Sunday, July 21, 2013

Candy? Iron? Wood?

Choices! Choices!

According to one of those lists on that is the choice I have when it comes to getting Laurent a gift to celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary.

July 21 - 2007: In our friend Joelle's garden with Elaine who married us - I remember her as a
little girl at Air Canada Christmas parties.  Though it was a glorious sunny day the small lantern
was lit to represent all our friends who could not be with us that day.

A traditional gift would be:
  • Candy - to symbolize the sweetness of our love
  • Iron - to represent the strength of our marriage
Apparently a more modern gift would be:
  • Wood - to signify a long-lasting and solid relationship
If I were to choose something sparkly and blingy it would be in:
  • Amythest
  • Turquoise
 Should I wish to celebrate in colour they suggest:
  • purple
  • turquoise
  • white (?????)
And if I'm going to say it with flowers:
  • calla lilies - which signify "magnificent beauty" in the language of flowers
And we could celebrate by:
  • Making candy together
  • Planting a tree together:
- An oak represents solidity
- A pine represents the evergreen character of our love
- A flaming red maple represents the flaming passion we have for each other
- A flowering crab (?) tree represents love eternal
Choices! Choices!

I think we'll just wish each other Happy Anniversary, thank each other and the powers that be for six - well okay actually 34 if you could the 29 year engagement - years together, hug, walk the dogs and go to the Lieutenant's Pump for breakfast.  Beats the heck out of candy, iron or wood!

Just before we exchanged our vows, our Reesie decided he wanted to be picked up.
Laurent has a picture of the three of us and further memories of the day on his blog.

Happy Anniversary P....l from P.....g.

July 21 - 356 BC: The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is destroyed by arson.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Salzburger Zeitung 2013 - Post Script

 Dateline:  July 20, 2013: 

A few final comments on this year and next years' Festivals and then probably another of those prolonged silences I've now become known for.

As with any festival there are bound to be highs and lows - not always the fault of the artists or the artistic director doing the programming.  What often looks good on paper falls flat when realized.  Of the seven events we took in a this year's Pfingstfestspeil I can honestly say the the highs set the bar at such a level that in many other venues the lows would have been considered highs.

The highlights?  Do you have to ask?  It will be a long time before I see or hear that Norma equalled and the Gubaidulina-Shostakovich double bill made me an emotional wreck. The low?  I'm afraid the Haydn Seven Last Words left me wishing I had spent the afternoon sipping Aperol Spritz on the terrace of the Cafe Bazar.  That's how high the bar was this year.  That Bartoli girl knows how to put on a damn fine festival.

On the Sunday evening as we sat enjoying a nightcap in the Sketch Bar our friend Dr. M. showed us the prospectus for 2014.  It came as a bit of a surprise and a lively discussion broke out about the merits of returning or not.  Rossinissimo! trumpeted the title - and in her preface La Ceci waxed enthusiastic over the beloved son of Pesaro.  And frankly who better?  Much of her early reputation was built on her appearances in Il Barbiere and Cenerentola and recently she has appeared in Conte Ory and Otello.   Now as much as I love Rossini when I couple his name with Festival I think of our August trips to Pesaro.  Did I really want to come back to Salzburg in June for what I could see in August on the sun soaked shores of the Adriatic?

Well Cenerentola is my favourite Rossini opera and I had never seen La Ceci sing Angelina; Otello is a work I've been fascinated by since I read an article in Opera News more than 50 years ago and she has put together an interesting cast (always a challenge when you need three - not the Three - tenors).   As she showed this year, she may be the artistic director and the nominal star but she surrounds herself with performers of equal star quality.  So yes we get La Ceci in Cenerentola and Otello but the supporting casts include Javier Camarena, Nichola Alaimo, John Osborn and Barry Banks.  But the programme bracketed by the two operas is even more fascinating.  Franco Fagioli singing music of Meyerbeer and Rossini; David Fray playing Rossini, Liszt, Mozart and Bach; Antonio Pappano exploring the religious Rossini - first the Stabat Mater with his Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Krassimira Stoyanova, Elina Garanca, Piotr Beczala and Erwin Schrott on the Sunday morning then the Petite Messe Solennelle with Eva Mei, Vesselina Kasarova, Lawrence Brownlee and Michele Pertusi in the afternoon; Joyce DiDonato giving us Venetian songs by a parcel of composer; and strangest of all A Grand Rossini Gala and dinner.

That gala is the oddest item of the programme - unless you count Il Barbiere by the Salzburg Marionette Theatre, though I like to think of that as inspired - with a parade of singers that is honestly a little frightening.  Fine Bartoli, Kasarova, Ildebrando d'Arcangelo, Camerena and Michele Pertusi are remarkable in the current crop of Rossini singers; however,  as much as I love and revere them I am honestly trying to think what Agnes Baltsa, Teresa Berganza, Monstserrat Caballe, Jose Carreras, Leo Nucci and Ruggero Raimondi can possible sing at this stage of their lives.  Sometimes it is best to be left with your treasured memories. 

As tempting as the programme looked, and Christian, our host at the Bristol, kept pointing up all the positives, we  decided that we'd go elsewhere for our musical pleasure in 2014.  Our Festival friend Dr M firmly avowed the same.  Just before leaving for Füssen on Tuesday morning we ran into the good Doctor who admitted to having just returned from the box office and they would mail his tickets to him later in the week.

We chortled at his lack of resolve and headed out to the train station.  We would never be so weak-willed.

July 20 - Petrarch, Italian scholar and poet is born in Arezzo (d. 1374)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Lunedi Lunacy

A truly heart stopping moment:

Many thanks to my dear Vicki for this one.

15 July - 1823: A fire destroys the ancient Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, Italy.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Salzburger Zeitung 2013 - Seventh Edition

Dateline:  July 14, 2013:

Not for the first time I've saved the best at the Whitsun Festival for last.

I will begin by saying I'm not a fan of Bellini - of the big three of bel canto he is my least favourite: #1 Rossini #2 Donizetti #3 Bellini.  Yes I know many of my friends with better music knowledge than I find my love of Rossini a case of arrested musical development but there it is.  More often than not Bellini bores me:  in La Sonnambula I find myself almost as comatose as its eponymous heroine (oh come on now she was sleepwalking when she wandered into a big butch bass-baritone's bedroom?) and I Puritani is only one of two operas I've walked out of in 61 years of opera going.  Sorry, poor old Elvira - what the hell sort of name is that for a Puritan girl? - going mad once is okay - twice no dice!  I Capuletti e Montecchi - okay that one I love, it's fast, it's furious and it's filled with great music.  Il Pirata, Beatrice di Tenda and La Stangeria - well let's admit it there's a reason they aren't revived all that often.

That leaves only the biggie:  Norma.   And I'm not all that crazy about it - give me Lucia di Lammamoor in her blood stained nightgown or Maria Stuarda in her soon to be blood stained nightgown but Norma running around cutting mistletoe and mooning over some Roman.   As we use to say in Rome:  boh!

And there in doth lie a slight problem.  In those 61 years of opera going there are two performances that rank in the top 10 I've seen - both of them of ....    Norma!

Back in 1974 at the Roman Theatre in Orange Montserrat Caballe fought a Mistral to sing what she - without exaggeration  I believe - claimed to be the greatest performance of her life.  The score that night was Monstie 1 - Mistral 0.

The triumphant curtain calls - Josephine Veasey, Montserrat Caballe and Jon Vickers acknowledge
the cheering, bravoing audience at that legendary 1974 Norma in Orange. When I watch the video
of that evening I like to think that I can actually hear my own bravos over the rest!
In the shadow of Augustus Caesar, as the orchestra struggled to read flapping scores clothes-pinned to their music stands,  Caballe, Jon Vickers and Josephine Veasey generated drama and excitement that has stayed in my mind's ear and eye for almost 50 years.  This was opera in the grand old style that was starting to disappear even back then - more about voice than staging.  Given those great voices how could it not have been?

Pollione - Jon Vickers (top left, bottom right)   Norma - Montserrat Caballe (top and bottom right)
 Adalgisa - Josephine Veasey (bottom left) * Orange 1974.
They were big glorious voices pouring out torrents of sound, fighting the elements and displaying the power of the human voice to convey emotion and drama.  It was thrilling!  And it was Grand Opera at its grandest!

Fast forward to this year's Whitsun Festival and a Norma that could not have been more different but in its own way was one of the most exciting evenings I've spent at the opera.

Friday May 17: LiebesOPFER
Haus für Mozart: 1900

Before the ink had dried on the Festival prospectus the opera blogs were awash with "opera-lovers" damning Cecilia Bartoli's announcement that she would be singing Norma at this year's Whitsun Festival.  The cries of sacrilege that she would even try to sing a role which belonged - do you hear me BELONGED - to the long gone Maria Callas arose from lips that where still suckling at their mother's breast when Callas retired from the stage.  Her voice is too small!  She doesn't have the technique!  Her voice is too small!  She's too mannered!  Her voice is too small!  She doesn't have the nobility! She's too small!  If the blogasphere was to be believed it was going to be a bigger disaster than ... than... well any other role that Bartoli had sung that they from the comfort of their mostly Manhattan bedsits had seen on YouTube.  This disdain for La Ceci seems to be in not only North American centred but particularly New Yorkcentric and emits from opera "lovers" who, I would hazard a guess, have never seen her live.

Now like them I have seen La Ceci on video and agree that she has mannerisms that in close up can be irritating and like every singer she has her quirks and ticks both physically and vocally.  My only experience with her on stage was in concert in Roma.  That evening she played the role of the "diva" - and we were her adoring subjects.  And frankly I had own doubts about how suitable she would be in a role I normally associate with grand divas of a different sort.

Cecilia Bartoli as Norma, the spirit of Anna Magnani was never far from the surface in her riveting portrayal.  Untraditional vocally and dramatically it was none-the-less a great interpretation.
But this was to be a Norma with a difference.  It was a new critical edition by Maurizio Biondi and Riccardo Minasi going back to the original Bellini manuscript in the Conservatorio Santa Cecilia in Rome.  The allocation of voices was to reflect more closely what is known about the singers that created the roles.  And the orchestration was more in tune with the forces available at the period rather than the larger orchestras that were to come into fashion shortly thereafter.  Two hundred years of changes and "improvements" were to be removed to come as close as possible to Bellini's intentions.  Musically it was the equivalent of the house cleaning that had previously largely been done with Rossini but is now being extended to other composers of the bel canto. 

Norma (Bartoli) is first approached by Pollione (John Osborn) as teachers are led away and the local school is closed by the occupying forces.  One of the few examples of dumb show I've every seen that actually worked.

A clean slate musically obviously would call for a clean slate dramatically; I will admit that I cringed when I saw the first production photos on the Salzburg website.  It was to be a modern production by the team of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, Bartoli's preferred directing team.  I had not imagined the flapping canvas oak trees of the ottocento and frankly the thought of Bartoli in pseudo-druid draperies and laurel leave crown was slightly risible.  But was I ready for updating to more recent times?  Was this going to be another one of those regie-theatre concepts with barbed wire sets and Nazis in great coats so beloved in Germanic countries? 

Leader of the local Resistance, Oroveso (Michele Pertusi) cautions his followers to wait for a signal from his daughter, Norma.

Yes there was a directors' concept and, thankfully, no there were no great coats or swastikas. Norma takes places in Roman occupied Gaul: Leiser and Caurier gave us an occupied country, perhaps France, in the 1940s.  The forces of the occupiers appeared briefly in a dumb show prologue in the schoolroom where Norma is the principal and she and Pollione meet for the first time.  After the school has been closed it is to become the meeting place for the Resistance Movement led by Oroveso (Michele Pertusi).  There was one brief reference to Nazi-style helmets but honestly it could have been any occupied country at any time in recent history - Laurent said he thought it almost had a Balkan look to it.  What is important is the dramatic thrust that it gave Romani's somewhat formula love-triangle.  Suddenly it became the very modern story of a woman who had slept with the enemy and secretly betrayed her people and one of her young country women who was about to (or in this version did) make the same mistake.   The bond between the two women became central to everything - Mira Norma wasn't about two sportive ladies showing their vocal chops but two desperate woman in a situation neither of them knew how to get out of.  It was music drama at its finest - in a bel canto opera!!!!!

Adalgisa (Rebeca Olvera) confesses to Norma that she has been seduced and fallen in love with one of the occupying army.  Norma knows only too well the emotion.

A great deal of that drama came from the change of voices from what has become traditional in Norma over the past two centuries.   Rebeca Olvera (Adalgisa) has a light soprano voice - I kept thinking Norina or Adina, both parts sung by Giulia Grisi the creator of Adalgisa - perfect for the young, inexperienced girl who is so easily seduced by the suave Roman soldier.  And seductive John Osborn (Pollione) was in tone and demeanor; though there was a certain sleazy cruelty to his seduction - you almost felt that if he didn't get his way he would take it!  But it was in the final duets with Bartoli that he gave his best vocally and dramatically - matching her and making the change of heart almost believable.

In the dramatic trio that ends the first act Norma realizes that the man that has seduced Adalgisa is the father of her children. 
As remarkable as Olvera and Osborn were the opera is after all called Norma and as I said even I had reservations about Bartoli assuming the role.  I need not have worried - in this production, this edition and at this time she was Norma!  Were the vocal mannerisms there?  At times yes but only during a few of the rapid fire colouratura passages did they become apparent.   If the Casta Diva was not the show stopper - despite attempts to do so by some die-hard Bartolinis* - it was because in the context of the staging it was only part of a larger dramatic arc.  This was not a great diva spinning out lovely sounds - though the lovely sounds were there - this was a woman stalling for time to save her lover - the enemy.

Adalgisa and Norma dream of escaping the inescapable - they have betrayed their people, their vows to the Resistance.

 The programme featured several photos of Anna Magnani and Bartoli acknowledged that she used the great actress's performance in Roma, citta aperta as a starting point for her portrayal of Norma.  Nowhere was that more evident than in Dormono entrambi,  the scena that begins Act 2.  After the harrowing revelations of the Act 1 trio we discovered Norma, disheveled, drunk on bitterness and perhaps alcohol hunched against the wall of her apartment.  The threat to her children was very real - again desperation was never very far from the surface.  This made the subsequent scene with Adalgisa even more intense and as I said Mira Norma became a foolish attempt by two scared women bound by guilt to find a solution to their impossible situation.

Norma confronts the man who has betrayed and taunts him - she will reveal the name of his lover and he will watch as her countrymen take their revenge on her betryal.

From there the drama swept along, irrevocably until that electrifying moment when after taunting the bound Pollione, she blurts out, not to the crowd but directly into his face, Son Io - the confession that seals her death. The subsequent appeal to her father for her children had an aching tenderness - again with a slight edge of desperation.  As Laurent said afterwards, Michele Pertusi's Oroveso may have agreed but somehow you felt these children (one an infant) would not live long after their mother and that this Norma may have felt that in her heart.

Granted Baroli's dramatic and even vocal approach may have robbed the part of some of the "nobility" that has become associated with Norma but it was a complete exciting portrait from curtain raise until her final sacrifice.  She wasn't trying to match any of the ghosts of the past - nor did she need to - this was Bartoli's Norma.

But as much drama as there was on stage it was equally match by the drama in the pit.  Conducting Orchestra La Scintilla, the fine period ensemble of the Zurich Opera, Giovanni Antonini seldom let the temperature or pace drop.  I understand there has been some criticism of his conducting on the album that Decca released to coincide with the Salzuburg premiere.  I purposely avoided listening to it until long after the performance and find the accusation that he pushes things unfounded either in the theatre or on disc.  There were grace moments - the introduction to Act 2,  Norma's plea to her father - but he obviously saw the score as not simply a succession of arias, duets and trios but an overall dramatic sweep of music that took us along to its tragic and fiery end

Bound together Norma and Pollione face death in one of the most incredibly dramatic endings I've ever seen to any theatrical production in my life.
And what an end!  Norma, her hair shorn, and Pollione were bound to chairs on a pyre of furniture, books and anything in the room that would burn.  The school room where they had met was doused in gasoline and set on fire by the betrayed Resistance.  Windows shattered and flames lept through the floor and it was as if the entire stage of the Haus für Mozart was aflame.  It was dramatic stage craft at its best - a true wedding of the music to the drama.

I've seen  Norma as Grand Opera and I've seen Norma as Music Theatre and both experiences have  moved me to tears and had me on my feet cheering.   

*I've yet to come across a term for the die-hard Bartoli fans so figure this will do as well as anything.

PS:  Though Leiser and Caurier filled the production with grand moments there were some subtle pieces of staging that were impressive and suggest the work that they put into their concepts.  In the first act Pollione and his aide Flavio stole into the school room after the Resistance members had left; as his aide searched the room, Pollione took a book from a shelf, leaved through it distastefully and methodically tore out a few pages and let them fall to the floor.  Later Oroveso saw them, picked them up and gave a troubled look around the room - they were being watched!  Anyone who has ever been under surveillance will tell you that it is not uncommon for a "calling card" to be left - just to let you know that you are being observed.  An almost unnoticeable piece of business but one that added to the tension that was carefully being built up. 

All production photos are courtesy the Salzburg Festival 
© Hans Jörg Michel

July 14 -1902: The Campanile in St. Mark's Square, Venice collapses, also demolishing the loggetta.

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Thursday, July 04, 2013

Happy Fourth!!!!!

To all my American family and friends!

July 4 - 1862: Lewis Carroll tells Alice Liddell a story that would grow into Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequels.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Happy Canada Day 2013

I know that I often moan and groan about the life I left behind in Europe but every day I become more and more aware of the freedoms, rights, privileges and responsibilities that I have here in Canada.

Yes there are things that I feel are wrong, there are things lacking but when I balance that with what is right and what is here I am thankful that I have this country to call my home.  

July 1 - 1867: The British North America Act of 1867 takes effect as the Constitution of Canada, creating the Canadian Confederation and the federal dominion of Canada; Sir John A. Macdonald is sworn in as the first Prime Minister of Canada.