Being somebody

I was listening to Il giuramento, an opera by Mercadante, the top dog among 19th century Italian opera composers whose work hasn't survived in the repertoire. He writes smooth melodies, whips up at least the appearance of drama, and expertly handles every aspect of the 19th century Italian style. So what's missing? I'd put it this way -- his characters never grab you, singing (as a subtext to whatever their words are) "I am somebody!" (To borrow Jesse Jackson's phrase.) Listen, by contrast, to just about any Verdi aria. Verdi's characters are … [Read more...]

More on titles

I loved the comments on my recent post on opera titles. They built a safety net under my limited Italian, provided wonderful examples of the things I was talking about, and took my ideas a lot further. And I want to sent a happy shout to Cori Ellison, who commented, who works professionally with titles, and provides a point of view that the rest of us don't have. It all makes me want to state, or restate, some general points.First, it strikes me that we tend to think of titles as purely explanatory, a neutral element in an opera performance. … [Read more...]


A New York Times story says today that the New York City Opera will lay off 11 full-time employees. That's 13% of their staff. The company, as quoted in the story, says it needs fewer staff members this year because, well, basically the company won't be giving any normal performances. And there's of course an economic factor, too. Says a spokesman, quoted by the Times, the company "believes that this reorganization will position the opera to deal with current economic conditions." This leads to a cascade of questions. Did the company need … [Read more...]

Berlioz in Opera News

I have a piece on Berlioz's operas in the new issue of Opera News. You can read it online here. It was fun to write -- I didn't know Benvenuto Cellini well, and didn't know Béatrice et Bénédict at all. Was very surprised to find out that B&B is a dud, in spite of a ravishing duet at the end of the first act. (Which has nothing to do with the plot -- one sign of the things that make the opera a dud, at least for me.) Among the many delights I had was listening to the first Colin Davis recording of Cellini, which I think is one of the great … [Read more...]

Dress code footnote

From one of my wife Anne Midgette's terrific pieces on Christoph Eschenbach in the Washington Post: He has long ago discarded the standard tailsuit in favor of a crisp Nehru jacket; at the Orchestre de Paris, where he is music director...a fashion house was brought in to design an alternative to the players' traditional formal dress.So it can be done, unless the players and audience in Paris just hate what they're wearing now. Any word on that?(Anne's other Eschenbach piece is here.)Added later: I searched online in vain for photos of the … [Read more...]

Di Manrico genitrice

Followup to my post about the language of Italian opera, and how it's never rendered properly in opera-house translations.I was listening again to Il Trovatore, and came to the moment when the baritone realizes that the gypsy he's captured is not only the woman who burned his infant brother alive, but is also his hated rival's mother. The rival is named Manrico, and, as I listened, I heard the baritone labelling the gypsy with these words: "Di Manrico genitrice."Which is very fancy, to the point of silliness. First, it's backwards poetic … [Read more...]