Archive for the ‘opera in the park’ Tag

DIVA Mask Madness

Opera in the Park: Redux


Just when the dust began to settle on the DIVA Totem Pole, the 2002 SF Opera in the Park rolled around. Knowing the bar was high, and wanting to make it even more fun for friends, I took a different strategy: interactivity!

I sourced the most iconic and expressive diva portraits I could get my hands on to create quickie cut-out masks. They had to be high-resolution enough to print out cleanly at actual size. This was during my heyday of designing the SF Ballet Nutcracker collateral. I had just used a similar mask idea for their direct mail brochure, with many of the characters from their production (but with eye holes, rather than mouth holes).

The Divas & Divo


I dug up hot shots of Birgit Nilsson’s icy Met Turandot (complete with one ton bejeweled crown), Regina Resnik’s tragic Klytemnestra, and June Anderson mugging in a photoshoot. But, I branched out a bit too, including Wagnerian basso Hagen (with imposing helmet, singer unknown), as well as two popular divas: 1960’s “Color Me…” Barbra, and AI Kelly “Moments Like This” Clarkson.

The pictures make me laugh out loud every time I rediscover them. The lips look positively labial. I reigned over the proceedings here as Turandot. A Streisand fanatic friend immediately got his paws on Babs (and even did her mannered hands, see above). My friends brought these TO LIFE!

As I sign off for now, I share with you Nilsson singing Turandot’s ruthless aria In Questa Reggia (and lookin’ like buttah) at Arena Macerata in ’71, for some bonus dementia!

The Famed DIVA Totem Pole

Fanantics at Opera in the Park


I was just reminiscing with a friend about one my most fond demented personal operatic moments. In anticipation of SF Opera in the Park (1999), I wanted to come up with something to match the spirit of the lifesized cardboard Callas figure an opera queen had used to stake out his picnic site in a previous year (at right, from the EMI Unknown Recordings ad campaign). I thought…what might create some buzz, embody my fanaticism for my diva(s), and yet be practical enough to be carried down to Golden Gate Park?

My creation: the DIVA Totem Pole, which I fashioned from portraits of my top seven favorites. A friend or two were initially embarrased (especially during the morning walk into the park: a parade of shame?), but by the end of the day, I think they too fell under its irresitable spell. Once we reached Sharon Meadows, we marked our territory by posting it in the ground. We had a ball in the shadow of the totem: drinkin’, noshin’, ‘n hangin’.

The Interview


Thankfully, SF Chronicle Senior Writer Bob Graham was in attendance that day, and was also wooed by the totem’s magic. He did a casual on-site interview with me. The next morning, I rushed down to retrieve the newspaper from my mailbox, quickly opened the Datebook section, and was thrilled to see my local color included in his review of the day: Fresh Air and Free Arias in the Park. Best of all, it included the listing of the divaaaaahhhs, as well as my own hilarious self-billing: a “part-time professional countertenor now on sabbatical.”

The Divas


The totem features, from the bottom 7. Renée Fleming (with David Daniels inset), 6. Elisabeth Rethberg, 5. Christa Ludwig, 4. Montserrat Caballé, 3. Eleanor Steber, 2. Lisa Della Casa, 1. LEONTYNE PRICE. You can see, although I am also devoted to Kunst Divas, I do favor Stimm Divas, when push comes to shove. That’s right, no Callas, although I admire her art greatly!

Numbers 7 through 6 would be different now, BUT 5 though 1 would remain quite intact, and La Price would still reign supreme. I felt compelled to include a living/performing diva (and countertenor!), and was very into Renée (ie: her Eschenbach Four Last Songs recording) and Daniels at the time. Next to their portraits, it read “BONUS DIVAS: STILL ON STAGE”. Stemme, Melton, Borodina, or Baltsa would likely topple both of them now as the active divas, were I to revisit this adoration. And, Eileen Farrell would HAVE to make a climb up the totem too.

Next up…Diva Masks at SF Opera in the Park (2002)!

Ode to La Melton

Although I’ve waxed poetic on my friend and diva-on-the-brink (of fame, that is) Heidi Melton elsewhere, this is my first time to share that GOSPEL in this forum.

San Francisco has been blessed with her presence, thanks to her status as a Merolini and Adler Fellow (shouldn’t it be “Fella”, in a divas’ case?) for the past 3 years. Her performances at multiple outdoor events here, including Opera in the Parks have been the unqualified treats, especially the rather rare “Ozean du Ungeheuer”, from Weber’s pre-Wagnerian Oberon last year.

dd_merola21_ph_85My introduction to her art was at the 2006 Merola Grand Finals, where her presence and commitment alone made her a stand out, not to mention her voluminous tone and clear expressive gifts. I always eagerly attend that annual event, with a keen eye on who the next possible greats may be. She was clearly in that category. My next experience of her was her company debut as Diana in Iphigenie en Tauride, which REALLY left one wanting more, as she only graced about 3 minutes of music, sung ethereally from the Dress Circle balcony.

Never did I imagine I would attend a production of Der Rosenkavalier in which the Marianne stole the show. In this 2007 SFO production Joyce Didonato was wonderful as Octavian, but perhaps a bit small-voiced for the role at this stage of her career. Heidi’s performance was for me the most memorable of that night. I’ve seen Don Joses steal the spotlight from Carmens, and Amnerises from Aidas, but this was an even bigger stretch. Thanks to Elza Van der Heever’s withdrawal, due to replacing another diva as Donna Anna, Heidi was able to step in to this role.

Photo by Terrence McCarthy

Photo by Terrence McCarthy

My own SFO stage debut as a “Super” (ie: Extra, aka SILENT!) was in Philip Glass’ World Premiere Appomattox. Heidi played the crazed Mary Todd Lincoln. I was thankful to connect with Heidi on a personal level during that production, to watch her weave her magic spell from the backstage wings, and to enjoy my “15 minutes” every night, as a looter who is shot and falls dramatically to his death in the flight from Fort Richmond scene.

Photo by Kristen Loken Ansley

Photo by Kristen Loken Ansley

I was able to enjoy a private preview of her Schwabacher Debut Recital in her accompanist John Parr’s home. The neighbors must have settled in to their couches and gone through a few bags of popcorn before that very special night was over. It was transcendent for me. (See my past musings on that recital here.) And, the recent Adler The Future is Now concert showcased Heidi in her stage debut in “Weh, ach wehe, dies zu dulden,” a scene from Tristan und Isolde (paired with the potent Brangane of Daveda Karenas). Heidi has stated that this excerpt may be one of the easiest things she’s ever sung. Clearly she was born to sing it, and although only performing a portion of a role that would require much more stamina, in a much longer night, she left one wanting nothing from the performance, other than the opportunity to experience ALL of it! She provides that thrill only a true dramatic soprano can provide, that rafter-shaking, fully supported, but still on-the-breath sound. But, she is more than just a big voice, she is a true developing artist, one who believes in and connects fully to her material and the character at hand, and loves her art.

On February 4th, I attended Heidi’s Salon at the Hotel Rex. It was a great opportunity to enjoy her talents in a very intimate setting. I hope that this salon series continues successfully, as they strip away the costumes, sets, and pomp of the opera house, and present an artist in an almost home-like setting, much like one would imagine in times of old.

Her recital included Purcell’s (arr: Britten) “The Blessed Virgin’s Expostulation”, which provided some small opportunities for Heidi to show her flexibility, in vocal runs throughout. Next were Berg’s “Sieben frühe Lieder”, which were presented very idiomatically, as they are just a step away from Strauss, a composer to which Heidi’s talents are perhaps best suited, and whose work she is most passionate about.

Photo by Ching Chang

Photo by Ching Chang

Selections from Messiaen’s “Hawari” and Debussy’s “Trois Chansons de Bilitis” were next up. She embraced the sensuality of the Bilitis, and of the french language itself. She also shared engaging insights, with John Parr’s embellishment before each set to give the audience some background and context, including the inuendos of “La Flute de Pan”, which are hardly subtle! She ended with Bolcom’s “Toothbrush Time”, “Waitin'” and “George”. These latter more cabaret style songs showed Heidi’s comedic gifts.

I was deeply touched by “Waitin'”, which could very well be done by Alison Kraus, as its simplicity of melody and message felt almost bluegrass or folksong-like in style:

“Waitin, waitin, I’ve been waitin.Waitin, waitin, all my life. That light keeps on hiding from me. But is someday just might bless my sigh. Waitin.”

During a Q&A afterwards a member of the audience asked if we could expect to see any actual cabaret from Heidi. This might be the closest we get to “cabaret” for her, once she steps further into the dramatic operatic rep, but she’s surely capable of going down that path as well, should she wish to. I’m still dying to hear her do “Bill” from Showboat as an encore! When asked what role she would love to do that belonged to another vocal type, she responded “The Dutchman”. And, in response to inquiries about who her favorites were, she professed a love for Astrid Varnay, Regine Crespin, and Anna Moffo, among others. She also shared that it would be 10-15 years or so before we’d have the pleasure of experiencing her in the entire role of Isolde. I’m so very pleased she is doing things right and is going to take things in their right time.

As I shared with her after the recital, she was and is “Hochdramatische, Chanteuse, and a coloratura Blessed Virgin…all rolled into one.”

What’s upcoming for her, you ask? This Sunday, March 8 at 2:30, Heidi performs Messiaen’s complete hour-long epic Harawi song cycle (on the theme of Tristan and Isolde) at Old First Church, 1751 Sacramento St., SF: www.oldfirstconcert s.org. This spring, she returns to L’Opera de Bordeaux to sing her role debut of Elisabeth in Tannhäuser. This summer she understudies international dramatic soprano extraordinaire in Alceste, with Santa Fe Opera. And, the following season will understudy Voigt as Chrysothemis at the Met! What a crime that one can’t plan for understudy performances, or my tickets would be purchased for both debuts!

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