Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Ultimate Don Giovanni!

Hey all! So how have you all been doing? I’m pretty good, I'm great actually, I have lost so much weight it's insane! After I post this I'm actually going to take my new found hot bootie shopping because everything is sort of baggy and weird on me now. YAY!

But anyways, this post is actually about opera for a change. You see a couple of months ago I went to the movie theater to watch the Royal Opera House’s new production of Don Giovanni. This one was actually in my home town, it wasn’t live (obviously) so they had 4 different times for the opera, Saturday and Sunday at 11 in the morning, Monday at 3 in the afternoon and Tuesday at 7 in the evening, not very good ones but I’ll take what I can get.

I went to the mall all by myself driving my bike. As I’ve said sometimes here I do enjoy going to the opera alone. When you take a friend there’s always that feeling of “Oh my God I hope he likes it.” “Should I explain this part?” “Did he understand that part?” “Is he bored?” and also the apologetic mode comes on automatically for me “Don’t worry, the first act is just about to end. Only 2 more arias and a quintet.” “The interviews are funny, the singers are very nice, trust me.” And if I go alone I can immerse myself in the piece, sit back, relax and watch the whole opera in peace.

But of course that didn’t happen right? I did go alone but as for the uninterrupted bliss line of operatic experience, well, it didn’t happen. But I’ll get to that in a second. So I get to the movie theater and am faced with my first problem, the old people. And I don’t mean to be rude, it’s just old people in Brazil and especially in this town are a special breed of impolite and have an inflated sense of self. That’s because there are some pretty stupid laws here that give older people the idea that they can cut in line in front of everyone. According to law every establishment should have an exclusive cashier for senior citizens, pregnant women and handicap people. But the thing was, that cashier was closed and only one girl was selling the tickets, so the old people simply made another line in front of the actual line and cut in in front of absolutely everyone. And every single old person that would show up would prompt their derrières right in front of me.

Anyhow I got to the cinema and they were playing some trailers which made me kind of uncomfortable because there were only old people in that movie theater and the trailers were filled with sex. It’s like watching Game of Thrones with your parents. Trailers aside I really did like what the Royal Opera House came up with for this evening. Because in my very little experience, that was this one time I saw their new production of Les Troyens at the movie theater, it wasn’t very dynamic, there’d just be the opera and nothing playing during the intermissions. But this couldn’t have been more different.

They had this great montage with interviews with all of the singers and showed the rehearsal process and how Kasper Holten, the stage director, came up with the concept for this production. It was about 15 minutes long and it was really cool and very informative. Then we had our host for the evening, none other than the legendary Bryn Terfel! And he was such a great and charming host, as he filled everyone in with the story he also absolutely and completely charmed me. But the overture starts and YAY, it’s Mozart time!

Now I love Don Giovanni, it is hands down my favorite Mozart opera. So I almost know the whole thing by heart and let me tell you I was not disappointed at what I saw. The wonderful orchestra of the Royal Opera House took us away from reality with that astounding overture and before it was over the curtains went up. The set was very interesting, it was a construction with some stairs and some doors with two stories, very simple, all white but add to that some truly remarkable projections and you have magic. During the overture some names started appearing of the walls and later we find out that there were 2065 female names by the end of the overture projected on stage.

We see Leporello in front of a door on the second floor and he sings his mini aria complaining how the boss always gets all the fun and he, well, doesn’t. Leporello was played by Alex Esposito, I had never heard of him before but he gave a fine performance, very funny and very hands on in making this role physically believable. During his aria he took a chalk from his pocket and started writing ‘Anna’ on the door and there was this perfectly synchronized projection following his hand writing. VERY COOL.   

Don Giovanni opens the door quite literally zipping his pants up and Donna Anna follows him and she’s not the face of one who has been bedded against her will. And you know what? I truly prefer productions that portray Anna as a woman who was seduced and did have mind-blowing sex with Don Giovanni and now wants a second round or something. They flirt and kiss and this was turned into a very hot scene actually. The lady playing Anna, Malin Byström, was absolutely spectacular! She had this gorgeous darkish soprano voice that I would think was too heavy for Mozart but she proved me wrong and delivered vocal heavens! Plus she looked gorgeous!

Taking the role of the Don by storm was my personal favorite baritone for the job, Mariusz Kwiecien. Now you all know I’m a huge fan of Mariusz, apart from being a top notch performer he is one of the sweetest and nicest singers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting (and also one of the most attractive ones). He is just so good as the Don! He was my first Don Giovanni back in 2011 at the Met in HD. I do actually remember the first time I went to NYC going to Lincoln Center and seeing a picture of Mariusz as the Don and thinking “Holy shit, this man is perfection”. Anywho Anna’s dad arrives and kinda ruins the party, she flees. Don Giovanni kills him but again, I’ve seen so many endless versions of this opera all with different takes on how the Don feels about killing the Commendatore. The one I like the most was the one they actually used for this production, he kills the Commendatore but not because he wants to but because he has to and does not feel so great about it afterwards.

After that we have that funny recit to break the ice “Leporello, ove sei?” and the two men flee the scene of the crime. Then Anna arrives with her fiancé, Don Ottavio, the guy looked like he was barely 30, which I find kind of risky when it comes to this role. I’ve seen time and time again young tenors screeching this role thinking it’s right for them because “It’s Mozart!”. I actually had a pretty enlightening conversation about that with Gerry Finley (God bless his heart what a wonderful guy!) a couple of months ago and he pointed out that even though it’s easy to read the music it doesn’t mean that it’s easy to sing it. Well this guy looked young and VERY nervous (you would be too if you were being streamed live to all over the world from the stage of the ROH) but he managed to sound ok, although his nervousness blocked the whole character thing and all I could see was a nervous tenor singing the notes just right. But I’m not a very big fan of tenors as a rule so I might be picking on him too much because he’s the only one in the production for me to pick on.

Anna gave an absolute show during the duet, such a beautiful voice! Her type of voice is one of my favorite kinds of female voices, I cannot abide super light high sopranos (maybe just Diana Damrau, but she’s a lyric coloratura, right?). Also when Anna comes back she’s sporting this GORGEOUS black overdress that is, excuse the pun, to die for! Ottavio, looked a bit lost and Anna completely torn between processing her feelings towards her midnight stranger to acknowledging her father’s death.

After that my favorite character in Don Giovanni (and maybe one of my favorite characters in all opera) makes her first appearance. Véronique Gens was playing Donna Elvira, she looked kind of beat up and wet but since she was wearing a sort of rain coat I guess that’s what they were going for. I had never seen this singer before this production and I gathered she’s a mezzo since she was doing the mezzo version. Although her voice wasn’t as powerful as Anna’s she did make up for it with her amazing acting. And again this production read another character just the way I liked it, because some might treat her as a recent conquest of Don Giovanni who is still smitten with him but is able to overcome her feelings by act 2. This one is so not the case and I love it. One of my favorite moments in the first act is when Elvira realizes Giovanni is calling on her (“Signorina”) and she promptly replies “Don Giovanni! Sei qui, mostro, fellon, nido d’inganni!” and in normal productions she would either throw something his way or just hit him. But as this Elvira approached him with her insults it seemed as if his presence drugged her and right after she finished her recit she grabbed him and kissed him. SO COOL! I must confess I’m a fan of passionate stuff and passionate characters so there you go.

And as we all know she’s so taken with him to trust him again and off he goes away from her. Then we have one of my favorite arias that I actually know by heart and by the way by this point I was mouthing/singing softly along to everything. Damn I love this opera! The little book aria is just so hilarious and I love the way every singer who plays Leporello has their own special way of delivering it. Like Luca Pisaroni who is one of the best Leporellos ever has a very personal way of playing this character that is just so amazing. He’s already said that it is one of his favorite roles (if not THE favorite), he was also my first Leporello back in 2011. But Esposito did a fantastic job and I laughed as he stressed new things and used and abused of his acting chest to bring Leporello to life.

The couple sitting next to me would not stop talking, they were talking about the opera but still it was SO IRRITATING and their comments were SO ridiculous. At this point they were arguing that they thought Leporello was a part of Don Giovanni’s imagination, his conscious. They were basically saying that the Don was Pinocchio and that Leporello was Jiminy Cricket. Plus they saw that I was mouthing along so they started trying to guess the next lines based on the subtitles which was rather pathetic since A- that translation REALLY sucked and B- they clearly did not speak Italian, at all.

Anyway after they leave we are brought to Zerlina’s and Masetto’s wedding. Zerlina was played by Elisabeth Watts and Masetto by Dawid Kimberg and they looked so adorable together. Zerlina was much shorter than him but she had feisty air and Masetto was one of those big guys that really can't hurt a fly, kind of Ron Weasley, they looked so cute together.

Did I mention that the stage actually spins? And it’s so amazing how much change they can inflict by simply spinning and changing the lights. The Don spots the party and instantly has his eye set on the girl in the white dress, I think he must think it amusing to seduce a girl out of her engagement on the day of her wedding. Bet he has a special list for those, as well as for nuns. It’s cheerful party and as soon as Zerlina spots the Don she’s intrigued, I mean, who wouldn’t be with a guy that attractive undressing you with his eyes, especially when you have an over seized Ron Weasley for a fiancé.

Anyways, Don Giovanni invites everyone over to his place for a super duper party just so he can be alone with her Zerlina, you gotta give the guy credit for not measuring expenses in order to bang her. Of course Masetto won’t leave quietly and I think it’s so Amadeus Mozart the bit when he says “Faccia il nostro cavaliere cavaliera ancora te”, like he will ride you like a horse. Wow, ok, slow down cowgirl. Sorry about that, I just love the sexual connotations in this opera and they are so ALL over the place!

Then we have that recit followed by “La ci darem la mano” which was one of the first duets I ever sang (said every single female opera singer in the world). I love this duet and it can be done in so many ways and I have to say that again they brought out the exact take on it that I liked. Zerlina is not stupid and gullible, she knows what’s going on and the prospect of being married to a nobleman beats the love and care of peasant Ron Weasley, it just does. The duet was filled with soft touches and promises in part A but as soon as Zerlina cries “Andiam” it escalates real, real quickly and by the end he’s already lifting up her skirts.

And it would have totally happened if Donna Elvira hadn’t walked into them and started calling him names like a crazy person. I love it how the Don is not the least affected by her outburst and promptly makes up an excuse as to why she’s making such accusations that A- seem plausible and B- make Zerlina fell great about herself. What a freaking player, hun? And I know I’m getting a little bit out of production here but the last one they did with Joyce as Donna Elvira when she says “Io sono a tempo di salvar questa misera, innocente dal tuo barbaro artiglio” I just loved the way she said ‘misera’ and ‘innocente’ and the way she looks at Zerlina because she kind of spat it as if saying that Zerlina was everything but miserable and innocent. Gotta love Joyce!

Another small song I really like is “Fuggi il traditor”, Gens did pretty well and I particularly liked her coloratura they were very well treated. She leaves like the mad woman she is but is sure to take Zerlina along with her. The Don is starting to get uneasy about not being able to finish the deal with the peasant bride but his focus in quickly drawn to the couple Ottavio and Anna. Now this whole scene was done in the most interesting way, while Ottavio wasn’t looking the Don made sure he would hit on and flirt as much as he could with the very willing Anna. Very cool because Ottavio is so darn slow and boring in this production anyway. Well, he is slow and boring in most productions anyways.

After they’ve had their trio and the Don gives Anna one last hot kiss on her knuckles and departs. Now for her "Don'Ottavio, son morta" Donna Anna has a real interesting moment because only a moment ago she was quite willingly melting under Don Giovanni’s touch and all of the sudden she’s conflicted for the first time. She gives into her more lustful feeling leaving Ottavio with a ‘I pity you look’ while he wails away one of the most irritating songs ever.

I know, it’s Mozart, and I know its Don Giovanni aka my favorite Mozart opera, BUT, MA, "Dalla sua pace" irritates me thoroughly. Maybe it’s because since it’s a Mozart aria many tenors from my school thought it was ok for them to try and screech it and that kind of traumatized me. Maybe Mozart wrote this aria like this to really mess up with the tenor because it’s a very difficult piece. 

I say this because it wouldn’t be the first time that Wolfie did that, you know that great aria called Come Scoglio from Cosi Fan Tutte? Well, Wolfie wasn’t a big fan of the soprano who played Fiordiligi and he knew she had a habit of rising her head up for high notes and lowering it down for the low notes. That’s why he wrote phrases like "Far che cangi affetto il cor" like this: Far (in middle voice) che (one octave up) can (goes down again) gi (goes up again) affe (down) tto (up) il cor (normal). Just to see her make a fool of herself, and people still ask me why I love Mozart! The guy writes something to fuck up with someone and it still sounds like a goddamn master piece! Mozart is DA man!

Anyways, that’s why I find that A - Dalla sua Pace was created to haunt and torment tenors. This tenor in particular as I’ve said before appeared to sweat a lot and was very nervous. Adding to the fact that Ottavio is a total idiot and in this song you can hear how absolutely blind Ottavio is. Although that depends on the production, in this one he looks like a complete fool. And if I'm being totally honest here I don’t think this guy was old enough to be playing this character. There I’ve said it.

After that we go back to the Don who is kind of annoyed by the fact that he hasn’t gotten laid in the past… 8 maybe 12 hours. I do love this little exchange Leporello and the Don have of telling each other the news of what’s happened. They really did seem like best buddies in this production which I find quite good. They get each other and the Don knows that if he wants to get laid he’ll have to throw a party or something. Lucky for him there’s already one happening in his estate as he speaks! This next aria (commonly known as the Champagne Aria) is one of my personal favorites and many people’s favorite I guess. They did this AMAZING effect where the Don is standing in a doorway and the projections start appearing and spinning, it was quite impressive to see in the movie theater and I can only imagine it was even more striking in the opera house. Luckily, there’s a video!

After they leave we meet up with the soon to be married couple Masetto and Zerlina. And here she’s trying to apologize because she almost ditched him for a sexier, healthier and wittier dude. In this production Masetto is also kind of daft, a little slow and Zerlina who is quick and witty takes complete advantage of that to seduce him during her aria Batti, batti o bel Masetto. Although it’s a lovely tune I’ve grown quite tired of it because I’ve been singing it for what it seems like forever but what I think ruins it for me is the fact EVERY SINGLE SOPRANO IN THE PLANET sings this aria.

When she finishes the aria it’s all good until they hear the Don’s voice and she kind of freaks. He’s having the so talked about party! Interestingly enough in this scene in which the Don is supposed to make Zerlina feel ashamed she actually turns the tables around and trick him. I found that most refreshing for when the dance music starts and people start to dance Zerlina takes the Don up stairs. Then our good (slightly boring) trio of Avengers appears all masked up, Donna Anna, Donna Elvira and Don Ottavio, they plan to crash the party and expose the Don for what he truly is. They sing about it for about 5 minutes and I must confess that’s not one of the opera’s high lights for me. Leporello spots the trio of masquerades and invites them in, they come in and everything is running as the Don wants. Leporello is distracting Masetto, 99% of the party is drunk and Zerlina is heading upstairs with him with a malicious smile on her face. When she starts to take her clothes off the Don does believe he’s won the lottery until she cries “Gente, aiuto! Aiuto, gente!” and the Don is like “WTF?” and flees.

The boring trio takes this opportunity to reveal their true identity and starts throwing insults all over the place directed at the Don. But he is too clever and quickly grabs Leporello saying he was the one who was trying to have his way with Zerlina. At this point everyone is singing insults to the Don saying his mask has finally come off ,traditore, scellerato amongst other names are used and seeing that there’s no way out the Don flees.

End of act one. I didn’t comment more about the couple sitting a few chairs from me who insisted in talking throughout the whole thing but let me just make it clear that they wouldn’t shut it for a minute. People in the movie theater were quite mad. But anyhow, at intermission we had this wonderful interview with Kasper Holten and even more wonderful because Bryn was conducting it. It was really a shame that this wasn’t live because live stuff does give me butterflies in my stomach knowing that it’s happening at that moment but I guess I should be thankful that it had reached me somehow in Brazil, nonetheless in my home town.

The interview was again very fun and lighthearted. I do LOVE Kasper’s work and especially when he’s given the opportunity to work in a piece he truly LOVES like last year with Eugene Onegin that he did a masterpiece and now with Don Giovanni. You can see that the guy knows the piece inside out and has been thinking about each of those characters for years and now he’s given the chance to show his view and his take on the Don Juan masterpiece.

They took some questions from twitter and since it’s been almost two months I don’t really remember them. But I do remember one directed to Bryn asking if he would be tempted to play the Don if he did this production and he said “No”. But not because of the production but because he never felt he was the right person to play this role, he felt much more comfortable playing Leporello.

Well act two and I find myself another seat away from the talkative couple. But as soon as they start their chitchat this man turns around and raves at them to shut the fuck up. It was so glorious! I loved that man! Even though I heard him say, “Oh, I don’t know. I like this opera but I like operas that have more orchestra like La Traviata. This one has barely any orchestra” and “Oh yes, Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca are both from Russia”. I always say that if you don’t know stuff don’t say anything, you will sound STUPID.

Anyhow, this first part of the second act is one of my favorites! So the Don is now having to persuade Leporello to stick around but Leporello won’t have any of it. The Don then offers him some money and Leporello is quickly back to his side. But he does plead to the Don to “Purché lasciam le donne” (So long as we leave the women alone) and the Don’s response is one of my favorite line in the whole opera “Lasciar le donne! Pazzo! Lasciar le donne! Sai ch’elle per me son necessarie più pan che mangio, più dell’aria che spiro!” (Leave the women? Idiot! Leave the women! Don’t you know they are more necessary to me than the air that I breathe or the bread that I eat?) to which Leporello replies “E avete core d’ingannarle poi tutte?” (And still you deceive all of them?) and the Don simply says “È tutto amore. Chi a una sola è fedele verso l’altre è crudele: io, che in me ento sì esteso sentiment, vo’ bene a tutte quante: le donne poi, che calcolar non sanno, il mio buon natural chiamano inganno.” (I do it becaue I love them! Who is faithful to one is cruel to the others. I’m a man whose heart is so large that I love all of them, Women simply don’t understand me. They think that my natural generosity is some sort of deceit.)

And even though I laugh and go “son of a bitch” every time I hear that recit, I also get it. He is the kind of person that can’t really compromise to only one person and I get that because one of my best friends is just like that. She grows bored of having the same person and needs to constantly change, in today’s world that’s really ok, but back then things were more complicated. And the Don had to lie in order to get what he wanted, do you know how many girls he would have bedded if he’d been honest and said he only wanted to spend the night with them? A lot of women still but certainly not 2065. I know I might sound like a horrible person defending Don Giovanni but whatever, I don’t care!

Anyways, the Don now needs Leporello to pretend that he is in fact the Don to distract Donna Elvira while the actual Don seduces her chamber maid. This trio is truly hilarious, it consists in Leporello being out there dressed as the Don mouthing what the Don is saying to Donna Elvira and her in the balcony having an inner battle as to what to do, should I stay or should I go? I think the music written for this is so gorgeous. The clash between Donna Elvira’s melancholy doubts, the Don’s false declarations of affection and Leporello’s attempts to restrain his laugher is truly the work of genius. Mozart, God bless his heart!

One thing that did disappoint me a little bit was the recit right after this trio when Leporello pretends to be Don Giovanni to a very willing Donna Elvira. He hid more than he hit on her and that frustrated the scene for me a little bit because along with the trio it’s one of my favorite moments in the opera.

After Leporello and Donna Elvira leave the Don is alone by the balcony and starts to serenade. Seriously, if a guy like that ever sang “Deh viene alla finestra” to me I don’t even dare to think what I would do. It’s one of my favorite arias in this opera, my favorite for the Don DEFINETLY. It’s smooth and it’s full of promise and contained passion. And Mariusz is like utter perfection singing this, he IS the Don. Charm and charm and charm and you’re lost! What was most certainly unnecessary was that the chamber maid came down the stairs while he sang to her and at the end of the aria she took all her clothes off and was stark naked on stage. That did win some gasps from the audience and God why make the lady take her clothes off? Just to show how persuasive Don Giovanni can be? If she’s grabbed him and kissed him or made some sort of let’s do it gesture it would have sent the same message. I don’t know, I think that since this is set in Spain I just don’t see any Spanish woman doing that. Maybe the Italians would do that but not Spanish women, they are very proud and far too self-certain to have to resort to taking their clothes off to attract the attention of a gentleman. Italians are more careless in that matter and I don’t mean it in a bad way, what I mean is that Italians would have totally have been carried by the heat of the moment and take their clothes off like that in front of him on the street. But the Spanish women would have probably gestured for him to come up and THEN taken her clothes off.

Anyways as we all know the Don’s rondevu is cut short by the annoying Masetto and the naked girl is kept in the corner covering herself with her own dress. Anyways, the Don pretends to be Leporello and to be fighting for Masetto’s cause to kill the Don. But the moment he turns around the Don beats him up and flees. Zerlina finds her poor, poor, stupid fiancé and tell him he’ll make him feel better with her magic medicine (aka I’ll let you touch my boobs and I’ll kiss you wherever you want). Vedrai Carino is another lovely aria that I know back and forth and am oh of tired of listening to because everyone thinks it’ alright to sing it. But anyways…

Then we go back to Donna Elvira and Leporello who undoubtfully have been having their fun. But Leporello is quite tired of her and is eager to be free of her affections. This is one of those Mozart things that starts off as a duet, then another duet and before you know it it’s a huge sextet with complicated lines for everyone involved. And as more characters appear each one has a door and the projections come in a way as if they are all walking in hallways, it’s really quite amazing. You see as Leporello is trying to escape Masetto grabs hold of him and Donna Elvira starts to plead in his defense. But the other members of the sextet are not as forgiving and want “Don Giovanni” dead. Seeing no way out Leporello reveals his true identity to everyone’s surprise and to Donna Elvira’s misery. I do pity her, poor woman. Sometimes I’m even led to believe that she knew that it wasn’t Don Giovanni all along but living a little fantasy for a bit is better than sitting alone in her room. Well that really depends on the production.

After this fun sextet everybody comes at Leporello with fifteen hundred stones accusing him of doing the things the Don did as well as the other things the Don did discussed as Leporello, quite a lot of stuff. But Leporello wouldn’t be working for a man such as Don Giovanni if he wasn’t cunning and before you know it after uttering some confusing excuses he flees like the wind.

Then we go back to tenor terror. I’m sorry I might be sounding rather mean and the guy wasn’t all that bad but I felt he was not ready for this kind of job. Not ready for such a role in such a house in such circumstances. I’m not even gonna comment on the aria, let’s just skip that because that’s also not my favorite piece of music ever.

After that we do get some juicy singing from Donna Elvira and she did such a marvelous job. This aria is absolutely heart breaking, a woman clearly so in love with a man she knows will never feel the same for her. And still she loves him and seeks him, it’s very sad and when translated into music absolutely gorgeous. This is definitely one of those arias I would LOVE to sing.

When Donna Elvira leaves Leporello appears to meet Don Giovanni next to a cemetery. As they tell each other what’s happened they can hear a sinister voice coming from the graveyard. While Leporello wets his pants the Don is quite intrigued. In this production they have a bust of the Commendatore as the vessel from which he communicates with the Don in this scene. Even though Leporello is scared half to death he does as his master commands and invites the Commendatore for dinner in the behalf of his master. The Don isn’t half amused by all this and actually throws the bust from the second floor it comes apart in a million pieces on stage.    

On the original libretto the Don and Leporello leave so Donna Anna can come in and deliver her big aria. But in this most intriguing production the Don stays behind and watches the exchange between Anna and Ottavio. While Ottavio I trying to persuade her to think about their engagement Anna is resolute in not thinking in anything but her father’s death. But in this production it’s quite different because even though she’s indeed thinking about her father she’s also still pondering on her encounter with the Don. So after he shoos Ottavio away and starts singing her aria the Don appears and yet again wants to draw her near to him. But it is at this point that she realizes he is not what she needs, he is not what he wants. He was necessary for her to open up her eyes to see that there’s so much more out there and that she could make her choices herself. I find this one of the best interpretations of this aria/moment and yet this is the first time I’ve seen it used. And by the way, the singer was amazing. What a magnificent voice, she was simply DIVINE! She got quite an ovation and well deserved!

Finally last scene and we are back at the Don’s estate where he is dinning. We have that whole scene where he eats and Leporello is starving and he boasts at all life’s pleasures etc… Donna Elvira appears, she wants to give him another chance, she’s so in love but he’s rude and kind of an ass to her. And again, she can’t really change him because she feel for who he is, if he does change he will not be the man she feel for therefor she is condemned to suffer. She leaves just in time for the Commendatore to arrive. From the many, many interpretations of this scene that I’ve seen this has to be one of the best.

They don’t even come face to face, the Don is on ground floor while the Commendatore is right above him on the first floor. They have their exchange and Leporello pleads and pleads for his master to stop. The idea of this was that in this end the Don wouldn’t be sent to hell by a ginormous fireball but would go to his personal version of hell, to be alone. As the scene proceeds all the projections of names start to fade, Leporello leaves and even the Commendatore. At the end he is in hell, he is alone, nothing around him but plain white from the stage. He gets to his knees and cries out in the moment where he should be engulfed by the fires of hell but nothing happens and he is alone. He looks at the audience and you can see that this loneliness is worse than any other punishment for the man who has broken the hearts of 2065 women. The End!

Holy shit, that was the very BEST production of Don Giovanni I’ve ever seen! So incredible, the crowd went wild and I was delirious! It was really quite an experience. I love the ROH, after the Met it’s my favorite Opera House. Wow, this post is SO ENORMOUS! It took long enough to write I can tell you that. Well I’m gonna be off now, thanks for reading!  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

9 things you might not know about opera

Y’all know that I’m crazy about opera and have been very lucky to have seen some pretty major stuff. But sometimes we, both opera lovers and opera singers in the making, forget that our world is kinda far from most people’s reality. Let me explain myself a little better, since we are always in contact with people who have some knowledge about the art form or work with it sometimes we assume that people in general know things, but they don’t. And this is not a critique to those people, not at all. Why am I saying this? Well over the last couple of years I’ve successfully been turning my best friends into opera fans. And some of the questions they’ve asked I sincerely thought were common knowledge, but they’re not. So I decided to make a list of some of the main basic things I get asked about opera a lot along with some fun videos to illustrate.

1- Opera Singers do not use microphones when singing in an opera house. That question I get asked a lot, I remember I was chatting to a friend of a friend during the intermission of Don Giovanni and he was finding it hard to believe that the singers weren’t using microphones. So traditionally opera singers NEVER use microphones when performing an opera in an opera house or doing a recital in an opera house or in a concert hall. We are taught from a very early state that our most timid sounds have to be heard by the deafest of old ladies sitting way in the back of the house. Being heard without a microphone has a lot to do with the singer but also a lot to do with the space he’s performing in. Most opera houses and concert halls have been through meticulous acoustic treatment in order for the sound of the voice or any instrument to travel to every seat in the house. But of course there are exceptions, when doing outdoor concerts (like the famous concerts the Three Tenors did) one must use a microphone.

This is a video of one of the most famous opera singers nowadays, Anna Netrebko singing in an outdoor concert using a microphone but then ditching it. It’s pretty funny!

Another case singers might use a microphone is when the opera house is doing a recording or a live broadcast of the opera. But those microphones are used only to get the sound and transmit it through the radio or the movie theaters, it’s never used to enhance the size of the voice inside the opera house.

2 – There are subtitles available in every opera house nowadays. Many people come up to me and tell me they’d like to go to the opera but they fear they’d be bored because they don’t understand Italian/German/French. It came as an utter shock to me to realize that so many people did not know that opera houses do have the translations of the text available. Most houses have a thin screen way up above the stage where you can see the translations to what’s being said on stage on the language of the country you are in. The guys at the Metropolitan Opera House had a pretty hard time implementing that kind of gadget because their musical director, James Levine, simply said “Over my dead body there will be translations hanging on my stage” (I’m paraphrasing it, I don’t remember the exact words he said). So the Met invented an amazing translation system that is quite perfect for highly cosmopolitan cities like New York. So every seat has a digital screen in front of them, there you can choose whichever language you want for your subtitles, English, German or Spanish, or the language the opera is in (Italian, French, Russian and so on…). Or if you are a purist and don’t want subtitles you don’t even have to worry about glancing sideways and catching a glimpse of your neighbor’s subtitles because the screens are made for their content only to be seen from certain angles. So even if your neighbor is using his subtitles, you won’t be able to see them.

Another cool insight about the Met’s subtitles is that there are actually two people every single night who actually operate the subtitles system. So it’s not automatic, it’s hand operated in case they slow down the tempo or pick it up the subtitles will always accompany the opera to perfection!

3. Opera is not an unreachable art form fit only to the rich. I know most opera tickets can be pretty expensive, but not all of them. The Metropolitan Opera for instance has an amazing student ticket program that sells tickets to college students for really cheap prices. Plus there is the amazing Family Circle at the Met where prices vary from $40,00 to $2,00. Plus there are $10 rush tickets being sold at the Met on week days 10 minutes before the performances and that also happens at Carnegie Hall and I imagine happens in a lot of other houses.

Here in Brazil students and senior citizens pay half the price of the ticket to any opera performance or concert. And I gather there are many other opera houses who have special sales for tickets. It might seem as if I’m highlighting the Metropolitan Opera too much but that’s only because I have been there and know a lot about this particular house.

4. There can be as many stagings of the same opera as you can possibly imagine. Many people tend to think that opera productions run about just like musicals such as The Lion King, there is only one version of the staging and that’s the one that is done all over the world. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Both things couldn’t be more different. First of all in opera you don’t have to buy the rights to the music since the work becomes public domain after 100 years of the death of the author (which is the case of most of the standard repertoire). In opera the stage director can come up with whatever concept of costumes, when and where it is going to be set, sets and even the singer’s interpretation as he wishes, the sky is the limit. What cannot be changed under ANY circumstance is the music. In opera you can’t change anything about the music, not even a single note, the music is always the same, immortal. Same goes for the lyrics.

There’s a pretty funny story about a musical theater stage director who went to direct his first opera at the Met last year. He was in a technical stage rehearsal along with his creative team and the musical director and his team. And turned out that there wasn’t enough instrumental music to cover his set change and so he turned to the conductor and said “Just double the measures then” and there was a silent gasp and dead silence as the entire Met Opera stared daggers at him in horror. The opera in this case was Verdi’s Rigoletto one of the most traditional pieces in the opera repertoire so you can’t just double the measures. This production however was quite good, it was set in Las Vegas, take a look at the video bellow.

5. Some girls play boys. This is another thing I thought in my imagination that was common knowledge, our famous trouser roles. Trouser roles (or pants roles) is a term used to talk about male roles that have been written for the female voice. Most of the time mezzo sopranos sing this kind of role, they are usually young man and sometimes very naïve but most of the time very true of heart (with the exception of Nero of Rome I guess). These roles can also be taken by counter tenors, those are guys who sing with a ladies’ voice. But what is really great about trouser roles, apart from all the incredible musical effects that are brought to the table, is the amazing ability of the female singers to convincingly play men and make us forget for a while that they are actually women.


These are all ladies playing guys, way above we have Sarah Connolly as Octavian in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier, then Vesselina Kasarova as Sesto in Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, the Joyce DiDonato as Cherubino in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro and finally Alice Coote as Nero in La Incoronazzione di Poppea 

My little sister is a cosplayer and she’s done her fair share of male cosplays. I showed her these two clips bellow and she didn’t realize that they were women until I told her. The clip bellow is of Sarah Connolly as Giulio Cesare in Handel’s Giulio Cesare. 

6. To become an opera singer people have to study up to 10 years before hitting the stage. People have this delusional notion that a singer has a natural gift and just sings their heart out without much preparation. The natural gift thing is great if you are lucky enough to have it, but in being an opera singer that counts as 5% of the package. Opera singers need to be excellent musicians, after all we are dealing with the greatest composers of all time, you simply cannot have a singer who can’t read music or accompany a musical score. Learn languages, in opera the pronunciation is paramount, sometimes if your pronunciation isn’t up to the standards you can get fired. Opera singers also need to be outstanding actors because they are, after all, acting on a stage just like in a play. And most importantly a singer must practice, just like an athlete, every single day. That’s why some people say that opera is the equivalent of the Olympics of singing, because it’s hard and it’s so NOT about just having a pretty voice and a God given gift.

There’s this wonderful quote by Joan Sutherland that I think says it all “One is just given a talent, and it’s one’s duty to make the most of it”. Being an opera singer is real hard work all the time, even after you start your career. Especially after you start your career!

7. There are operas being composed as we speak! People seem to associate “opera” with “old” and true, most of the operas being done nowadays are by composers like Puccini, Verdi and Mozart who have left this world quite a while ago. But there are also living breathing composers who are getting their works performed in big time opera houses today.

For instance, we have the amazing “Dead Man Walking” by Jake Heggie which tells the story of a nun who decides to become the confessor of a man on death row. You think that name sounds familiar? It’s because it’s based on the true story of sister Helen, who wrote a book about it and also had her story told in an Academy Award winning movie back in the 90’s. Plus the music is so gorgeous, Jake Heggie is a fantastic composer with the most gorgeous sense of singing line that always keeps us on the edge of our seats. Here’s a little musical treat from this opera.

Another modern opera that has just last year had her North America debut is Nico Muhly’s “Two Boys”. It’s also based on a true story that happened a little over 10 years ago. It’s an opera about the dangers of the internet chat rooms and what can happen if you get sucked in. It’s a mystery story, sort of a detective story about a 16 year old boy found in a crime scene soaked with blood of a 12 year old dead boy. As the opera unfolds you learn how the boy was utterly manipulated by people at chat rooms to do something completely out of character, like murder. It’s pretty cool. 

8 – Forget about stereotypes most professional opera singers are just like you and me. For me the two worst images that are sold of an opera singer are that they are unhealthy overweight people that just “park and bark” (stand and sing) and that they are arrogant and won’t give anyone the time of day. Things have changed so much! There was a time when singers were not required to look the part and sometimes not even to act so much, all that was important was the sound. But nowadays with all the major changes people have been through the public wants more. The sound still has to be beautiful but they also want a Violetta (the heroin of La Traviata) who looks like a courtesan who has pneumonia. As the world changes so does opera, now we have High Definition cameras pointing at the faces of our singers being transmitted live all across the globe, changes had to be made, and they were.

Take opera singer Lisette Oropesa for instance, she’s a young soprano with a very fantastic career who sings at the Met all the time. She’s also a runner, if I’m not mistaken she runs every day. Once she sang the National Anthem at the opening of a marathon and then ran it!

This picture is a clear example of how amazing and receptive opera singers can be. It's a picture of one of the greatest opera singers nowadays, Joyce DiDonato, with a bunch of friends of mine who adore opera after her performance in La Cenerentola at the Met last month
As for the singer’s attitude, I’m not saying that all of the singers are nice. But in my experience I’ve only had great things to say about the way opera singers have treated me. Almost all of them were truly interested in what I had to say and I actually got to talk a lot to them. They are flesh and bone people who, if they are not too tired or late, love to hear feedback so fresh out of the performance.

9 – You can experience operas from all over the world with one click. Many opera houses like the Royal Opera House in London and the Metropolitan Opera are streaming live their operas at the movie theaters. Other opera houses like Glyndebourne and the Vienna State Opera stream their opera online, and those streams are most of the time completely free of charge.

There are also SEVERAL radio transmissions from operas from all over the world. I remember I was quite happy to have been able to hear Cendrillon from Barcelona in the beginning of this year through the radio station website. And also to hear my utmost favorite Tosca (Sondra Radvanovsky) sing the role live through the radio several times during Christmas time.

Opera houses all over the world have been making an extra effort to reach out to people by joining social networks such as Facebook, twitter, Youtube and even Tumblr. For instance the Met did a cocktail competition for the opening of the 2012/2013 season through Facebook. You had to make up a cocktail and the most voted would get first rate tickets to see L’Elisir D’Amore. And the Royal Opera House just did a stage director’s diaries series with their artistic director Kasper Holten about their new Don Giovanni production, it’s got 11 or so videos of Kasper filmed throughout the process of rehearsals until opening night. Another great thing the ROH did just about a year ago was have an entire day being streamed live online of everything that happens at the opera house, stage rehearsals, master classes, scene rehearsals, orchestra rehearsals, classes, the works!

rehearsals of ROH's Don Giovanni

You see? We’re not so different you and me! So give opera a chance, I’m sure you’ll love it!

Cheers people!