ANOTHER SEASON OF AMPED UP!

We're getting ready for Season 2 of AMPED UP!  

This season includes conversations with some of your returning favorite guests including Diana Soviero and Bernard Uzan.  This season we also look at the people who literally make opera from the ground up- composers Jorge Martin and Tom Cipullo in addition to discussions of your favorite operas, and perhaps a few that might be new to you.

Don't miss an episode by becoming a HAPPY AMPER!, or subscribe on iTUNES, STITCHER or PODCAST REPUBLIC!

SEASON ONE THANK YOU!

THANK YOU to the thousands of listeners who have enjoyed our inaugural season of AMPED UP OPERA this Spring.  Our first episode featuring the stunning soprano Diana Soviero reached about 300 people.  By the time we published our 12th episode featuring baritone Mark Walters, over 3,700 people were enjoying our broadcasts, in 12 countries. This has been an overwhelming response and we're sincerely grateful for your interest.  

We definitely think of this as your podcast, too.  Please continue to send us story ideas and offer your comments on our work!  We've learned a lot through our inaugural season and can't wait to make some minor changes and introduce some new content.  Thank you for being Happy Ampers and for your support of our efforts!

Now go experience some opera!

DOUGLAS KINNEY FROST

Seth Carico AMPS UP

Seth Carico is in our HAPPY AMPER SPOTLIGHT!  
As Leporello in the recent DON GIOVANNI at Deutsche Oper Berlin, he offers insight into Mozart's infamous character as a guest blogger for AMPED UP OPERA.  
You can read his thoughts on DON GIOVANNI by scrolling down, or CLICKING HERE.

BASS-BARITONE SETH CARICO IS IN OUR HAPPY AMPER SPOTLIGHT!

BASS-BARITONE SETH CARICO IS IN OUR HAPPY AMPER SPOTLIGHT!

With a reputation for electrifying performances, Seth personifies the exact kind of artist that Amps Up opera.  We asked this Southern gentleman, 
who now resides in Berlin,
four questions to usher in, or subdue, the Apocalypse.

AU:  WHAT'S THE MOST OUTLANDISH STAGE DIRECTION YOU'VE EVER RECEIVED, AND DID YOU DO IT???
SC: I actually think the most ridiculous thing I've done onstage so far was in our production of Don Giovanni at Deutsche Oper Berlin. At Zerlina and Masetto's wedding party, when we enter to disturb the celebration, Giovanni goes to Zerlina, who is hoisted on the shoulders of chorus members. He begins to slowly caress her leg, and then he takes her shoe and throws it over his shoulder, where I am waiting with the big, black trash bag that contains all of Giovanni's mementos from his conquests. I catch the shoe in the bag, and then I proceed to climb inside the bag with the shoe and masturbate furiously throughout the next few lines of recitative (imagine the sound of the slapping plastic of the trash bag)! I then deposit the bag offstage right and bring a tattooed girl wearing nothing but a thong, platform heels, a ball gag, and whose arms and chest are wrapped tightly in plastic wrap back onstage with me. I proceed to hump her violently, leading up to Giovanni's line asking what I'm doing. You know, offering protection! I definitely did do this because in the context of this production, it makes perfect sense, and actually, it really is quite consistent with the original piece as well. Our production works very hard to bring out the conflict between what Giovanni forces Leporello to do and what Leporello is acutally comfortable with. In this case, he is expected to do this, and the extremity of the acts does a great job of highlighting both Giovanni's depravity and Leporello's impotence as a person.

AU: IF YOU COULD ASK MOZART ONE QUESTION, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
SC: I think my question to Mozart would be more of a request. I would ask if he wouldn't mind telling all the old-fashioned "traditionalists" to remember that he was very much, in fact, a modernist himself, and that if he were alive today, he would be thrilled with the inventive things being done with his work!

AU:  WHAT IS THE BEST AND WORST THING ABOUT LIVING IN BERLIN?
SC:The best thing about living in Berlin is that no matter who you are, no matter what time of day it is, you can always find what you want out of this city. Other cities have a lot going on, but there really is no place on earth that has the depth of cultural appeal that Berlin has. The worst thing about living in Berlin is that it is so damned flat. I'm a mountain boy at heart, and it gets pretty hard sometimes to live without a more diverse terrain.

AU: IS THERE A ROLE FOR ANOTHER VOICE TYPE (AND/OR GENDER) YOU WISH YOU COULD PERFORM?
SC: There are actually a few roles I wish I could perform. I'd have to go with Captain Vere (Billy Budd), Elektra, Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro), Peter Grimes, and maybe Joanne in Company!

Learn more about Seth by checking out his website: www.sethcarico.com. And be sure to click on his NEW BLOG while you're there. 

And scroll below as SETH CARICO TELLS IT LIKE IT IS!

Seth Carico: Tells it like it is

Bass-baritone Seth Carico is one of the world's most complete artists.  His work defines an integrity of performance that rocks opera houses across the globe.  This Chattanooga mountain boy lives in Berlin.

Seth Carico, bass-baritone.

Seth Carico, bass-baritone.

His repertoire is vast, and his portrayals are memorable. He's added a number of fierce roles in recent seasons at Deutsche Oper Berlin, including Don G's henchman, Leporello. 

In AMPED UP's exploration of Mozart's infamous Don we asked Seth for his thoughts on one of opera's most underestimated characters.

SC:    Don Giovanni is a sociopath. Not in a sexy operatic way, but in a nihilistic, borderline suicidal way. This is a man who has experienced everything, but I believe he has never actually derived any pleasure from these experiences. He is going through the motions of the part he is playing in society. 

There is a reason serial killers can be so prolific. They are charming, and they have a unique skill at pretending to be the person everyone wants them to be. That is the case with Giovanni. He doesn't enjoy anything. Everything in life is empty for him, but he knows that viewpoint will get him nowhere in the public eye, so he plays the part of the libertine. He is trying to fill that emptiness, and that is why he sleeps with so many women. We can argue that pleasure is the driving force, and he is doing all these things purely because he enjoys them, but I don't think that argument even comes close to explaining such an overwhelming appetite. 

Nobody would do these things to such an absurd degree and still enjoy them, so why would he continue to push himself past the point of pleasure? He is completely empty and cold inside, and he is trying to find whatever he can to make him feel something, anything. He shoves food and drink in his mouth in the last scene, and I think he finds some kind of enjoyment in the sickness that comes after his overconsumption, since that pain somehow triggers endorphins in his brain, the only sensation he can latch on to. If he actually cared about anything, he would probably be directly suicidal, but his complete lack of emotion prevents him from taking his own life. 

He has attempted every possible experience but one, and now for the first time, he crosses that line and takes the life of another person. There is a switch that flips in his brain at that point, right in the first scene in the opera, and all the events that come after are a part of his endgame. He has given up on the pretense of being a functioning member of the human race, and he is embracing his sociopathic drive to end the emptiness within him. But yet again, since he is incapable of ending the pain at his own hand, he his racing through the city in a mad dash, trying to provoke whomever he can to end it all for him. 

We have a tendency, based I think on old fashioned thinking, to want to make him a sympathetic character. "Oh, that roguish, handsome womanizer," we want to say, in order to enjoy the performance of a dashing baritone in a beautiful costume, but for me we shouldn't have sympathy for this character. In my ideal view of him, he will be so repellant, the audience wants his terror spree to be over as fast as possible. There should be a large element of discomfort involved for those watching the story play out. 

SETH CARICO AS LEPORELLO IN DEUTSCHE OPER BERLIN'S DON GIOVANNI.

SETH CARICO AS LEPORELLO IN DEUTSCHE OPER BERLIN'S DON GIOVANNI.

Actually, I don't really feel sympathy for any of the characters. The other noble characters in the story are all representations of some of the worst elements of their level in society. Donna Anna is the spoiled child who cannot deal with the fact that she is, for once in her life, not getting her way. Don Ottavio is so narcissistic, he is completely incapable of acting, due to his unwillingness to risk cracks in his public perception. On a side note, I heard once about a performance in a school somewhere in which Ottavio sang "Il mio tesoro" looking at himself in a hand mirror. I loved that idea! Anyway, the lower class characters are no better. Zerlina's character flaws are pretty obvious. Haha. Masetto is jealousy and unchecked masculine anger personified. 

I could write a hundred pages about Leporello, especially since his is the character I prefer to play, but he takes his personal identity from those around him, rather than having the courage to be himself. 

Actually, now that I think about it, I said there are no sympathetic characters, but Donna Elvira may just be the only one. She is a true victim, unlike all the others, and she is desperately trying to right the wrongs done to her, but the society she lives in will not allow it. That's why she is often viewed as such a ridiculous, funny character. The "normal" world that exists in this story is so absurd, that the truly normal behavior displayed by Elvira is now viewed as absurd. Anyway, I've gone on way too long, and I could go on a lot longer, but I'll leave you here, and I look forward to hearing how crazy people think I am for applying such a dark view to these characters. I know we really like the idea of dashing, sexy Giovanni, but we've seen it a million times. Let's try something a little more honest :)

For more information on this talented singer, check out his website www.sethcarico.com.  And don't hesitate to read his NEW blog:  www.sethcarico.com/blog.

 

Episode 12, Mark Walters- When Good Baritones Go Bad

Baritone Mark Walters explores the dark side through Mozart's infamous Don Giovanni. In this interview with DKF he reveals secrets to his interpretation of this role and others in his vast repertoire.   He offers advice for making every performance better than the last.  

SHOW NOTES: Mark Walters- When good baritones go bad, AUO Episode 12

Mark Walters embracing one of his mentors, the legendary Sherrill Milnes.

Mark Walters embracing one of his mentors, the legendary Sherrill Milnes.

I’m so glad to call baritone Mark Walters a friend and a colleague.  He brings to each project a generosity that makes me excited to go to rehearsal.   He is one of the finest interpreters of the role of Don Giovanni, and in this interview he talks about making this role his own.  

One of the many admirable traits he exudes is a sense of gratitude for the people who have inspired and assisted him in his career pursuits.  In this episode he credits legendary artist Sherrill Milnes, who defined how a great baritone pursues his craft. That fact that Mr. Milnes is an American was particularly inspiring to Mark.  Luckily, Mr. Milnes is a well-recorded talent. I highly recommend a visit to his website www.sherrillmilnes.com.  Not only has he given the world memorable performances, but he happily assists emerging artists with the skills and inspiration they need to focus their talent.

Mark is well-represented through his website and on youtube.  I highly recommend you spend some time listening and watching this fine talent.  You can find his website by going to www.markwaltersbaritone.com.

If you can catch Mark in performance, you will be rewarded with a wonderful treat! 

MUSICAL PLAYLIST:

  1. I open and close every episode with the overture to CARMEN.  It’s an infusion of energy I crave.
  2. This is Mozart’s overture to DON GIOVANNI.  This music was taken from the finale of the opera and turned into an overture the very day of the premiere.
  3. This is Mark singing Giovanni’s famous serenade ‘Deh vieni alla finestra’.  Sorry, but this recording is not commercially available.  He is kind enough to allow us to listen to it on his website, however.
  4. A nod to Mark’s mentor, baritone Sherrill Milnes singing Giovanni’s ruthless aria ‘Fin ch’an dal vino’.  This is from a powerful recording conducted by Karl Böhm, with Mr. Milnes in the title role.  It is an excellent choice for complete opera library.  You can download it on iTunes by clicking here.

SHOW NOTES: Diana Soviero on MADAMA BUTTERFLY

Diana Soviero, as Cio-cio San.

Diana Soviero, as Cio-cio San.

So honored to have the legendary soprano Diana Soviero return to AMPED UP.  She is innately a wonderful artist, and I have such respect for the meticulous way she practices her craft.  

She made the role of Cio-cio San one of her most important interpretations. She was dedicated to it for decades.  Think of the experience her hundreds of performances banked.  And now, she spends her professional life sharing her path with others.  Her selfless generosity is so humbling.

In this episode she talks about her personal connection to Puccini, and how she carefully engineered the role.  She also details how Cio-cio San relates to other significant characters.  Here is a quick review:
*GORO- the marriage broker who connects this geisha to the visiting American sailor, Pinkerton;
*YAMADORI- a wealthy Japanese prince who is willing to marry Cio-cio San, in spite of her dedication to Pinkerton;
*SHARPLESS-  the American consul to Nagasaki who advises Pinkerton to be cautious with the young Butterfly’s emotions, and must deliver the news of the sailor’s infamous return;
*KATE PINKERTON- Pinkerton returns with his American wife to take the child of Pinkerton and Cio-cio San back to the states.

Another point we touch on in this episode is the completely FAILURE the opera was at its premiere.  It is a wonderful story I intend to share with you in its own episode. Its only a great story knowing how meaningful the work is to opera lovers across the world. This really is an amazing opera.  I have conducted it more times than any other work.  You can expect many more episodes about this emotional score!

MUSICAL PLAYLIST:

There are two arias I feature from an album Diana made with the very fine conductor Joseph Rescigno.  The first is the most famous aria from the opera, "Un bel di vedremo", and the aria that punctuates the finale of the opera, "Tu, tu, tu!".  This is a wonderful album you can find on iTunes by clicking here

There are two additional excerpts from the opera I feature in this episode.  The first is the breathtaking 'Humming Chorus' and the second is the entrance of Prince Yamadori in Act II.  Perhaps these are my two favorite musical moments in the opera. Perhaps....

SHOW NOTES: Tracking the elusive bel canto tenor

We're tracking the elusive bel canto tenor in this week's podcast episode. They are rare and elusive creatures, I promise!  In this podcast I advise you to track them down, and when you find one, never let it go.  They are unique, indeed.

Its very hard to find tenors who are comfortable singing in the musical stratosphere, with a beautifully lyric sound, while being charming on stage.  The bel canto repertoire sounds effortless from a voice blessed and trained to sing it, but I promise you each role is a marathon of singing.

I warn you, I did download a bunch of sound effects that inspired my safari approach to this topic. I promise I used them sparingly, and I hope you’ll find it in the spirit of fun it is intended.

This episode offers an array of some fantastic singing, from some of the world’s finest interpreters of this repertoire.  I highly recommend you track down these gems!

MUSICAL PLAYLIST FROM THIS EPISODE:

The William Tell Overture by Rossini was not originally written to accompany the Lone Ranger television show.  I think its a festive start to any occasion. There are several great recordings of this piece. 

This is the famed 'Una furtiva lagrim'a, by Donizetti from L’ELISIR D’AMORE sung by the incomparable Luciano Pavarotti. You should download this one to your library!

This feat of operatic singing is the final aria for Count Almaviva in Rossini’s IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA. It is called 'Cessa di piu resistere'.  It is often cut from productions because it is so difficult.  I don’t really know many tenors who can pull it off.  Here is Juan Diego Florez demonstrating how it really should go.

Another clip from Mr. Florez, who absolutely shines in this repertoire.  This is part of Tonio’s aria 'Ah mes amis!' from Donizetti’s LA FILLE AU REGIMENT.  This is the final part of the aria where the infamous nine high c’s are required.  Whew!

'Povero Ernesto', from DON PASQUALE is a true masterpiece when sung well.  This is from one of my favorite recordings of the work.  The tenor is Aldo Bertolo. 

No one sings 'Fra poco a the verrà' from LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR by Donizetti like Luciano Pavarotti.  Amazing voice.  Amazing performance lead by Richard Bonynge.

SHOW NOTES: Pranking Pasquale, AUO Episode 9

Steven Condy offers a lovable, and updated DON PASQUALE.  Check out the HAPPY AMPER SPOTLIGHT for a look into the work of this talented artist.

Steven Condy offers a lovable, and updated DON PASQUALE.  Check out the HAPPY AMPER SPOTLIGHT for a look into the work of this talented artist.

I started the Make it or Break it series to highlight the operatic repertoire in a realistic way in a 20-minute podcast.  In this episode I introduce three moments in Donizetti’s DON PASQUALE that must be treated sensitively in order for you to be reeled-in to the drama. Drama that is inherent to the inspired writing of the composer.

That being said, the plots of these bel canto operas share a common characteristic with the operettas of the time- they don’t really matter! Its about the mayhem along the way that matters.  And in the case of the bel canto period operas- all about the human singing voice to take us through the drama!

The plot of DON PASQUALE is obvious and simple.  It requires several leaps of logic- a Clark Kent/Superman secret identity twist, blind faith from those swept into the zaniness, and a resolution to two hours of drama in about 20 seconds.  Is there anything more engaging than enemies becoming friends in a matter of seconds because we’ve run out of plot twists...?  But if the performance is inspired, you couldn’t care less. 

MUSICAL PLAYLIST

All of the excerpts I use in this podcast are from a recording headlined by the incomparable Alessandro Corbelli.  Every time I work with him I marvel at his compelling singing and perfect comedic timing.  CLICK HERE TO FIND THE RECORDING ON ITUNES!   

There is no question that opera starts with great text set to great music, but to truly take in a comedy with this many opportunities for mugging, I strongly recommend WATCHING in addition to LISTENING to DON PASQUALE.  Here is a link to a Youtube video that offers a wonderful return for your investment of time. It’s from Zurich, a traditional production, and features a SUPERB cast.  CHECK IT OUT! 

Steven Condy- The funniest man in Opera!

The comic genius of Steven Condy has given opera audiences belly aches from laughter in all the major buffo roles.  His comic timing is perfect. And his creativity for crafting an impromptu joke has
caused more than one pause in a rehearsal process so everyone can recover from uncontrollable laughter. 

Steven Condy is in this month's
HAPPY AMPER SPOTLIGHT!

This week's AMPED UP OPERA PODCAST focusses on Donizetti's sparkling DON PASQUALE.  The title role is a calling card for Steven, who has delighted audiences in many opera houses with his portrayal of this lovable oaf. AMPED UP invited to Steven to share an anecdote
about a production of this opera, and to provide us with an inside look at this very crafty artist.
 

From Mr. Condy:
I sang the role of Don Pasquale for the first time in 1995. (It’s hard to believe I’ve been living with this character for over 20 years!)  I don’t remember a lot about the production.  Since the company that produced it no longer exists, I think I can share this funny story.  The company was run by a very wealthy megalomaniac.  He had his finger on every aspect of the production.  Besides being the artistic director, he was also the conductor.  While there was a stage director, I remember that a lot of the stage direction kept changing because he didn’t like it.  It was very clear that he was doing this for his own status in society and with the wealthy friends who came to see him.  His picture was up all over town.  It was like, “Don Pasquale: starring THE CONDUCTOR.” 

 
So we get to the performance.  It was an old theater that didn’t have a lot of dressing rooms.  I think there were 4 rooms.  Our Maestro took dressing room #1 – the largest one by far and the one closest to the stage.  There was a room that was closer to the orchestra pit, but apparently that one was too small.  They made that one the stage managers office.  I had room #2 as the title character but half the size of #1.  Poor Norina was in room #3, but it was even smaller than mine and it was the farthest from the stage.  She had these major costume changes and there wasn’t enough room for the dresses.  I offered that wardrobe switch the rooms, but they said it wouldn’t make that much of a difference.  So, in my too-often-loud, New Yorker style, I voiced my displeasure that it had to be this way; “[The conductor] doesn’t need that big room.  He puts on a tux and isn’t even there until intermission.  This is wrong.”  Because he was such a megalomaniac, word got back to him of my displeasure.  I was in make-up during intermission.
 
He comes in and says, “I understand your upset about not having the largest dressing room.” 
“No,” I said, “I just think that it would be easier for us if you took one of the smaller rooms.” 
“Well, this is the room I use.  I need it.” 
“For what,” asked I, the big mouth?
He was now clearly angry with me.  “It’s important that I have the large room.”
“But you only have a tux and you’re not there for the whole show.”
In full voice, he yells, “I’m sorry you can’t have the largest room, but I need to room to entertain patrons after the performance!”
And in my take-no-prisoners mentality, “It’s not for me!  I couldn’t care less.  I have two costumes!  But [Norina] is stuffed into that room and has to go into the hallway to put her shoes on.  Perhaps you should consider what we have to do on stage instead of entertaining your friends!”
“I’m the artistic director and I need to have that room!”
 
Needless to say, I never went back to that company.  BUT, the company is gone and I’m still here!  For the record, it was NOT Douglas Kinney Frost!
 
After 20 years, I’ve been in smaller dressing rooms and had much better experiences.  And, I’ve gotten much better at controlling my mouth.  All of the energy I expelled in righteous indignation I’ve redirected into speed of singing patter.

Here is a charming look at Mr. Condy on and off the stage:   

AU:  What is the secret to making great comedy?                                                            
SC:   For me, sometimes there's nothing more funny than real life.  We all know those people who are completely crazy, but they take themselves very seriously.  I try to play characters as real as possible.  Pasquale genuinely believes that he can become a great ladies man and father a half-dozen children even though he is 70 years old and has probably never even dated a woman.  

AU:  What does the phrase "play Misty for me" mean in your house?
SC:  It means this!  This is our dog Misty.  She's a long-haired Dachshund.

AU:  You've been married to soprano Robin Condy Massie for 24 years.  What's the secret to a happy, healthy relationship, especially with the amount of travel your careers demand?
SC:  First you find the greatest, sweetest, most loving person in the world.  Then you marry her. :-) For us, our Christian faith is very important.  It keeps us focused on the things that are most important.  We try to always remember the word "love" is a verb not a noun.  It's not the ooey-gooey, romantic, passionate feelings. Love is a choice. Everyday (sometimes several times per day) we have to say to ourselves, "I CHOOSE to love my spouse." We don't always LIKE each other, but we always love each other by choice.  Then there's my mother's wisdom: "I never go to sleep angry. I just stay up and plot my revenge." (She was joking of course - she and my father will be married for 59 years on April 12!

AU:  If your smartphone could only play one selection, what would it be?
SC:  If my smartphone could only play one
selection, it wouldn't be very smart, now would it? But if I had to choose, it would be either "Be Still and Know" by Steven Curtis Chapman or "New York State of Mind" by Billy Joel.

AU:  Is there a role you'd love to perform that has not been a part of your repertoire, yet?
SC:  I would like to try Rigoletto someday.

You can learn more about this comedy champion through his website:  www.steven.condymassie.com.  The gallery photos alone will make you smile!

SHOW NOTES: Powerhouse Bel Canto

The bel canto period of opera offers a wonderful experience for people who love the honesty and fragility of the human singing voice.  There are many interesting attributes to how opera was produced during this golden age of opera.  But the singing from the period was the most important element in producing and certainly composing opera.

In this episode I’m featuring parts of an interview including soprano Joan Sutherland, mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, tenor Luciano Pavarotti, lead by conductor Richard Bonynge. They are a powerhouse quartet of bel canto. The first time I worked with Maestro Bonynge he told me of this interview, and I listened to it dozens of times before assisting him on a bel canto opera.  The quartet discusses the elements of the bel canto technique, and offers immediate examples through the discussion. 

Maestro Bonynge refers to the infamous castrati.  This is a very uncomfortable but fascinating topic.  The point to reference it is because the sound the male voice makes when denied hormones influenced the defining aesthetic quality of sound from this time period.  Without giving you the gory details, of which there are many,  I HIGHLY recommend you watch a fascinating BBC film called CASTRATO.  On YouTube the documentary is broken into six parts.  Here is a link to the first part, from which you can easily find the remaining five.

One interesting concept introduced by Luciano, is the strict influence his father had on his training.  Marilyn had a similar experience with her father.  And Joan’s mother was her primary teacher for quite a while.  I hear this often from great singers.  Not just the support every artist needs from home, but a true hands-on approach from parents in the training of singers.

What is particularly interesting to me about this genealogy, is that in the day of the castrati through the bel canto period, and even in the great choir schools of today, the training for young singers is almost a full-time job.  The training includes/included several hours of singing with a voice teacher, and hours of musical study on theory and keyboard, among other elements.

Another fascinating documentary talks about the rise of mezzo-soprano Cecelia Bartoli who is an ideal example of a true bel canto artist.  In this documentary there is film footage of her daily voice lessons with her mother.  I love finding consistencies among many great artists. Here is a link to this look into Ms. Bartoli’s work.

If you would like to see the video of the interview we’ve featured in this episode of AMPED UP, featuring this historic quartet of bel canto wisdom and talent, you can find the first of two clips through this link on YouTube.

MUSICAL EXCERPTS

At the beginning of the episode you hear ‘Ah non giunge’ from LA SONNAMBULA by Bellini.  This recording shows Ms. Sutherland at her best.  Here is a link to find it on iTunes.

The episode closes with Ms. Horne singing ‘Cruda Sorte’ from L’ITALIANA IN ALGIERI by Rossini.  The ease with which she navigates these difficult passages has always impressed me.  What a gift she is!  Here is a link to this recording on iTunes.

SHOW NOTES: Bernard Uzan on ROMEO ET JULIETTE, AUO Episode 7

If you listened to Amped Up Episode 4, you already know the wisdom of Bernard Uzan.  He is one of the most thoughtful directors working in opera today. In this episode we talk about the challenges in creating Gounod’s epic operatic version of Romeo and Juliet.

The first characteristic that comes to nearly everyone’s mind when you mention those names, together or separate, after ‘love’ (let’s hope), is ‘youth’.  The mere mention of their names comes with an iconic image of youth, innocence and love.  One major challenge with the opera, which Bernard addresses, is the fact that the music for the two lovers is far beyond the years of young teenagers, and the vocal requirements of the roles preclude casting teenagers to sing it.  

In this episode we bring up an issue that is part of the search for identity for American opera right now.  Pop culture entertainment- Hollywood and Broadway- would never hire, say, George Clooney or Julianne Moore for those roles, now, because they’re ‘too old’ by pop culture standards, regardless of their acclaimed acting skills.  Opera competes for entertainment dollars with both of those mediums.  Does that mean opera should adopt the same hiring practices?

A recent round of social media comments criticized an opera company for producing a casting ad asking for ‘young, attractive singers’.   There were many singers who openly challenged, saying opera should resist the path of pop culture and feature only the best musical artist regardless of ‘attractiveness’.  Bernard and I discuss this conflict in this episode of Amped Up.  I’d be curious to know what your thoughts are on the topic.  You can comment below!

In regards to making this music come alive, the first time I worked on this opera I was a chorus master at Utah Opera in the late 90’s; quite an accomplishment for a 16 year old… (just kidding).  I learned to love this opera through it’s rich and rewarding music for Chorus.  Rich because it offers a lot of musical diversity, and rewarding because you can wail in some very dramatic moments; it requires sophisticated interpretation- or at least offers it; and because the way Gounod wrote the chorus part, it feels great to sing with other good musicians.

There is a very unique musical moment within in the first few minutes of the opera, after a riveting overture.  The chorus, singing a’cappella, narrates the background of the two feuding families, and foreshadow’s how the love of Romeo and Juliet will impact the family.  This music is a chorister’s dream.  It is full of colorful words set to meaningful music that provides an opportunity for the chorus to dramatize and give context.  It avails the opportunity to prove the power of the human singing voice.

I’m going to offer an exact translation, and a link to the music, so you can follow along and see what I mean.  If done well, the audience is left transfixed.

FROM YOUTUBE:  https://youtu.be/tWZbFuiwzoo

ROMEO ET JULIETTE, PROLOGUE:

Vérone vit jadis deux familes rivales,        Verona saw of old two rival families,
Les Montaigues, les Capulets,                       The Montagues, the Capulets,
De leurs guerres sans fin                            From their wars without end
à toutes deux fatales,                                     To both of them fatal,
Ensanglanter le seuil de ses palais.            Bleeding on the thresholds of their palaces.

Comme un rayon vermeil brille                  Like a colorful ray shines
En un ciel d'orage, Juliette parut                  In a stormy sky, Julliette appeared
Et Roméo l'aima!                                         And Roméo loved her!
Et tout deux, oubliant le nom                     And both of them, forgetting the name
Qui les outrage,                                             Which outrages them,
Un même amour les enflama!                        A self-same love enflamed them!

Sort funeste!  Aveugles colères!                 Disastrous fate!  Blind rages!
Ces malheureux amants                             These unhappy lovers
Payèrent de leurs jours                                 Paid with their lives (days)
La fin des haines séculaires                          For the end of the age-old hatreds
Qui virent naître leurs amours!                     Which sawborn their loves!

The fated theme of the two is silhouetted in a cello quartet immediately following this.  The translation for this music is ‘pass out the hankies’.  Another magical moment in an opera full of life.  Tragic life, but life nonetheless.  WE’LL SAVE THAT MOMENT FOR ANOTHER EPISODE!

MUSICAL PLAYLIST:

All of the ROMEO tracks for this podcast come from my current favorite recording of the opera featuring Michelle Plasson on the podium, and Roberto Algana and Angela Gheorghiu in the leading roles.  I’ve seen the two live, and their chemistry is palpable.  I also think the playing of the Toulouse Orchestra is electrifying.

I couldn’t find a link for it on iTunes.  But it is available on Amazon through THIS LINK.

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SHOW NOTES: DON GIOVANNI- Cravings, Part 1

I can't get enough of this opera.  Well, this opera and the other two opera's by opera's quintessential composer Mozart, and his accomplice Lorenzo da Ponte- COSI FAN TUTTE, and THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO.

Every time I conduct these pieces, or listen to them, I get a pain in my neck from shaking my head in disbelief of how much detail is relayed by these men to make their stories come to life.  Mozart gets the credit for layering so much with so little.  In this podcast I talk about how simple Mozart's music is in terms of musical building blocks, because of the expectation of the listener in the time period in which he was writing.  But with those blocks he builds palaces, far more complex than any composer since, in my opinion.  I don't know of one successful composer, living or dead who doesn't see Mozart as the architect of perfect musical storytelling.  

Nor do I ever want to work with a musician who doesn't study the complexities of this simplicity.  If one stops at a superficial glance to these works, you're just limiting the audience in what should be a musical feast of sophisticated, compelling characters in very satisfying plots. MOZART DOES NOT WRITE PRETTY OPERATIC MELODIES, unless they are meant to be pretty.  He writes every spectrum of human emotion.  This music must be acted to be properly communicated, and every stage direction is written in every pitch, rhythm, and harmony.

Giovanni was called an Opera Buffa by Mozart- a scholarly classification if nothing else, but it does tell us there are plenty of humorous moments in the opera.  I find genius in those moments, but its when things get real that I really turn on.  In this podcast I talk about how messed-up Giovanni is by modern psychological standards.  He believes his own story to a degree that he has no trouble destroying anyone who gets in his way.  It is a timeless struggle, don't you think?

Mozart's genius may be known to you, but do you know the librettist of DON GIOVANNI, Lorenzo da Ponte?  He was one of Western history's most interesting characters. At the height of his prowess as a writer in Europe, he emigrated to the US and opened a grocery store in Queens, NY...go figure.  He was later recruited to help create the Metropolitan Opera in NYC.  His story is as fascinating as his writing. There are two biographies I highly recommend. You can click on the titles for links to both on Amazon.

The Man Who Wrote Mozart: The Extraordinary Life of Lorenzo Da Ponte 
by Anthony Holden


The Librettist of Venice: The Remarkable of Lorenzo da Ponte
by Rodney Bolt

MUSICAL EXCERPTS

All of the excerpts in this episode come from a GIOVANNI recording by one of my conductor gurus- Claudio Abbado conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.  Abbado's understanding of Mozart is humbling as a scholar, and rewarding as a listener.  I also love the spin Simon Keenlyside brings to the role.  I have enormous respect for everyone singing on this album.  I highly recommend a listen!  CLICK HERE FOR A DIRECT LINK TO THE ALBUM ON iTUNES!