Friday, May 6, 2016

Grand finale for the festival by the Neckar

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen at Stadthalle Heidelberg 

Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
Stadthalle, Heidelberg


The final concert of the Heidelberg Spring Festival on April 30th, 2016, with classics like Beethoven and Mozart on the program, rounded off the festival's twentieth season. The concert at Stadthalle Heidelberg at once marked a first cornerstone in the festival’s history and a new break-off into more centuries of musical springs to come.

Robert Schumann himself celebrated his twentieth birthday in the town by the Neckar – that was in 1830. But just like back then, Heidelberg – as a city of the Lied and of romanticism - remains true to itself, even in 2016: During master classes singers like Thomas Hampson and Brigitte Fassbänder worked with young artists on the development of their voices, whereas pianist Igor Levit and cellist Daniel Müller-Schott, among others, trained scholars in chamber music.

A special surprise awaited the audience of the final concert with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen: The Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla stood in for her diseased colleague Paavo Järvi – a young woman, who, at the age of barely 30, follows in the footsteps of Sir Simon Rattle and Andris Nelson: She was named Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra from the following season on. Gražinytė-Tyla was a Dudamel Fellow with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the 2012-13 season, became Assistant Conductor with the Orchestra in 2014, and was promoted to Associate Conductor for the 2016-17 season. Coming to Heidelberg brings her back to an earlier phase of her career – the young musician had served as second Kapellmeister at the Theater und Orchester Heidelberg in the 2011-12 season.

The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen has been taking the festival’s stage over the years – and the closing concert was the perfect opportunity for the Director of Deutschland Radio Kultur Hans-Dieter Heimendahl and the President of the Bundestag, the parliament of Germany, Norbert Lammert to present the award ‘Orchestra of the Year’.

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen at Stadthalle Heidelberg The musicians of the Hanseatic city made the ‘Spring’ a present of a classical music mix – Beethoven and Mozart. The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie’s acclaimed interpretation of Beethoven’s orchestral works have won numerous awards for ‘its Beethoven’ recording on the RCA label which critics have described as groundbreaking – with the New York Sun praising the ensemble as: ‘the authoritative Beethoven orchestra of our day’.

As was to be expected, the ‘Beethoven orchestra’ gave an extraordinary performance of his Symphony No. 6 Op. 68, in F major, also known as the Pastoral Symphony, vividly following the composer’s descriptive subtitle ‘memories of country life’. The composer explicitly underlined the programmatic content demanding ‘more (the) expression of feeling than painting’. One could lively imagine the emotions the composer could have had on his walks that inspired him to this wonderful opus. Watching the dynamic of the orchestra and the interaction with its’ conductor, whose body tension and dance-like movements radiated the joy she had making music with such responsive musicians, made the audience even more enthusiastic about the performance.

Opera tunes with Beethoven’s Leonora Overture No.3, Op.72b from Fidelio and the concert aria ‘Ah perfido!’ from Pietro Metastasio’s Achille in Sciro, starring South African soprano Golda Schultz, who trained at Juilliard School in New York and is now part of the Bayerische Staatsoper ensemble in Munich, concluded the Beethoven part. The singer stirringly, dazzlingly interpreted the last aria of the evening - Mozart’s ‘Mi tradì quell’alma ingrata’ from Don Giovanni and delighted both the audience in the concert hall and in the garden of the university’s dining hall where a live broadcasting site had been installed. Live broadcast of the concert in the garden of the university’s Marstall dining hall 

Live broadcast of the concert in the garden of the  university’s Marstall dining hall

Setting new focuses on tried-and-trusted approaches and finding answers by questioning tradition – this dualistic character appears to be the connecting element of orchestra and festival bringing the four weeks of classical music to a successful conclusion.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Aldrich and von Stade Part 2: Great Scott’s Characters

By Erica Miner

EM: Can you talk about the interaction between your two characters?

FVS: We just have one adorable duet, kind of a trip down memory lane. Just dear.

EM: Like the Countess-Susanna letter duet in Figaro. That’s as sweet as it gets, even with the undercurrent of what’s going on.

FVS: Yes. Basically my character is a singer but not professional, who never went there and had the goods. But mainly I’m just in awe of this kid, what she’s done and accomplished, and care about her and want her to succeed but be happy too. The way Jake has written it, my character is very happy. She’s married a rich man who’s devoted to her and she’s found a wonderful life. In Dallas there was a woman who’s very much like Winnie. She was the wife of the guy who owns the football team.

KA: Oh my gosh.

EM: Did Jake base your character on her?

FVS: No, he didn’t, but it was fun because she had artwork installed in the big new stadium in Dallas so the people going to these games can enjoy beautiful art at the same time. She wants the best. As an older opera singer I want the best for these kids. I know the pitfalls, I’ve done it. You want to save them if you possibly can.

EM: What do you two most look forward to about this west coast premiere?

FVS: I’m looking forward to hearing Kate, and this wonderful gal (Joyce El-Khoury) who sings the “Star Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl. She’s hysterical.

KA: She’s so funny.

EM: What a great role.

FVS: Wonderful role. And this marvelous countertenor role. Really there’s not a bad role in the whole thing. I’m looking forward to a triumph for Jake. Not because I think he needs it (Laughs). 

EM: Kate, what role have you not done yet that you would like to do? True confessions.

KA: That’s one of those questions that gets asked a lot. I would have my list and then I’ve started to check them off (Laughs). I had Jane Seymour in Anna Bolena and now I’ve done it. Then Rosenkavalier, La Favorite. I’d love to do La Favorite again. Then a French Don Carlo in a couple of years. I would love to get back to Werther. I think it’s my best role but I’ve only done it twice.

EM: I think Flicka can relate to that.

KA: The other night we were talking about repertoire, Rosenkavalier. I have her recording with…

FVS: Evelyn Lear. Oh my goodness.

KA: It’s a great recording. I love it so much.

FVS: Thank you!

KA: I listened to that so much when I was preparing my first Rosenkavalier. It means a lot to me.

FVS: That was one I learned in 10 days and suffered ever since. You know that (Sings) “Wass heisst du, wass du…” I thought, is it three, is it two, is it one?

FVS, KA: (Sing in unison in German, laughing.)

FVS: That’s just where I thought, “Please let me get it right.”

EM: I sat in the first fiddle section right by the (Met) pit wall and got to watch it. I can’t tell you how much fun we used to have.

FVS: Did you ever go on tour?

EM: Oh yeah.

FVS: Weren’t they crazy, those tours? And they would just wine and dine you to death. I always got in trouble because I was really skinny then and looked like one of the ballerinas and they would be like, “We didn’t invite the ballet.”

EM: As Cherubino you sure looked like a boy.

FVS: (Laughs) That was fun.

KA: I’ve been meaning to tell you this. My husband was mad for you in Cenerentola when he was like a little boy.

FVS: Really!

KA: It’s one of the things that got him into classical music. You rocked his world.

FVS: That is so cute. Thank you.

EM: Flicka, you’ve done it all. Is there anything else you want to do?

FVS: No, I love if I’m asked to be part of it. I told Jake, “Listen, if there’s a certain amount of decay (Laughs), you’re not going to hurt my feelings. Just don’t worry about it.” I did this piece of Ricky Ian Gordon’s last year, which I really had fun, I played a 92-year-old woman, so it was a little closer to home. I had a ball doing it. Now my basic goal is to get money for these young kids. This wonderful organization called YMCO, Young Musicians Choral Orchestra in Berkeley, a youth program to get kids into college. We help 80 kids, all low income. It makes me sad that so many kids of color and Latino kids don’t get a chance. Not for lack of ability, they just never have had the exposure to anything. Music solves so many problems in their lives. It’s just extraordinary.

EM: Music as an outlet is such a creative force for kids.

FVS: If you go to a lot of the performances of the youth orchestras you’ll see six African-American kids. You have to go after them in the communities. The success rates are incredible. Whether they end up in music or not doesn’t matter. They just get so much from what they’re doing.

EM: They can discover something about themselves, find something they never knew existed.

FVS: Yes.

EM: Will you be singing any recitals?

FVS: I have a couple with Jake, here and there. That’s fine. Even now I feel like I’ve abandoned my husband. It’s not that much fun for him to come and sit around in a different city.

EM: Kate, what’s next for you after this?

KA: I’m doing a rarely performed work, L’Olympie by Spontini, at Théâtre Champs Elysées in Paris, then Carmen in Poland, in Naples and Verbier Festival.

EM: Do you still enjoy doing Carmen after having done so many?

KA: I go through periods where it’ll fall into a lull but it has less to do with me and more to do with a production that’s ordinary and non-thought provoking. The way these guys wrote opera…every phrase is dense with information about the character and plot. Even the way words are set - a single word gives you all the information you need. So I love to play around with that. You can do that in a role like Carmen I’ve done so many times.

EM: So your comfort level is pretty high at this point.

KA: There are moments, of course. Like the fact that the hardest aria is the very first thing you sing, the Habanera.

EM: It also must have a lot to do with your Don José.

KA: Yes. Last summer I sang with Jonas Kaufmann. I’m loving it right now, but… 

FVS: (Laughs.)

KA: I know. It was so difficult to work with him. And we had to kiss, even.

FVS: Oh, right, really tough.

KA: And I had to listen to him sing, “La Fleur que tu m’avais jetée.” That was also difficult.

FVS: Is he nice, too?

KA: Oh, he’s heaven. I adore that man. He’s a decent, good person who defends himself when he needs to, his personal space and musical choices. Very smart, very instinctive actor, which I love. We didn’t necessarily do the same thing from night to night, and he was all about that, just let’s make it real as it comes. So that was fun. He’s such a great Don José.

EM: You guys are amazing. I cannot wait to hear you sing this opera.

FVS: We can’t wait for you to hear it. I think that’s how everyone feels about it. “Wait till you hear this, you’re gonna love it.”

KA: And that scene…

FVS: And then that scene.

KA: When my brother came with my kid and his wife and two kids to see a rehearsal and they left after my first scene and I said, “No, no, you have to stay because there’s that scene, and that scene is really funny and that scene is touching and the thing that happens when the thing falls.”

EM: I’m sure the audience will be pumped. Also because it’s in English. So accessible.

FVS: Jake’s music is easy on the ears, much easier than with piano. When you hear it with the orchestra, it’s… (Sighs). 

EM: Kate and Flicka, I’m so thrilled to meet you both. Toi, toi for Saturday. 

KA, FVS: Thank you!

(Great Scott is performed May 7, 10, 13, 15, 2016, at the San Diego Civic Theatre.)

Photos used with permission of the artists
Erica Miner can be reached at: [email protected]

Von Stade, Aldrich Sing Out on Heggie’s ‘Great Scott’

By Erica Miner

Excitement reigns at San Diego Opera this week in anticipation of the May 7 west coast premiere of Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s Great Scott (, directed by Jack O’Brien. I caught up with stars Kate Aldrich and Frederica von Stade (as Arden Scott and Winnie Flato, respectively) during a rehearsal break at the SDO offices downtown. 

EM: Flicka, I feel so honored and privileged to have performed with you in all of those amazing roles at the Met, from Cherubino to Melisande. 

FVS: It was so much fun. It’s great now, too, but back in the good old days it was different. It wasn’t all bulletproof. It’s changed. I was very lucky to be a part of it. I just treasure it. Mr. Bing. He was something else (Laughs). 

EM: Kate, I left the Met before you sang there. I’m totally psyched to see and hear you in Great Scott. Would either of you like to venture a description of the opera? 

KA: It’s so elusive, because you think you know what the story is about. Then the next day after a staging rehearsal you realize, no, it’s more about this theme. I think it isn’t really about any one thing. It’s about a lot of things in the life of an artist but also of people. 

FVS: It’s very “person” oriented. About getting older… 

KA: Yes, within the context of what an opera singer’s life is, but it’s not restricted to opera. 

FVS: Right. It could be anybody. 

EM: So it’s universal. 

FVS: Yes, in the types of people. The baritone doesn’t really represent baritones - he represents a man. 

EM: Sounds fascinating and complex. 

FVS: It is. What's marvelous about it, too, is that every character is portrayed with an enormous amount of affection. There’s nothing damning, sarcastic. It doesn’t have to go as far as forgiveness. It’s great understanding and appreciation for what it takes to make up this particular world. Our world but also the world of the stage. 

KA: Also love and admiration for human frailty and vulnerability. How when you allow yourself to go to that place, which in this opera happens to my character. She’s pushed to her limits to the point of coming unraveled. She lets herself go inward to find out what’s happening and rises out of the ashes as a result, which again is not exclusively for musicians or opera singers. It’s life and we are all capable of going down to the dark place if pushed. 

FVS: It also doesn’t give you solutions. The piece is not like Law & Order, with a wrap-up at the end and you’re either convicted or not. It’s open ended. That’s really how life is anyway. There’s no resolution. 

EM: That’s very unique for an opera. 

FVS: Yes. It’s the resolution of, this might happen, that might happen. That’s not the point. 

KA: Right. It’s irrelevant whether or not the baritone, Sid Taylor, and Arden end up together. That’s not really what it’s about but a means to tell the story. 

EM: How do you think the audience will react to something without a clear-cut resolution? 

FVS: They absolutely adored it (in Dallas). I don’t think they were expecting to have such a good time. It’s a lot of fun. They’ll talk about it. Like when you go to certain movies - what did you think? What was that all about? You talk about it and even then you don’t really come up with a period on the end of a sentence. 

KA: But you’ve felt something you can’t put words to. It’s moving and touching and real. Jake as a composer is addicted to reality and portrays it beautifully, symphonically as well. Jack (O’Brien), the director, is the same. 

EM: And Terrence McNally’s words - a great deal of the structure comes from him. 

FVS: Very much Terrence. He has incredible passion for opera, way before Master Class. Opera speaks to him. It seems to speak to men in a way it doesn’t to women - in a very specific way, which I don’t understand. I don’t know whether it’s the sport part of it. 

KA: We’re more comfortable with talking about emotion. In opera…the words are the words, but the music is the emotion underneath it. In a way it’s visceral for men. Larger than life. Usually exaggerated. 

FVS: Exactly. My husband and stepsons never talk about anything except, we need to put five screws in that and it will hold. It all comes down to some sort of mechanical thing they put together that isn’t really what they want to talk about. 

EM: That’s how their brains are wired. Men need action. 

FVS: And events. And that’s opera. This opera is different from anything we’ve experienced. 

KA: From anything I ever sang. 

FVS: Absolutely. And you cannot label it a comedy. It’s not like Rossini. 

KA: They say dramatic actors are often the best comedic actors. They’re opposite ends of the spectrum, but in the end they’re kind of akin to each other. It’s similar with this opera. It’s so funny, so heartbreaking at moments. But really funny. 

EM: So you’ve go the gamut of emotions from one end of the spectrum to another. 

FVS: At one point Jack talked about it being too funny. There were too many jokes. They’ve actually taken some out (Laughs). 

EM: Since Dallas?

FVS: Yes. 

EM: Since you sang in Dallas, Flicka, does it feel really different to be performing it here? 

FVS: One of my favorite operas ever was Marriage of Figaro, because all the people in it were so real. Every time you did it, it had that large safety net of humanity around it. It was very different every time, but always as magical. I’m really happy to find that out about this piece. I’m happy for Jake. Because to me it means this has durability, lastability. It’s different but it feels great. It’s as magical, as full, as it was. We were all like going on vacation together in Dallas. It was the first time, and that’s a bit like a class reunion. It has that element. That was wonderful, but this feels like the essence of the work is there. Jake did it. I think for a composer to cut some of his lines is really hard. It takes as much work as creating them in the first place. 

EM: Yes. Writing is rewriting. Every word is like your baby. Every note, in Jake’s case. 

FVS: Exactly. 

EM: How is it for you, Kate, not having sung it in Dallas, and especially coming in virtually at the last moment, has it been a big adjustment, with people who’ve already done it? 

KA: No, because it’s such a warm, lovable cast. There’s not a lemon in the group. I don’t even mean vocally but personality wise. Everyone is just lovely to work with. There’s been none of the, “Last time we did this.” Some operas like Marriage of Figaro, you might experience this. I’ve done a lot of Carmens. Sometimes the tenor is like, “When I do Don José, this is how I do it.” Less ability to adjust and try, discover new things. There’s none of that in this group. There was occasionally, “This is how we did it in Dallas,” or, “We can try it this way.” But overall I’ve never had that feeling. 

EM: It sounds like a joyful experience - for you, Kate, being new to it, and for you, Flicka, having already done it. 

FVS: It’s really fun. And today with the orchestra (San Diego Symphony). Ooh. Jake’s orchestrations are incredible. His melodies, and how he moves from one place to the next. Pretty darn amazing. I think everybody is especially elated today, because we heard the orchestra. 

EM: We’re big fans of Jake’s here. It’s also interesting, you’ve done the opera before and Kate hasn’t, but Kate has sung here before and you haven’t. How does it feel, Kate, to be back? 

KA: I love it. I’m originally from Maine. To come to a place like this with this climate… 

FVS: (Chuckles.) 

KA: Sometimes you do these long rehearsal periods, like, I don’t want to be in Berlin for five weeks. But here it’s like, “We can have a longer rehearsal period, I’ll clear my schedule. I’ll stay as long as you need.” 

EM: Flicka, this is your debut with SDO. 

FVS: (Laughs) I know. 

EM: How does that feel, after everything you’ve done in your career? 

FVS: I’ve loved Jake’s stuff from the day I met him. I believe in him so much. I’m just thrilled that he and Terrence asked me to do it. I didn’t expect it. I thought, he does not owe me this - he’s written enough pieces for me that I’ve had the joy of doing. So when they asked me I was just thrilled. I don’t get much chance to be with all the young artists who are around. I’ll never stop loving it. It’s the most fun part. It’s almost sad when it opens and everybody goes back to their life. This is when it’s the jolliest. Just heaven. 

KA: Rehearsal period is so fun. 

FVS: Oh, I just love, love, love it. I get to hear these incredible young artists. My jaw dropped over Kate, how beautiful her voice is and how she has put this together in such a short time. It’s incredible. There’s not exactly nothing to do in this piece. It’s opening doors and putting on things and…I’m just so admiring. And I love the spirit. I went to Butterfly here, and was blown away by the performance. The orchestra is so good here, the chorus so fantastic. And that soprano, Latonia Moore! I thought, it’s like a Martina (Arroyo) voice, just exquisite. The performance was amazing. But the public - there were a lot of young people, all so excited to be part of it, and it was jammed. You don’t get that, you know? It’s just thrilling.

EM: When I interviewed Jake (, he said something about you, Flicka. “Seeing her perform in Cenerentola at L.A. Opera when I was just starting out made a huge impression on me.” His songs written for you have become a key element in your repertoire, correct?

FVS: Oh, totally.

EM: What is it like to create this pivotal role in his new opera?

FVS: Jake’s operas are so well written, you really don’t have to do a whole bunch. I did the mother in Dead Man Walking. He had asked me to do Sister Helen and I said, “Jake, I’m too old. You’ve got Susie Graham. But I’d love to be in it, thank you.” Then he wanted me to play the mother of one of the kids who were murdered. I said no, I’d love to play the mother of the murderer. It enabled me to see a whole part of motherhood I hadn’t been aware of, choices you make for your children that aren’t always the best ones, that have cost them, especially when you throw poverty into the mix. So for me it was this extraordinary exploration of being a mom. In this one, too, it’s an exploration of being the “senior.” I love being the senior - a mother-like figure in the opera house that is not there because of her expertise in opera but her passion for it, who feels this extraordinary connection to this young, magnificent singer whom she has mentored and is so proud of. You’re proud of young singers the way you’re proud of your children. I mentor in that I help raise money for young kids. In one organization we have a girl, seventeen, who just got a full scholarship to Oberlin, $280,000. She’s been homeless for the last three years. You just want to burst, it’s so exciting.

EM: But difficult as well.

FVS: When you’re raising money you’re dealing with a lot of elements you have to get your head around to a certain extent. That’s a bit of who Winnie is. There’s a lovely scene where Winnie thanks the public, but it was so confusing because we went out in front of the curtain before the opera was over. I think the public thought the opera was over. There was no way to make it work. Jake said, “Do you mind if I cut it?” I said, “Oh, Jake, just to be here is my Christmas present. You can cut everything, it’s fine. I’m just happy to be along for the ride.” I believe in him as a composer. As a human being, he’s extraordinary, a most beautifully educated man, so dear. There’s no end to superlatives as far as Jake is concerned.

EM: Kate, I know Arden goes through a lot of changes. Can you describe her transformational arc?

KA: At the beginning of the opera she’s probably at the peak of her career. She’s agreed to do this opera she just discovered from the 1800s, to help raise money for her hometown opera company, where Winnie Flato is the artistic director, to keep the company afloat. Going home and rediscovering her turf. She was probably the most herself when she was making music, but there’s the part that’s the little girl, the simple life of her hometown, that shakes her up.

EM: Unexpectedly?

KA: Unexpectedly. She thinks she going to go in there, have a great time, be the hero, everyone’s going to love it because the audience that already loves her, an opera no one knows, so there’s no comparisons in terms of, “So-and-so sang it better,” but still her repertoire from the 1800s. She didn’t expect to be slapped across the face by seeing her ex-boyfriend from high school, the water tower where they had written their “Sid and Arden forever” little love note. It’s happening right at the crux of her career where she’s reached the top and wondering what’s next. She’s recently been divorced, has no children, like, “Okay, I’m here, I made it to the top. Now what?” It causes a slight downward spiral. That’s where she starts to question a lot of things. She’s under pressure to do this modern opera written for her and afraid to go into it because it’s too intense. So there’s this other story that she’s afraid to go artistically to the full depths of what she’s capable of, for fear of losing herself entirely. In the end that’s what makes her go mad. She sees the ghost of the composer of the opera she’s singing that night - for me, in her mind - telling her telling her to go for it, to do the modern opera, to take risks, take chances. And because she goes for it and throws herself into it 100% she actually comes out stronger and better. That’s where she becomes “Great Scott.”

EM: So she starts out not a risk taker.

KA: I think she’s a career machine. The sure, safe thing. But she’s attracted to the danger of the stage and theatre - you don’t know what’s going to happen from one night to the next - but never able to give herself fully over to her artistic capacity.

FVS: Anybody who’s a superstar the way she is, is taking risks all the time. Coming back and tapping into a part of you that you forgot about for so many years. The world out there when you’re at that level has got to be hard.

KA: You can’t do anything without scrutiny. We can all identify with themes in this opera. Even if I’m not Arden Scott, or my career is not at that same level as the character I’m playing, it’s kind of intimidating on some level.

EM: Art doesn’t always have to imitate life. You’re going through your own transformation, taking on this role, which is great. 

[Next, Part 2: Aldrich and von Stade Get Inside Great Scott’s Characters]

Photos used with permission of the artists
Erica Miner can be reached at: [email protected]