Category Archives: Classical Music

New Violetta Wears the Pants in Philly “Traviata”

Violetta & Alfredo: Traviata
Oropresa & Shrader

 

La Traviata, by Giuseppe Verdi

Philadelphia Opera at the Academy of Music, Oct. 2-11; Free HD broadcast on the Mall, Oct. 16, Independence Historic National Park

Lisette Oropesa’s first time out as Violetta Valery was triumphal Friday night. To show her glee in a role that clearly suits her, after “Sempre Libera”’s fireworks, the soprano flung the contents of her champagne glass across the boards. And why not? Oropesa has it all. Vocal range and beauty,  nuance and technique. She’s the slimmest singing actress to play the tubercular “fallen woman” (i.e. sex worker) on this stage in awhile: eliminating one of the challenges that suspend operatic belief.

Alek Shraker,  as Alfredo, is also new to the role and this company. The tenor has a slight cover to the voice; opening night, Shraker’s presence was more subtle than heroic but his singing acting developed ardor and projection as the drama  progressed. A powerful match for this Violetta is Stephen Powell’s Germont. Always harder to sing slow sustained lines, traviata-015which Powell well achieved in “Di Provenza”; even finer his impassioned duets  with the woman whose love he has come to defeat. On her own, Violetta’s  lyric whispers, so perfectly tuned, created a marvelous stillness in the house, before igniting second-act applause.

Pitch: there’s a concept we don’t always find ideal opening night:  much as we crave it. Pitch and timbre. What joy to listen to Oropesa through the evening; not only secure of pitch but how beautifully she matched the woodwinds, flutes in particular, how easy it was to admire again Verdi’s knitting of vocal and instrumental lines. How easeful, too, Corrado Rovaris’ shaping of ensembles: onstage and in the pit. Continue reading New Violetta Wears the Pants in Philly “Traviata”

Novelistic Intelligence aka the Telling Detail

If you want to know what novelistic intelligence is you might compare a page or two of Hilary Mantel’s work with worthy historical fiction by Peter Ackyrod or Susan Sontag. They are intelligent but they are not novelistically intelligent. –Andrea Barrett, “Dust,” the Paris Review, 209, Summer, 2014

Why “one perfectly chosen detail works better than an army of dutifully transcribed facts.”  Advice we cannot hear too often as we struggle to write the compelling story, the portrait, the poem. 

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Dear Friends,

Sadly, since mid-September I’ve been off the air on WRTI, 90. 1 FM, a part-time gig I was privileged to enjoy for precisely one decade. I thank you for your listening & reading support. This blog & its earlier version (NotesfromPhilly@wordpress) were begun to document the WRTI scripts when they were removed from the radio website in favor of podcasts only.

I’ve plans to expand the blog into a website so please stay tuned.  The hope is to use it to explore my passion for working with writers (and readers!) of all levels.

For the past two years,  I’ve been working with a few individuals as a writing coach in my home studio:  short-story, creative non-fiction, journalism, beginning poetry.  The process is reciprocally invigorating; it takes me back to my days as a piano and music appreciation teacher only now the lessons are literary.

My workshop in the very short essay: Delight! Writing the Pleasures, (based on the miniature reflections of J.B. Priestley) will be offered in January at the Muse House Center in Chestnut Hill; it is also expected at the South Philadelphia (Fuomo) Branch of the Free Library. I would love to see you here,  there or in my Alder Street Studio.

Finally,  I have embarked on Warren Wilson College’s low-residency MFA Program for Writers in Poetry. For me, a conservatory graduate, Warren Wilson is the Juilliard or Peabody of writing schools, a daunting challenge for the third act of this critic’s life.

Here’s to writing practice!

With cordial thanks, dear readers,

Lesley

Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades at AVA

Queen of Spades (Pique Dame) Opera by  Peter I. Tchaikovsky) Russian Opera Workshop,  Ghenady Meirson, Music Director & Pianist, Academy of Vocal Arts,  Helen Corning Warden Theater, 1925 Spruce St., Philadelphia, Performed July 24, 25, 26, 2012. Review of 7/25 for WRTI, 90.1 fm

The Russian Workshop that summers at Academy of Vocal Arts took on a big challenge this month with Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades. Adding to the challenges of the dificult opera, the heat was stifling in AVA’s shoebox theater. Just as well that the 13 emerging artists from all over the map weren’t in costume. So tight were they stuffed on stage for the  concert performance – with music director Ghenady Meirson  at the keyboard.  Meirson needed a better piano for the ravages of this tale. Queen of Spades, based on Pushkin,  is another love story that doesn’t end well.  Herman, who gambles, also not well, has his heart set on Liza, who’s engaged to someone else. If he can win the secrets of the cards from Lisa’s grandmother, the countess, he thinks he’ll win the girl.  Fate of course throws its hand. But not before lots of girl and guy friends put in their money’s worth. The cast of young singers in the Russian Workshop production at AVA   were nicely matched.  At the performance I heard (July 25). Herman was sung by tenor Steven Williamson of Westminster Choir College, who gave the role an increasingly obsessive ardor. Liza was Nathalie Avila, from Miami, whose power and range is immense. Michael J. Davis was an excellent Tomsky. Maude Paradis took the Countess or the Queen of Spades at this one but all the women’s roles were notable especially the governess of mezzo Raehann Bryce Davis of Manhattan, who sang the title other nights. Look for these young artists everywhere.

Xian Zhang’s fresh Beethoven Ninth at Mann

Philadelphia Orchestra, Xian Zhang, conducting, Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, the Choral) Othalie Graham, soprano, Margaret Mezzacappa, mezzo-soprano, Zach Borichevsky, tenor, Luis Ledesma, baritone, The Philadelphia Singers Chorale, David Hayes, music director. J.S. Bach. Concerto for Two Violins & String Orchestra , Juliette Kang, violin, Kimberly Fisher, violin.  Mann Music Center, June 27, 2012, Review for WRTI, 90.1 fm

Beethoven’s Ninth (Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125, “Choral)”, is so familiar we almost don’t hear the notes – waiting for the singers!  Chinese-American conductor Xian Zhang used the Choral Symphony as her calling card with the Philadelphia Orchestra Wednesday night.  Her program of Beethoven and J.S. Bach opened the orchestra’s six- concert series at the Mann in Fairmount Park. Her Beethoven was fresh and focused. As focused as the unidentified bird that chirped through a stretch of the Scherzo, like a scat singer doing syncopation. Zhang, born in 1973, is the music director of Milan’s Gisueppe Verdi Symphony.  She led from memory.

Zhang’s leadership was dynamic no push- pull theatrics with the famous score. She’s got discernment. One mentor was Lorin Maazel. The strings that play so large a part had clarity in every register, violin themes and murmurs, the cellos and basses’ dark alacrity. The Scherzo’s stops and starts compelled; assertions not aggressiveness: when the theme returned it was the better for not being simply louder. There was more instrumental delight from horns and winds and Peter Smith’s oboe. The slow movement came like a breeze. By now the soloists had walked on stage.  Now it gets real, someone in the audience said.  Wrong.

Wednesday’s soloists were quality, Tenor Luis Ledesma began with a confidence and tone he didn’t quite sustain; baritone Zach Borischevsky and mezzo-soprano Margaret Mazzecappa were good choices. Othalie Graham’s soprano had pitch problems. All of the quartet sounded under-rehearsed. The  backup was the thriller – Philadelphia Singers Chorale could sing the finale to the Ninth upside down. Wednesday squeezed on stage behind the instrumentalists their joy thrilling. That inspiration was oddly lacking from all concerned when excellent principals Juliette Kang and Kimberly Fisher opened with J.S. Bach’s Concerto For Two Violins and String Orchestra in D Minor.  An auto pilot version of music that could have been so much more. Clearly the maestra’s attention had been on Beethoven.