Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Case of Turandot

Last night I saw another performance of Turandot (my fourth one since I started going to the MET in 2005), but this one was special.  The opera starts with a Mandarin announcing the law of the land, and tonight this Mandarin was performed by Ryan Speedo Green.  The role is his debut on the MET stage, and I did not have to wait long to be dazzled by his voice and stage presence.

The Mandarin's costume is pretty impressive, and Ryan was pretty unrecognizable, but his wonderful voice gave him away.  This is a great start to a wonderful career at the Met Opera, and the critics seemed to agree.

The Associated Press wrote:
"Debuting in the small role of the Mandarin, bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green impressed with his strong delivery and commanding stage presence."

The NY Post had the following to say:
"In the cameo part of the Mandarin, Ryan Speedo Green made a promising debut. The youthful bass-baritone — who was less than a year old when this production premiered in 1987 — boasted a full, smoky voice and towering stage presence."

Ryan actually made his debut on stage last Wednesday, but I was unable to get tickets for that performance, so I settled for his second appearance on the MET stage.  However, as I waited in line to buy tickets for Turandot last week, my mind was occupied by an age-old question: how do I pronounce Turandot? I got around the problem by asking for tickets to "tomorrow night's" performance, but I would really like to know the answer to this question.

After some digging I came to the realization there are two camps when it comes to this problem; there's Turandot (as in Tu-ran-do...dough) and then there is Turandot (as in I fall into the first category, and maybe my French background has something to do with just never pronounces the t. This explanation does not make sense of course, since Puccini was Italian and Turandot is an Italian opera; and the Italian language does pronounce the t.  Even more so, Turandot is actually a Persian word meaning "The Daughter of Turan"; Turan being a region in Central Asia that used to be part of the Persian Empire.  The original story of Turandot can be traced back to a Persian book of stories called "The Book of One Thousand and One Days."  It is unknown when they were written, but they first came to the west in the 18th Century.

If Turandot is indeed still considered a Persian word, the t should be pronounced.  In the Persian language, the last consonants of a word are pronounced.  However, rumor has it Puccini started calling his new opera Turando (silent t).  Toscanini, the original conductor of the work, is also said to have pronounced it this way.  There are several eye witnesses that attest to this, including Rosa Raisa, who was the very first Turandot, and Dame Eva Turner, who was present at the first performance of the opera and later became a well-known soprano herself.

Listening to the actual performance gives an indication of how the name should be pronounced.  Pronouncing the t or not is just as important for the singers as it does make a difference in their performance.  The first recorded version of the opera was released in 1938, just twelve years after its premiere.  In this version the t was left out; at that time the clear wishes of Puccini himself still fresh in the minds of everyone involved.  Many singers at the MET never pronounced the t when performing this opera before the sixties.

For some unknown reason, however, some singers started pronouncing the t in their performances in the second half of the twentieth century.  The 'blame' for this seems to be put on Erich Leinsdorf.  He made a 1960 recording of this opera in which he clearly pronounced the t.  At that point, this became tradition.  This is an interesting choice, because many singers find it easier to sing the name when the final t is missing.  Everything just seems to flow better when you leave it out.

Someone told me there might even be a third way this opera can be pronounced: Turandotte.  So far I have not found any evidence of this, but rumor has it Puccini wrote a poem about Turandotte, writing it this way so he could make it rime with other Italian words.  Whichever way one says it, though, this remains one of the most beautiful operas there is.  The Met's current production by Franco Zeffirelli is a visual masterpiece that will leave you awe-struck, kind of like saying Turandooooo......

The naming of Turandot is a discussion which can go on into infinity.  There are many opera lovers who take this very serious and one can debate this issue for days without ever reaching a conclusion.  The matter of the fact is, there is no right or wrong answer here.  How do you feel about this?  What camp do you belong to?  Take our Facebook poll and let us known how you pronounce Turandot.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Opening Week at the Metropolitan Opera

When the end of September comes around, New York always seems to come back to life. Schools are in session again, people's vacations have ended and the 'social' season starts again. To me, this signifies the start of another wonderful cultural season: New York City Ballet, Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall...the list goes on and on of institutions that hold Opening Nights at their respective venues to kick of the season.

Of course, it is also the start of our new MONC season, even though we had our official opening two weeks ago when we held our VIP event. This is the time when there is a major surge in applications in my mailbox (real and electronic), which is wonderful because I find out who will be joining us this year. Being that this is our second year organizing the Auditions, it is great to see some familiar faces in the application pile, as well as plenty of fresh ones. It promises to be an exciting season again.

Courtesy Ken Howard/Met Opera
The Metropolitan Opera kicked of its season with a new production of L'Elisir d'Amore, with Anna Netrebko and Matthew Polenzani in the leading roles. I must say I was under the impression that Matthew Polenzani got his start in the Lindemann Young Artist Program, and I was not the only one. Anne Midgett had to correct her review in the Washington Post as well. It turns out Mr. Polenzani had his start in the young artist program at the Lyric Opera of Chicago (where our very own Will Liverman is currently at).

Where the confusion began for me was at last week's Met Talk about L'Elisir. The Met Talks are a great way to find out about new productions and learn what is going on in the minds of the singers and directors. Both Netrebko and Polenzani discussed where they had their start in opera. Polenzani was studying to be a music teacher until he heard an opera recording of "E lucevan le stelle'' from Puccini's Tosca which was sung by José Carreras.  He was eighteen at the time.

Netrebko was also eighteen when she knew opera was the career path she wanted to follow.  She was in St. Petersburg when she heard a performance of Otello, and at that moment she knew she wanted to be in the world of drama, acting, singing...  I have always loved the continuation of the story.  To see as many performances as possible and pay for her studies, Netrebko started to clean the floors at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg (she was a janitor).  By the age of twenty-two, maestro Valery Gergiev had discovered her and took her under his wings.  

L'Elisir is not the only exciting premiere this week at the Met. Yesterday was this season's first performance of Puccini's Turandot, and it was especially important for the National Council Auditions because Ryan Speedo Green made his debut on the Met stage, in the role of Mandarin. I did not get a chance to see him last night, but I will report back after I see the performance on Saturday. Ryan is now in his second year of the Lindemann Young Artist program, and he has another role coming up at the Met this season, as The Second Knight in Parsifal.

It promises to be another great season, both for the Met and for Monc, and we look forward to sharing it with you.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Announcing the 2012-2013 Judges

An integral part of our audition process is the judges. They have the difficult task of deciding who to advance to the next round at each level of the audition process. Judges follow a strict set of guidelines in deciding who to advance. At the District Level, judges are allowed to advance as many singers as they see fit, while at the Region Finals the guidelines are a little more defined.

All our judges are professionals in the music business who have the qualifications to identify talent. At the Region Finals, they are also able to offer support in the form of feedback to all singers participating in that round.

All our judges have been in the business for years, and include conductors, vocal coaches, career singers, opera composers, stage directors, artistic administrators and heads of opera companies. Just like everything else at MONC, they offer their services free of charge.

For our new season which is fast approaching we have a set of very distinguished judges. Biographies of all of them will follow soon.

District Auditions:

Peter Kazaras - Director of Opera at UCLA and Director of Seattle Opera Young Artists Program
Steven White - Met Assistant Conductor
Ken Benson - Artist Manager and Consultant

Region Finals:

Gayletha Nichols - Director of the National Council Auditions
Marilyn Horne - Mezzo Soprano (but probably needs no introduction)
Matthew Epstein

Saturday, September 15, 2012

New Julia Lima Event on Saturday Sept 22 in Chicago!

Soprano Julia Lima, pianist Alexander Lubyantsev and tenore Steven Wallace
Saturday, September 22 at 4:00pm in CDT at Nichols Concert Hall

Per the Facebook invitation, if you are going to be in Chicago on September 22 and have nothing on the agenda for 4pm that day, please attend this charity concert organized by the Bright Future International with the participation of Russian soprano Julia Lima, pianist Alexander Lubyantsev and American tenor Steven Wallace.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Night of Opera in Honor of Jeannette Rohatyn

It was a beautiful night yesterday evening as I walked to the apartment of Dominique and Eric Laffont for a enchanted evening of opera.  As the sun was setting, 56th Street lit up orange and I could feel fall in the air.

The guests took the elevator to the 63rd floor, where the windows opened up onto an amazing view of Central Park and the East Side.  This was of course the perfect backdrop to listen to four world-class singers while wonderful food and beverages were served, courtesy of Eric and Dominique Laffont.

After forty-five minutes of meeting and greeting, it was time for the performances.  The program contained a great sampler of some of the most beautiful operas around, and the intimate setting of the performances left everyone with goose bumps.

Our hosts Dominique and Eric Laffont gave two wonderful introductions.  Dominique remembered her dear friend Jeannette Rohatyn (whose family was in the audience) as she told us some anecdotes about their years spend together working tirelessly for the opera community.  The evening was of course held in honor of Jeannette Rohatyn.  Eric talked about the importance of donations to the organization.  As is well known, the MONC Eastern Region would not be around if it were not for the donations we receive.  That being said, if you love opera and would like to foster new talent, please make a donation.  Opera is not for the elite, but should be for all, and any donation from $1 to $∞ is greatly appreciated.

As Melina (our Chair) and Andrew (our Treasurer) highlighted, we are a volunteer based organization and all proceeds go towards a) organizing the auditions so singers can perform and be judged by the top in their field and b) prize money for the singers so they can pay to take voice lessons and further their careers.  

Dominique Laffont fondly remembering Jeannette Rohatyn
Melina flanked by MC Tom, pianist for the evening Christopher Cano and his wife Jennifer Johnson Cano and Grand Finals finalist Will Liverman
Ricardo Rivera taking on Donizetti
Ricardo and D'Ana getting ready for their duet from Don Giovanni.  Stay tuned for some video of this performance.

D'Ana Lombard giving a moving rendition of Mozart's Non mi Dir from Don Giovanni
Will's first (public) performance of Carmen's Toreador Song.  It was a smashing success.  Video coming soon.
MC Tom introducing Jennifer Johnson Cano 
Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos
Curtain Call

The evening was a great success and everyone left feeling happy, from the singers who gave a great performance to the audience who enjoyed the friendly chats with the singers.  If you are interested in attending events like this in the future and staying up to date on MONC ER, sign up to our mailing list.  

And some new pictures courtesy of Eric Laffont