italy and soon all the major opera houses in Europe had done their production of La Boheme. The opera itself is considered today one of the most important pieces from the romantic operatic repertoire, plus having its leading couple be one of the most famous and iconic romantic pairs in the whole of opera history.
 In La Boheme, the leading characters are the poet Rodolfo and the seamstress Mimi who fall in love in their first encounter, but their relationship is haunted by Rodolfo’s incontrollable jealousy and by Mimi’s tuberculosis. Rodolfo lives with the painter Marcello in a small studio apartment. There are also two more artists in the story, the philosopher Colline and the musician Schaunard who are also very poor and go through extreme situations especially in the winter time. And finally Musetta who is a singer and who was Marcello’s lover but as she has a free spirit and does not like to feel committed to anyone she dumped him to be with a wealthy older man.

Exactly 100 years after the premiere of La Boheme, in 1996 in New York City the musical RENT had its opening night. The musical is officially inspired in La Boheme and goes about the same subjects as the opera, love, sickness and the life of artists in a big urban center. Jonathan Larson, the composer, worked eight solid years in writing RENT until its Off Broadway premiere, he wrote more than 100 songs during that time for RENT alone. He wanted to show how even after a hundred years and with all the achievements humanity had had that some people still lived in awful conditions.
Contrary to popular belief Larson did not have AIDS, but many of his friends did and as he lost many of those because of the disease he decided to name the characters of the chorus after the his friends who had passed away. Unfortunately Larson would not live to see the success his musical would have for a day before their Off Broadway opening he died of aortic aneurysm. The whole cast and crew was caught off guard but decided that the show must go on and did not cancel their opening to honor Larson’s memory and the show was an instant success. After two months of sold out performances they moved to Broadway where it remained until 2010 and now is still playing Off Broadway.
RENT has eight main characters with more or less the same plot importance, unlike La Boheme which had its main focus on Mimi and Rodolfo. In RENT Roger is a composer who has AIDS and has been depressed ever since his girlfriend, April, killed herself after finding out they had AIDS. It’s been almost an year that that’s happened and Roger refuses to live the studio apartment he shares with Mark, an independent film maker who had just been dumped by his girlfriend, Maureen, who traded him for another woman. Maureen is an actress who is planning a protest against the eviction order to the homeless people who live in the abandoned apartments in Alphabet City. Collins is a philosopher who is friends with Roger and Mark and comes over to spend Christmas with them but is robbed and beaten up o the street. It is then that he meets Angel, a gay drag queen percussionist who helps him get back on his feet and they instantly fall in love, both also have AIDS. And finally Mimi is an erotic dancer who falls for Roger and him for her, but he fights the feeling with all his will. Mimi also has AIDS and is a drug addict.
As it’s shown above every character in RENT has its correspondent in La Boheme. But even though the correspondents are quite clear because the names are so much alike, they are not exactly the same. Rodolfo for instance is divided in two characters in RENT, in Roger and Collins, same thing with Mimi who is divided in Mimi and Angel, Marcello who is divided in Mark and Joanne and finally Musetta in Maureen and Benny.
Even though both pieces have approximately the same length, RENT does have more plot development, maybe that’s a consequence of the fact that the author divided the characteristics of the original La Boheme characters in more than one character in RENT.    
Both pieces are undeniably connected, but since some of the events don’t happen in the same order it’s important to point out that I’ll be following the chronologic order of La Boheme.

Yay! There, part 1 of my thesis just to get you guys ready. I’ll post the analysis from Act1 next. Stay tuned peeps and have a great week!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Werther Perfection!

EDIT/ SoI'm gonna have to edit the post (I'm not taking anything out, I'm just adding) because more videos have appeared, and again I've had a freak out, so everything that's underlined has been added today, the 4th of May ;) HA if you thought this post was huge before you ain't seen nothing yet hahaha

So here I am again, I was planning on talking about Giulio Cesare in Egitto but decided otherwise. So I decided to make somewhat a sort of fangirl kind of post. First let me tell you guys something really exciting that happened last week that I forgot to mention in my last post. So, last Monday there was a broadcast of Giulio Cesare in the Met and in intermission there was trivia and as soon as William Berger said “Operas that end with fire” I screamed DON GIOVANNI, and immediately set out to send my answer to William. Just to get everyone on the same page, William Berger is creative content producer for the Met Opera, and he’s the commentator at the broadcasts via radio/internet. Well after the interview he started reading the answers and BAM, HE SAID MY NAME! At that I let out a big scream that resulted in my cousin being mad at me because my other cousin was asleep (yes, I’m living currently in an apartment without walls with my two cousins, currently sleeping at the not so comfy couch) and all I could say was “Oh my GOOOOOOOD he said my name, he said my name, my name was pronounced at the Metropolitan Opera and I haven’t even gone there yet!”. Well, William said that he was glad that I was listening all the way from Brasil and oh God I felt like a million bucks! Me and my bff rejoiced like two retarded teenagers!
Roberto Alagna and Vesselina Kasarova at curtain call of Werther at the Wiener Staatsoper
 Well anyways, speaking of freaking out, here’s the second and main thing I wanted to talk about. I had a total white shirt freak out, I mean, this opera isn’t really white shirt, but Vesselina is like the queen of white shirts, so… Let’s get down to it, last Friday the Vesselina Kasarova fans learned that she was going in as Charlotte in Werther the next day because Elina Garancia got sick. Of course we were all so happy but also I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad because I love this opera, it was after all the first live opera that moved me tears, and I wouldn’t be able to see it. And the tenor playing Werther was Roberto Alagna and he’s just magnificent doing the French repertoire, well, I was kinda upset. UNTIL, an ANGEL simply posted almost the entire thing online, let’s say ¼ of the whole opera was up on YouTube on Sunday evening and I was freaking out

So I decided to comment on these videos, let’s start from the beginning. First video is only of Roberto Alagna singing his first aria “Je ne sais si je veille ou si je rêve encore!/ O nature, pleine de grace”. I had never seen him as Werther, and let me tell you, I was very pleased with what I saw. He has that melancholic feel that I think is essential for this character, but during this aria he really looked like a somehow troubled soul (maybe a VERY light version of Onegin) finding peace in a rather simple place. And he’s sounding amazing!

So the videos on the bottom are the new ones which were filmed in on 30th. It’s basically the same scene, although we get like maybe two minutes more footage from the beggining and the end of the scene than the previous one. But as I always say, it’s a different day, it’s a different performance. Starting from the fact that since it’s a different person filming, the person chose to give us some bigger picture shots, and you can notice that Charlotte appears and Werther sees her, and she watches over him as he sings Oh Nature. Which for me gives the aria a completely different meaning, is he singing “O nature, pleine de grâce, reine du temps et de l'espace daigne accueillir celui qui passe et ta salue, humble mortel!”, as if now he sees it  because he might have just fallen in love at first sight and you perceive everything differently when you fall in love (I’m getting waaay off track here). Something that might not be but, might just as well be, was that I think Roberto looked at someone in the eye in the audience when he sang “Mère éternellement jeune, adorable et purê”. And how sweet was it that after he finished the aria he turned to look for Charlotte, but she was already hiding with her sister behind tree, seeming to wait for the perfected moment to reveal themselves. It’s adorable the way she takes the tray from her sister so maybe she might get closer to him. This video has left me on the edge of my seat yearning for a continuation! I do hope there is one; I wouldn’t mind editing this post again to post it, just saying…  

This first video was posted on Sunday, now this one was posted today. Just back from the party Werther and Charlotte have a romantic moment, they fall in love and it is super sweet! Seeing this it’s kind of hard to believe that Vesselina just walked into this production, true that she’s already done this opera with Roberto at the Met, but it was a million years ago! Excuse me while I died when Roberto sang: Rêve! Extase! Bonheur! Je donnerais ma vie pour garder à jamais ces yeux, ce front charmant, cette bouche adorable, étonnée et ravie. Sans que nul à son tour les contemple un moment! Le céleste sourire! oh! Charlotte! Je vous aime... et je vous admire! (Dream! Ecstasy! Happiness! I would give my life to look at those eyes, that enchanting face, that adorable mouth, surprised and delighted. Without anyone to turn contemplates a moment! The heavenly smile! oh! Charlotte! I love you ... and I admire you!).
One other thing I love about this is how they manage to keep their characters fresh, even though they are dramatic characters, at this point they are young and somehow naïve and that is what comes through to me, Werther finally finding what he was looking for and Charlotte hardly believing that what she was looking for was Werther and almost giving up to it.

This video is also almost the same as the one from the 27th but we also get a little bit of footage in the beginning and we get to see the scene until the end of the first act. So we discover our lovers making out before the scene begins, you go girl! It’s amazing how they were already so well together on the 27th, great chemistry and the voices melted so well with one another, and now it seems as if they have even more chemistry! The way Roberto is looking at Vesselina while she talks about the children is so romantic, it’s like he’s mesmerized with her, and he shows already Werther loves everything about her, which is so important to the story! And interestingly enough at this very moment you can see that Charlotte is also troubled soul, she’s “burdened” with taking care of and being a mother to a lot of children while the ghost of her mother looms over her, meaning Werther and Charlotte are perfect for one another, they are those kind of couples that complete each other, you know? But this is noticeable because of the way the performers are putting across their parts in actions, in intonation, in their choice of dynamic, this is truly a treat. It’s probably the best Werther I’ve ever watched, I was never really able to grasp these two characters, but after this I’m several steps closer to getting them.
And it’s nice that we get to see the end of the act, with Charlotte having almost surrendered to the moment but her dad’s voice kind of awakens her from the dream. This is one of those “what if” moments: What if her father hadn’t called her? Would she have run away? Done something she might regret? We will never know though. But the end was just amazing, as Charlotte confesses that she’s actually engaged to be married you see all the light be extinguished from Werther’s eyes, it just vanishes.

We go the second act, Charlotte has married Albert and Werther left, he comes back. He mourns Charlotte’s marriage and says how much he wished that he was the one who had married Charlotte that he alone would be the one to make her happy. It’s such a sad, sad melodramatic moment, and something I noticed in these videos is how expressive Roberto Alagna’s eyes are, you can see the pain and sadness in his eyes, it’s quite amazing. Another thing, these videos are of amazing quality, this kind of technology hasn’t gotten to Brasil yet haha. Albert arrives and talks to Werther as to how he knows Charlotte is really in love with him and that even though he forgives Werther for that.
Let me say something, Albert has got to be the character I most hate in this opera, if it weren’t for him, if he didn’t exist, Charlotte and Werther would have lived happily ever after. Of course then there would not be an interesting plot to the story, but I’m always rooting for things to end up well in stories and am always frustrated that in opera they usually don’t. Then Werther sings how he’s wound has heeled and he’s not suffering anymore, it’s interesting how we know that that’s a lie and that the melody he sings and the music behind it tell a completely different story. The music shows off his suffering even though his words say otherwise, in other words, Massenet you are a genius and I love you!
Next up from the beginning of Werther's entrance just like before he gets a wonderful aria lamenting his and Charlotte’s fate. Again Alagna is sounding so amazing in this, truly heart breaking aria and a heart breaking rendition of it. Albert arrives and I think this time he really acts and sounds like a true villain, I’d be scared to be married to a man like that, I’d actually be scared to sit next to a man like that, he’s scary.

The scene continues with Charlotte’s annoying sister singing about flowers and happiness and Werther looking more and more grim, she tries to cheer him up but to no avail. Albert tells Werther he should see what’s right in his face and that he should try and look for happiness in someone who is free and holding flowers (aka annoying Sophie). They leave and Charlotte walks in and is surprised to see Werther there and tells him she can’t be with him since she’s married. First Vesselina is sporting a sort of cold worried tone, but as the scene progresses her mask starts to fall and you can see that she aches to be with Werther and it hurts her so much that she actually can’t. She pleads to him to give her peace, his presence shows her what she can never have and that haunts her, this scene is so very deep, you see Werther kind of giving up and consenting that her happiness is the most important thing for him. But Charlotte can’t be without him forever, so she tells him to come back at Christmas.
Compared to what’s coming next this is light stuff, but even in this brief scene there is so much feeling going on and both performers were able to express them. This was really a treat! Charlotte leaves and Werther gets to sing an amazing lament, again, Alagna is heavenly in this, just fantastic. After he has teared his soul apart singing Sophie comes asking him to go to the ball with her, he can’t even respond to her properly, he says he’s going away forever and leaves. Charlotte sees her sister crying and Sophie tells her Werther has left for good and Charlotte is distraught. This is noticed by her husband that finishes off the act saying “Il l'aime!”. The guy who is playing Albert is making him seem almost cruel, his expressions are very severe and in this case even hate, I don’t really like that sort of interpretation of Albert, it makes him even less likeable than he normally is.

In this one we skip Sophie’s part and go straight to Werther reuniting with Charlotte. So absurdly painful to watch how he’s so devoted to her and how she wants him but can’t. After he recalls their moments together she says the painful “Albert m'aime, et je suis sa femme! ” (Albert loves me and I’m his wife) to what Werther responds “Albert vous aime! Qui ne vous aimerait?” (Albert loves you? And who wouldn’t love you?), that just stings mon coeur, you know? And her telling him to leave, her face when she says “Partez! Partez!” is so sad, she’s afraid she won’t be able to do with him being around. And how devastated he is at hearing she wants him to leave, this time this encounter is even more tense than on the 27th, if that’s even possible, because it was pretty tense already. After she leaves Werther starts thinking about the idea of putting an end to his life in a light delusional way, and at the end when he says “Père, appelle moi!” he’s really asking to die. After he leaves we see Albert sort of dragging Charlotte by the arm, which is quite alarming and makes his villain cap fit even better. It’s interesting how this moment is dreadful for the characters but the music is upbeat and cheerful, another great musical contrast Massenet gives us.

Third act, next video right from the beginning of the act, Charlotte is so hopelessly in love with Werther, you see pain in Vesselina’s eyes, it’s absolutely heart breaking. He has been sending her letters that she’s read again and again, while she talks about the letters it’s interesting to see how in Vesselina’s acting Charlotte forgets her life and for a few moments is transported to something/somewhere her and Werther are together and happy, she smiles at the letters and is back to herself saying she should destroy them, but can’t. Then she starts reading one of the letters and you gotta hold on tight not to cry, he’s alone and miserable and she’s even more miserable because he’s miserable and because she knows she can help him, but really she can’t. So much drama, I love it! Vesselina is, by the way, sounding absolutely divine, her unique voice color is sounding clear and so, so fitted for this role, really, a perfect fit. His last letter is alarming, he says that if he doesn’t show on Christmas, she’ll never see him again, Charlotte is worried, the fear of him being gone from this earth is so touchable in her voice, it’s not a desperate tone, it’s something much deeper and scary.

Next video is when Werther actually shows up, the orchestral music composed for this bit when Charlotte sees him is absolutely gorgeous, poignant and moving. They start recalling their sweet moments together and it’s such bittersweet music and acting, what I love about this production is that they actually touch and reach out for each other. Most productions I’ve watched Charlotte was either cold to him (in her gestures) or too afraid to reach out to him, which kind of annoys me. Because I feel that a lot of her strive is the fact that he is so close you can taste it, and she actually does (by hugging him or kissing him) but at the end she can’t give into him. It’s much harder to give up to something you’ve experienced and loved than something you are too afraid of even getting close to. Just saying, that’s just my opinion. Then I die, “Pourquoi me réveiller, ô souffle du printemps?” oh my God, it’s such a heartfelt song, just like Charlotte’s “Va! laisse couler mes larmes” it’s a short yet powerful aria that destroys me from the inside out, this whole opera is really so much suffering one can take and I have a bad habit of growing too found of the characters, so I suffer along. Roberto sang majestically, really, just, amazing, he gets a big, big ovation at the end of this aria, well deserved I must add!

Third act and Werther shows up in Charlotte’s house, you see that she’s quite relieved to see him there after his dreadful promise. He says how much he didn’t really want to come back, but there wasn’t a day he didn’t think about her and helas he came back to see her. Again they have a little heaven of a moment when they recall their moments together, they seem to relax and the BAM "Pourquoi me réveiller, ô souffle du printemps?”. The beginning of this song feels like melted butter, me being the butter. (ps; funny enough the moment Roberto finished the aria and everybody cheered at the same second my dad screamed “GOAL!”, his team made a goal, and now there are fireworks and for me they are all for Roberto)

Fortunately the next video is the continuation of this scene, Werther sees that Charlotte is moved and has his confirmation that she indeed still loves him. This scene is crazy good, and is so fantastically executed, flames of hope seem to gleam from Alagna’s eyes and something like crazy bliss and gilt shine in Kasarova’s. As they sing together, Werther pleading for her to give in and Charlotte trying to hold on to her values, there’s an insane exchange going on between the performers, again , it’s hard to believe she had just walked into the production. Such chemistry it is really crazy, as he tells her he loves her, she begs for mercy and they finally end up having a rather hot kiss on the floor (YES THEY KISS, already a victory compared to some productions I’ve seen). That’s what I’m talking about, it’s much harder to walk out of a kiss like that than of a half kiss done with regret, it makes Charlotte’s struggle even more painful, I think.

But she does come to her senses and climbs the stairs in order to get away, normally after her “Adieu! adieu! pour la dernière fois!” she actually leaves, but Werther follows her up the stairs and says to her the painful “Mais non... c'est impossible! Ecoute-moi! Ma voix te rappelle! Reviens! Tu me seras sacrée! Reviens! Reviens!” she looks at him with pain tear filled eyes and kisses him goodbye and runs away. It is so heart breaking when he actually starts weeping and it is then that Werther decides that if he can’t have Charlotte he’d rather die.

Now for the continuation of the scene, again, I didn’t think this could get more intense, well it did. The way they work together is amazing and their movements are not the same as the last time and you think “Oh my God, they are really planning their actions in the moment” which in one side is super risky but when it works out, and it did, it’s extremely organic and makes their performance utterly believable, not that they weren’t, but this makes it so human, raw, touchable and relatable. (oh here I go again, shut up Isabela). Their struggle ended in a kiss and the well deserved little ovation it got, they managed to perfectly lead us to this moment when Charlotte truly looses it and really proves right for her to say next “C'est vous, vous! que je fuis l'âme désespérée!”. And oh my world, how heart breaking it is when he’s asking for her to come back and she extends her hand toward him and they embrace in the most desperate way, as if they couldn’t live without each other and then she leaves again.
Last clip Werther has shot himself and Charlotte has gone after him only to find him covered in his own blood dying. Charlotte is desperate and tries to call for help but he just tells her that all the help he needs is in her “Vois! je n'ai pas besoin d'autre aide que la tienne!” at this Vesselina makes a crying face that is heart throbbing, everything about this scene is actually heart throbbing, she is holding him and it’s so beautiful you almost forget he’s dying. She’s so tender to her caresses toward him it seems as if they’ll live forever together (hopeless romantic that I am!). Then they profess their love for one another (Werther: “je meurs en te disant que je t'adore!Charlotte: “Et moi, Werther, et moi je t'aime!”) and I almost die, she finally confesses she’s loved him ever since the beginning and I’m on the floor with depression, it’s so sad! And then she tells him she’s going to give him the kiss he so much craved for and wow, do they kiss or what! They do have a lot of orchestral heartfelt music to kiss to and they do, at these moments my heart totally skips a beat and again I sort of forget he’s drenched with blood at death’s door. As they sing “oublions tout!” (forget everything), such a sweet moment, we hear the children sing the Christmas song and are thrown back into reality, Werther is dying. PS; I’m re watching this for like the 7th time and I’m crying for the 7th time.
Werther asks Charlotte not to cry, and they embrace ever so gently and lovingly at the sound of the children and Sophie’s singing, it’s too much to take I tell you, this opera is just so depressing! At this point Charlotte is beyond desperate while Werther has quietly accepted his fate and is ready, as he dies I cry like a retarded human being and oh man, the suffering in Vesselina’s eyes is making me cry even more, he dies and  Charlotte cries out for him to no avail. She climbs off the bed and meets her husband hatred filled gaze, as she gets down to her knees probably to beg for his forgiveness he turns his back on her with a disgusted look. The end, Werther dies and so do I.
One thing really gets to me about this ending, ok, to be a tragedy at least one of the lovers must die, but I feel I would like this ending a lot more if Charlotte also killed herself. She’s gonna spend the rest of her life with the ghost of that moment and of what could have been had she run away with Werther looming over her, she should have the right to put an end to her misery too, and maybe to be with Werther in another place. That’s what I think anyways. God, this has been wonderful but somehow slightly depressing haha
Another lovely picture of the curtain call, yay, Werher is actually alive so they can be together! Shut up Isabela!
Ah, and be sure to watch the curtain call, a well deserved ovation for our heroes, I’ve posted in Vesselina’s facebook fan page. Well I guess this is it, what a HUGE post! But every time I write about Vesselina it’s normally a gigantic post. Peace everyone!

Sadly enough there was no video of the ending that must have been a real gem, well who knows? Maybe it will show up :) Only final words, BRAVI to Roberto Alagna and to Vesselina Kasarova that literally killed it in their roles and made us all cry! And also a huge THANK YOU to our dear camera people (Orin13MSMaPatROB and operara100)who were kind enough to share these videos with the world!

PS: The struggle I just went through to put these videos together in a pretty way was ridiculous!