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Friday, September 30, 2005

Classical Music Chat Rooms

For the past year or so I’ve been a semi-regular participant on Yahoo! Chat, notably in one of the two primary “Classical Music” rooms. Much longer ago, in my AOL pre-broadband days, the only experiences I had with chat involved sifting through the prepubescent nattering of local folks looking for sex, whether actual or virtual. Anyone on there for more sociable reasons (as I was) got flooded by ‘bots touting XXX Web sites, among other unwelcome advances.

There’s still plenty of that elsewhere, I’m sure, but Classical Chat has proved to be a very enjoyable experience for me. The non-geographical aspect of the Internet hits home more strongly than ever in that sort of environment. Our chat room regulars include folks from all parts of the U.S., plus the UK, Canada and Western Europe. I’ve become good friends with people who live in Montreal, London, Amsterdam, Madrid, Athens, Helsinki, Paris—and many more places—I may never meet in person. Nonetheless, we share a love of classical music that transcends physical space, and we have the opportunity to discuss other things on our minds as well.

Another aspect unique to this environment is that we play music for others in the “room” by using Windows Media Player or some other facility. Generally speaking the process is polite, with one person or another “minding the queue” so that everyone gets a chance to play DJ, if they wish. There’s an etiquette to follow as well, which states (a) limit your selections to 6-10 minutes, (b) stick to the genre, and (c) yield gracefully when your turn is over. Naturally there are abusers to these policies; rude folks exist everywhere that people gather. But in general the participants adhere to the rules, and it gives us a chance to show off our favorite artists and pieces of music.

Of course, I play opera. With my collection of complete operas that recently topped 200 individual titles, I take pleasure in exposing my fellow chatters to works they may not know, and material by composers they may never have heard of. Every once in a while someone makes a request, and I accommodate wherever possible. For example, one of our regulars—a woman from Greece—earlier this week wanted to hear the “Dies Irae” from Verdi’s Requiem. I dug out my CD of the Georg Solti version with Sutherland, Horne, Pavarotti and Talvela as soloists.

I also try out new recital disks on the group. Recent additions to my collection have included Renee Fleming singing Handel arias, Denyce Graves singing French arias, Rolando Villazon singing selections from Gounod and Massenet operas, and a borrowed disc of Baroque arias sung by Jennifer Larmore.

As a listener, I’ve been introduced to a symphony by MacDowell, organ music by Poulenc, and Rachmaninoff’s Fifth Piano Concerto. I’ve even traded items with one of my favorite people, a gentleman from Amsterdam, sending him a newly released hardcover of the Django Reinhardt biography in exchange for a complete CD set of Bach piano music, and another time shipping over the aforementioned Graves & Villlazon CDs for an eight-disc set of Rossini one-act operas. In all cases, the items I gave him weren’t available in Europe, and the items he gave me weren’t available in the States—a pretty neat deal for both of us. The fact that I’m a part-time employee at an area Barnes & Noble definitely gives me the gift-giving edge, with my 30% discount on books and 20% off on music and DVDs.

A couple of years ago author Robert Putnam wrote “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.” The premise of his book revolved around the fact that people seemed not to interact much anymore—the decline of weeknight bowling leagues the prime catalyst for his argument and the derivation of his title. Face-to-face communications may be on the wane—I’m inclined to dispute the point, even though I’ve lived in the same house for 12 years and still don’t know the people two houses down—but online communities that share common interests are growing. For example, my wife participates daily in a discussion group whose connection is a popular soap opera. One of my former business colleagues spends hours every week chatting with far-flung friends about mountain climbing.

So pick a favorite topic and participate in Yahoo! Chat. If you want to hear some opera, stop by some weekday evening or Saturday afternoon (U.S. Mountain Time). Maybe I’ll play you parts of the new “Le Roi d’Ys” release with my favorite French tenor, the late Alain Vanzo, hitting all the high notes.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Opera Rara Team

I just purchased two new opera recordings put out by Opera Rara, the UK-based label that has been promoting little-known or even unknown (to modern listeners) operas for thirty-five years. For those of you unfamiliar with them, it’s funded in part by the (Sir) Peter Moores Foundation and specializes in early nineteenth century operas. As they say on their Web site (www.opera-rara.com):

"Operas once threatened with extinction have now been brought vividly back to life through the Opera Rara recordings."

They perform a few operas every year in concert-form (i.e., not staged) in the greater London area, and then retreat to the recording studio to immortalize the work for those of us who can’t get to the performances. The O.R. staff does some incredible research to seek out the definitive version of each piece and, in many cases, actually includes in their CD sets such things as alternate endings or late revisions. Also, the thick booklets that accompany each set are libretto, historiography and art gallery all in one.

I own more than a dozen of their complete productions, plus a half-dozen or so samplers, compilations and recital CDs. Opera Rara employs many of the same singers from one work to another. Since they concentrate on bel canto pieces (Rossini and Donizetti are household names; Pacini, Mayr, Mercadante and the Italian repertoire of Meyerbeer far less so), the voices are generally appropriate in their fit. One exception is Jane Eaglen, who has lately made a name for herself as a Wagnerian wannabe soprano (not to mention her much-publicized obesity issues) and to me seems somewhat miscast in Mayr’s end-of-the-baroque-era “Medea in Corinto.”

A young Renee Fleming, terrific in Donizetti’s “Rosamunda d’Inghilterra,” is probably the most recognized name among the O.R. stable of singers. Others include the now-retired Nelly Miricioiu (a notoriously difficult singer to direct, so I’ve heard) and up-and-comer Elizabeth Futral. For the period in which O.R. concentrates, mezzos have much greater presence—whether in “trouser” roles, modern-day stand-ins for castrati, or “seconda donnas”—so we see singers like Jennifer Larmore, Della Jones and Diana Montague on their roster. Few of their male singers are all that well known, including Anthony Michaels-Moore (perhaps the most recognizable of the bunch), Alastair Miles and my favorite, tenor Bruce Ford.

At any rate, the newest additions to the Operablogger collection are “Elvida” and “Francesca de Foix.” These are one-act operas (on a single disk each, plus fulsome booklet) written in the 1830s for Naples. On their initial hearing, I found the former to be a bit contrived musically, but the latter very tuneful. I love the horn theme in “Francesca” that echoes throughout the piece, one that is also heard backing up the chorus on several occasions. I swear I’ve heard it before, and maybe I have—possibly on Opera Rara's “The Young Donizetti” CD from 2004 that I bought earlier this year. After a while, I forget what tune comes from which opera.

Coming later this year from O.R. are the following two complete operas: Donizetti’s “Pia de’ Tolemei” and Meyerbeer’s “Emma di Resburgo.” I can't wait!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Greetings: Just in case there have been any readers out there! I've been away from this blog for AGES, but it's time I started posting random thoughts about opera once again - at least on a weekly basis. I'll try, I promise. I've enjoyed reading a blog about opera by a Dr. Barbara Baker, and she's more or less inspired me to pick this thing up again.

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