Wednesday, March 11, 2009
A very different kind of diva: Annie Lennox, who incidentally is a very keen and excellent blogger (the link takes you to her website - there, click on BLOG). She has a voice I really adore when I don't have my strictly-classical hat on (music is music, as someone once said) and besides, she's someone I particularly admire since she is putting her voice, her fame and her energy into supporting areas that desperately need such support, notably HIV/AIDS research. Please explore her site for more details.
I've discovered she has several major qualities in common with the heroine of my next novel, Songs of Triumphant Love...but that can wait until the book comes out...
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
This is EMI's promotional video for the new Gheorghiu/Kaufmann/Pappano Madama Butterfly. The CD has gone straight to no.1 in the classical charts, according to latest press release. As YouTube is about to pull most of its most popular music videos, I thought we could have a quick look at it first.
Now, here are a few bits of my interview with her that didn't make it into the article. The transcript is pretty much as-was (though I've attempted to correct my typos, abbreviations et al). If you read this AND the published feature, you get the complete picture.
(On crying on stage, segueing from the Boheme story in the piece)
"For the applause, it was a standing ovation, but it gives me...because I really put myself there. That’s why. You can say with time you become used to it, you can manage everything in your life. No. I am more sensitive! And open! It can happen. And if you cannot really judge your feelings and everything to know what to do, because you cannot sing when you are crying, even if you are the most perfect actor, you must act, and that’s all! (JD: What about a role like Violetta?) Oh my God! The second act! If I am not controlling myself I can cry all the way from the second act on to the third."
(JD: Tell me about the recording – it’s rare to make a complete studio recording now)
"Yes, in the last years I saw nobody. But I’m the lucky one, if I may say! But the project was almost made 3-4 years ago, and maybe before I record all arias by Puccini, and in the meantime it was of course planned to do it with Tony Pappano because in every recording session, wow, the relationship between us is like a love affair, it’s something perfect, we understand just perfection without speaking – no speaking, just with gesture, looking, and I feel in his eyes and my eyes an awareness of everything ...it’s very good between us this way."
(The unedited version of the Jonas Kaufmann bit)
"We thought to have Alberto because we record a lot of operas with him, but Roberto in that period left EMI and in the same period I needed for a Traviata in the Met a tenor, maybe a new tenor, and my manager gives me a tape of Cecilia Bartoli singing with a tenor, and said he’s singing in Zurich but nobody knows him, just listen. I listened and I said OK – and my manager said trust your instinct. And I said OK, he will be my Alfredo at the Met. So they trust me at the Met to have a nobody...in the meantime I needed here at Covent Garden a tenor for La Rondine because we’d had Roberto and we needed another one, and I said why not this tenor to see how it goes, a smaller role than Traviata. So this happened, I asked him here for La Rondine, they said yes, then they said yes at the Met, here it was very good and at the Met it was a huge successs, and there I said to EMI let’s have Jonas for Butterfly – and everyone said oh my God are you sure, he never recorded. And I said: trust me. It’s like for Roberto, and Tony Pappano – when somebody has an unusual talent I never made a mistake! I have a talent to discover and finally I was right! And I’m happy. And in the meantime he started to record by himself – but it’s not easy to have someone to sing in the studio with someone who never recorded before, it’s a huge challenge for everybody. (JD: I remember hearing his first Strauss Lieder disc and this amazing voice came soaring out...) Yes! So he started his career very late, it’s not a big [age] difference between us, he chose to stay in Zurich & I advised him all the time, basta, finish in Zurich and fly, but it’s your town...and in the end, he listened! (JD: Will you do more performances together?) We have a production here in Covent Garden of Adriana Lecouvreur."
(On how she started and progressed her career, from the Covent Garden Boheme)
"I sang just one Boheme before, for my graduation, but to go from singing one Boheme to singing in Covent Garden, and it’s your international debut - ! But I wanted. And I was very determined. And everything - atmosphere, people around me, I always feel it, I will arrive. Nothing is for me, wow, I am surprised. I was all the time sure because everyone around me was telling me [had complete confidence in me] and they were always making laudation for me – it was all importance, and because I start to sing so early, I sang at 18 my first important concert, Butterfly etc, and so everybody looked at me in a very serious way. I never thought in Covent Garden it would be different from Bucharest, where I had this – wow - my luckiest moment is to have this idea, and my teacher said 'wait a little and your entrance must be in the front door, the most important'. In Covent Garden in was 1991, 92 Vienna, 93 at the Met and the day after an important debut everybody knows you. But I sang then in Covent Garden other roles, but as we see promotion and mass media and everyone knows you, everyone sees you and everybody is speaking about you, and that happened when I made my debut in La Boheme and Georg Solti came to my performance. There he persuaded me to sing Traviata, and because of the story with the BBC, they dropped everything to make live transmission, and all this real story helped me in a way that the day after everybody knows me. So from that moment I try not to disappoint anybody. And it’s not easy. I had a career, I made a lot of things and I think it’s rather important to stay and to stay for many years is very hard, even if people, journalists, critics, they have the right to have another opinion, but for anything in this world the result is what counts, and this is the result!"
(JD: What is your pre-performance ritual?)
"I am doing all the time the make-up. Nobody is working on the maquillage, they are free with me. The only time I work with someone on the maquillage is for photo session or film or television – otherwise, for performances on stage I do my own no matter the style, because I did some maquillage at the conservatory so I know how to do my make-up. It’s very good before the performance, I am not doing the vocalising, I come to the opera house completely prepared, I just put on my costume and go on stage. It’s not necessarily that this is the way – it’s that it’s Angela’s way."
(JD: Since Roberto left EMI, are you still working together so regularly?)
Less, less. The last CD he did Sicialian songs, and we record something together, we record L’amico Fritz for DG, it will be released this year – we did this at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. And we finished out La Rondine at the Met, the premiere was for new year’s day, it was on HD in cinemas all over the world, it was a huge success, but I was suffering because I was very ill! Oh, I was suffering, I was completely kaput! And I took some medicines and everybody around me they helped me, mostly Peter Gelb the director, he said 'whatever happens on stage, there are thousands of people they bought their tickets to see you in Rondine, oh, it’s a disaster, and if something happens I will come immediately and saying to everybody you are the best and we must be with you and you must come again and again and do everything you want, but COME HERE and put on your wig and your costume!' And with all this support I was willing and I said OK, but it was very hard. If you do something badly for an audience at the Met & it’s not just at the Met it’s all over the world...Finally we are human beings. But it was a hard moment for me."
(JD: What will be your highlights for 2009?)
You remind me about highlights, because I spent two weeks recording Butterfly, Jonas came for the last day, and I said to Tony, let’s start with the highlights, and he laughed – 'all the opera is highlights!' And all my work is highlights! So I go to the Met, I have La Rondine, I have a concert in Spain, I have operas in Berlin, I have L’elisir d’amore at the Met, I sing with Rolando I hope everything goes fine [crosses self], I have a new production of Carmen at the Met, I need to finish my new solo recording of Romanian music – you will not recognise me! It’s very interesting."
(JD: So is that of traditional Romanian songs?)
Yes, but I sing them in my way. (JD: We don't know enough Romanian music here in the 'west'...). This is another problem for me, another unfair for culture and politics, because if you’re in my country, and I don’t know about east countries because of the Communists of course, but the world was also in different cultures, because in our culture we learn about your culture, about English and German and French culture, but you – do you think we don’t have the same type of interesting people? We have our poets, our writers, our musicians, our everything. (JD: Enescu...) Of course, but people know him because he decided to live in Paris, but that doesn’t mean he was better than another one who decided to live in Romania! It’s another unfair position. Because people are thinking ah, he’s Romanian, but Romanians, because of the communists, decided to live in another country. But another artist who could not leave the country because of thousands of reasons or because he didn’t want to, he is less interesting, because you don’t know him that means he’s not interesting, he has no value, and this is very unfair! Because of the politics and because of the kind of school training, because it’s very important in school to have general culture, maybe from India and China and Arabic countries, Argentinian, United States, because culture, here is the unfair point, people make the confusion between politics and culture. This is not right – because all of us have the right to discover a genius person, no? We have in Romania geniuses, but we have no reason to discover, so the conclusion is I feel it’s my moment to make a discovery, of my music and my country’s music. I have a Romanian guy who helped me with three musicians from the USA who are doing the orchestration for me, and it sounds modern but also with a completely other type of harmony, because this is the originality, but also because I sing and I hope to make you interested!"
(More about Romania...)
"You know, Russia, Bulgaria and Poland are brothers and sisters, Hungary is related to Finland, and Romania is the only Latin country among them, related to Italy and Spain – we are very different cultures in the same part of Europe, it’s fascinating. (JD [with Hungarian hat on]: I heard Romanians and Hungarians don’t get along...) It’s more legend – more political, not between people and people. And for years Transylvania was this disputed territory, no it’s mine, no it’s ours, so they played ping-pong with it. (JD: Dracula...) No! Dracula is ENGLISH! And because I am Romanian, because of Dracula, someone, some journalist somewhere, of course, didn’t know anything else but Dracula from Romania, so he gave me a nickname, Draculette! And this year I came to the opera house and at the stage door of the Metropolitan Opera House, an American composer, he really goes in a serious way: 'I have the score of an opera for Angela Gheorghiu, named Draculette!' He was serious. And to take the good part of it, we have another composer who starts to write another opera thanks to an English person who gives us our first nickname 'Bonnie and Clyde' – Vladimir Cosma, who wrote for us Marius et Fanny, now he starts to compose for us Bonnie and Clyde! So, you want to play, let’s play! It was sort of funny, so let’s make friends with it! Thank you for the idea! In the meantime I need to be an opera singer. A serious one."
(JD: How did you get along with Marius et Fanny?)
"Perfect – oh, perfect. Vladimir Cosma is originally a Jewish Romanian, all his family are all important musicians – and when I heard he is doing – Roberto told me about Marius et Fanny and he proposed and they got the world speaking – when I spoke to Vladimir I said, Vladimir, wow, you are working on your first opera? And he said yes, but are you interested to sing an opera...Wow, of course! ‘But you never said a modern opera’ – but of course I wanted! It’s a very beautiful opera! First I record Marius et Fanny, then I sang on stage – we recorded in Switzerland – thinking back in that production everyone was French, minus me and the composer, who were Romanian. Marius et Fanny for the French is like a Bible – Marcel Pagnol wrote something, wow, untouchable – well, we dared to touch Marcel Pagnol and the performance and everything related with Marius et Fanny was wow, oh, my emotions, oh, my poor heart, with Roberto and the mondiale premiere to do Marius et Fanny in Marseilles, where they’re like Milano... And they filmed and recorded everything, I was very proud. And I appreciate with Vladimir, he show us everything and we discuss and we give advices relating to an opera singer, because it’s not the same writing music for instruments as for opera singers. For opera singers you need a special culture and a special knowledge because there are some things you cannot do because of the rhythms. So he showed us and we’d say this is good, or make a pause on this note or these words, and the three of us we made a successful opera, voila! And now it was on TV and I start now to try to make other people interested in this opera. It sounds ain the beginning a bit like Bernstein, but in, no offence, a better way; in the second part it is more operatic – wow, it is very dramatic and tragic, and you need a powerful voice to sing it – big emotions, big range, big orchestra. The aria is like Michaela’s aria in Carmen, very big, and hard to sing."
(On Covent Garden and London)
"You know my story with the porters from Covent Garden? One day I finished my performances, I was supposed to sing 5 performances of Pagliacci and there was one performance with another singer, and then the other singer she was ill and they asked me to sing also the last performance. From the opera house we said bye-bye, ciao, see you next year, but then when they saw me again all the porters were so happy that they put money all together and they buy a present for me, I swear. I love them! And it’s very important. I tell to everyone this story – because in an opera house it’s very important that the atmosphere comes from when you open the door. Another story from Covent Garden – I said to one of the machinists, wow, trousers with ‘Royal Opera House’ on you, wow wow! And the day after he brought me trousers with ROH on for me - they made them for me. I swear. I really like the atmosphere in this house. I really like it. And also all the important things for my private life and my profession happens here. Everything is related. And Ioana is here, my daughter, she is English. I like the sound of British accents and I like the sound of English!"
UPDATE, 1.40pm: Mad props to Opera Chic, who's going to town on this one...
Monday, March 09, 2009
Angela Gheorghiu: the WYSIWYG Diva. My interview with her was the Indy's Arts & Books Review cover feature on Friday - delayed posting here because I've been away. Angela defends her cancellations, tells us how she discovered Jonas Kaufmann and lets us in on a startling family secret.
The interview coincides with the release of her new CD of Madama Butterfly, complete - rare these days to find a complete new studio recording of any opera, of course, but with Gherghiu and Kaufmann in the leading roles and Pappano wielding the baton, EMI must be pretty confident that this one will sell by the gallon. In The Sunday Times Hugh Canning, who heard the sessions, wrote a feature about the recording and the 'making of'. My piece is a portrait of the lady herself. There isn't a JDCMB 'director's cut' version of the article - they printed it in its entirety - but there may be a few choice selections to add, which I will do as soon as I've unpacked. (Update: DONE...)
I like her. I really do. Because what you see IS what you get. There is no sense that she's pretending to be something she's not. Some artists switch off the charm when you switch off the voice recorder. Angela is A1 consistent. I can't say whether or not she really is 'the last diva' since we don't yet know what today's desperately spoiled teenagers will be capable of if they take the stage, but I don't need to tell you that she's the ultimate out there at present.
As for the Butterfly, it is basically gorgeous. Angela seems to get under the skin of Cio-Cio San, first decorous and enunciating delicately as the young girl, then letting rip as the tragedy develops. The utterly fabulous Kaufmann, though, rather overshadows her in the love duet...
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
We're clearing up now, washing the glasses, keeping Solti out of the last slice of Sachertorte (it isn't good for cats), and it's time to hand out the party bag. (With special thanks to the Verbier Festival...) Enjoy!
An encore? Thank you, Martha and Genya...
An encore? Thank you, Martha and Genya...
Sunday, March 01, 2009
JDCMB is 5 years old today! The cake is in the oven and at the cyberposhplace they are chilling the champagne. Meanwhile here's a little retrospective of a few...
JD meets Rostropovich and is offered cello lessons. Then gets stuck in tube.
In praise of analysis, especially Schenker (but what was it I found in the Faure?)
Grigory Sokolov at the QEH: this is what it's all about. (And now he won't come back because some bureaucrat wants to fingerprint him.)
'Orchestral life: the full story.' In which Tom and his friends spill the beans and drink their contact lenses.
The Ultimate Consoling Music: Schubert and the 7/7 aftermath, July 05.
JDF, 4 metres from JD in the Savoy...
The Joyce Hatto story breaks...
Trip to Bosnia, June 07.
An unforgettable night at the Proms with Buskaid & JEG...
November 07 in entirety, containing much Korngold. Now viewable with hindsight.
In which Krystian Zimerman has RFH rolling in the aisles...
JD turns concert manager and hallucinates about Sir Alan Sugar.
Lake District 08: Two strange girls snog each other on Oleg's cello case, Robert is a Tearaway, Charles gets out the first aid box and Jess and Phil do their best to be Messiaenic...
One of my favourite YouTube clips ever: Cziffra plays Liszt.
JDCMB Poll of the Greatest Living Conductors (we may do another soon...am trying to decide between piano & violin....)
Which brings us to Handel. You might get a surprise if you tune into the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 tomorrow.
UPDATE: Huge thanks to all of you who've come to JDCMB's biggest-ever blogoparty! And special thanks to Opera Chic for setting up my date for the evening (in the absence of my husband, who's otherwise occupied at the Lincoln Center). :-)