Friday, December 31, 2010

Opera Cats in Sp-a-a-a-a-ce!

I include the Planetary Society in my blog roll not only to be informed about another subject of interest to me but also to keep up with prospects of taking opera to other planets. The NASA photo above, actually the last download from the Spirit rover since March, shows a potential site for the first opera house on Mars. We might discover, however, that there is opera on other worlds already -- "It's opera, but not as we know it."

The Planetary Society has posted a review of 2010 with glorious pictures of affairs astronautical and astronomical.

/// This is probably my last post for 2010. Have a Happy New Year and stay safe. ///

Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 reviewed

I hesitated to write a post like this for this year. Do you realize that we also tend to post a review of the performing arts season that straddles two years? There's some overlap, then, but let me look back at what I enjoyed about 2010 in a few areas:

~~ On the Book of Faces: Facebook is a boon for military brats like me and anyone who spent their early years moving around so much and making and losing new friends around the country or the globe. This year, I found a lot of college and Air Force base friends, and I reconnected with some English cousins. Right now, I'm thrilled to have found an English school friend who I felt would have been one of those childhood best friends for a long time, if my American military brathood hadn't yanked me back across the Atlantic. We're both a little stunned at the number of years that have passed, but we're glad to be in touch again.

~~ I'm not forgetting my opera contacts and other friends in my neighborhood. Facebook has been great for networking with them, too.

~~ My list of most memorable performances on the opera stage, and I resist the urge to list everything: Conrad Susa's "Transformations", done by Peabody Opera at Baltimore Theatre Project last winter....Peabody Opera's "Manon" this fall gave Massenet some much needed circulation in the local opera scene....Opera Vivente's brilliant Bawlmerese "Magic Flute" last spring and "Lucy of Lammermoor" this fall....Seeing the same colorful faceted Baroque coat on OV's stage and then on Peabody's stage a couple of weeks later! That seemed to tie things together nicely....My first experience with Wolf Trap Opera Company in the form of Mozart's "Zaide" and Britten's "A Midsummer Night's Dream", the latter fulfilling a long-time desire to see this opera in performance....Another memorable first experience was Baltimore Concert Opera at Artscape in the summer and in "The Barber of Seville" in their season opening....Finally, I was privileged to witness the first season of the new Opera Vivente Academy, and OV is preparing for the Academy's second season now.

~~ There is some great chamber music to be had closer to home here in Columbia, Maryland, and I enjoyed my first experience with the Sundays at Three series, in addition to Candlelight Concerts.

~~ In some circles I might be called a video hound. Several fine movies, new and old, came my way this year: "Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky", with its recreation of the notorious opening night of "The Rite of Spring"...."The Ghost Writer", a virtual symphonic music video with the moody, persistent score by Alexandre Desplat (I was just watching this one again the other night). And so good to see the powerhouse of acting, including Eli Wallach!...."The Red Shoes" and "Black Narcissus" from Powell and Pressburger, lovingly remastered on the Criterion Collection....More Powell and Pressburger magic in their film of Offenbach's "The Tales of Hoffmann"....Rediscovering a classic animated favorite, "The Snow Queen", which I've been obsessing over most recently. This American release, which we knew as a seasonal TV feature back in childhood, is another symphonic video when you consider film composer Frank Skinner's delightful score. Curiosity will drive me to seek out the original Russian-language edition with score by Artemiy Aivazyan.

~~ I did get some real book reading done this year -- yes, I did. Most notably, I discovered the shorter writings of Rebecca West in a new collection by Pearhouse Press....Alex Ross's new "Listen to This" essay collection is on my current reading list, and the "Living Opera" collection by Joshua Jampol....My Snow Queen obsession moved me to buy Haugaard's translation of Hans Christian Andersen.

~~ This blog is two years old this month, significant because I was notorious for deleting blogs after keeping them for only a few months. Perhaps more importantly, Ollie, our #1 Opera Cat and stand-in for Pushkin's magic cat, turned 10 in October.

Monday, December 27, 2010


The comment that turned out to be spam on my last post reminds me how much I'd like to upgrade my computer and Internet hook-up. Though I can see now how to delete unwanted comments, that is another action that will have to wait until I can get to my "other computer" (usually at the library). The same goes for editing links in my margin. Actually being able to use the video and audio applications that critics and other bloggers have been posting on their sites would be nice, too. And maybe if I can get on and off the Internet faster, Ollie will get more attention.

(But first, I'm dealing with an ongoing heat pump problem, fortunately covered by warranty, and anticipating a higher power bill for the emergency back-up heating.)

/// Thanks for the comment from a reader and blogger in Indiana, Lord Thomas of Wellington. He is also an opera and movie lover, and glancing at his blog already tipped me to another vintage movie. (And my cat's name is Ollie.) ///

Sunday, December 26, 2010

In January Opera News: Translating Opera (and Art Song)

I read Hugh Macdonald's "Language Barrier" in my print copy of the January 2011 Opera News, not available on line yet. I'll try to provide a link for friends later. (For benefit of readers from outside the area who find this post: Opera Vivente here in Baltimore performs in English.)

A Cat's Snow Dreams; Sun Blogs

"Let's go outside and make a snowcat!" Ollie, #1 Opera Cat, ponders the Big Enough Snow of a recent winter. Meanwhile, this winter, as I was perusing the Baltimore Sun for news of the impending storm, I discovered that the Sun has created a directory of local bloggers. When did that happen? When I last checked, the Sun had for bloggers, but you have to be a member and use the tool provided by the Sun. Thanks to whomever already submitted my blog to the new directory. (This is a separate feature from the Sun's own staff blogs, two of which are in my blog roll.)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Yuletide Greetings and Playlists

Merry Christmas to all, and Season's Greetings if you celebrate a different way at this time of year.

Around my neighborhood, we're wondering whether we'll get a Christmas snow or not. The Baltimore Sun weather page currently shows a winter storm watch, though the forecast was indicating a lesser chance as the week progressed. My picture, taken through one of my windows at home, isn't from last winter's Big Snow but from the Fairly Big Snow of a couple of years ago.


Here's a wintry mix of CD's and DVD's that I've been playing recently:

~~ On CD, Bryn Terfel's new Christmas album with a bonus disc sung in Welsh. Thanks to the review on the Clef Notes blog for pointing me to it. (Snow just started falling as I type this!) I've been exploring older holiday albums, including a wonderful disc of orchestral music which Eric Kunzel did with the Rochester Pops many years ago....the Taverner Consort's two holiday CD's on EMI....the beautiful disc of Christmas music from Brittany all sung in Breton on Nonesuch. One of the Breton tunes shows up with different lyrics on Terfel's Welsh disc. ADDENDUM: I really must mention the Baltimore Consort's 1994 "Bright Day Star" album on Dorian, which brightened my day soon after this post.

~~ On DVD, I relived in color this time the charms of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and the English-language version of Lev Atamanov's animated film of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen". The latter would benefit greatly from some restoration treatment in the manner of the Criterion Collection, though the title character's scenes are all in good condition and suitably chilly....The Criterion Collection did provide me with a pristine transfer of the 1946 "Brief Encounter", my first encounter with this great movie based on a Noel Coward play and unknowingly scored by Rachmaninov....If you're a fan of "The Red Shoes", which Criterion released earlier this year, and you're not aware of the second ballet movie done by the same creative forces, you might want to look for their rendition of Offenbach's "The Tales of Hoffmann", filmed as a combination of opera and ballet. I found it in Criterion's lower-priced Essential Arthouse series while browsing in Borders recently.

The snow is coming down a little more earnestly now. Time to put on Fucik's Wintersturme waltzes and Rimsky-Korsakov's Christmas Eve suite.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

At Daedalus: Russian Fairy Tales in Painting

A real treasure found at Daedalus Books and Music here in Columbia: Depictions of Russian fairy tales and legends by great Russian artists. NAI Publishers says it's out of print, but Daedalus has a stack of remainders in very nice condition for about $24 each.

I love the expression on the Prince's face in the cover painting by Vasnetsov. Vrubel's eerie Swan Princess is here also, and last night while perusing my copy I discovered Repin's rich portrayal of Sadko.

Jaroussky's Caldara; Boston Early Music Festival

Excitement is brewing on the Internet and in print over countertenor (?) Philippe Jaroussky's latest Virgin Classics release, "Caldara in Vienna". Reviewer Richard Lawrence in the January 2011 Gramophone maintains that Jaroussky is a male soprano rather than countertenor. When I checked online, the album had not been released on this side of the Atlantic yet.

Jaroussky will sing opposite soprano Amanda Forsythe in opera -- Steffani's "Niobe" -- at the Boston Early Music Festival next June. This will be a rare North American appearance by the French opera star (though not his first, I think). Road trip!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

In Search of the Red-Nosed Reindeer

I have enough holiday music on CD now, but I'm on a quest for the DVD of this TV classic. I couldn't believe that Borders here in Columbia doesn't have it in stock, and neither does Daedalus Books and Music as I just found out this evening. This means a visit online to then. We had a black and white TV set in our home when I was a kid, and I never knew this was a color production until recently. Besides the chance to see in color the wonderful story of a misfit reindeer who makes good, there's Burl Ives in one of his greatest screen roles and that awful Abominable Snowmonster. (The cryptozoology geek in me back then soon figured out that the presence of the Snowmonster at the North Pole twisted certain facts about the Snowman or Yeti, who really lived in the Himalayas.)

In my mind, all the other Christmas shows paled in the light of Rudolph's nose. That other stop motion animation feature with the Winter Warlock and what not had it's charms, but we young film critics knew that it was trying to cash in on the Rudolph magic and didn't quite make it. I did like "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" with Boris Karloff narrating, and I had a special fondness for the animated movie of "The Snow Queen". Remember that one? I've since learned that it was a Soviet production and that the American release ruined it with some live-action framing story, though I can't remember that aspect of it in the TV broadcasts that I saw.

But the 1964 TV classic version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" must be tops in everyone's memory. I had a reminder earlier this year when I discovered that neighbors were moving unwanted garden plants to a mulch bed sloping down into a drainage area on our condominium grounds. I'll be adding to it myself next spring with some flowers that aren't working out where I first situated them. The neighbors have dubbed this area where flowers get a second chance as the Island of Misfit Plants.

While I'm on Amazon, I'll also look for the 1951 film version of "A Christmas Carol" starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge, another DVD mysteriously unavailable at our Borders. I heard the suite from the score by Richard Addinsell on WBJC 91.5 FM last night -- thanks!

[Thanks so much for the comment! I see now that there is much more to ponder in the tale of Rudolph than the authenticity of the Snowmonster. The DVD is on the way from Amazon, too.]

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Two Short Operas by Elizabeth Maconchy

Chandos lets us download free high-resolution album art, so I have this lovely picture for my post. Horrifying, isn't it? That's Prince Dominic being turned into a sofa by his sorceress grandmother after she catches him fooling around on her furniture with a young woman he meets at a party. He is cursed to remain in sofa form until another couple performs upon him. (Practice safe sex! Don't get caught fooling around on your sorceress grandmother's furniture.)

Elizabeth Maconchy's (1907-1994) two short operas, "The Sofa" and "The Departure", are on my current playlist at home. I recently found the Chandos recording while browsing at An die Musik in Baltimore (but I can't say how many other copies might be in stock there). I wasn't familiar with Maconchy, a student of Ralph Vaughan Williams, and I couldn't resist investigating these rare works of more modern operatic repertoire. "The Sofa" is comic material. As I post, I have yet to listen to "The Departure", a more tragic and introspective work about a married couple in communication after the wife is lost in a car accident. An opportunity to experience some opera written originally in English, these short pieces could be performed together for contrast or perhaps separately with short operas by other composers.

Links: Here is the page for the album on the Chandos site....The 2009 release documents a production by Independent Opera at Sadler's Wells....Baltimore's An die Musik is both a recording store and live performance space.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Der Barber von Seville ~~ opera in the vernacular

Thanks to Opera Vivente Director John Bowen for the comment on my preceding post. I thought it was worth copying into a new post, and it follows below. "Der Barber von Seville" -- that is the title of a historic opera video on DVD that I saw in Opera News some time ago. It bears out the point that opera has been translated into the local language all over the world for a long time. Fritz Wunderlich was the star tenor in that German production, and many of his archival recital discs currently available have him singing arias from French and Italian operas in German. There are plenty of examples of other singers performing foreign music in their own languages, and I could go on about Jussi Bjoerling singing in Swedish.

Here is Bowen's comment...

Hey Clayton - Thanks for continuing to disseminate OV brochures to newcomers. As to your new friend's queries regarding why anyone would translate opera into the vernacular nowadays, I'd explain to him that a) opera in the vernacular was the norm the world over until the advent of supertitles and still is the norm in some of the more far-flung regions of the opera world, b) composers fully expected that their works would be translated into the language of the people (yes, I know there have periodically been exceptions to this, e.g. 18th century England and Germany believing that their language was unsingable), c) at base opera is a communicative, dramatic artform that is more akin to spoken theater than choral music so if you don't expect Centerstage to produce plays in the original language why do you expect an opera company to do so, and d) the hegemony of original language is financially motivated not artistically motivated.

Point (a) in Bowen's comment was covered in a recent pre-performance lecture at OV, and I shared it during the discussion with my friend. Bowen's comment on the whole sets out some basic observations which I realize could lead into further discussion and debate. (I have posted earlier about a DVD of a South African adaptation of "Carmen" in Xhosa, and I'll include the label on this post for reference.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sharing Opera Information Among Friends

Yesterday, I found myself engaged in passionate conversation about opera with a new arrival in the area. He and his wife, both in their twenties or very early thirties, just settled in central Maryland and are scouting the local cultural opportunities. (He has experience with the New York City scene and, apparently, San Francisco.) Yesterday's talk generally covered voice types -- and it was clear he had some musical training, more than I can say for myself -- everything from male sopranos to bass-baritones to contraltos and whether Rosina's aria sounds best sung by a soprano or mezzo and so on. I had been identified by a mutual acquaintance as somebody with knowledge of the local opera and general cultural scene (Thanks!), so our new arrival had come to me a few days before with questions. I made sure that an OV brochure was in his hands, but then I had to parry questions about why any company would be translating opera into English these days. (Well, whether you like your opera translated or not, there is some damned good theater to be had at Opera Vivente.) I also told him about the other good companies active in Baltimore now as well as WNO. (I told him how he could find my blog and stressed the links to other resources.)

So, it's good to meet people, younger or older, who are interested in what's happening on the local opera stages.

I'm also in touch with a few friends who were patrons of the old BOC and WNO or both. I debated whether to bug them by e-mail about the Futral recital at the Lyric in Baltimore this Sunday and the prospects for a new major company there -- would they be in tune with the situation already and would I be repeating information they already knew? Well, a very short feeler e-mail wouldn't hurt, and I can say now that one of them replied and was completely unaware. He is a trained singer himself and sings in amateur groups outside of his regular job, so he'd be very busy and maybe not staying in touch with developments like this. He might try to go on Sunday.

I suspect that there are quite a few people out there who saw the BOC go under and have assumed generally that nothing operatic is happening in Baltimore any more even at this late stage. So it doesn't hurt to bug them now and then with a "Hey! Guess what!" message.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Elizabeth Futral in Free Concert this Sunday in Baltimore

Soprano Elizabeth Futral, who has appeared at Washington National Opera and the former Baltimore Opera Company, will give a free recital accompanied by pianist James Harp at the Lyric, Sunday evening, December 12. I know there has been plenty of notice about this event, but I just phoned in my request for a reservation this morning, and apparently seats are still available. It's free, but they would like reservations to be made. Call 410-900-1163. You'll be asked to leave an e-mail address where the confirmation can be sent.

My confirmation arrived, and details indicate social hour with cash bar at 6pm; Ms. Futral's recital at 7pm. The event supports the new Lyric Opera Baltimore, which plans to begin its first season in the fall of 2011. I also will be keen on seeing the newly renovated opera house.

Regards and thanks to Baltimore Sun's Tim Smith on his Clef Notes blog and Baltimore Concert Opera's Brendan Cooke on his Voce Vero blog for recent commentary and rallying of support for the future of opera in Baltimore.

Also many thanks to Elizabeth Futral and James Harp for staging this free event. (Photo is by Christian Steiner, from Ms. Futral's gallery.)

Baritone John Dooley at Opera Delaware

Here in Maryland, we've seen and heard Mr. Dooley's vivid portrayals on Opera Vivente's stage in Baltimore, most recently Papageno (as Orioles souvenir vendor) in last spring's Baltimorean Magic Flute. When I spotted a particularly sharp-looking profile photo on Dooley's Facebook profile -- wearing white tie and tails and sporting a cane -- I had to ask him what character he was portraying and where. He kindly revealed that it was his Marquis D'Obigny for a recent "La Traviata" at Opera Delaware. I'm remiss for not including Opera Delaware in my list of companies in the region, but I'll fix that soon. They're staging Lehar's "The Merry Widow" in May 2011, and Dooley will be Baron Zeta.

Photos of John Dooley in various roles can be found at

Opera Delaware's site is at (Hmmm -- operade. It sounds like a delicious, refreshing beverage served during intermission.)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

pottery and planned posts

A quick post without links -- then I must deal with some distractions this weekend.

First, a favorite potter in my blog roll, Good Elephant Pottery, will be at the Greenbelt Festival of Lights today and tomorrow. I just gave a set of her famous crab fossil coasters to a member of my family over the recent holiday.

A post on an opera company across the state line is still in the offing, and now I'd like to give notice that I've been in touch with an official closer to home about cultural amenities in Columbia Town Center's development plans. A post or series of posts on that subject is in my plans also.

See my preceding post for a list of December performances in the area with links.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December Concert and Opera Calendar Lights Up

Links for upcoming Baltimore, Towson and Columbia area performances, holiday and non-holiday oriented...

~~ Harmonious Blacksmith, locally based early music ensemble, returns to the concert circuit on December 4 in Towson. They've been working on a CD, just released!
~~ An die Musik has klezmer this weekend, then comes David Lang's Little Matchstick Girl Passion (Evolution Contemporary series), the Baltimore Consort at the Walters, a Kwanzaa event and more.
~~ Sundays at Three series here in Columbia has a piano recital by Eun Joo Chung in the afternoon of December 5.
~~ Columbia Pro Cantare's Messiah will happen in the evening of December 5.
~~ Handel Choir of Baltimore's Messiah on December 11 and 12 has a contralto among the soloists.
~~ has been back on line and has a calendar of upcoming events.
~~ Soprano Elizabeth Futral will give a free performance accompanied by James Harp on December 12 at the Lyric in Baltimore. Link is to Tim Smith's post on Clef Notes. (It's free but call for reservations. See Smith's post.) The event will promote the inauguration of Lyric Opera Baltimore planned for late 2011.
~~ Opera Vivente celebrates this abundance of performances and has a note on Club OV's December 17 Happy Holidaze cabaret.
~~ Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's calendar includes Handel's "Messiah".
~~ Here is the Peabody calendar again. The Peabody Renaissance Ensemble's holiday concerts on December 9 and 10 are recommended (buying tickets in advance also recommended).