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Happy 55th Birthday, Rossini

Fifty-five is no age for a composer and so it is little wonder that Rossini - or at least his music - is alive and well. Born on February 29th, 1792, Gioachino Antonio Rossini soon discovered a penchant and talent in culinary appreciation as well as note-churning. The latter he put to use for the creation of almost 40 operas, the former to support his stately appearance.

So much has been written about Rossini, that I would not likely contribute anything new on this special Rossini-day - so instead I list below all that has been written about Rossini on Ionarts over the last few years.

Except, before I do that, I still want to rehash some reasonably well known stories about Rossini, just because they are too good to pass up on - and because they endear the composer to me, if not always his music.

There is, of course, the story that when Rossini laid on bed composing and he dropped a sheet of freshly written music, rather than making the effort to climb off the bed and pick it up, he simply wrote the music out, again. Consider this - and that tiny little Rossini's daycare consisted of a pork butchery, where he got to watch the production of sausages - and listen to his music carefully...

The most enduring story about Rossini may well be his admission to having cried only three times in his life: Once after his first opera (La cambiale di matrimonio) had a disastrous premiere. Then again when he heard Paganini play. And finally when he witnessed a truffle-stuffed turkey fall overboard in a picnic boating accident. (Sharp tongues might point out that Rossini would have known all about turkeys, but that's just not a nice thing to say on such a rare birthday.)

Rossini on ionarts:

Lawrence Brownlee, classical voice

Another evening of Arias
CDT, October 20, 2016

Lawrence Brownlee Returns to Wolf Trap

An evening of Arias
CDT, March 28, 2016

Rossini's 'Semiramide' in Concert

CD Review
CDT, November 24, 2015

Dismally Banal 'Tell' at Covent Garden

CDT, July 03, 2015

Second Opinion: 'Cenerentola' at WNO

Opera Review
RRR, May 13, 2015

In Search of the Perfect Mousetrap: WNO's 'La Cenerentola'

Opera Review
CDT, May 11, 2015

Ionarts-at-Large: Rossini in San Francisco

Opera Review
RRR, November 26, 2013

Briefly Noted: More of Pappano's Rossini

CD Review
CDT, August 27, 2013

Ionarts at Santa Fe: The Lady without a Lake

Opera Review
CDT, August 02, 2013

Operatic Threesome, Damrau Glitters in 'Ory'

DVD Review
CDT, June 21, 2012

Guillaume Tell

DVD Review
CDT, October 14, 2011

Briefly Noted: Julia Lezhneva

CD Review, Rossini Arias
CTD, October 6th, 2011

Notes from the 2011 Salzburg Festival ( 9 )

Concert Review, Stabat Mater
jfl, August 15th, 2011

8½ Turks in Italy at Wolf Trap Opera

Opera Review, Il Turco...
CTD, July 14th, 2010

'Cinderella' Not a Dream Come True

Opera Review
Sophia Vastek, September 28th, 2009

'Barber of Seville' as Cartoon, and Not with Bugs Bunny

Opera Review
CTD, September 15th, 2009

Wall of Horns (Munich Opera Festival 2008)

Concert Review, Works for Horn Octet
jfl, August 19th, 2008

Washington Concert Opera: Bianca e Falliero

Opera Review
CTD, April 15th, 2008

Opera on DVD: Il Viaggio a Reims

DVD Review
CTD, November 27th, 2007

Ionarts in Siena: Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia

Rossini's Otello, Washington Concert Opera

Sonya Harway, May 1st, 2007

Flórez's Breakthrough

Two Comedies of Errors

Il Viaggio a Reims, Kirov Opera, Kennedy Center, Washington

Siege of Baltimore

L'Assedio di Corinta, Baltimore Lyric Opera
CTD, October 16th, 2006

Frolics and Frippery: A Roll in the Hay with Rossini

Le Comte Ory, Wolftrap
Richard K. Fitzgerarld, July 22nd, 2006

Summer Opera 2006: "Barber of Seville" in St. Louis

Il Viaggio a St. Petersburg

Il Viaggio a Reims, Kirov Opera, Mariinksy Theater, St.Petersburg
Oksana Khadarina, May 30th, 2006

Let's Do Silly Things in Algeria

Tancredi: Sounds Good

Summer Opera: La Cenerentola at Wolf Trap

La Cenerentola, Wolf Trap
CTD, August 21st, 2005

Summer Opera: Barber of Seville in Santa Fe

Even Google celebrates Rossini today:


NHK-Orchester: Lauschen über den Tellerrand hinaus: Latest @ Wiener Zeitung

Wiener Zeitung

NHK-Orchester: Lauschen über den Tellerrand hinaus

Das japanische Ensemble gastierte mit Chefdirigent Paavo Järvi im Konzerthaus.

Spitze Zungen behaupten, Japan habe eine längere Brucknertradition als Wien. Fest steht, dass Japanische Orchester - über den legendären Takashi Asahina und seine Osaka Philharmoniker hinaus - zu Bruckner einen ganz besonderen Bezug haben. Alleine schon deswegen war die Konstellation des NHK-Orchesters mit Bruckners Siebenter Symphonie im Konzerthaus von besonderem Interesse - und auf doppelte Weise ein Heimspiel im Ausland.... [weiterlesen]


Anna Netrebko: Schönklang und Eheglück: Latest @ Wiener Zeitung

Wiener Zeitung

Anna Netrebko: Schönklang und Eheglück

Der Opernstar begeisterte im Konzerthaus, Gatte Yusif Eyvazov sang auch mit.

Bei bis zu 400 Euro pro Karte für die Anna-Netrebko-Show im Wiener Konzerthaus fallen zehn Euro für die Selbstdarstellungshochglanzbroschüre - vulgo Programmheft - wohl nicht mehr ins Gewicht. Dafür gibt es zwar keine Texte der gesungenen Verdi- und Puccini-Arien, aber großformatige Fotos von ihr, ihrem Mann Yusif Eyvazov, vom glücklichen Pärchen. Auf die Sozialmedienkanäle wird mitteldezent hingewiesen.... [weiterlesen]


George Benjamins Oper "Written on Skin" im Wiener Konzerthaus: Latest @ Wiener Zeitung

Wiener Zeitung

Mord und Lust, karg vertont

George Benjamins Oper "Written on Skin" im Wiener Konzerthaus.

George Benjamins "Written on Skin", eine der erfolgreichsten Opern des jungen Jahrhunderts, ist keineswegs schmeichelnde oder gar leichte Kost. Inhaltlich zwischen "Frau ohne Schatten" (Anerkennung der Frau als Individuum durch Konflikt-Zuspitzung) und "Titus Andronicus" (kulinarische Feindverwertung), fällt die Oper musikalisch "Elektra"-gleich mit der Tür ins Haus. "Blaubarts Burg" kommt in den Sinn und "Peter Grimes". Benjamins Lehrer Messiaen ist bestenfalls in der transparent-exotisch gehaltenen Klanggestaltung zu erahnen.... [weiterlesen]


American Ballet Theater's Gothic 'Giselle'

Hee Seo and Cory Stearns in Giselle. Photo: Gene Schiavone

American Ballet Theater returned to the Kennedy Center Opera House this week with a Giselle heavy on the supernatural side of this classic work. The Wilis, the angry spirits of jilted maidens, should inspire fear, something that many productions miss in their fluffy, white softness. The ABT Giselle, the Coralli-Perrot-Petipa choreography staged by Kevin McKenzie, definitely hit its stride in the ghostly second act.

Other Articles:

Sarah L. Kaufman, A ‘Giselle’ that whirls with unusual lyricism (Washington Post, February 12)

---, Ballet dancers have weird and quirky pre-show rituals that would put any sports star to shame (Washington Post, February 6)

Carolyn Kelemen, Former Howard County ballerina is back at the Kennedy Center, this time as a soloist in ‘Giselle’ (Baltimore Sun, February 12)

Gia Kourlas, Skylar Brandt: A Ballerina Invests in Herself (New York Times, February 6)
The company brought back the beautifully matched pairing of Hee Seo and Corey Stearns, who were so heart-breaking together in their Swan Lake in 2017. Seo had an ideal combination of characterizations for the role: pert yet shy as the lovestruck girl, unraveled and distraught when she learns that the lover who has stolen her heart is already engaged to another, and wispy as vapor as the cursed spirit. Besides the finely tuned dramatic sense, Seo's infallible technique put her among the finest Giselles seen here in the last decade, including EunWon Lee, Svetlana Zakharova, Aurélie Dupont, and -- still at the top -- Diana Vishneva.

Stearns was no less accomplished in either regard, his strong body lifting Seo effortless and forming beautifully delineated lines. The score, performed with panache by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, has rarely sounded this good, made more lush and polished in the orchestration by John Lanchbery, who died in 2003. Conductor Ormsby Wilkins, who did not seem in his element conducting a much more complex Strauss score in Whipped Cream in 2018, shaped each halting phrase of the love music with exquisite sensitivity, helping to make the Act II pas de deux so moving. At its climax, when Stearns held Seo perfectly still above him in effortless lifts, it was as if she floated above him in the spirit world, only temporarily visible to him.

The set design helped create the forbidding sense of a forest haunted by spirits, with lightning flashes behind a large hollow tree (scenery by Gianni Quaranta and lighting by Jennifer Tipton). It was the severe Myrta, Queen of the Wilis, of the tall and somewhat icy Devon Teuscher that brought out the harshness of the scene. The edge of her movements and sharp face seemed to inform the cold precision of ABT's well-drilled corps, all clad in the traditional white (costumes by Anna Anni). One could only feel sorry at the fate of Hilarion (the proud, defiant Roman Zhurbin) as he faced the implacable wall of these vengeful spirits.

Giselle runs through February 16 in the Kennedy Center Opera House, with different casts and conductors.


"Tosca" an der Staatsoper: Staub und Stimme: Latest @ Wiener Zeitung

Wiener Zeitung

"Tosca" an der Staatsoper: Staub und Stimme

Die Wallmann-"Tosca" zum 616. Mal an der Staatsoper.

Nach einer von Dominique Meyer angeführten Schweigeminute für die jüngst verstorbene Sopranistin Mirella Freni ging es unter dem Dirigat von Marco Armiliato schwungvoll in die 616. (!) Aufführung von Margarethe Wallmanns Einrichtung der "Tosca" aus dem Jahr 1958. Die Kulissen wackeln und die Kostüme stauben in der liebgewonnenen Inszenierung, die schon lange nur noch den harmlos-konventionellen Bilderrahmen zum Gesang bietet. Das "Tosca"-Publikum will weiße Perücken, hübsche Kostüme, Sant’Andrea della Valle Interieurs, und Kerzen um den Leichnam Scarpias. Und sie bekommen es. Absetzen und etwas Neues machen wäre teuer und würde nur Ärger bringen.... [weiterlesen]


Mirella Freni (1935-2020)

The news of the death of beloved Italian soprano Mirella Freni reached my desk just now. In paradisum deducant te angeli...

In some ways La Freni is responsible for my obsession with opera. In 1990, as a young music major from Michigan, I drove with a friend on my first ever trip to New York City during spring break. We stayed with his father in Brooklyn and spent the week taking in as much of the culture of the big city as we could. One morning I showed up at the Metropolitan Opera box office, hoping to buy a ticket for that day's performance of Puccini's Manon Lescaut.

The employee at the box office took one look at me and said the balconies were all sold out. What if price were not an issue, I asked, thinking of the credit card my parents had sent with me on the trip. He plopped down a fancy-looking ticket for a seat in a box, and I bought it. After all, Des Grieux bankrupted himself and ended up in debtor's prison, all for love of the frivolous Manon. What is money for, except to procure pleasures? I would not have to worry about paying off the cost until I got back to Michigan, and I didn't.

available at Amazon
Puccini, Manon Lescaut, M. Freni, P. Domingo, Philharmonia Orchestra, G. Sinopoli
As you may have guessed, Mirella Freni was starring in this production. The reviewer for the New York Times later wrote that she was by far the best part of the show, which is how I recall it. I sat in the box, treated very nicely by the mostly Italian family occupying it. I could not only hear every nuance of La Freni's voice, I could see the sweat rolling down her face. I had seen operas staged in Michigan, but nothing on the scale of what I saw on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera that day.

As it turned out, I had caught the tail end of a glorious career, and this was (I think) the only production of Manon Lescaut that La Freni sang at the Met. It was the perfect combination to create a lifelong devotion to opera. The friend I went to New York with was a tenor, and being his accompanist in high school was how I first got hooked on opera. I had gotten to know Manon Lescaut by listening to a recording with none other than Mirella Freni. I could not believe that the voice I had heard through my headphones was now coming out of the person in front of me on that stage. I was starstruck. The word Diva was invented because of reactions like the one I had that day at the Met. I left the theater on a cloud.

Although I listened to La Freni's recordings somewhat obsessively over the years since then, I saw her on the stage only once more. It was what turned out to be her final production, Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orleans, mounted just for her by Washington National Opera in 2005. She was 70 years old, and she was still fairly sensational. Three decades and a mountain of operas viewed since then, my first will always be Mirella Freni. May light eternal shine upon her.