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William Bolcom: Paula’s Aria

It’s been a very busy winter at NYFOS. Tchaikovsky, Paul Bowles (A Picnic Cantata), Gabe Kahane, Bill Bolcom, and the Juilliard Protest program. Steve Blier jetted off to UCLA to work with the students and Peter Kazaris. Opera America asked us to help with their Bill Bolcom conversation just a few days ago. I grabbed it, knowing it would be great to see Bill and Joan Morris again, and that it would be a really good chance for our singers to meet the composer and get some coaching from him.

Certainly one of our most successful living opera composers, Bolcom has an amazing way of writing arias that sound really American, and still sound like Grand Opera. I hear jazz chords, the blues, and american musical gestures which I don’t have a name for. And it is all somehow spun into soaring operatic melody.

Here are “Paula’s Aria” from the just premiered Dinner at Eight (libretto by Mark Campbell) sung by Amy Owens, followed by “But You Do Not Know This Man” (Catherine’s Aria) from A View From The Bridge (libretto by Arthur Miller and Arnold Weinstein) sung by Mikaela Bennett. Both arias are sung by young women who believe they have the key to helping that flawed man in their lives. Through the power and determination of their love, they will get the failing object of their affection to wake up, correct their ways, and live happily ever after. Of course, neither girl in their heart of hearts thinks it will work. Bill’s music tells you that, as do these two beautiful performances.  Leann Osterkamp is with me at the piano.

Strauss: The Composer’s Aria

LLE headshotThis week our SoTD curator is Laura Lee Everett, the Director of Artistic Services at OPERA America, who’s had a long and varied career in opera—stage managing, mentoring young artists, facilitating the creation of new works, and more—at companies all across the U.S., from Alaska to Virginia.  (She’s also helped NYFOS present our NYFOS Next series at the National Opera Center for the past few years. You can catch it there in February 2016!)  Thank you and welcome, Laura Lee!

It has sure been a pleasure and a challenge to curate this week’s entries for the NYFOS Song of the Day. Thank you, Claire Molloy, Charles McKay and Steven Blier for all the wonderful work you do and for the generous invitation to participate. I can’t wait to have you all here at the National Opera Center in February for NYFOS Next!

My last song is the amalgam of all the wildly varied influences in my life and the base, core reason that I do what I do for a living. I love music. Full stop. It is as essential to me as water, blood and air. I am lucky enough to spend most of my time around some really excellent artists telling beautiful and amazing stories through music.

RSNothing brought this home to me more clearly than the first time I worked on Strauss’ opera Ariadne auf Naxos.

There are not nearly enough comedic operas in the classical canon, in my humble opinion, and I thoroughly enjoy this show not only because it is comedic, but also because it is a bit “inside baseball” about the trials and tribulations of working with artists and all their temperaments. In a nutshell, an aspiring opera composer is about to have his work premiered at a fancy dinner party his patron is throwing and learns that his glorious creation must share the stage with a troupe of comedians. Adding insult to injury, the major domo has just informed him that dinner is running late and in order for both performances the patron has paid for to be delivered, they must do so simultaneously in order to be done in time for the fireworks. Act 2 is the combined performances, followed by fireworks.

At the end of the first act, just at the point when the whole thing could come apart at the seams, the moody, emotional, young composer has a supremely honest conversation with the flirtatious lead comedienne about the loneliness of performing and the love we all seek in those fleeting, magical connections with likeminded souls. Flush with love, he embraces his music teacher (who he had nearly fired just before this scene) and sings the aria “Sein wir wieder gut”. I believe the words and music are self-explanatory.

Be my friend once more!

Be my friend once more!
With eyes new opened, I see what was hidden.
The depths of existence – who is there can plumb them
My dear friend,
there are many things in the world
which cannot be expressed in speech.

The poets put down very good words, quite good words
And yet, and yet, and yet –!
Courage is in me, my friend!
The world is beautiful,
and not frightening to the daring man.

And what then, is music?

Music is the holiest art,
which unites in sacred bonds all who can dare,
Like Cherubim guarding a radiant, shining throne!
And that is why she is the most sacred of the arts

Oh, sacred music!

The first time I heard this aria performed live, I knew I had made the right choice with my career path and no matter what, I would do something that involved music for the rest of my life. For me, it will always be, the holiest of the arts.

The role of the composer is a pants part, a woman (usually a mezzo soprano) playing the role of a young man. There are many great performances of this piece, but there will never be another artist the likes of Tatiana Troyanes. From 1988 at the Metropolitan Opera, the Composer’s Aria.

Pink Martini: U Plavu Zoru

LLE headshotThis week our SoTD curator is Laura Lee Everett, the Director of Artistic Services at OPERA America, who’s had a long and varied career in opera—stage managing, mentoring young artists, facilitating the creation of new works, and more—at companies all across the U.S., from Alaska to Virginia.  (She’s also helped NYFOS present our NYFOS Next series at the National Opera Center for the past few years. You can catch it there in February 2016!)  Thank you and welcome, Laura Lee!

I really like songs from other places that have a distinct sound and feel to them that tells you where they grew. One of the greatest things about so many of my peers and colleagues is that they are not from here, meaning the United States. It allows me to learn about music from other cultures, with other sounds and languages. In turn, I learn about the people from those places, cultures and religions through their ears, their music.

A friend was playing a song at a party that caught my ear and I said “WHAT is that? I love it!”

PM.pngThis “small orchestra” from Portland, Oregon of 12-14 musicians writes their own songs in at least 10 languages. Thomas Lauderdale, a classical pianist from Indiana and China Forbes, a singer with a gift for languages, co-wrote most of the songs that the band performs. Their sound is wonderfully eclectic and diverse, designed to bring people together around the piano. They have many a story telling song painted with the sounds of other lands and cultures. And they are fantastic live, often performing with symphony orchestras around the world.

The song of theirs that I find both beautiful and haunting is written in Croatian. I have no idea how to translate it. But the cello (played brilliantly by Pansy Chang from Vienna, Virginia), the driving rhythm section and the color of the piano lines make me listen to it again and again.

U plavu zoru                                               At Blue Dawn
Tiha noc                                                        Silent night
Sjene su u bijegu                                        shadows are in hiding
Ja cujem zvuk                                              I hear a sound
Sta blize zove me                                       that’s calling me closer

U plavu zoru                                                 At blue dawn
Sa svjetlom, tu                                             with a light, there
Na mojo vrata                                              at my door
Ti stizes                                                          you’re coming
Naci ces                                                          You will find
Praznu postelju moju                                my empty bed
Dok vlak nosi                                               while the train is taking
Me’ daleko                                                    me far away

Mozart: Ach, Ich Fühl’s

LLE headshotThis week our SoTD curator is Laura Lee Everett, the Director of Artistic Services at OPERA America, who’s had a long and varied career in opera—stage managing, mentoring young artists, facilitating the creation of new works, and more—at companies all across the U.S., from Alaska to Virginia.  (She’s also helped NYFOS present our NYFOS Next series at the National Opera Center for the past few years. You can catch it there in February 2016!)  Thank you and welcome, Laura Lee!

Opera vexes me.

I love working on new operas. Collaborating on premieres by Carlisle Floyd, Dominic Argento, Lee Hoiby, Jake Heggie and John Musto is extremely exciting. It is also exhausting.

I love working on “bread and butter” repertoire: Aida, Butterfly, Carmen, Tosca. Blood, sex and violence, tunes you can hum – great pieces, to be sure. But I grow weary of them when I repeatedly work on the same pieces. I did 6 productions of La Traviata in 9 months and it liked to have killed me. But there is one thing I never tire of, that constantly challenges me musically and emotionally and makes it clear why I love this art form.

MThere is nothing with stronger roots to ground me to music than Mozart.

To some, I know that sounds a bit clichéd, but after 25 years of working on everything from Montiverdi to Howard Shore, Mozart cleanses my palette and feeds my soul. When hearing singers in training, Mozart is the place you cannot hide. His arias will show everything you can or cannot yet do with your instrument and your imagination.

Mozart knows how to tell a good story. He picked several of the most controversial of his time to set to music. His skill was in telling stories that exposed all facets of human relationships and the emotions are all written in the music. I have several favorite Mozart operas, but the top of my list is Die ZauberflöteThe Magic Flute. You may poke whatever fun you like about that (opera purists – looking at you) but it is a show that I both performed in and worked on many times and I always take a great emotional journey through the piece. One aria in particular can be the single most devastating and beautiful piece of music – Pamina’s only aria “Ach, ich fühl’s”. Rare for a Mozart ingénue to only have one aria, but it is so powerful and unlike so much else of his writing. It stands as the one moment in the piece where she completely gives in to despair, yet makes a clear decision to end her life, thus driving responses from everyone around her in the story. There are titles on the attached video, but here is the translation:

Ah, I feel it, it has disappeared
Forever gone love’s happiness.
Nevermore will come the hour of bliss
Back to my heart!
See, Tamino, these tears,
Flowing, beloved, for you alone.
If you don’t feel the longing of love
Then there will be peace in death!

Pretty heady stuff for a comic singspiel written for the public theater house. This song always makes me think of Benedict’s mocking line about love songs from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing:

‘Is it not strange that sheep’s guts could hail souls out of men’s bodies?’

In times of woe and sadness, this piece does just that for me.

Here is a somewhat fuzzy video, but with titles in English, of Kathleen Battle performing in the 1991 production from the Metropolitan Opera, James Levine conducting. (Francisco Araiza as Tamino and Manfred Hemm as Papageno).


(The aria starts around 2:00 mins into the clip)

Billy Joel: Scenes from an Italian Restaurant

LLE headshotThis week our SoTD curator is Laura Lee Everett, the Director of Artistic Services at OPERA America, who’s had a long and varied career in opera—stage managing, mentoring young artists, facilitating the creation of new works, and more—at companies all across the U.S., from Alaska to Virginia.  (She’s also helped NYFOS present our NYFOS Next series at the National Opera Center for the past few years. You can catch it there in February 2016!)  Thank you and welcome, Laura Lee!

My classical music training started at the piano, which I played under the brilliant tutelage of Betty Wertz Hines until I left home for college. “Know the classics and you can play anything” was her advice that I continue to learn from and pass on. While Scarlotti, Chopin, Schumann and Mozart filled my classical ears, I loved to listen to pop radio. In the era when popular music was beginning to morph from rock and roll to disco (which is the grandmother to technogroovy dance music without a lot of depth), my favorite songs were the ones with stories. I had been influenced by that American songbook, but also by many of the folk acts of the 1960’s that my father really loved. The Kingston Trio, The Mamas and the Papas, the New Christy Minstrelsthey were storytellers who sang.

All of this rolled together equals Billy Joel.
BJ

He is a fierce piano player; he is clearly influenced by classical, folk, rock and roots. He writes all his own songs and every one takes me on a journey through a story. The Stranger was the first album that I ever bought with my own money. While there are so many fantastic Billy Joel songs, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant could actually be a mini rock opera. The music tells you where you are in history and the instrumentation choices create the landscape. He has the band with the chops to make real. It is a story about things that we all know, or have experienced, or just want to be able to sing about, out loud, at the top of our lungs.

Gershwin: Embraceable You

LLE headshotThis week our SoTD curator is Laura Lee Everett, the Director of Artistic Services at OPERA America, who’s had a long and varied career in opera—stage managing, mentoring young artists, facilitating the creation of new works, and more—at companies all across the U.S., from Alaska to Virginia.  (She’s also helped NYFOS present our NYFOS Next series at the National Opera Center for the past few years. You can catch it there in February 2016!)  Thank you and welcome, Laura Lee!

When my good friends at NYFOS asked me to curate the song list this week, I thought, “too many choices!”

I happened to bump into Charles McKay, managing director for NYFOS, and mentioned my thematic dilemma. Charles said, “You are the theme— tell your story of songs.”

My musical talent comes from my paternal grandparents. My grandmother was a wonderful concert pianist who played all over Colorado. Her husband, my granddaddy, played violin, clarinet, sax and sang in a rich baritone. He worked his way through law school as a bandleader. His band, Hume Everett and his Radio Recording Orchestra, toured dance halls in Colorado and Texas and appeared regularly on the KLZ radio broadcasts from the Brown Palace in Denver. He even proposed to my grandmother on the radio show with the popular 1922 Walter Donaldson song My Buddy.

HE(Granddaddy is that handsome fellow in front with the baton.)

My maternal grandparents, while not musicians themselves, were great lovers of the big band sound and “played a mean stereo.” They frequented Baltimore venues, like the ballroom at the Belvedere Hotel, and often came to New York to dance the night away with the Dorsey brothers’ bands.

JD(Jimmy Dorsey holiday photo signed to my mother in the 1950’s)

My childhood was filled with the music of the American Songbook: the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, Carmen Dragon conducting the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra, Count Basie, Chick Webb, Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller. I wore out those records by playing them repeatedly so I could learn to sing along. But the thing that stuck with me, compelled me to get the sheet music and really learn to “sing a tune”, was listening to Ella Fitzgerald. I was mesmerized by her technique, her accuracy, her ability to swing and scat – every time I hear her bright, warm voice it lifts my soul. For me, she will remain the timeless core of the American sound.

EF

Songs make impressions on my life because of their creators. Composer, lyricist, arranger and performers come together at a particular moment and create a singular performance that stands out like no other. My teacher in college had moved me from mezzo-soprano rep into the contralto realm just before I quit studying voice to pursue my career as a stage manager. She knew I loved jazz standards and recommended me to a local band that was looking for a singer to do a gig that had arrangements in Ella’s keys. The song they asked me to start with was EMBRACEABLE YOU, George and Ira Gershwin’s 1928 tune from an unpublished operetta East is West. It was eventually included in the Broadway musical Girl Crazy where Ginger Rogers performed it in a song and dance routine choreographed by Fred Astaire. Billie Holiday’s 1944 recording, likely the most recognized, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2005. But the version of this song that stays with me always is this one:

1959 Ella Fitzgerald sings the George & Ira Gershwin Songbook with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra  https://itun.es/us/4NRo

Thank goodness there are so many wonderful songs that Ella recorded. But there is something about this pure, uncluttered love song from two of the finest American songwriters of the 20th century, interpreted by this team of amazing musicians, sung by an extraordinary lady from Yonkers that makes me smile and sing along.

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