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© Beth Bergman 2011
Essentials Don Giovanni Cover 1211

Essential Misused Musical Term: Forte. How many times have you said something along the lines of "That's not my forte" (pronouncing the word in its correct, French derivation ending on "t") only to have someone condescendingly correct you with "You mean for-tay." No, actually, we mean fort. Because "That's not my loud" really doesn't make any sense, does it? spacer James M. Keller muses on fractured musical terminology, "Word Imperfect."  

Essential Die Fledermaus Guest Star Performance: Leontyne Price on the 1980 Beverly Sills Farewell Gala, New York State Theater (viewable on YouTube). In a generally shaky performance of Act II of Fledermaus (backstage, Price's fellow guest star Ethel Merman pronounced the first half "shit"), Sills's last hurrah as reigning soprano of New York City Opera was rescued by some of her colleagues performing favorite party pieces. None had greater impact than Price singing Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban's "What I Did for Love" from A Chorus Line. Yes, we know — the performance is more operatic than perhaps it should be. But Price is an artist who often seemed to make her own rules, because, dammit, so much of what she did was really about something. Here she adds personal licks that make the song her own. And when Price sang "the gift was ours to borrow," what must have been going through Sills's mind at this, her final NYCO performance? spacer See coverage of the Met's historic broadcast of Die Fledermaus, p. 56.  

Essential Ellen Rosand Reading: Opera in Seventeenth-Century Venice: The Creation of a Genre. Rosand's account of the art form's genesis is evenhanded in voice, exhaustive in research and sumptuous in musical examples (211 pages of them). Reading it, one gets the sense that opera today is both quite different (opera audiences were "unusually large" and siphoned from Carnival crowds) and exactly the same (composers have never been paid much). Any singer feeling disenfranchised ought to read Chapter 8 for its account of wages. spacer Ellen Rosand explains the creation of the Met's Enchanted Island, "Art to Enchant." 

Essential David Daniels  Introduction: Handel: Operatic Arias, his 1998 recital on Virgin Veritas. As a whole, it's a catchy greatest-hits compendium of Handel compositions, and Daniels sings staples such as "Ombra mai fù" and "Scherza infida" with authority. Other highlights include the obbligato horn–countertenor pairing in "Va tacito e nascosto," from Giulio Cesare, and Tamerlano's "A dispetto d'un volto ingrate," in which Daniels employs the lower register of his voice. Roger Norrington and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment provide elastic support, best exemplified in the galloping "Vivi, tiranno," from Rodelinda spacer Adam Wasserman speaks with David Daniels, "Ad Libitum." 

Essential Joyce DiDonato Performance on Video: her 2008 outing in Don Giovanni at Covent Garden (available on Opus Arte). The unsuspecting viewer might mistake this opera for Elvira Get Your Gun when DiDonato enters for "Ah, chi mi dice mai." (Director Francesca Zambello dubiously gives her a rifle to wield for all of Act I.) DiDonato shows us that it's not props but interpretation that makes a character modern: in Act II, DiDonato mines "Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata" for all its emotional complexity — anguish, self-pity, levity. It's a 1787 opera, but in DiDonato's hands, this scene could almost fit into 2011's Bridesmaids. Other perks to this recording include the late Charles Mackerras on the podium and Simon Keenlyside's nihilist freak of a Don Giovanni. spacer Joyce DiDonato speaks her mind, "The Sweet Voice of Reason." 


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