Thursday, May 29, 2008

Be Good for Peace Monkey's Sake! - Misheard Carmina Burana lyrics

I just had to post a video Abby showed me last night. To any who have sung or know Carmina Burana, this will have special meaning. Apparently the woman who did this was/is in charge of supertitles at Opera Colorado. Enjoy!

Be good for peace monkey's sake!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Art Music in your Living Room

(this is also posted in my website forum - to discuss this topic and others CLICK HERE)

When art song was young, the way people like Franz Schubert made it popular was to
invite influential people to his home or the home of wealthy friends and hold "Liederabends" or "Evenings of Song". I thought it would be interesting to brainstorm ways in which we could do this today.

So many of the most important movements in music happened because a group of great minds came together and decided an ideal existed which was not being explored. The most obvious example to me is the "Camerata" in Italy which invented opera.

Here in Tallahassee I have my own little "Camerata" (incidentally, if you are a singer/performer/composer in Tallahassee and wish to come to our weekly get-togethers let me know), and we come together once a week to watch opera, listen to music, talk about performance opportunities, brainstorm, and much more. It is a lot of fun (especially since we usually have refreshments) and I think little groups like this are great for moving ideas.

While I was attending BYU we also had a small group of singers that would get together each week and perform for each other. This way we could try new pieces for our colleagues, and work out the kinks in old ones. It was a safe place to explore and invent. We could and were encouraged to use our music, and go as far as we could with certain ideas just to see if they had merit. (I am interested in forming such a group in Tallahassee - let me know if you are interested)

One thing I have not tried is the whole "wealthy salon" approach, and I believe there is a lot of untapped potential in this idea. I know that here in town there are many people with salons or living rooms big enough to hold small performances who would love having the best singers in town in their homes performing beautiful music. Does anyone have any ideas as to how to find these people? I am sure that my small group of singers would love to have more performance opportunities, especially if interesting people are there. How do we bring those who are passionate about art music to the same place?

Those are just a couple of ideas that I have to help bring more art music to more people. Most marketers of art music think that the only way to generate more interest in art music is to find ways to fill opera and recital halls. I think the real interest will come if we can get people excited on a smaller scale.

What are your ideas? Are you interested in any of the preceding ideas? Have you found success doing anything similar?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Best Way to Listen to Opera

(This is also posted on my website forum - to discuss CLICK HERE)

I was just listening to Das Rheingold this weekend, and was struck by how much I enjoy listening to opera in a certain way. I know a lot of my colleagues enjoy listening with a score in front of them, but not me. There is a set of books that go along with The Ring that provide the ultimate experience in my opinion. They are published by Phaidon, and they are translated by Rudolph Sabor. Each book has the libretto, a translation, and then points out specific themes and important background information while you are listening. It is just enough information to aid in listening, and can be used by non-musicians as well.

Unfortunately, these books are very hard to find. Here they are on amazon:

I was just wondering if anyone else had any favorite ways to listen. Personally, I think a DVD is the closest way to get the real experience. But when I am just listening, you cannot beat the Rudolph Sabor books. Anyone know of anything similar for other operas?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

How to Make Recitals More Accessible

(I put this discussion on my forum, so to see the original post and to make comments, CLICK HERE)

For several years now I have been thinking of ways to make recitals more exciting and/or accessible. I think sometime we get so wrapped up in etiquette that we forget to make compelling programs. We actually feel our stress level rise over something as trivial as when the audience should applause. If you listen to the big stars in their recitals, people applaud after every song! They don't wait for sets. So, if you are going to stick to etiquette, then at least put the rules clearly in the program - some of these people have never been to recital, and we want them to come back!

Some of my ideas to spice up recitals:

-Use supertitles instead of translations in programs - I don't know about you, but when I sing in another language I hate dealing with the "translation head-bob" as all of the audience members keep looking down to read (in the dark). I have used supertitles for recitals in the past, and had a very good response to them.

-Sing in English! - there is a great aversion to translations because somehow the "poetic value" is lost. I agree with that, only if the audience understands what you are singing. What poetic value is there if they have no idea what the words are? Look for good translations, or better yet, do them yourself. At first the stuffy people in the audience will hem and haw, and then they will enjoy it. The exceptions of course are when you are singing popular favorites like famous arias, then use supertitles.

-Change it up - keep it fresh throughout the program. Sometimes this can be as simple as putting up a different color flower arrangement or changing your gown/vest & bow-tie during intermission. This could also mean putting up a few simple props depending on the set your are performing. For example, if you are doing a Debussy set, maybe it would be a good idea to put a Monet painting up on the stage. Think of things that the stage-hand could switch on and off as quickly as you walk on and off to catch your breath between sets.

-Use different textures - in other words, be creative with performers. Do a set with a harp or a string quartet. Sing a duet or two. Do a joint recital with a different voice type. Create some variety.

-Plan effectively - this may sound simple and silly, but I have been to so many recitals where the theme was so vague it could have applied to any music, or was very specific and yet only one worked for one song. My coach right now (Valerie Trujillo - wonderful!) had a great suggestion: plan a recital the way you plan a meal. Program a "main course", a set that is the focus of your performance. Then plan the other sets around it. This way not every set will be as heavy as the main course, and also means the focus will stay centered. This also makes marketing much easier.

There are a few of my suggestions. What do you all think? Do you have other ideas that you have used or want to use? If you have any under-developed ideas maybe we can look at them here.

(to discuss, please go to my website-forum: CLICK HERE)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

New Discussion Forum - Get Your Ideas Out!

Hello Readers!

Well, I'm really excited about a new feature I just added to my website - a discussion forum. I wanted to create a place where we could all brainstorm ways to do more for art music, get more people interested, and much more.

As of right now there is only one discussion forum available, but there will be many more soon. If you have any ideas for more topics please let me know.

To get to the forum CLICK HERE. If you have ideas, get them out there!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Holy Sonnets of John Donne by Benjamin Britten

I have been hard at work learning the music for my master's recital next spring, and because it is on my mind I thought I would introduce you to the "main course" of my recital. I will be singing "The Holy Sonnets of John Donne" by Benjamin Britten. These songs are very challenging and quite beautiful, and I thought I would give you some background info so you can already be thinking about it for next spring (early planning!).

These songs are less accessible than Britten's Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, but still very emotional and thought-provoking. John Donne lived from 1572-1631, and as a Roman Catholic at that time was persecuted until he finally joined the Anglican Church. After joining the Church of England he actually became a priest, and is now famous for his poems and sermons.

His Holy Sonnets which Benjamin Britten set deal with his struggle with death and his relationship with God. He sees life as an endless struggle with suffering and sin, in which we can only find peace and redemption if we accept God. John Donne was considered a master of metaphysical poetry in which extended metaphor and imagery are used.

Britten's setting was written for his partner, tenor Peter Pears; one of their many collaborations. He set these shortly after taking a trip through war-torn Germany. During that trip he saw concentration camps, met many survivors, and was moved by the horrors of the post-Nazi regime. Those memories played heavily in his mind as he wrote, as did a fever he was suffering while he composed the last six songs.

Here are the texts for the sonnets which he set (the other sonnets not set to music are also available at the sites linked):

1. Oh my black Soule!
2. Batter my Heart
3. O might those Sighes and Teares
4. Oh, to vex me
5. What if this present
6. Since she whom I loved
7. At the round Earth's imagined corners
8. Thou hast made me
9. Death, be not proud

These are listed in the order of the song cycle, not the order of the sonnets (which you probably figured out by now).

For an example of the song "Thou hast made me" CLICK HERE to hear Ian Bostridge perform with Graham Johnson. This will give you a sample of one of the more biting pieces, and also of the virtuosity of the piece for both the pianist and the singer. There are a few songs like this in the cycle, but also some that are beautifully introspective.

More info:
In depth study by Bryan N.S. Gooch on the cycle
Wikipedia article on John Donne

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Fantasy Songs

I am involved in a massive worldwide search of songs about fantasy. Okay, maybe it's not that intense, but I am looking. I guess there are less of them than I thought. These would be songs about dwarves, elves, nymphs, castles, dragons, talking animals, etc. Here are a few that I've found:

  • Elfenlied by Hugo Wolf
  • Vom Shlaraffenland by Robert Schumann
  • Ein Mannlein steht by Engelbert Humperdinck (okay, this is an aria, but it was a song first - I think)
  • The Little Pigs by Prokofiev
  • Erlkoening by Franz Schubert
Does anyone out there know of any other fantasy songs that are really good? I'm working on a set of these and want a few more to choose from.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

L'elisir d'amore - Netrebko and Villazon again!

I had to tell you about one of the best productions of L'elisir d'amore I have EVER seen. It's a 2005 Vienna State Opera production, and the entire production and cast are great. The set doesn't change, but it doesn't have to because it's so beautiful. Leo Nicci is fabulous as Belcore - his voice has still got it, and his comic timing is really good.

Of course Netrebko does an amazing job, but in comparison to La Traviata where the whole opera rested on her shoulders, in this opera it is Villazon and his singing of Nemorino that is incredible. This may be the perfect role for him. Personally I think he looks like Mr. Bean, and in this show he gets to act like him too. He is hilarious, and yet really pulls out all the stops on his singing as well. This is most evident when he sings "Una furtiva lagrima" in the third act, and the audience gives him such an applause that he sings it again! During the second ovation he can't hold his emotions and you can see the tears in his eyes.

Here is a video of him singing the cavatina from the first act (you'll have to see "Una furtiva lagrima" on your own):

And here is a translation of the words:

How beautiful she is, how dear she is
the more I see her, the more I like her
but in that heart I'm not capable
little dearness to inspire
That one reads, studies, learns
I don't see that she ignores anything
I'm always an idiot
I don't know but to sigh
Who will clear my mind?
Who will teach me make myself beloved?

If you're interested in picking it up on Amazon (which I highly recommend), here is a link: