Wednesday, February 15, 2017

USC Stars of Tomorrow play Brahms

Five USC Thornton School of Music Stars of Tomorrow

Second Sundays at Two, Rolling Hills United Methodist Church

The future of music is safe! Well, maybe that’s a touch hyperbolic, but if the five players from the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music who delivered this remarkably coherent and mature account of Brahms’ late Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115 are anything to go by, it is looking pretty bright, at least in this neck of the woods. The prior email billing and the hand-out leaflet made a point of spelling out their international origins, maybe a bit unsubtly but necessary in these troubled political times. They were (left to right in the above photo) Joseph Lorang, 2nd violin (U.S.A.), Hyunyoung Lee, viola (South Korea), He Chang, 1st violin (China), Yasmina Spiegelberg, clarinet (Switzerland), and Javier Iglesias Martin, cello (Spain). 

The fallback descriptor for Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet is “autumnal”, and in some performances the opening is so freighted with “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” sensibility that there seems nowhere else for the remainder to go but the frigidities of winter. This performance definitely leaned in that direction, and at the outset I was a little concerned that overall other facets of what is an extraordinarily subtle and emotionally ambiguous masterwork might be short-changed. I need not have worried. 

After a measured (given Brahms’ initial unqualified Allegro marking) first movement, where immaculate ensemble plus welcome observance of the exposition repeat (how subtly Brahms leads back into it!) gave an imposing sense of scale, the ensuing Adagio was not particularly slow-moving. But any danger of monotony from two comparably unhurried movements in succession is avoided by Brahms himself through his insertion of the remarkably disturbed più lento central section. The clarinet’s series of increasingly impassioned arabesques – the one place in the whole work where it emerges into real soloistic prominence from its otherwise primus inter pares role with the four strings – are like an earthquake’s jagged disturbance to a seismograph, and Ms Spiegelberg seized the opportunity to give this passage a real “where-is-this-going?” sense of danger.

The third movement Andantino that does duty as a scherzo was appropriately easeful and, in its trio-like Presto non assai, ma con sentimento central section, lightly insouciant, almost skittish. Then it was back to serious matters with the finale, which comprises a theme and five large variations, plus coda. The group vividly characterised each variation, with more definite pauses between them than Brahms actually marks, and drew a convincing emotional arc across a difficult-to-read movement, though the final pair of B minor chords that terminate the coda are pretty unambiguously tragic.

The group’s happy choice for an encore was that other great clarinet quintet variation-finale – Mozart’s. It was delivered as immaculately as the Brahms, and made one wish that there had been time for the whole work.

Second Sundays at Two, Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, 2pm, Sunday, February 11, 2017.
Photo: Courtesy RHUMC

Thursday, February 9, 2017

David Brown joins LA Opus as Contributor

Photo: David Brown

From the Publisher of LA Opus

In the summer of 2014, my wife and I attended the Bard College Music Festival in New York State, devoted that year to the works of Franz Schubert. Our frequent between-concert conversations included an articulate ex-pat Englishman named David Brown. Having relocated from London to Western Massachusetts in 2004, he was, by coincidence, dating a California lady in our hometown of Santa Monica. Early last year, David retired from his day job as an architectural magazine writer and editor and moved to California to marry Jill. They now live with a couple of adorable cats in San Pedro. It is with a sense of real joy that LA Opus announces that David is our newest contributor. He has an interesting back story, which he will relate to you directly:

"Ever since I encountered Holst’s The Planets some time in my early adolescence, adding an unsuspected musical aspect to my hitherto prime obsessions with astronomy and space travel, I became a “classical” music enthusiast. Initially a delighted discoverer of the standard repertoire, I soon came to realize that this was just the tip of a vast musical iceberg. As part of this process of discovery, I came into contact with then almost entirely unknown English composer Havergal Brian (1876-1972), who at that time lived close by me on the South Coast of England.

"This personal contact led me, after the aged composer’s death, to take over running the nascent Havergal Brian Society in 1975, and I spent over 20 years, first as its Secretary and then its Chairman. When Brian died, much of his music had never been performed and not a note of it ever commercially recorded, despite a composing career of around three-quarters of a century. Due in part to the promotional efforts of our Society, much of Havergal's large output gradually came to be recorded in the subsequent four decades, and 2017, we will at last see all 32 of Brian’s symphonies, as well as many of his other works, available on CD in professional performances."

"The realization that the standard repertoire had missed at least one genius kickstarted my lifelong interest in exploring the work of other neglected composers. My main enthusiasm is for the Late Romantics. Alongside great masters like Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Strauss and Mahler, that cohort includes such partly-obscured figures as Schreker, Schmidt, Zemlinsky, Koechlin, Atterberg, Braunfels and many others – also, in Britain, contemporaries of Havergal Brian like Holst, Delius, Bridge and Bantock, to name just a few.

"Alongside these activities, I have intermittently pursued a side-career writing liner notes, first for LPs, later for CDs, and reviewing concerts and recordings. In my professional life, I edited for many years The Arup Journal, the flagship client magazine of the multi-national engineering design consultancy Arup. I was also author of the books How They Were Built (Kingfisher Books, 1991), and Bridges: 3000 Years of Defying Nature (Mitchell Beazley, 1993; second edition, 2005).

"After my retirement in December 2014, I at last put into action a long-cherished plan to explore and bring to light the work of the totally forgotten English Romantic composer, Henry Cotter Nixon (1842-1907). In December 2016, the first of three CDs of Nixon’s complete orchestral music was issued by the British company Toccata Classics, conducted by Paul Mann."

Over dinner at a Santa Monica eatery a couple of months ago, I learned that David had just returned from the Nixon recording in Hungary. Toward the end of the meal, he mused on what his next project might be. Before another word, I offered him a berth at LA Opus as a writer, and he accepted. David's primary focus will be on musical activities in the South Bay and harbor areas of Los Angeles County. Already up are six of David's contributions. Check them out here.

We welcome David to LA Opus.

Long Beach Symphony and Eckart Preu play Saint-Saëns, Debussy, Dukas and Berlioz

Hector Berlioz, as portrayed by Jean-Louis Barrault in the 1942 movie "La Symphonie Fantastique".


French masterpieces at the Terrace Theater, Long Beach Performing Arts Center

Last Saturday’s Long Beach Symphony Orchestra concert was a special occasion, the first conducted by Eckart Preu since he was chosen as the new Music Director to commence his tenure with the upcoming 2017-18 season. Indeed he began his pre-concert talk, delivered as dynamically and enthusiastically as it was warmly received, by nailing his future colors to the mast with the declaration that alongside the core repertoire he was committed to digging deeper to explore less-known and undeservedly forgotten works. “Trust me”, was his message to the large audience, “you’re going to enjoy the discoveries!”

Maestro Eckart Preu
His choice for the opening piece in the first concert of the upcoming season, on October 7, certainly looks to fulfill the promise – Zemlinsky’s glorious 1902-03 symphonic poem The Mermaid. Yes, it is based on that Hans Anderson story, like the Disney movie, but there’s nothing “little” about this mermaid (maybe it sounds more imposing under its original German title, Die Seejungfrau!). Playing for around 45 minutes and cast in three large movements, it’s as broodingly romantic and grandly atmospheric as anyone with a musical sweet tooth could desire. I for one can’t wait to hear it live for the first time (I wonder if he will conduct the 2013 reconstruction of the original version, with the five previously cut minutes put back into the middle movement?).

So, how was this concert? In short, the orchestra did their new man proud, with warm, homogeneous and responsive string playing, characterful winds including plenty of individual moments carried off with aplomb, strong but disciplined brass, and percussion that was right “there” when it needed to be. I particularly relished the uninhibited tintinnabulation of glockenspiel, harp and triangle near the climax of Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the four timpani as well-tuned as you could hope for at the meticulously balanced rolling “thunderstorm” chords close to the end of the Symphonie Fantastique’s third movement, and the really hefty and ominous low bells in Berlioz’s finale.

The opening of the first work on the program, Saint-Saëns’ Danse macabre, immediately demonstrated maestro Preu’s care over dynamics, with his close observation of the way they differ widely, so cunningly calculated by the composer, for first horn, harp and divided violins. This formed the perfect backdrop for concertmaster Roger Wilkie’s re-tuned violin to strike in boldly and devilishly. Also clear was the conductor’s concern with the long view, through steady tempi that took sure anticipatory aim at the work’s climax (I thought here, and later, that he must be a fine Bruckner conductor).

Following this highly promising start came a particular moment to treasure: the solo flute heralding Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune stole in over motionless silence without any apparent conductorial cue, filling and stilling the hall with its effortless beauty. Indeed this performance was for me the highlight of the concert: the spacious pacing, the sensitive playing both individually and collectively, and (again) the attention to dynamics were virtually flawless, with everything warmly embraced in the Terrace Theater’s expansive acoustic.

I suppose one could argue that the program-planning played it a bit safe, with these two familiar favorites followed by Dukas’s real warhorse crowd-pleaser, and that it could have been more interesting to substitute a less-known piece by any one of them (e.g. how about Saint-Saëns’ Phaeton instead?). However, no-one could argue that the three pieces didn’t work well together, even forming a sort of three-movement “proto-symphony”, with the Debussy as the middle “slow movement”. In his talk, maestro Preu drew attention to the climax when the sorcerer returns and puts a stop to the broomstick’s shenanigans once and for all, and his own interpretative choice to broaden the moment as much as possible. Personally I felt the effect a little overdone, but kudos for trusting the audience to be interested in and see the musical and dramatic reason for the decision.

I did, however, regret that his additional spoken intro before the Symphonie Fantastique was pretty much devoted to Berlioz’s sensational scenario, rather than the work’s dazzling array of ground-breaking features, of which the five-movement form and dramatic program are only the most notable among many. Berlioz was arguably the most original composer of the 19th century, and this work is his signal calling-card. In the teeming, miraculous score Berlioz asks his musicians to do things no composer had ever done before, but never once as any kind of gimmick. Everything – the unprecedentedly detailed expressive markings and instrumental innovations wherever you turn – enhance and add vividness to the artistic whole. Nothing so brilliantly calculated could just have poured out in a lovesick and drug-fueled splurge, and Berlioz’s continuing concern to get the work exactly right was demonstrated by his several careful revisions to it in later years.

Conductor and orchestra mostly did this masterpiece proud. They shaped and graded the long and complex first movement finely, though I did regret the omission of the short exposition repeat (wherein Berlioz first introduces the idée fixe that represents “the beloved” all through his scenario, and then sensibly adds the repeat so that the audience gets it thoroughly fixed in its collective mind). 

The succeeding Un bal movement was the one disappointment, I thought – too relaxed and “Viennese gemütlich” a waltz to retain the nervous edge needed – but the long Scène aux champs came off beautifully at a basic tempo just about as slow as the music can take. Conductor and orchestra seemed to have complete confidence in each other, and right from the opening duet between onstage English horn and offstage oboe it twisted and turned inexorably towards the timpani “storm” already noted, and then the exhausted postlude.

The Marche au supplice’s repeat wasn’t there either, but no worry: whenever it is included it always seems a bit odd for a march to the scaffold to go back to the beginning and start again. As for the final Songe d’une nuit du sabbat, its constant starts and stops and kaleidoscopic changes of texture were held surely together despite coming at the end of a long evening when everyone must have been getting tired. The pair of tubas managed to sound almost as raspingly rude and blasphemous, in their Dies Irae parody, as the ophicleides that Berlioz wrote for invariably do in period-instrument performances, for once with something like the required nasal bray rather than the tubby honk you usually get with the modern instruments. The Symphonie roared to a unanimous and blazing final chord that would surely have earned M. Berlioz’s approval, and the audience cheered in response.

Roll on October 7!


Long Beach Symphony, Terrace Theater, Saturday, February 4, 2017, 8 p.m.
Photos: Eckart Preu: Courtesy Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, Jean-Louis Barrault as Berlioz

Monday, February 6, 2017

Benjamin Hudson and Antoinette Perry play Bach, Patterson and Mozart

Michael Patterson

First Fridays at First!, First Lutheran Church, Torrance

Benjamin Hudson
Rain rather decimated the audience for February’s “First Fridays at First!” lunchtime concert. This was a shame, because it was a beautifully balanced program in which two masterpieces of the violin/piano repertoire, one Baroque, one Classical, bookended a welcome, if brief, piece of hardline modernism and its more mellifluous companion, by a composer new to me.

The leaflet’s bio for violinist Benjamin Hudson noted, among numerous other appointments, his seasons with the Drottningholm Court Theatre Orchestra and London’s Hanover Band, and both these bodies’ embrace of period instruments and historically informed performing practice boded well for Mr. Hudson’s accounts of Bach’s Sonata No. 3 in E BWV1016, and Mozart’s Sonata No. 35 in A, K526 (his penultimate in the genre). However, there was no really hardline eschewing of vibrato in either performance, just a restrained use of it that contributed to tenderness and a slight sense of fragility in slow movements and light-footed athleticism in fast.

Antoinette Perry
Genre names like symphony and sonata are so ubiquitous that it’s easy to take them for granted and not reflect that they must have an origin somewhere. Bach’s six violin sonatas BWV1014-1019 are generally regarded as the first such, where the keyboard part is fully written out as the violin’s equal partner. Though for cembalo (i.e. harpsichord), the piano works perfectly well if played with the appropriate sensibility, and that was just what Antoinette Perry supplied.

Bach’s sonata is in the four-movement slow-fast-slow-fast sonata da chiesa form of the time, with no sections marked to be repeated. Mozart’s, on the other hand, written two-thirds of a century later, has both halves of both the first two movements repeated, plus two short sections at the opening of the finale. Whether none, some, or all of these are observed clearly varies the overall playing time a good deal. In this performance only the first movement first repeat and the finale’s pair were played: a judicious decision for a short lunchtime recital, though I for one would be intrigued to hear a go-for-broke account of the work with all repeats, ideally having the second movement Andante walk a little faster than it did here.

As it was, the commonality of mood between the Bach slow movements and that of the Mozart – amongst his more sombre – testified to astute program-planning by the duo.

For the two short pieces by the contemporary American Michael Patterson in the middle of the recital, the leaflet reproduced his brief note: “In writing this short, lively piece Esprit, I wanted to counter the meditative quality of its companion piece Ave’, which was composed as a quiet piece for contemplation, a ‘wordless’ Antiphon in a sense, used in earlier times to acknowledge a spiritual presence. Esprit is quite different in mood and tempo and in its compositional approach. It is actually a rigorous serial piece, concise in design, and mostly based on triadic hexachords.”

I enjoyed both, though I wonder why their order was reversed. As it was, after Bach’s divine clockwork the spiky explosive opening of Esprit came as quite a shock, before it settled to a mood of uneasy stasis punctuated by lightning flicks and flashes from both instruments. Ave’ formed the promised contrast, a grave and consolatory arioso for the violin, with a touched-in accompaniment of mostly isolated quiet piano chords. I found it all too brief.


“First Fridays at First!”: First Lutheran Church, Torrance, 12.15pm, Friday, February 3, 2017.
Photo credits: Michael Patterson, Benjamin Hudson, Antoinette Perry

Saturday, February 4, 2017

'Cendrillon' Pacific Northwest Ballet's Valentine

Noelani Panatastico (c), Sarah Ricard Orza, Rachel (l-r)

REVIEW: Cendrillon

McCaw Hall, Seattle

One does not have the opportunity to see Prokoviev’s “second” ballet, Cendrillon, as often as his iconic Roméo et Juliette, which has become more ubiquitous in the classical repertoire. That made PNB’s season-of-love offering all the more special for Seattle ballet mavens.

“Magical” is the optimal word to describe this production, which received its world premiere in 1999 with Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo and was seen for the first time at PNB on Feb. 3 at McCaw Hall. This version of Prokofiev’s Op. 87, written from 1940-1944, included a winsomely choreographed excerpt from the composer’s Lieutenant Kijé (1933-1934).

With a radiant Noelani Pantastico in the title role, and other PNB rep favorites James Moore, Lesley Rausch, Rachel Foster, Sarah Ricard Orza and Seth Orza performing their respective roles for the first time, topped by the appearance of guest artist April Ball as the pivotal Fairy/Mother character, the quirkily modernistic but dazzling production held together beautifully. From the glitter that adorns Cinderella’s bare feet before the ball to the flash and shimmer of the Fairy/Mother’s transparent tutu, the look of the production was lustrous.

“Cendrillon is not merely a fairy tale personage,” said the composer, “But also a living being whose destiny moves us.” Choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot, a guiding light at Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo since 1993, takes this message to heart, as he reimagines the character as a soulful, breathing entity in search of recognition and love against all odds, guided by a Fairy godmother-type reincarnation of the girl’s late mother. The story took on a new life in this interpretation, in which the concept of Pleasure (with a capital “P”), along with the dichotomy between the real and the surreal, are ongoing themes.

Maillot, who previously brought Prokofiev’s Roméo et Juliette to the PNB stage, takes full advantage of the lugubrious stretches and pointed blips of musical phrasing to elongate the dancers’ lines and give them ample opportunity to spring into the air in short double-footed leaps with impressive grace. The repeated motif of a dancer being swiftly carried through the air as if in a dream state of being unable to touch the floor embodied the trancelike quality of the story’s overall theme.

Those audience members expecting a traditional take on the perennially beloved fairy tale were in for a surprise, especially with Jérôme Kaplan’s decidedly non-traditional costumes. Ball gowns draped on semi-mechanized Mannequins, tutus with wires instead of netting, and Hollywood Red Carpet-type frocks with sheer organza revealing total expanses of leg were the order of the evening. Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s captivating minimalistic set designs consisting of a largely geometric backdrop of moveable panels enhanced by projections and mirrors, brilliantly enhanced by Dominique Drillot’s pastel-shaded lighting, gave the production a luminosity that was both enchanting and realistic.

April Ball and James Moore
Music Director Emil de Cou’s sensitive interpretation of Prokofiev’s delicate, haunting score, along with Maillot’s engaging choreography and clever, eye-catching staging by Bernice Coppieters, Bruno Roque and Asier Uriagereka, provided the perfect opportunity for the PNB ensemble to display their lyrical capabilities and technical prowess with a sparkle that matched the glow of Cinderella’s love-struck, ingenuous face. At times highly amusing and alternately introspective, the action flowed continuously with nary a dead spot.

Pantastico brought a panoply of emotions and grace to her light-footed rendering of the overwrought, neglected and mistreated stepchild in search of love and recognition. Ball’s Fairy/Mother brought attention to her every move, yet her presence never overwhelmed. The magical spells she weaves are entirely convincing, and the affection between her and Pantastico’s Cinderella is both touching and gratifying.

Lesley Rausch’s sexually charged Stepmother sizzled with tensile energy in her every scene. Her lightning-quick antics with Seth Orza’s beleaguered Father were both amusing and shocking. Quick-stepping stepsisters Rachel Foster and Sarah Ricard Orza provided the perfect comic foil for their mother’s deplorable behavior. A duo of obsequious male Pleasure Superintendents, played with outrageous Triplets-of-Belleville-meets-Minions abandon by Steven Loch and Miles Pertl, supervised the adornments for the ball.

Lesley Rausch, Steven Loch and Miles Pertl
Prince Charming, like Swan Lake’s Prince Siegfried always in the company of his friends (Kyle Davis, Benjamin Griffiths, Price Suddarth and Ezra Thomson), tries unsuccessfully to satisfy his need for validation by indulging in small pleasures: always searching but never finding what he thinks he is seeking. Appealingly played by James Moore, this Prince managed to engage in unabashedly adolescent attitudes while still maintaining a sympathetic presence. His love duet with Pantastico was seamless and deeply moving, and the athleticism he and his cohorts displayed (of special note was their grand entrance aux entrechats down the staircase in the ball scene) was impressive.

James Moore and Noelani Pantastico
To balance all of this flurry of activity with a dose of reality, the Fairy/Mother doppelganger cautions Cinderella before she goes off to attend the surreal ball symbolically clad in her mother’s former ball gown, to look beyond glitz and glamour and focus on what is truly important: simplicity.

The story comes full circle as the journey evolves from Cinderella’s grief in the beginning to her enlightenment and well-deserved reward of true love, with her father taking over the mantle of bittersweet heartache with which the story begins, leaving the audience awash in conflicting yet deeply uplifting emotion.

The ball may be surreal, but the struggle between good and evil in society is all too real. PNB’s radiant Cendrillon captures the heart and stirs the imagination in ways that reminds us that good will indeed prevail. It definitely is worthy of being seen more than once upon a time.

Cendrillon continues through Feb. 12, 2017


 Photo credits: © Angela Sterling

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Marianne Cornetti Swings for the Fences


Civic Theatre, San Diego

Award winning mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti hails from the USA, but as an artist she is thoroughly international. Having appeared in major opera houses from the Met to Vienna to Rome to Brussels and more, she is one of the busiest mezzos in the world and has even sung the National Anthem at a Pirates-Braves game at PNC Park in her native Pittsburgh.

Last seen in San Diego performing at the Opera’s 50th Anniversary Celebration Concert in April, 2015, Cornetti will appear as Mistress Quickly in SDO’s Verdian swan song, Falstaff, starting on Feb. 18, 2017. A great storyteller, Cornetti weighs in on her operatic journey.

EM: Welcome to San Diego Opera, Marianne! We’re so thrilled to have you back.

MC: I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be back. It’s one of my most favorite theatres in the entire world.

EM: That’s so good to hear. You’ve sung in an immense number of major opera houses throughout the world. What was your journey to the opera stage?

MC: I grew up in Cabot, a little town north of Pittsburgh, in an Irish-Italian family. My mother had the musical end of things. My great-grandmother was a singer, my great-great-grandmother also sang. My grandmother played piano - she rocked at it. Nobody was ever trained, they all played by ear. My mother played piano, organ in churches. She wanted to share her love of music with my brothers and I. She said when I was 4 she was so happy because I could sing all the words to “Supercalifragilistic.” Little did we think I’d become an opera singer. It was just the love of music. When I was 12 the chorus teacher asked if I would like to sing a solo. I sang, “I’d like to teach the world to sing.” My family all said, “Oh my gosh, Marianne has such a loud voice.” That same teacher told the 7th grade teacher, “You’ve got to watch out for this one, there’s something there.” I auditioned for the chorus, got into it and started singing solos and started with private voice lessons when I was 14. Throughout high school and those years of being in chorus, I sang with the State and regionals and high school musicals. I had a lot of experience leading up to my first year of college at Manhattan School of Music but lasted just 6 months.

EM: What happened?

MC: It wasn’t the right fit for me, going from a teeny town in Pennsylvania to 125th Street and Broadway. So I transferred to Cincinnati Conservatory and loved it. It was the perfect atmosphere, wonderful classes, teachers. But I developed a terrible thyroid problem and had to go home for a year for treatment. My voice broke and I lost a lot of my confidence. A year later I almost returned but at the last moment decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do. My mother said, “It’s all right if you don’t want to get into music, but your education is absolutely vital. You have to figure out what you want to do.” I had no idea. All I knew was music.

EM: What got you through that crisis?

MC: Later I took an aptitude test to show my strengths and weaknesses. The first thing on the list was music, then Human Services. I put those together and thought of speech pathology. I transferred to Penn State and was miserable. Algebra and such was torture for me. I was singing but not studying. Duquesne University in Pittsburgh was closer to home and had a fine reputation for speech pathology. I transferred there. I had to make a choice, music or speech. Here, I truly believe that God’s hand was my guide. I had a wonderful singing teacher whose entire life was being a singer. I told her I was confused. Now that I was singing again the bug had bit me bit I didn’t think I could eat, sleep and drink music, like Maria Callas with an entourage and furs dragging. I loved sports and other things. I didn’t have the right personality to commit to an opera career. My teacher grabbed me by the shoulders - it was an absolute “Y” of my life, a moment of going this way or the other - and said, “Marianne Cornetti, if you don’t sing it will haunt you the rest of your life. This is what you were born to do.” From that moment I never looked back. I finished my music degree and off I went. I never doubted it. I just kept working on. And everything just started opening up.

Photo: Bill Cooper
EM: It’s amazing what a difference one person can make in your life. When you’re doing what you’re meant to do, everything falls into place.

MC: Oh my gosh, it’s been a phenomenal ride. You look at the difficulties and wonder. But when you love to do something it’s part of you and you just continue doing it. I feel very fortunate and privileged to have found my life’s work. So many people don’t.

EM: The opera world is fortunate to have you.

MC: Thank you.

EM: When it comes to roles and composers, you’ve sung Verdi to Puccini to Cilea. What are some of your most favorites roles?

MC: It’s whatever I’m doing at the time. I’ve been able to sing the greatest roles for not only the mezzo-soprano but some of the dramatic soprano roles. Azucena and Eboli, Amneris, Ulrica, Tigrana in Edgar, Abigaille in Nabucco, Lady Macbeth. I’m doing Le Prophète in Essen - this protagonist is the person who guides all the drama. I get to do these kinds of roles that without this particular character - all of them drive the drama. They’re truly the most interesting characters. It’s not being egotistical. Take Azucena out of Trovatore - what do you have? 

EM: True. Verdi originally wanted to name the opera after her. She really is the pivotal character. Some of those roles are the meat of the opera. Watching from the Met pit, I often wondered what it must be like to sing them. You’re confirming for me how awesome it must be. 

National Center for the Performing Arts, Beijing
MC: It is. Ulrica Un Ballo in Maschera - without her the story stops. It’s so interesting. These roles are not just driven by the drama, it’s also their complexity. They’re not one-layer kinds of roles. Look at Azucena, Amneris, Eboli - all those roles require a lot of thinking and building. From a vocal standpoint - wow. They’re really tough. Verdi pushes every role he writes to the absolute limit, bottom and top. In all of them there are great, constant challenges. I love that. I haven’t counted how many - Amneris, over 300, Azucena over 200. People ask me, “Don’t you get bored?” I say, “Oh, no. You have a new cast, new conductor, new director, new orchestra. I learn something every time - from a conductor or director - that I can put into the next show. When you go about it like that it becomes so challenging, so interesting. 

EM: Given your overall emphasis on Italian repertoire thus far, how do you feel about singing Wagner? 

MC: I adore Wagner. In a lot of ways, Wagner writes for my voice almost with perfection - dramatically, also in range. It sits just a tad lower than a dramatic soprano but a tad higher than a regular mezzo. I have that extension at the top of my voice. So Wagner stays in the range of a real mezzo but with the tops he needs for Ortrud, and it’s worked for me. Brangäne from Tristan and Isolde - she’s a bit too namby-pamby for me, but what I would love to do before I end my career is Isolde. Also a Fricka, a Kundry, these kinds of roles. Many people ask me, “Have you touched on all the roles?” I say, “Oh my God, no.” 

EM: Your concert and recital repertoire is also quite extensive. Do you have a preference for singing opera, performing in concert, or both? 

MC: In a nutshell, when I’m singing I’m the happiest. Whether it’s in concert or a staged performance I’m doing what I love to do. But if I had to say, I enjoy opera more, being on stage in costume and production. Although I’m really looking forward to doing Beethoven’s 9th with the Akron Symphony, even though it’s a total of about 3 minutes of me singing. To get to do such a magnificent piece - it’s just not always about what I’m doing on stage, it’s also about what other people are doing. I do love solo recitals, but they’re few and far between anymore, though the Marilyn Horne Foundation has been beating the bushes trying to keep the song recital going. But it’s hard, it’s a dying art. Opera is bigger than life - the production, the singing, chorus, action. It’s a phenomenon, magnificent. 

EM: Your passion for and commitment to fostering young and upcoming opera singers is inspiring. You’ve hosted a Master Class at the 2015 iSING! Suzhou International Young Artists Festival in China. Is that passion because of your own background? 

MC: It’s a lot of things. I love young singers. I’ve been given a gift and an opportunity, from someone who left, to get on the stage. To keep all of that nearly 30-year career just to myself means absolutely nothing. But if I take a young singer - so many of them are so hungry, wanting to find new information outside of themselves - I’m so happy to give of myself. In master classes I always start out by saying, “Please open your minds for these two or three hours, and allow the information to come in, allow me to try things with you. I would never do something that isn’t going to be right for you, but it’s my experience over the years that I’m trying to pass on to you. At the end of the class you are free to take it or leave what you don't want. ” Kids respond. A lot. 

EM: In what ways? 

MC: I’m very tactile. I want to hug kids when they come up and when they leave, because I believe when you stand in front of an audience of people and are asked to go out of your realm of comfort, you’re very vulnerable. A lot of people get nervous and can’t do it. This happened to me as a young artist. I was in a master class given by a former colleague considered one of the great singers, who told one young girl with a lovely voice that she should do something else. I thought, there’s no way I would ever do anything like that. I’m not God. I’m not going to say who’s going to make it or not. I’m just supposed to give information. But in order to do it you have to make people feel comfortable. It’s in my nature to nurture, but in a professional manner. I love to see young singers get the opportunity and just go. When I was in China those kids were “white on rice.” 

EM: “White on rice?” I’ve never heard that expression. 

MC: [Laughs] Yes, because they could not get enough information and wouldn’t leave me alone. When we took a pause they would be, “Can you show me, can you tell me, how would you do this.” It’s all relatively new to them. Talk about working hard, they’re unbelievable. It’s wonderful to see that. 

EM: It must have felt amazing when The Opera Theatre of Pittsburgh created the Marianne Cornetti Young Artist Scholarship in your name. 

MC: Believe it or not I have several scholarships out there. It’s a humongous honor. In my name, someone is awarded monetarily and I work with them throughout the SummerFest. It’s wonderful. I have another scholarship at Slippery Rock University north of Pittsburgh, through their music program. They have endowed nearly $35,000 towards it. It’s been going on almost 20 years now. 

EM: Continuing that legacy is a way of showing your gratitude for the people who changed and made all the difference in your life. 

MC: It’s in the last 4 or 5 years that I’ve stopped to think, “My gosh, I’ve just done so much in the last 25 years. How did I get here?” I started to realize it’s my teachers, the ones who were influential from first grade, that were such a huge influence in my life. I needed and wanted to do something, to go back to find each teacher I had, all the way through high school, and thank them. At a concert I gave the year before last here in Pittsburgh, I found out six of my teachers were in the audience, the teachers who had been so amazingly important in my life. I stopped near the end and told them all to stand up. I thanked each one of them for what they had given me in nurturing and teaching, that a teacher affects us for eternity - what you taught me, I’m going to teach somebody else. It just keeps going on. 

EM: It’s unique that someone gives a teacher that recognition, which they so need, for making that difference. 

MC: Absolutely. You cannot believe their reaction. There weren’t many dry eyes in that concert. The teachers afterward were [Gasps] without words. 

EM: And then there’s - football. 

MC: [Laughs.] 

EM: Football and opera have become quite the thing. I’ve been reading some of your Facebook posts about your appearances with the Pittsburgh Steelers. You’ve become a “local hero” for them, most recently performing for the New Year’s Day game. 

MC: I know, it’s so funny. It’s a big deal here in Pittsburgh. With the Pirates - it’s a wonderful, heartwarming story. A couple of years I was on Facebook, rooting for one of the Pittsburgh teams, and a guy who friended me, Michael Duffy, said, “Have you ever sung at the Pirates, Penguins or Steelers games?” I said, “No, they want an audition and at this stage I shouldn’t have to.” He agreed. Later he wrote, “Do you mind if I call the Pirates, maybe they’re just not aware of you. I’m a big fan of yours and they should recognize who you are.” I thought it couldn’t hurt. He called me back and said they were so excited to talk to me. I thought he was kidding. But I called the Pirates and the girl in charge of bringing in the Anthem singers, a former pianist at Northwestern, apologized for being unaware of me and said, “We would love to have you sing the Anthem.” So I sang and they went crazy. Now I sing one of the Anthems every year. 

EM: And the Steelers? 

MC: Michael, glad it all worked out, asked if I wanted him to call the Steelers. I asked him why he wanted to do it, since he didn’t really know me. We grew up in the same area, he said. As it happened, my dad ran a big mushroom farm where everybody in our little community worked, including my brothers and I outside of school. Michael said, “Long ago I worked at your dad’s farm. He was my boss. The kindest man. He always shook my hand, always said hello, always had a smile. I always wanted to do something for Mr. Cornetti. Now I had my opportunity.” Can you imagine? He called the Steelers and told me they were on board. I went down and sang the Anthem for the game, no audition. They loved it. Everybody went crazy - they all thought the way I sang was so personal, and so devoted the way I looked at the flag. I do truly believe in what I’m singing about. They wanted me to sing Auld Lang Syne for the New Years’ Day game during a video of the Steelers during the past year. I thought that was awesome, but I didn’t want to do it a capella for 72,000 people. They arranged for me to work with two instrumentalists, an acoustic guitarist and one on keyboard, in a recording studio - in Ohio. That was a new experience. I suggested an intro on electric guitar, just rip it, to grab the audience, and he did. We put the whole thing together in 4 hours. On the day of the game I had the track in my ears and sang live. It was SO AWESOME. So cool to stand up there and do something with such an important organization. The Steelers, the Rooney family, treated me as though I was a queen, honestly. Plus they gave me a jersey with my name and let me wear the 43rd Super Bowl ring [Gasps].

EM: You seem to be almost as fascinated with sports as with opera. 

MC: Growing up with just brothers, there weren’t many girls in the neighborhood so I had to play with boys. Of course they think you don’t know how to do anything. Our yard had the baseball diamond. All the kids came to our house. I cried to my mom that they wouldn't let me play. She said, “Marianne, you have to make them let you play. Figure it out.” I thought it was unfair. Then I got up and walked between the catcher and pitcher and lay down. They knew if they hit me with that ball they’d be dead meat. So they gave me a glove and put me in the outfield. Balls were going over my head. But they had to teach me how to play. I became a great second baseman. Then I learned to play football and they came knocking at my door asking me to be their quarterback. So I grew up a real tomboy and still have a passion for all those sports. My mother had the wherewithal to put into my mind that it had to be me to get them to allow me to play. That tenacity, I’ve carried all my life. In this career you have to keep going, striving, not give up. You’re going to get there eventually. 

EM: Clearly sports and opera go very well together. Just ask Jake Heggie. 

MC: They’ve both been a big deal with me. In 2013 when I was in Japan and the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team were in the playoffs, in spite of 13 hours’ time difference I would get up early in the morning and listen over the Internet at the local Starbucks. When I became hysterical those quiet Japanese would watch me stand up and cheer. I’m sure they wondered what was wrong with me. [Laughs]. But it’s my passion. 

EM: Marianne, this has been extraordinary. You have so much to say. I can imagine it coming through as you sing Mistress Quickly in SDO’s Falstaff.

 MC: And there it is again. Without Quickly, it doesn’t happen, you know? 

EM: Along with Sir John she is the most fun character of all. I can’t wait. 

MC: It should be a lot of fun. 

EM: Thank you so much for spending time with me. 

MC: Erica, it’s been a real pleasure. 

SDO’s Falstaff runs from Feb. 18-26 at the San Diego Civic Theatre.


Photo credits: National Center for the Performing Arts Beijing, Bill Cooper, courtesy of the artist

Erica Miner can be reached at:

Friday, January 27, 2017

Josephin Mosch Joins LA Opus as European Contributor

Photo: Josephin Mosch

LA Opus Publisher

Dear Readers:

It is with great pleasure that we introduce to you the youngest contributor to LA Opus, Josephin Mosch, whose varied professional activities are shared between three major areas of interest: medicine, music and media.

We became acquainted with Josephin when last year LA Opus reviewed the Heidelberg Spring Festival in Germany, where she had a role in the support of its artists and concerts. Josephin has been active musically as a violinist in orchestras like the Collegium Musicum in Heidelberg and the Orchestre des Universités de Paris, and sung in choral ensembles like the Harvard University Choir. Currently pursuing a degree in medicine, she has reported on music and science for journals and on radio, and is currently working for the Bavarian broadcasting company (a part of the German TV and Radio --ARD).

Now in her final year of medical studies at Heidelberg University's Medical School, Josephin had earlier pursued studies in Paris at the Université Paris Diderot, and is doing doctoral thesis work in cardiovascular research at the Harvard Medical School's Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She was recently awarded support by the Global Health Journalism Grant Program of the European Journalism Centre and will soon report about progress on the eradication of measles in various countries as well as new achievements in medicine and science.

The mention of journalism takes us to Josephin's main area of interest to our readers. From her current European perspective, she will contribute music reviews and commentary on activities in her native Germany as well as nearby countries for LA Opus.

The connection between music and the medical professions has much historical precedent. Russian composer Alexander Borodin was by day a chemist at the city of St. Petersburg's Medical–Surgical Academy, where he also founded the School of Medicine for Women. And by evening he was the composer of some of the loveliest melodies of the Romantic era. Another, less successful story, was that of Hector Berlioz, whose brief tenure as a medical student had him fleeing in horror from the live dissection of a cadaver, as he so theatrically related in his memoirs.

Our local readers may know of the Los Angeles Doctors Symphony Orchestra, one of the oldest community orchestras in the United States. Its ranks include doctors, dentists, veterinarians, nurses, and allied health care professionals. No doubt they will be interested in the intersections Josephin uncovers between the fields of music and medicine.

Josephin's two earlier articles on LA Opus can be accessed by clicking her name at the scroll of authors on the upper right side of the blog. We are delighted to welcome Josephin Mosch to the roster of LA Opus contributors.