ROH opera screenings return to Bloor Cinema

ROH opera screenings return to Bloor Cinema

andrea_chenier_1aAaaaaaaaand opera is finally back at the Bloor Cinema: this Sunday Feb 22 at noon they’re screening a repeat of ROH’s Andrea Chenier directed by David McVicar with Jonas Kaufman in the title role.

The rest of the schedule looks like this:

March 22 – Tim Albery’s Der fliegende Holländer with Adrienne Pieczonka and Bryn Terfel.

June 28 (no idea why the long break) – a new production of Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny with Anne Sofie von Otter (the production that I plan to see live in London on March 24)

July 26 – a traditional La Bohème by John Copley

August 30 – a new prod of Guillaume Tell with Antonio Pappano conducting.

The Vintage von Otter Series continues

The Vintage von Otter Series continues

von Otter as?Anybody know what the production is? I stumbled on the picture many moons ago on the interwebs, but no information. Any guesses? Could be Sesto in a traditional production, but I really wanted to set my eyes on an image of one of her early bel canto roles which she abandoned promptly, so this was simply calling to be called Tancredi. (But probably incorrectly.)

I got into a conversation with an older gent on YouTube last year and he promised he’d scan his copy of the ROH program of von O’s Cenerentola debut for me but he never did it (ball-dropper). So… any programs lurking at the bottom of anybody’s drawers, ladies, gents and inbetweeners, you know how to reach me.


DVD Alert: The Two Iphigenies from Amsterdam

DVD Alert: The Two Iphigenies from Amsterdam

In the words of Alistair Deacon: Hey hey!

Gluck-Iphigenie1-2Opus Arte is releasing this dual Iphigenie on DVD on 28 January. It’s the very intriguing Nederlandse production by Minko/Audi that puts the two works smack in the middle of a contemporary country at war.  Von Otter is Clytemnestra — appearing only in the first opera, with Veronique Gens in the title role. Delunsch takes over in the Tauris sequel.


While we’re at it: look at this spectacularly gorgeous sartorial decision in the form of a sparkly festive suit jacket against the black basis. 11 out of 10.

A Late Quartet is worth seeing

A Late Quartet is worth seeing
Anne Sofie von Otter in a photo (extreme right), and some actors

Oh, phew: A Late Quartet is not bad.

I’ve read conflicting accounts of the film, and heard from an equal number of disappointed and happy people. I will place myself in the positive centre: aware that there’s not a huge deal in it, but glad I saw it, and absolutely thrilled that it was made.

The best thing about the film is indeed that it’s been made and that it is putting classical musicians and their lives into the mainstream interest. How perfect it is that a fashion and society columnists like Nathalie Atkinson is now writing love columns to the Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14? The TSO recently had a special fundraising screening of the film. Films like this, not too complicated, showing musicians leading comfortable Manhattan lives with some minor parental and love and friendship drama are probably the most successful cross-over enterprises. Actors who are both A-listers and indie royalty help enormously.

So here’s the story: the oldest member of the quartet, the cellist played by Christopher Walken, is diagnosed with Parkinson’s. The second violin (Philip Seymour Hoffman) sees this reshuffle as an opportunity to propose a revolving first chair with the current first violinist (Mark Ivanir). Hoffman’s violist wife (Catherine Keener) does not have his back on this, so in retribution for the many years of the second violin frustration he has an affair with a gorgeous younger acquaintance. Keener finds out, asks him to leave their apartment, in a later conversation revealing that she is not sure if she had ever really loved him. Their twenty-something daughter, on the other hand, has an affair with the first violin guy. Things come to blows, the future of the quartet in peril. It all ends well, with a dash of realism provided by the retiring Walken who gets to have a very moving farewell scene from the concert podium.

Admittedly, I went to see the film for the von Otter content. There is a peculiar distribution of it. In the flashback scene by Walken’s character Peter, two-thirds through the film, she is seen singing Marietta’s Lied for about four seconds. She appears to be wearing her regular clothes and hair, with some adorbs burgundy lipstick being the only concession to the film character makeup.  Her recording of the song is played for considerably longer than that, while we observe the anguished Peter reminiscing.

But there is much more. In many sneaky ways, Otter is present throughout the film. From the very first scenes, she is seen in the background in the photos on the walls and the tables and nightstands in Peter’s apartment. This photo, with her actual husband’s face Photoshopped out and Walken’s put in, makes an appearance in the film. Walken/Peter cannot stop talking about her. It’s only been a year since she passed away, and his friends, who appear to have loved her as much as he did, join in his mourning. Keener’s character lauds at one point “Peter and Miriam” as the all-important early mentors. “She is still here, with you” is said several times during the film, including the final scene. The final words of the film are addressed to Miriam! She is the all-present, invisible character akin to Rebecca or Marie in Die tote Stadt. It’s a film that could have easily been made by an Otter fan, about Otter fandom. There are all these pictures and recordings! The fact that she is gone kick-starts the film.

For these, and a few other unexpected delights (Brentano String Quartet, or a twenty-something blonde character that is not patronizingly written!), A Late Quartet is well worth seeing.

The Vintage von Otter Series

The Vintage von Otter Series

Is there such a thing as too much Otter content? Nah. Besides, I stumbled upon a treasure on YT tonight. MrBBJane of Fears for Queers uploaded an old video clip from a documentary about either Vera Rosza or Otter’s Bildung.  The said clip contains an even older clip of the barely out of teens von Otter conducting in a class.

This is a perfect kickoff of the Vintage von Otter Series, which will exhibit the lesser known finds from yesteryear.

Everything must go: Handel pastiche in Zürich

A new Handel pastiche opened in Zurich recently —  Sale, directed by Christoph Marthaler. Anne Sofie von Otter plays the matriarch of a family of the department store owners that have seen better days. In between singing melancholy, drunken or entranced arias, duos and trios, they get visited by the last herds of shoppers. German and Swiss media have reviewed Sale widely (here, here and here are good samples), and the only English-language review so far is by the Financial Times, which ends with an absolute pearl. Here:

In a sudden, Handelian happy ending the family is called to dinner. Plates and glasses are a direct reference to the opulent premiere parties of Homoki’s predecessor, Alexander Pereira. But Marthaler steers shy of direct attack. The Zurich opera would be a dangerous place for an all-out criticism of capitalism. A pity – it could have been fun.

…Writes the Financial Times of all media. Which leaves me scratching my head. When the FT art reviews bemoan directorial decisions as not anti-capitalist enough, I can’t make up my mind if this is good or if the anti-capitalist critique in the performing arts is so easily cooptable and ‘fun’ that even the FT embraces it.

Some beautifully creepy photos by Toni Suter and Tanja Dorendorf, with a video trailer at the bottom.

Sad, sumptuous, sexy: Sogno Barocco CD

Sogno Barocco (Naive, 2012) Anne Sofie von Otter, Cappella Mediterranea with Leonardo Garcia Alarcón (music director), Sandrine Piau.

The only two well-known pieces in Sogno Barocco are actually the two duets from Monteverdi’Poppea, ‘Pur ti miro’ and the less popular but so much more luxuriant ‘Signor, hoggi rinasco’. There is also a Penelope’s lament from Il ritorno d’Ulisse, a relative known but certainly not among Baroque’s greatest hits (its dogged monotony may have something to do with it), but the remaining nine pieces are lesser known, carefully selected, sumptuous numbers by Cavalli, Rossi and Provenzale, many of which the lucky people of London, Paris and Ambronay heard live last year in the von Otter / Cappella Mediterranea recitals.

A well-programmed and imaginatively planned von Otter CD is nothing new. What makes this one so different from her other Baroque music recordings is not the amount of text (though there’s an unusual amount of it in these declarative and dialogical pieces) nor the duos (something you don’t usually find in Otter recordings), but its profound sadness. If you look at Canti di Maria, Music for a While, or Lamenti, something I beg you not to do, they are all at full blast, penetrating every conceivable angle of the human emotional spectrum. In Sogno, melancholy is in the DNA of every piece, including the parody piece by Provenzale, the two songs of excessive love, the instrumentals from Cavalli’s Elena, and even the three flirty sensuous duos with Sandrine Piau.

I have been spending most of my time with the two fascinating pieces related to the Swedish Queen Maria Eleonora and the death of her husband, Kind Gustavus II in 1632. (Their daughter, Queen Christina, will be better known to us, mainly thanks to Greta Garbo.*) Luigi Rossi composed ‘Lamento de la Regine di Suezia’ that goes over 10 minutes and pages and pages of text and really is a play consisting of many scenes, starting from the arrival of the news. There are many states that she passes through, many mood changes, some rational, some crackers, she becomes belligerent, then helpless, pious then blasphemous, and through all this von Otter’s voice is our only guide. And what a guide it is: by adopting this carousel of guises, it populates a solo lament into a dramatic playlet.

Then there’s Francesco Provenzale’s parody of Rossi’s Lament ‘Squarciato appena havea’, with each strophe starting in the proper, reverent way and turning into a Neapolitan dance with tarantella-like rhythms, often lascivious, often with a mad or thieving narrator. The somber sections, although seemingly sung in earnest, Otter strategically undermines by wacky embellishment at solemn words, precious or pompous inflections, and a wicked playfulness with words which will make you laugh. Just the way she delivers the word “Proruppe” in the line “Proruppe in un sospiro” speaks hilarious volumes. Or the fact that “Grida” is really sung as a clumsy grido. Or take “Grugna e ringrugna, con chi vuol ringrugnar” some verses later delivered in a grin of a spiteful child. The final “E morto il Saione” is a sort of an sing-a-long McCartneyesque ‘Hey Jude’ or ‘We Are the World’ ending. Priceless.

It’s blatantly unfair to put the musicians of CapMed in the short last paragraph—they are absolutely central here, and to list all their accomplishments would require another review. The bowed strings give that divine dark sound cloud, that indeterminate lingering period instruments drone that makes you pine for it when it disappears. The guitars sound very contemporary and frisk. The organ is discreet, attentive and nimble. Cornett gets some scene-stealing solos, and makes the melancholy of this music sweetly unbearable. Under the music direction of Leonardo Alarcón, CapMed is a perfect partner in Sogno.

–May be worth comparing prices, depending where you are in the world: ArkivMusic, Presto Classical, CD Universe,

– – –

* I have this in mind, of course:

The Otter News, Evening Edition

The Otter News, Evening Edition

So Toronto International Film Festival announced at a presser today some of its programming for this year.

It turns out that the long-awaited A Late Quartet (which readers of the Otter Papers will remember being discussed way back when) will  finally see light of day — at TIFF in September. Will von Otter’s role still be in? The IMDB still lists her as one of the cast. As soon as TIFF gets out their detailed program in print and as web pages, I will report.

A Late Quartet is not to be mistaken for Quartet, based on Ronald Harwood’s play, directed by Dustin Hoffman, UK-filmed and full of fantabulous British actors playing retired opera singers. Among whom is Maggie Smith. That film – and Maggie Smith – will also be in town for TIFF in September. By now you will have all seen the trailer.

[I will have to wait patiently and see if Haneke’s latest and full of music film Amour will be screened too. Come on. It must.  Ozon  and Cantet are bringing new films to TIFF. Haneke can’t not. ]

But back to Otter News… ASvO returns to Baroque with her latest CD with Cappella Mediterranea @ Naive, Il Sogno Barocco. The digital version of the album can already be purchased at Qobuz, and also sampled. The disc version is out in September. I needn’t say more than that there are Monteverdi duos with Sandrine Piau on the tracklist.

Another Otter CD appeared in the meantime, with a niche label–A Summer’s Day, collection of Swedish Romantic songs with Bengt Forsberg at the piano. Snippety snippets here.

And a reminder! There’s merely 1.5 days left to re-watch favourite bits from the intriguing Giulio Cesare production from Salzburg over on ArteLive.

Finally, for some mezzo-to-mezzo respect, head to WSJ.

“Cornelia is “a new widow,” says Ms. von Otter, “and she has a couple of sad arias. I thought, ‘This is not for me.’ But when Cecilia Bartoli calls, you sit up straight.” Ms. Bartoli “is such a phenomenon—the way she works and sings—and she is a nice person. So I said, ‘Of course.’ “

The Swedish Roots of a Global Talent

Photo by Ewa-Marie Rundquist