Registered: Apr 2000
posted September 29, 2005 01:47 PM
New opera explores birth of atomic bomb By Victoria Looseleaf
An opera is not supposed to be over until the fat lady sings. Or, in the case of a new work being premiered this week, until an atomic bomb explodes.
Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams's latest opera ends with the biggest bang of all -- the detonation of the first A-bomb in the New Mexican desert in a test that changed the world.
Adams, who has a reputation for writing works "ripped from the headlines," has taken on his biggest challenge yet in "Doctor Atomic," a tale of the conflicts Manhattan Project head J. Robert Oppenheimer suffered as he oversaw the creation of the atomic bomb.
The 2-1/2-hour work premieres on Saturday at the San Francisco Opera and it has become one of the opera world's most hotly anticipated events. Adams' previous two operas -- "Nixon in China" and "The Death of Klinghoffer" -- stirred political controversy, especially the latter work, about the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro which outraged both Palestinian and Jewish groups.
Adams denies that he is a political composer and said in an interview, "Maybe the reason people use the term political is that I draw my stories from contemporary American life. I'm frankly surprised more people don't do that. If I were a filmmaker or novelist, I would be expected to do that."
He said he was expecting a mixed reception because many opera lovers just want to see famous singers in familiar works by Puccini, Straus, Mozart and Verdi.
"Doctor Atomic," in its capacity to challenge people to think about nuclear weapons and the potential of their destroying the planet, is definitely not "Madame Butterfly," he said.
"That's something that may be new for opera audiences. Some people greet it warmly and with great appreciation. Others roll their eyeballs and wish it would go away."
Adams, 58, who worked five years on the opera said he saw it as a chance to explore a highly charged and, well, explosive topic. "I grew up during the worst part of the cold war. My first memories as a kid certainly included images of the distinct possibility of a nuclear war with Russia and fallout shelters and rehearsals at school as to what to do if a bomb was dropped on us," he said.
"When Pamela Rosenberg, the general director of the San Francisco Opera, suggested the story to me, I realized it was something that fit hand and glove with my artistic concerns and also my personal historical concerns," he added.
The title, says Adams, who won the 2003 Pulitzer for music for his "On the Transmigration of Souls," a commemoration of those who died on September 11, is both a nod to sci-fi movies of the 1940s and, "a backdoor reference on my part to 'Doctor Faustus,"' the man who does a deal with the devil in order to obtain ultimate knowledge.
Director Peter Sellars, the composer's longtime collaborator, wrote the libretto from original sources and even has a choir singing from declassified government secrets as well as poems by Muriel Rukeyser, John Donne, Baudelaire and the Hindu spiritual text the Bhagavad Gita.
"You collect all this material and at a certain moment passages start speaking with other passages," says Sellars of the libretto. "A conversation that goes along with individual source material just takes off, and things start ricocheting and having surprising connections or counterbalances. You're always looking for yin and yang so the drama thrives on contrasts and contradictions."
The issues and concerns raised in "Doctor Atomic" are grave ones, and as with past Adams/Sellars' collaborations, the work doesn't pull any punches. The second act, which includes the 20-minute-to-zero countdown, instead of being treated in real time onstage, lasts twice as long.
"It's an amazing, amazing work of art that extracts and exacts every drop of blood," Sellars said. "It demands and pushes you past ... endurance, which is what art is supposed to do. This is just not another day at the mall. It's really asking the biggest questions and demanding very real answers."
Sellars added that the opera is scheduled to be performed in London, Tokyo, Chicago and Amsterdam after its San Francisco opening and, if it's anything like its predecessors, "Doctor Atomic" is sure to have legs.
"Maybe hairy legs," Adams quipped, "but at least legs."
Registered: Apr 2000
posted November 17, 2005 03:49 PM
Pink Floyd's Waters swaps rock for opera By Robin Pomeroy
Roger Waters delighted rock fans when Pink Floyd played their first gig together for 24 years at July's Live8. On Thursday he was hoping to win over classical fans with his first opera, 16 years in the making.
The singer, bass player and songwriter on classic albums like "Dark Side of the Moon" and "The Wall," said he wanted his French Revolution opera "Ca Ira" to have the same impact at its world premiere in Rome as his stadium-filling rock anthems.
"It's a different form but the intention is the same, still just trying to create an emotional response, communicate a feeling," Waters said in an interview with Reuters at the end of the opera's dress rehearsal in Rome's Music Park.
"I am writing for other voices that's why it's different. I can't sing this stuff."
Waters has been working on the opera since 1989 -- the bicentenary of the French Revolution -- when friends Etienne and Nadine Roda-Gil, both now dead, asked him to set their libretto about the historic events to music.
He met French songwriter Etienne in 1968 when student revolts shook Paris. The rock star, whose career began amid the psychedelia of the 1960s, plays down the era's myth, but says he still believes in revolutionary change for the better.
"I'm not sure that those days were particularly heady, but there was in the late 60s a notion that by making a lot of noise one could change things."
The desire for change is still there, he says, although young people's idealism is these days in danger of being subverted by religious bigotry -- but despite the dark edge to much of his work, he is an optimist.
He seemed to have little but pessimism, however, toward the rest of Pink Floyd over the last two decades, and at one point unsuccessfully sued the others to stop them using the band's name.
They put their differences aside to play the Live8 concert organized to campaign against world poverty. Waters says he doubts the band will get back into the studio, but does not rule out future concerts if the others agreed.
"(A reunion) is very unlikely. But it always was very unlikely. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy Live8, I did. I thought it was great and I'd always be up for doing something else."
The foray into opera does not mean the young-looking 62-year-old is too old to rock. He is working on two new albums and plans to tour in 2007. But for the meantime he hopes to see "Ca Ira" performed again after the two shows in Rome this week.
"We had a letter yesterday from the mayor of Paris saying we've got to get this thing on in Paris," said Waters, who put on one of the world's biggest gigs in 1990, a version of "The Wall" performed at Potsdamer Platz, after the Berlin Wall fell.
"I can't think of anything I'd like to do more," he said, relishing the idea of a bigger stage for his classical work.
"Next summer, I can see it now, in the Place de la Concorde, open air, you know, the same sort of thing, in French obviously."
Registered: Apr 2000
posted December 02, 2005 12:18 PM
Famous Adirondacks Murder Gets New Life By WILLIAM KATES, Associated Press Writer
2 hours, 31 minutes ago
When Chester Gillette killed his pregnant lover Grace Brown on an Adirondack lake in July 1906, it was destined to become an immortal murder.
The tragic story became the basis for Theodore Dreiser's 1925 novel, "An American Tragedy," a saga subsequently spun into movies, television programs, plays, songs, true crime books — and a new production at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. "An American Tragedy," with music by Tobias Picker, premieres Friday.
"It's the murder that will never die," said Susan Perkins, executive director of the Historical Society in Herkimer County, where Brown's death occurred and Gillette was eventually tried and sent to the electric chair. "The fascination with it over the years has been unabated."
For communities in three upstate New York counties that share the story's history, the opera helps launch the murder's 100th anniversary. A series of summertime events are planned, including a re-enactment of Gillette's trial and a special wreath-laying ceremony on Big Moose Lake on July 11, the day Brown was killed.
Perkins and about 100 others will travel to New York City to see the opera on Dec. 16.
"I don't even pretend to understand why people are still interested after 99 years," said Charlie Adams, a tour boat operator on Big Moose Lake. "It just astounds me."
Chester and Grace's story has kept the public spellbound since the beginning.
Brown, known as "Billie," was a farm girl from South Otselic in Chenango County, who worked at the Gillette Skirt Co. in Cortland, about 30 miles south of Syracuse. There, she met Chester Gillette, the nephew of the owner and the son of Salvation Army missionaries. Despite Gillette's upbringing, history portrays him as a shiftless, would-be social climber.
After a brief courtship, Brown was pregnant. In a series of emotional letters, Brown implored the reluctant Gillette to marry her. He barely acknowledged her.
In July 1906, the pair headed for what was supposed to be a clandestine trip to the Adirondack Mountains — Brown still hoping for a proposal of marriage. After several stops, they ended up at Big Moose Lake, a large, shallow wilderness lake in the central Adirondacks.
There, the couple took an afternoon rowboat ride, during which Gillette allegedly struck Brown in the head with a tennis racket, she fell into the lake and drowned.
Brown's body was found the next day in the lake along with the overturned rowboat. Gillette was spotted walking away with his luggage and arrested three days later in nearby Inlet, where he had gone to meet two women friends. Soon after, the sheriff found the tennis racket buried under a log.
The monthlong trial made headlines across the country. The jury needed just five hours to convict Gillette, who claimed Brown drowned accidentally and that he panicked and fled. In March 1908, he was executed in the electric chair at Auburn State Prison.
Almost immediately, the story began imbedding itself in America's psyche, Perkins said. In November 1906, a company started selling booklets containing reprints of Grace's letters, which had been read into evidence at Gillette's trial. In 1907, Maude Gould, a piano teacher from Ilion, wrote a song about the case, "Entreating." A folk ballad appeared in the Adirondack lumber camps.
The secret affair, sense of mystery and wilderness backdrop were among the ingredients that made the case so enticing, said Perkins, who likened the frenzy to the O.J. Simpson or Scott Peterson trials of contemporary times.
The historical society still has documents. The courtroom where the trial was held and the cell where Gillette waited it out still exist, though neither building is actively used anymore.
The Gillette factory is now an appliance store and the houses where Brown and Gillette boarded while living in Cortland still stand. The Brown family farm in South Otselic has changed hands but is still there, too. At Big Moose Lake, the boathouse has been converted to an apartment building.
The story might have faded from public interest if not for Dreiser's novel, which revived interest and transformed it into an archetypal story, said Joseph Brownell, a retired State University of New York at Cortland geography professor who co-authored a 1986 factual account of the murder, "Adirondack Tragedy."
Following Dreiser's novel, "An American Tragedy" made it to the New York City stage in 1926. There was another play in 1931 and in the same year, a Paramount film, starring Sylvia Sidney. In the 1950s, Lux Video Theater did a television take, with actor John Derek.
The most famous adaptation is the 1951 film, "A Place in the Sun," which starred Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor and Shelley Winters and won six Oscars.
On the Net:
Herkimer County Historical Society: http://www.rootsweb.com/ 7/8nyhchs
Cortland County Historical Society: http://www.rootsweb.com/ 7/8nycortla/chsfe.htm
Metropolitan Opera: http://www.metoperafamily.org
From:Studio City, CA
Registered: Apr 2000
posted January 13, 2006 11:18 AM
Attention must be paid! Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Wagnerian sopranos, has died. She was 87.
Registered: May 2000
posted May 02, 2006 10:10 AM
‘Tonya and Nancy,’ a soap opera minus soap
Figure skating's most infamous incident, now set to music
The Associated Press
Updated: 10:43 a.m. ET May 2, 2006
MEDFORD, Mass. - When Tufts music student Abigail Al-Doory sought inspiration for her opera, she looked not to Wagner’s “Ring” cycle but to the Olympic rings, where themes like power, envy and greed are plentiful.
In “Tonya and Nancy: The Opera,” Al-Doory provides 18 movements on the scandal that turned the once-dainty sport of figure skating into a soap opera of whacking, wailing and time spent in jail.
Scheduled for two Tuesday night performances, the production portrays the skaters not as rivals but as a pair, singing for the audience’s sympathy as the tawdry affair unfolds.
“I think they had a lot in common, which is what we wanted to draw out in the opera,” said Al-Doory, who composed the music to complete her masters degree. “They both figured out they had to reclaim their identities. It’s a note of hope.”
More Peggy Fleming than Renee Fleming, “Tonya and Nancy” follows the lines of “Jerry Springer — The Opera,” a London hit based on the equally lowbrow world of daytime talk TV. Al-Doory takes the well-known rivalry between the skaters and recasts it as one in which they both struggle to overcome personal troubles and public perception.
“We, as a society, allowed this to happen to two young girls. They’re building up their entire lives for this moment. And who are they after that?” Al-Doory said. “It can’t help being absurd and funny because of the situation. But it’s serious.
“I really believe in the story. We’re not just making fun of people. This isn’t a parody.”
Even so, she’ll have a hard time selling a ticket to Kerrigan, who said Monday she’d been aware of the production but wasn’t planning to attend.
“I lived it,” the skater said. “What do I need to watch it for?”
She’ll miss Margaret Hunter (Nancy) and Kristen Sergeant (Tonya) open with dueling news conferences before the action flashes back to the knee-whacking and follows them through the Olympic skateoff to their futures.
Nancy becomes a wife and mother; Harding, banned from skating, joins the Faustian freak show that is women’s boxing.
“The difference is,” Harding sings, “you don’t get in trouble for hitting her.”
Tonya in the lead
That this is “Tonya and Nancy,” and not the other way around, is no accident. Only in opera — or its schlockier, soapier offspring — would a convicted Olympic also-ran get top billing over a squeaky-clean silver medalist.
“She is the more fascinating character. And, also, it sounds better to me,” librettist Elizabeth Searle said at rehearsal last weekend. “I don’t think there’s any way to look at Tonya’s history and not feel some degree of sympathy.”
Harding never leaves the stage during the 40-minute production, which will be performed near Harvard Square. Breaking from the made-for-TV mold, though, she is not put on display for mockery or scorn.
The opera is a brutal expose on Harding’s home life, showing her as a victim of maternal and spousal abuse. You see her breakdown, perhaps contrived, as she warbles, “The lace is broke!” But you also see her face contort into real fear when her duet with husband Jeff Gillooly twists into a wife-beating tango.
Kerrigan also comes away tarnished. But every “Why me?” has an answer of “Why her?”
Nancy sings, “My mom is legally blind.” Tonya: “My mom is legally nuts.”
The casting makes the point, too: Jennifer Hazel plays both skaters’ mothers, taking the same cartoonish hairbrush she used to stroke Nancy’s brunette locks and using it to beat Harding for missing the medal stand at the Olympics.
But Nancy is no more satisfied.
“Silver?” she repeats joylessly after finishing second.
“It’s a pretty bald look at both of them based on headlines and stuff they said in real life,” Al-Doory said.
The costumes, the choreography, the scripted outcomes — what’s the big difference, anyway, between opera and figure skating?
Verdi had his elephants; Al-Doory has Stant, the bodybuilder and Navy Seal reject hired to knee-club Kerrigan at the 1994 Olympic trials and clear Harding’s path to Lillehammer. Gillooly planned the attack to incapacitate his wife’s top rival, but it turned her into a pariah and made Kerrigan even more of an American sweetheart.
Armen Nercessian (Stant) played the knee-whacking as vaudevillian comedy, dancing a soft-shoe with the collapsible baton in the place of a white-tipped cane that Fred Astaire might have used. Then, to shock the scene back into tragedy, he slams it into the stage.
Once the audience sees the club is for real, Stant surreptitiously swaps it with a foam one that will allow him to whack Kerrigan without holding back. Hunter, like Kerrigan before her, was surprised at how much it hurt.
“We didn’t play the knee attack for laughs,” Searle said.
Banging pianos to represent the clattering typewriters of the newspapermen who flit from Tony and Nancy (and only briefly to Oksana Baiul, who actually won the gold medal in Lillehammer). The chorus stands in for the skating judges, who make Kerrigan’s 5.9’s and Harding’s 5.5’s into a Gregorian chant.
The story is “dark and gloomy and absurd, but at the same time I was kind of moved by it,” Searle said.
Skating around literal truth
Searle, who is Al-Doory’s aunt and already the author of one well-received novella about the skating scandal, was the Nancy and Tonya junkie back in ’94. She collected newspaper clips and took notes in the months before the Lillehammer Games.
About 80 percent of the libretto, or script, was taken from actual dialogue or newspaper headlines or the actual scores the skaters received in Lillehammer. Searle said she made the other 20 percent up to hold the plot together.
In the most obvious example, Kerrigan shrieks the apocryphal “Why me?” instead of her actual, “Why? Why?”
“It’s not entirely documentary truth,” director Meron Langsner. “I wouldn’t think that’s interesting.”
Al-Doory’s goal is to make the viewers rethink their impression of Harding and Kerrigan, maybe send them away with a tune in their heads.
If she fails, Nancy won’t be the only one wondering, “Why me?”
“Our adviser encouraged us to do a string quartet. I wanted to do something with voice and a story,” Al-Doory said, 72 hours before the performance. “I really should have done a string quartet.”
From:Studio City, CA
Registered: Apr 2000
posted May 23, 2006 04:13 PM
Like a Bryn out of hell May 22 2006
Tryst Williams, Western Mail
BRYN TERFEL has revealed how he became an opera star despite his love of rock music, sparking comparisons to powerful rocker Meat Loaf.
As many classical stars like Charlotte Church strive for crossover success in the pop charts, Terfel has spoken of how he did the opposite.
In a documentary to be broadcast shortly on ITV1Wales, the bass baritone said rock and roll and jazz were more to his taste than classical musical as he grew up on a North Wales farm.
The revelation begs the question of whether Wales has missed out on its very own Meat Loaf, for whom the Welsh star has famously been mistaken by legions of adoring rock fans during his North American travels.
In the programme Bryn Terfel - In His Own Words, the singer said he remained ignorant of the world of opera stardom during his formative years in Pantglas, near Caernarfon.
"As a youngster I obviously would have no concept, no idea of this kind of business because that didn't interest me.
"I had more things which were catching my eye such as sport, and music was purely of a different hemisphere. I preferred rock and roll and jazz to anything classical."
His career path contrasts sharply with classical acts who have turned to popular music in a bid to secure "crossover appeal".
Charlotte Church has successfully reinvented herself as a pop diva and violinist Nigel Kennedy has become known for his jazz experiments.
And it is these days not unusual to find "popera" bands such as the X-Factor's Il Divo interpreting tunes such as Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.
But while Terfel's own style may not lead to rock star comparisons, his looks often have.
Last year the star famously revealed he was often mobbed by confused American rock fans asking for Meat Loaf's autograph. "People have come up to me in the street saying 'Hey Meat Loaf, I love that song you do, Two Out of Three Ain't Bad'," he told reporters, revealing that his favourite song by the imposing Texan singer was Bat Out of Hell.
During ITV1Wales' documentary, Terfel also speaks of how he intends cutting down his overseas appearances and concentrating on his own Faenol festival - which this year features Shirley Bassey and Westlife - because of the importance of home and family.
"Come the fifth or sixth performance [abroad] that's the time I will be thinking I need to pack my bags and see the kids and take them to school and become the glorified taxi driver that I am at home.
"Obviously when the work is done there's nothing sweeter than coming home to Wales.
"I feel very, very lucky to come from a little farm in Snowdonia to gracing the world's stages."
He added, "I missed the birth of my sons purely because of the profession I'm in which means that I'm travelling a lot. So being at home perhaps to see very simple things like football matches or taking the children to school, that's something I want that's even more highlighted now."
Meanwhile one neighbour featured in the programme, Margaret Jones, revealed that maybe the rock star cliches of trashing hotel rooms and throwing televisions out of windows may not be too far beyond the 40-year-old singer's capabilities - as she still remember how the young Terfel accidentally smashed one of her windows playing football with friends!
A spokeswoman for ITV1 Wales said, "Bryn is adored by legions of fans throughout the world. Wherever Bryn performs, he proudly flies the Welsh flag, being an ambassador for his beloved country."
Bryn Terfel - In His Own Words, will be broadcast on Thursday, June 1, at 7.30pm on ITV1Wales
Terfel and the 'Loaf - are they really that similar? - page 2
Terfel and the 'Loaf - are they really that similar?
Terfel: Like Meat Loaf, the Welsh bass-baritone had to adapt his stage name from his real name. Born Bryn Terfel Jones he dropped his surname for professional purposes after learning of another singer called Bryn Jones.
Meat Loaf: Nicknamed "Meat" as a toddler by his father, he gained his distinctive showbiz name after his college friends christened him "Meat Loaf" because of the first two initials of his real name - Marvin Lee Aday.
Terfel: The son of Hefin and Nesta Jones, Terfel was brought up on a North Wales farm. Despite his love of rock and jazz, he honed his classical singing at eisteddfodau and gained a place at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music.
Meat Loaf: The son of an alcoholic policeman, he was largely brought up by his grandmother in Dallas, Texas. Despite his love of American Football, he chose a career on the stage when his college sports coach made him choose between playing in his team and taking a role in the school play.
Terfel: Dramatic roles in operas such as the Flying Dutchman have involved the imposing star wearing heavy prosthetic make-up and projecting his mighty trademark voice to audiences around the world. Critic Manuela Hoelterhoff described him as "a guy with the body of Meat Loaf and an exuberant performing style".
Meat Loaf: Singing dramatic songs such as I Would Do Anything For Love have involved the imposing star donning heavy prosthetic make-up in videos and projecting his mighty trademark voice to audiences around the world. Critics have yet to describe him as "a guy with the body of Bryn Terfel and an exuberant performing style," but it can only be a matter of time, eh?
Terfel: His beloved annual music festival at North Wales' Faenol estate, which will this year feature performances by artists as diverse as Westlife and Shirley Bassey. He sang with Bassey at the opening ceremony of 1999's Rugby World Cup in Cardiff.
Meat Loaf: As a talented actor he has enjoyed roles in movies such as Fight Club and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Like Terfel, he has also performed at a top-flight rugby event - in his case, the Australian National Rugby League Final in 2003.
From:Studio City, CA
Registered: Apr 2000
posted August 09, 2006 10:12 AM
I just read that Elisabeth Schwarzkopf died on August 3. She was 90. She was one of the giants in opera. Right up there with Maria Callas as far as popularity.
From:Studio City, CA
Registered: Apr 2000
posted September 05, 2006 02:54 PM
Soprano Astrid Varnay dead at 88
BERLIN, Germany (AP) -- Astrid Varnay, the Swedish-American soprano who made her Metropolitan Opera debut -- virtually without rehearsal -- in a nationally broadcast performance and went on to sing for half a century, has died. She was 88.
Varnay died Monday in a Munich hospital of a pericardial infection, said Donald Arthur, a longtime friend who ghostwrote her autobiography. She had been seriously ill for some time, he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
"She had such a voice, a technique, a presence, a personality," Met Music Director James Levine said Tuesday. "She was unforgettable."
Varnay was a contemporary of some of the great Wagnerian sopranos, singing in an era that included Kirsten Flagstad, Birgit Nilsson, Helen Traubel and Martha Moedl. Levine, who conducted her final Met performances in 1979, met her frequently in Germany during his tenure as music director of the Munich Philharmonic.
"There is nobody who did what she does better than she did," Levine said in a telephone interview. "I will miss that woman a lot. Every time I think of her, I think of the energy and the inspiration."
Varnay was born in Stockholm on April 25, 1918, to Hungarian parents involved in opera. The family moved to the United States in 1920, where her father, tenor Alexander Varnay, died at age 35 in 1924.
She trained her singing voice first under her mother, Maria Javor Varnay, then New York Metropolitan Opera staff conductor and coach Hermann Weigert, whom she married in 1944.
Because an opera career in the United States was deemed unlikely, she also was taking courses in stenography and typing.
But Varnay got her break on December 6, 1941 -- a day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor -- when she filled in for an indisposed Lotte Lehmann as Sieglinde in Wagner's "Die Walkuere" in a performance conducted by Erich Leinsdorf that was broadcast nationally on radio. While accounts over the years said she had no rehearsal, a report in The New York Times later that month said she had filled in as Sieglinde during an orchestral rehearsal three weeks before her debut, and she wrote in her autobiography that she had a rehearsal with piano the previous day.
Six days after her debut, Varnay sang her second professional performance, taking over from an ill Helen Traubel as Bruennhilde, one of the toughest soprano roles in the repertoire.
"The exceedingly comely Swedish-American soprano acted with a skill and grace only possible to those with an inborn talent for the theater," Noel Strauss wrote in the Times the day after her debut.
"Miss Varnay is a valuable addition to the Metropolitan roster, but her fine abilities would be employed to much better purpose in roles making less heavy demands on her voice, a voice of such innate beauty that it should not be used in parts like this, which might easily impair its quality."
Arthur worked with Varnay for five years on her autobiography, "Fifty-Five Years In Five Acts: My Life in Opera," and remembers talking with her about the Met debut for chapter 1.
"She was pushed out on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera never having sung anywhere in public, and sang the leading role in "Die Walkuere" in a broadcast at age 23," he said. "We were working on it and one of the things I wrote was that 'presumably everyone on the stage was two times my age.' She said: 'What is this presumably nonsense? We'll look it up.' We looked it up and every member of that cast was either two times her age or more."
She would sing some 200 performances with the Metropolitan Opera over her career, though left in 1956 for nearly two decades over conflicts with general manager Rudolf Bing.
Arthur remembers her description of her departure -- indicative of her sharp wit.
Bing "said 'I'm thinking of giving you a leave of absence.' Well, she had a whole raft of contracts waiting for her in Europe and said: 'I don't think I need a leave of absence, I think I need to leave,' " Arthur recalled.
"He said: 'Keep us informed about your career,' and she said: 'You can read about it in your papers.' "
Varnay originated the role of Telea in the world premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti's "The Island of God" at the Met on February 20, 1942.
Varnay was seen for the first time in Europe in 1948, where she put on a guest performance at London's Royal Opera, Covent Garden.
From 1951 to 1968, she sang at the Bayreuth festival in Germany as Bruennhilde and Isolde, among others.
Following her husband's death in 1955, she made Europe her permanent home, settling in Munich.
She became a mainstay at some of the world's great opera houses, particularly in Germany, where she sang at venues around the country.
She returned to the Met in 1974 after an 18-year absence, singing Kostelnicka in Janacek's "Jenufa." Her final Met performance was as Leocadia Begbick in Weill's "Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny" on December 22, 1979.
In the mid-1980s, Varnay turned more to character roles. Her last stage appearance was in Munich in 1995.
Varnay had no close relatives, Arthur said. Funeral arrangements were private.
Registered: Apr 2002
posted September 07, 2006 03:54 PM
Digital Age To Usher In Metropolitan Opera At Movie Theaters
Digital projection will soon make it possible for hundreds of movie theaters to present live performances of New York's Metropolitan Opera. The Met said Wednesday that it had signed a deal with National CineMedia, a company formed by the Regal, AMC and Cinemark theater chains, and with Canada's Cineplex and Europe's Odeon/UCI, for the distribution of six opera performances. National CineMedia was originally created to sell and distribute advertising to theaters equipped with digital projection systems. In a statement, Metropolitan Opera chief Peter Gelb said, "This is a unique opportunity to raise our profile and grow our audience. Opera will now enter the digital era." The series will launch on Dec. 30 with Julie Taymor's spectacular staging of Mozart's The Magic Flute, which premiered at the Met in 2004.
N F S I 2
Registered: Jun 2006
posted September 25, 2006 01:10 PM
German opera house cancels provocative Mohammed staging
Berlin's Deutsche Oper has removed the provocative staging of a Mozart opera from its schedule for fear of enraging Muslims, the opera house said in a statement.
One of three opera houses in the German capital, it cancelled director Hans Neuenfels's production of "Idomeneo", a 1781 drama set in ancient Crete, because authorities warned it could present an "incalculable security risk".
In the staging, which sparked audience protests during its premiere in December 2003, King Idomeneo presents the lopped-off heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and the Prophet Mohammed and displays them on four chairs.
German critics saw the show at the time as a radical attack on religion and religious wars.
Musical director Kirsten Harms decided to cancel the new staging of the opera, scheduled for November, to avert "any danger to the audience or staff" that could arise from violent protests.
The opera itself deals with resistance to sacrifices demanded by the gods but makes no mention of any of the world's major religions.
The cancellation comes two weeks after Pope Benedict XVI sparked Muslim anger on a visit to his native Germany when he quoted from a medieval text that criticized some teachings of the Prophet Mohammed as "evil and inhuman".
And the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten set off a firestorm in the Muslim world when it printed 12 caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed last September and other, mostly European, newspapers followed suit.
Islam considers images of the prophet to be blasphemous.
Registered: Apr 2000
posted December 11, 2006 08:05 AM
Tenor walks off stage at La Scala 1 hour, 7 minutes ago
Tenor Roberto Alagna marched off the stage at La Scala when the audience booed him during the second performance of Franco Zeffirelli's "Aida." He was replaced seconds later by his understudy, who rushed on wearing jeans.
"I do not deserve this kind of reception," Alagna told La Repubblica newspaper after his early exit from Saturday night's performance.
"What else could I do?" Alagna said in an interview Monday with Italy's Tg5 news. "Did I have to stay there ... until my voice broke?"
La Scala general manager Stephane Lissner released a statement in which he appeared to condemn behavior on both sides.
He criticized the incident as "an obvious lack of respect to the public and the theater," but added that "I have always maintained that artists are at the center of a theatrical project and we are here to support them, to guarantee the best conditions for them so that they can do their jobs."
Thursday night's opening of Zeffirelli's "Aida" was a much-anticipated event, with Italian Premier Romano Prodi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel among the many prominent figures in attendance.
That audience applauded for more than 15 minutes after the final curtain fell, standing to cheer Zeffirelli, conductor Riccardo Chailly and a cast led by the Lithuanian mezzo-soprano Violeta Urmana in the title role and Alagna as Radames.
But the second performance did not go quite as smoothly.
The audience erupted in boos and whistles when Alagna came on stage and began singing the big aria "Celeste Aida." Alagna stopped, looked at the public, then walked off, according to Italian news reports. Understudy Antonello Palombi, still in jeans, rushed out.
Lissner apologized to the audience before the opening of the third act.
"In many years at La Scala I had never seen anything like what happened tonight," Chailly told reporters after the performance.
The next performance was scheduled for Tuesday night.
NEWSFLASH WINTER INTERN
Registered: Dec 2006
posted December 12, 2006 09:26 AM
Booed tenor treated 'like monster'
MILAN, Italy (Reuters) -- Top tenor Roberto Alagna, who stormed off the stage at Milan's La Scala after he was booed in mid-performance, said on Tuesday he would sue the famed opera house if they did not let him return.
"They are treating me like a monster, but I have not committed a crime, I've done nothing wrong," he said.
French-born Alagna, hailed by some critics as "the new Pavarotti," walked off Franco Zeffirelli's lavish production of Verdi's "Aida" on Sunday night after a small section of the audience heckled him as he was singing an aria.
The incident, which opera experts say may be a first in the history of La Scala, forced a costumeless substitute to step in and carry on singing as some in the audience shouted "Shame on you!". Organizers later apologised to the public.
Alagna said he had told La Scala he was ready to return to the show but the opera house had turned him down for breach of contract.
"I've told them that I was ready to go back. But they sent me a letter saying that the contract is annulled and that they are not going to pay my expenses," Alagna told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"So I went to my lawyer today and we are going to sue them," he said. "I have been here for a month and I have worked very hard. This sanction is just too much," he said. Officials at La Scala were not immediately available to confirm the content of the letter.
In a statement on Monday, La Scala's artistic director Stephane Lissner said Alagna's behavior had provoked "a definitive split between the artist and the public that La Scala has no way of fixing."
Alagna defended his decision to leave the stage and said he had also been feeling short of breath while singing.
"I went there to sing, to give the audience joy and pleasure. But what was I supposed to do when some people started booing? What if they had thrown stones at me or some crazy person had attacked me? La Scala should have protected me, the show should have been suspended.
"Instead they carried on as if nothing had happened. After all, John Lennon ended up being killed," he said.
Alagna said he felt the public still wanted him and La Scala was wrong to close the doors on him.
"They are the ones lacking respect towards the public if they don't let me go back. I have another five performances to do, and the audience is waiting for me," the 43-year old said.
Alagna had already complained about La Scala's notoriously demanding audience, which forks out up to 2,000 euros ($2,600) for a ticket, on the opening night of Aida, which launched the opera house's new season last Thursday.
He compared performing there, where opera superstar Luciano Pavarotti was also famously booed in 1992, to descending into a bullring and said he and his wife, soprano Angela Gheorghiu, wanted to cancel future appearances.
Speaking to reporters in Milan on Monday, Alagna said he had received messages of sympathy from singers and conductors throughout the world.
"My theater is always open for you. La Scala is a disgrace." Alagna quoted an unnamed conductor as telling him.
From:Des Moines, Iowa
Registered: Jul 2000
posted January 26, 2007 09:12 AM
Glass Opera Faces Tough Act
By Theresa Everline
AUSTIN, Texas -- When you hear the word "opera," what comes to mind?
A Japanese woman stabbing herself? A fairy tale prince with a flute that charms animals? Or maybe your opera experience begins and ends with Elmer Fudd intoning, "Kill the wabbit" midthunderstorm.
When the opera under consideration is Waiting for the Barbarians, the most recent work by cutting-edge composer Philip Glass, such overwrought and hefty images are replaced by a sleek, breathtaking marvel.
Barbarians -- based on the novel of the same name by Nobel Prize-winning author J.M. Coetzee -- is Glass' 21st opera and the latest in a string that began with 1976's groundbreaking Einstein on the Beach.
The opera had its September 2005 world premiere at Theater Erfurt in Germany, one of the world's newest and most technically advanced opera houses. When that same production was transferred to the much older Bass Concert Hall in central Texas for its American debut last week, the producers were faced with a technological puzzle. They knew Erfurt's state-of-the-art, computer-controlled system would need to be replaced with something a little less precise: a bunch of guys perched on beams above the stage.
In preparation for the opera's move to the United States, Vincent Herod, Austin Lyric Opera's director of production, carefully studied the original.
"I got to the (Erfurt) theater for the rehearsal and they said, 'OK, we're starting,' so I immediately sat down to watch the show. You should read my notes. 'I don't think we can do the net.' Then I later realized we had to do the net."
The original German production's set was elaborate. It included numerous backdrops that ascended in an innovative fashion from the floor; a ceiling net that moved up and down on precise cues, with holes through which creepy-looking wrapped mannequins descended; and an array of lights to illuminate the backdrops from the front and, from the back, the principal singers, the chorus and, of course, those mannequins.
The task for Herod and his team was to figure out how to preserve the effects of a production that's literally in constant motion, matching the forward rush of a plot in which a rumored uprising by an empire's native population quickly escalates into torture, treason and war.
Opera relies on wide gestures, big voices and grandiose themes. Herod, however, ended up dealing in inches at the Bass Concert Hall. He pointed to that net -- when it descends, it passes the lighting fixtures by a hair.
Standing directly beneath one of the net's holes, it's clear what a razor-thin margin of error there is for the mannequin, its corpselike figure suspended above. The slightest sway would cause a snag. The Erfurt production's seven backdrops were reduced to five and placed only a few feet apart. Stagehands pull the backdrops from the floor at different levels and in different combinations, behind and in front of singers.
"If you go to an opera and closely look around, you're going to see video monitors in out-of-the-way places," Herod said, explaining that the limitations imposed by a live orchestra make them necessary.
When the chorus in Waiting for the Barbarians chants offstage, they need to be able to see the conductor. Even the onstage singers rely on hidden monitors to keep an eye on the conductor at all times.
The music for Barbarians is mesmerizing and powerful. Over the years, Glass has tamed his penchant for maddening, nap-inducing repetitions in his soundtracks.
Eventually, Herod got around to programming the 150 lighting cues and the computer-projected supertitles. He also learned what it takes to light a mannequin from within. Backstage, two extra mannequins were seen lying in a corner. They looked exhausted. Inexplicably, Herod didn't.
Registered: Apr 2000
posted January 30, 2007 06:04 PM
Underwear tossing a deal breaker for opera star
Story Highlights• Kiri Te Kanawa scheduled to tour with crooner John Farnham
• Te Kanawa pulled out, allegedly over Farnham concerns
• Promoter: Te Kanawa's manager knew of concerns
• Promoter suing for alleged breach of contract
SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Underwear tossing was the deal breaker, a lawsuit brought against renowned opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa contends.
Dame Kiri pulled out of a series of concerts with Australian crooner John Farnham after learning that fans sometimes threw underwear at the pop star, according to testimony in court Monday.
Concert promoter Leading Edge Events is suing the New Zealand-born Te Kanawa and her former manager, Nick Grace, for more than more than $464,000 for alleged breach of contract after the soprano decided not to participate in the 2005 tour.
A lawyer for Leading Edge, Richard Evans, told the New South Wales state Supreme Court that Grace knew Te Kanawa had some concerns about performing with Farnham, one of Australia's best-known pop singers.
"On many occasions Dame Kiri told Mr. Grace that she was not committed, and had some reservations about co-performing with John Farnham," Evans said, but those feelings were never relayed to the promoter.
"So the plaintiff was led into error in thinking if someone's pants ended up on the stage that was not enough to dissuade Dame Kiri from performing with John Farnham," Evans said.
Te Kanawa, who did not appear in court Monday, has filed her own lawsuit against Grace over the failed concert series, billed as "Two Great Voices."
The celebrated soprano has performed with opera companies around the world, and sang at the wedding of Britain's Prince Charles to Princess Diana in 1981.
NEWSFLASH WINTER INTERN
Registered: Dec 2006
posted February 02, 2007 12:39 PM
Menotti, Composer of First Opera for TV, Dead at 95
Gian Carlo Menotti, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who was commissioned by NBC in 1951 to write the first opera for television, died Thursday in Monaco at the age of 95. The opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, became a Christmas classic that aired on the network annually until 1966. A new production, which aired in 1978, was later released on home video. (An even more recent production, broadcast in the U.K. in 2002, has never been seen in the U.S.) Menotti won Pulitzers for The Consul (1950) and The Saint of Bleecker Street (1954). He was also the founder of the Spoleto Arts Festival.