For some people different standards apply than for ordinary mortals and everything they touch turns into gold, and they don’t get caught up in it. Pablo Heras-Casado is such a homo universalis. The young Spaniard (Granada 1977) was voted the ‘2014 Conductor of the Year’ in December 2013 by the prestigious Musical America’s. Rightly so? Premature? Considered on potential growth?
Heras-Casado masters all genres of classical music: from baroque to modern and from chamber music to opera. He conducts the largest symphony orchestras of the world, but he is equally fond of the Freiburger Barochokester and the Ensemble Intercontemporain.
The conductor is therefore busy. Very busy. Today he is, so to speak, still in New York, tomorrow in Amsterdam and the day after in Freiburg. Or Madrid, Vienna, Barcelona, Brussels… If you look at his diary, you’ ll start to feel dizzy.
He doesn’t like Skype, hates e-mails and the telephone connection fails twice. But three times is a charm and that’s where we are now: me in Amsterdam and him in Neumarkt, where he is on a Schumann tour with his “Fabulous Freiburger BarockOrchester” and his “dream team” with Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov and Jean-Guihen Queyras. Then comes Carmen in St. Petersburg, a concert with all modernists in New York and Die Zauberflöte (the successful Amsterdam production of Simon McBurney) at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence.
He started his career as a singer and his roots lie in early music. What made him decide to conduct? And, since he’s an all-rounder, does he have a preference for a particular style? Period? Genre?
“Singing has always been prominent in my life, that’s how it started. It was (and still is) the most important factor in my life and in my career. Why did I start conducting? Because I wanted to share my ideas, my energy. Besides singing, I also play the piano and violin, but conducting gave me the opportunity to really open up to the outside world and to make my mark on a work. In this way I was able to make my voice be heard better, that was also what I insisted on. I made the decision when I was 14, 15, so I was a very curious boy.”
“I have no preferences. I am a musician, that’s how I feel and I want – and I hope, that I can do it – to embrace all music. I can’t say that Schumann, a composer who is now on my menu every day and whom I adore, is a bigger composer than, for example, de Victoria. Or Praetorius.”
“I love everything, I’m really an omnivore and I want to try everything. I don’t tell you anything new when I tell you that I love most what I’m doing right now. Right now it’s Shostakovich, I’ve come to love him sincerely and for the time being I can’t get enough of him.”
You made your debut at the Met with Rigoletto, it was a revival and the orchestra and the choir had already rehearsed the work with someone else, perhaps at a completely different tempo. It strikes me as very difficult…
“I have very few rehearsals, yes. Actually only one orchestral rehearsal and then the two dress rehearsals. And a special rehearsal with the singers. But it wasn’t difficult at all. We are talking about a world class orchestra and Rigoletto is part of the standard repertoire: it has to be possible. And don’t forget that every performance is actually different! Even if we’ve already had the premiere, you can still control things, which is quite nice.”
Nowadays you hear many singers complain that because the orchestras play so loudly, they get into trouble if they want to sing softly. In an interview, Samir Pirgu, a young Albanian tenor, quoted a statement by Harnoncourt, in which the latter said that it is actually difficult for orchestras to play piano. Forte and fortessimo are much easier.
“It is indeed a problem, the orchestras often play too loudly. And many conductors have no idea at all about singers and their possibilities. I think it’s different for me, also because I started out as a singer myself.”
“You can’t escape a conflict that needs to be resolved, especially when you’re working on a large project, which is always the case with opera. Working with a director also requires diplomacy. Still, I think that you can solve all problems and disputes through dialogue, there must always be a way to get closer together. But you have to be open-minded and I am, I’m open to everything.”
As part of the Verdi year, you recorded a CD with Plácido Domingo’s baritone arias together with him. How did you get involved in that project?
“It was the maestro himself who asked me for the project. It was really amazing to be able to discover Verdi’s beautiful music that way. We had a lot of time for it and we took a lot of that time. It was the chance of my life to get to know Verdi through Domingo.”
Trailer of Making of:
“For Archiv, the label for which I have now become the ‘ambassador’, I am going to record a lot of early music, a lot of unknown works, also many premieres. Including a lot of music by of all the Praetoriuses.”
“I find it very exciting, it is also a huge challenge. As I said, I love to be challenged and to try everything. That’s how I felt about the very first project I did for Archiv, El Maestro Farinelli.
I actually find the title misleading. The CD is called Il Maestro Farinelli and there are only two vocal numbers on it, even though Farinelli was in fact a singer? You’ d expect some more vocal fireworks, wouldn’t you?
“It’s a little complicated. Of course Farinelli was the greatest singer of his time! But it’s all about connecting. Farinelli has sung everywhere: in several Italian cities (Milan, Florence, Venice), but also in Munich, Vienna, London. He had signed a contract with the London group of Nicola Porpora, at the time the most notorious rival of Handel, but his connection with Spain was of a different, and also very emotional, nature.”
“In 1737 he broke his London contract to come and sing at the personal request of Queen Elisabeth Farnese for her manic-depressive husband, Philip V. Every evening he serenaded the king (he sang ‘Alto Giovane’ by Porpora for him) and a miracle happened: the king was cured. Farinelli stayed in Spain and until his death in 1745 he continued to sing for the king.”
“But of course his merit was much greater. Not only did he cure the king of his melancholy, but he also established a connection between Italian and Spanish – and German – music. The enormous repertoire, the diversity of works and composers, the enormous musical boost, we all owe that to him. You could say that Farinelli was a factotum between Italian and Spanish music.”
“I wanted to put forgotten composers on the map, hence José de Nebra, after all he was the father of the Spanish opera and the zarzuela. It is unbelievable that this beautiful music is almost never performed any more! Or take the Armida overture by Tommaso Traetta: the music is infectiously beautiful! Of course, these are not all pure masterpieces, but: should they?”
trailer of his Farinelli CD:
In the NTR documentary that the Dutch TV has made on you, you come across as very energetic. Do you owe it to the countless double espressos that you knock back one after the other? Are they meant to keep you awake?
Laughing: “I really love espresso, I love the taste and the smell. And – yes, I need it too, it keeps me alert. It has also become a kind of routine, without which I don’t go on, I need my espresso. I do drink it a lot, but I don’t drink it all day! And certainly not in the evening, then I prefer something else”.
The NTR documentary about Pablo Heras-Casado can be found on the website of NTR Podium.
Interview in Dutch:
Een openhartig gesprek met PABLO HERAS-CASADO
Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator
Harold Prince, with no less than 21 Tony Awards to his name, one of the biggest (if not the biggest) musical producers/directors, tackled ‘Turandot’ (Arthaus Musik 107319) in 1983, with very impressive results. He created a world of illusion ruled by fear, where the inhabitants, dressed in dazzling costumes, hide themselves (and their true feelings) behind masks. Beautiful and terrifying at the same time.
Eva Marton sings a phenomenal Turandot and Katia Ricciarelli is a fragile, pitiful Liù. Her “Signore ascolta” spun out with the most beautiful pianissimi is heartbreaking.
And José Carreras… He makes me cry too, because at the age of 37 he had one of the most beautiful (lyrical) voices in the world. But Calaf was not his role. He sings it beautifully, but one hears him crossing his own boundaries. And yet …. His hopeless macho behaviour, which goes against all odds, not only fits the concept of the director, it also illustrates Calaf’s character perfectly. At least for me.
The orchestra from Vienna is conducted by Lorin Maazel. Not my favourite conductor, but in this case, I have no reason to complain.
NEW YORK 1987
There was a period when I thought I’d had enough of the larger than live productions by Franco Zefirelli. I only thought so, because now I yearn to see them again. All the more so because it was not just pomp and circumstance: Zefirelli was undeniably a very good personal director, with him the interaction between the characters was always perfectly timed as well.
Plácido Domingo is a different story. As many of you know (if not, you know it now) he is my absolute hero and idol, but he is so kind! And sweet! He sings the role better than Carreras (incidentally – neither gentlemen was a champion of high notes). His voice is bigger and stronger, but in terms of drawing a character Carreras wins.
Leona Mitchell (what happened to her?) is a very moving Liù. And her skin colour means you can feel for her as a slave (so not good enough for Calaf).
For lovers of fairy tales, stunningly beautiful and colourful costumes, overwhelming sets, and opera ‘as opera is supposed to be’: the production from Valencia, recorded in May 2008, will make your heart beat faster and even with your ears closed, you will enjoy it immensely.
The famous Chinese film director Chen Kaige (a.o. ‘Farewell to my Concubine’) pulls out all the stops and lets you gasp for breath from the very first moment. There is no lack of visual pleasure, which does not mean that it is musically not good.
Maria Guleghina is not the most subtle of contemporary sopranos. She always remains a bit unapproachable and cold, but she has a huge voice and her high notes are as solid as a rock: here we have the perfect interpreter of the title role. Marco Berti is the prototype of an ‘old-fashioned Italian tenor’: straightforward, little movement. However, his sound is also unmistakably ‘old-fashioned Italian’: grand, ringing, with a touch of Bergonzi in his timbre and a beautiful height.
Alexia Voulgaridou is a very moving Liù and the three ministers are extremely convincing.
The orchestra (Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana) under maestro Mehta does its best to sound as Chinese as possible, which they do wonderfully well (C Major BD 700404/DVD 700308).
ARENA DI VERONA 2010
I’m having a hard time with this. I watch and listen to Salvatore Licitra and cannot control my tears. He has never been my favourite tenor, but knowing that you are watching and listening to what was probably his very last recording (in September 2011 he had a fatal accident on his native island, Sicily), makes judging, let alone ‘enjoying’ this very difficult.
And what can I say about the production itself? It’s a good old Zefirelli, with all the frills, although he does change things a little here and there. But the atmosphere in Verona is to be jealous of, so beautiful.
The moon is lit and you imagine yourself in the middle of a fairy tale. The images are undeniably beautiful and it remains a fascinating spectacle, especially if you are sensitive to it.
And the execution? Maria Guleghina was the reigning Turandot at the time and she is doing very well, but she has also grown older and a certain routine has crept into her voice and her portrayal. I also hear a frayed edge in her heights.
Luiz-Ottavio Faria is a very moving Timur and Tamar Iveri a beautiful, if not really memorable Liu. Difficult (BelAir BAC066).
ROYAL OPERA HOUSE LONDON 2013
Do you hate Calaf as much as I do? He has to be one of the most unsympathetic opera heroes: selfish, egocentric and keen on money and power, capable only of loving himself. Once started he can’t be stopped by anything or anyone: neither by the supplications of Liu and his father, nor by the wise words of Ping, Pang and Pong. The world to which he wants to belong is one of glitter and false appearances, where only the outside counts.
Or do you really think he is in love with Turandot?
Sometimes I suspect Puccini deliberately didn’t finish his opera. How do you create a happy ending to a fairy tale that is a series of tortures, murders and suicides?
Maybe I’m not the only one. Director Andrei Serban stops the opera for one long minute after Liu’s death, in which all actions freeze. I am very grateful to him for this, because Timur’s cry for help (“wake up Liu, it’s morning already”) resonates so strongly in your head.
The thirty-five year old production – which, after travelling half the world, returned to Covent Garden in 2013 – has lost none of its beauty and still fascinates from start to finish. The performance, with its beautiful choreography, is a feast for the eyes: dazzling and colourful, with a very dominant colour red.
Marco Berti is a fine although somewhat stately Calaf and Lise Lindstrom sings an absolutely convincing Turandot. Something I unfortunately can not say of Eri Nakamura (Liu).
The young Henrik Nánási has a long way to go before he can call himself a ‘Puccini conductor’. He still lacks a dose of healthy sentiment. But he is capable.
This is not the best performance of Turandot, but perhaps, at least to me, it is one of the most beautiful to watch.
Below is a trailer of the production:
AND ON CD
For years the recording with Birgit Nilsson, led by Francesco Molinari-Pradelli (once EMI 7693272) was my absolute favorite. It couldn’t and can’t be better, basta. Until a while ago I re-listened an old CD with Gina Cigna (Naxos 8.110193-94) I had not heard in ages and now I am not so certain any longer.
Both Nilsson and Cigna have great voices with which they can easily handle the role, but Cigna has much more ‘italianitá’. On the other hand there is the icy chill in Nilsson’s timbre, which makes her a personification of the ice princess.
Franco Corelli and Francesco Merli are equally matched: macho and powerful. But Merli sounds a little more distant than the warmer and very seductive Corelli.
Renata Scotto is a very fragile and moving Liu, but so is the young Magda Olivero. Difficult. The choice is yours. Although: who says you should choose?
Finally, a few words about the ‘Alfano ending’. Twenty-five years ago (does time go so fast!?) it was performed at the Vlaamse Opera in Antwerp and since then I’ve become a real fan of it. It’s such a shame that it was never officially recorded!
The CD on which Josephine Barstow sings the original Alfano ending with Lando Bartolini (Decca 4302032) has unfortunately been out of print for years. It really deserves to be re-issued.
Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator
It’s so simple: you dial a phone number. A dark, warm, sweet voice answers the call with: “Hello, with Marilyn”. And gone are the nerves. We talk much longer than the half hour time limit I’ve got. And there is plenty of laughter.
On 16 January 2003 she turned seventy and at the same time she celebrated her official debut fifty years ago. To mark the occasion, she released a CD, which she compiled herself. ” Have you heard it yet?” she asks. ” I’ m quite proud of it. It contains both studio and live recordings. All chosen by myself”.
“Seventy, my God, where did the time go? I made my debut in opera when I was twenty years old, but I sang my entire life. I actually made my debut when I was two years old, so I’ve been singing for almost 50 years. My father was a semi-professional singer, a tenor with a beautiful voice. He was my first teacher, my mentor. I started singing lessons when I was 5 years old, something I won’t recommend to anyone. Too early.”
When she was twenty her father died. And she left for Europe. Was there any connection?
“Pure coincidence. My European plans were already fixed for some time. He developed an acute form of leukaemia, and at that time you died of it quickly. He was diagnosed on Sunday and was already dead on Wednesday. But I was on my way to Europe. With a Dutch ship by the way, which was called ‘Maasdam’.”
Marylin Horne started out as a soprano and then became one of the greatest mezzo’s in history.
“Young girls don’t have low notes, and I was a young girl. As I got older, I was asked more and more if I was sure that I was a soprano, well, I was sure of that. In the Gelsenkirchen opera I sang heavy soprano roles, like Minnie in La Fanciulla del West. And Marie in Wozzeck, a role that brought me fame and happiness. I sang it in Covent Garden, and later in Los Angeles. Luckily there are pirate recordings so I can listen to them now. I am very grateful to the ‘pirates’ because I never recorded my own performances. And it’s live. When you’ re an opera singer, you sing opera live, on stage.”
Marilyn Horne sings Marie in Wozzeck in a pirate recording from 1966:
Her repertoire is huge: from Gesualdo to contemporary music, opera, songs and musicals.
“And film” she adds. “In fact, I sang everything that was possible. I was a kind of chameleon, able to change the necessary colours. Looking back at my career, I wonder: why was I in such a hurry? I strongly advise my students against that.”
More good advice?
“Work on your technique, that’s the most important thing”.
Did she have an example? An idol?
“In my childhood Lily Pons. Especially in her aria from Lakmé. And in my puberty, Renata Tebaldi. Still, by the way.”
Does she have an explanation for the immense popularity of opera in recent years?
“Yes, I do! The subtitles!”
“Absolutely! Listen, a few days ago I was in the MET, for La Bohème. I myself once sang both Mimi and Musetta and now for the first time I could follow what the others had to say”.
Marilyn Horne sings Musetta in 1962:
She laughs and starts coughing. She didn’t catch a cold, did she?
“A little bit. But I do take care of myself. And in a moment I get in a cab and drive to the pool, because I’m addicted to aquarobics”.
Will she ever come to the Netherlands again?
“I’d love to, because it’s been so long! I don’t even remember when it was last! But you have to be asked for that first, don’t you?”
Marilyn Horne sings ‘Somewhere’ from Bernstein’s West Side Story:
Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator
In 1957 Benjamin Frankel moved to Switzerland. In England, his homeland, he was mainly known as a film composer. No wonder, because to his name is music for more than 100 films, including classics such as The Seventh Veil, The Night of the Iguana and Curse of the Werewolf.
The night of the Iguana:
In Switzerland he finally found the peace to engage in serious(er) music. In 15 years (Frankel died in 1973) he composed eight symphonies and one opera.
Benjamin Frankel was born in London in 1906 into a Polish-Jewish family. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to a watchmaker. Luckily for him, his talent was soon discovered. For a while he played with the idea of becoming a Jewish composer alla Bloch. He considered himself an ‘English Jew’ or a ‘Jewish Englishman’, which did not prevent him from marrying a non-Jewish woman. An act that caused a break with his family.
His musical language is not easy to describe. In the fifties he studied serialism and regularly applied it in his own compositions, yet his works do not sound atonal anywhere. Perhaps the best example of this is the viola concerto, which is very melodic, romantic and yet uses the twelve-tone technique.
Frankel composed his violin concerto – at his request – for his friend Max Rostal. The premiere took place in 1951 at the Festival of Britain. The concert is entitled In Memory of Six Million and embodies Frankel’s personal commitment to the fate of the European Jews.
The beginning reminds me of Korngold’s violin concerto and in the fourth movement I encounter Mahlerian ‘tunes’: there is also a quote from ‘Verlorne Müh’ from his Wunderhorn songs.
Live recording by Max Rostal:
Ulf Hoelscher, who rehearsed the concerto with Max Rostal, plays it virtuoso and with an intense involvement.
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra op.24 (In memory of the six milion)
Viola concerto op.45
Serenata Concertante for Piano Trio and Orchestra op.37
Ulf Hoelscher (violin), Brett Dean (viola), David Lale (cello)
Queensland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Werner Andreas Albert
Frankel’s first three string quartets were first performed by the Blech Quartet in 1947 and 1949 respectively, and the fourth was premiered in 1949 by the very young Amadeus Quartet (where were the recording engineers then?).
Frankel’s gift for a light-hearted approach to serialism can be heard in his fifth string quartet. The work, which dates from 1965, is an example of the composer’s unique ability to transform the atonal into a melody.
The unsurpassed company CPO, which revealed Frankel’s music to the world, deserves all praise; also for the splendid explanations with music examples written by Buxton Orr, Frankel’s pupil and friend.
Complete String Quartets
It is now quite some time ago that I visited a very dear (and very sick) friend, who was once a celebrated opera singer. When she asked me what I was working on at the moment, I started to hum ‘L’altra notte’ from Boito’s Mefistofele. She joined me and sang the whole aria out loud, with her – still intact, beautiful, voice. She said: “Yes, that is a great aria to sing. You can put all your emotions into it”.
It is indeed a very emotional aria, so it is no wonder that almost every soprano has it in her repertoire. Callas, Tebaldi, Price, Miricioiu, Gheorghiu …… all of them have sung or recorded it at some point.
But I would like to dwell for a moment on the singer who was once world-famous but who is now almost forgotten and whose interpretation of that aria always reminds me of my – now deceased – friend: Rosa Raisa.
Raisa recorded the aria in 1923 and it has been released on several labels in the meantime. Her singing is intense, according to the best veristic traditions, but still light. Her coloratura and high notes are exemplary, and yet they do not degenerate into ‘beautiful singing’ in itself. No wonder she was the best Norma of her generation.
Raisa sings ‘Casta Diva’ in a 1920 recording:
I think even the biggest opera novice knows Puccini’s Turandot. If not the entire opera then at least ‘Nessun Dorma’ one of the best known tenor arias ever. The premiere took place on 25 April 1926 at La Scala in Milan and the demanding role of the ice-cold Chinese princess whose heart thaws after a warm kiss from an unknown prince was created by the famous Italian soprano Rosa Raisa.
Below: Rosa Raisa teaches the announcer how to pronounce the name ‘Turandot’:
Well, Italian… Raisa (Raitza Burchstein), daughter of Herschel and Frieda Leia Krasnatawska) was born on 30 May 1893 in Bialystok. After the great pogrom in 1906 (when Raisa was not yet fourteen) she managed to escape from Poland with her cousin and his family and ended up on the island of Capri. There she met Dario Ascarelli and his wife Esther, who not only discovered her talent but also paid for her studies at the Conservatory of Naples.
At the age of twenty she was hired by the opera house in Parma where she had great successes in Verdi’s Oberto and Ballo in Maschera, among others. The same year she was engaged by the Chicago-Philadelphia Opera Company and with them she made her North American debut as Mimi (La Bohème) in Baltimore. Her partner was Giovanni Martinelli of the Metropolitan Opera.
In 1914 she made her debut as Aida at the Royal Opera House in London, with Enrico Caruso at her side. Her next role there was Helen of Troy (Boito’s Mefistofele), with Claudia Muzio, John McCormack and Adamo Didur.
Her repertoire was immense, just think of such diverse operas (I will only mention a few) as Il Trovatore, La Juive, La Fanciulla del West, Suor Angelica, La Battaglia di Legnano, Francesca da Rimini, Falstaff, Don Giovanni, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, Les Huguenots, Isabeau, Die Fledermaus and La Fiamma. She also sang art songs.
Below Raisa sings ‘None but the Lonely Heart’ by Tchaikovsky in a recording from 1920:
In 1915 she met the Italian baritone of Sephardic Jewish descent Giacomo Rimini, whom she married five years later. Together they sang hundreds of concerts, mainly in the USA. They always concluded their performance with ‘La ci darem la mano’ (Don Giovanni). She invariably ended her solo concerts with the Yiddish ‘Eili, Eili’.
Below ‘Eili Eili’ and ‘Oyfn pripetshik’. Both recordings were made in 1918:
In 1936 in Detroit she sang the role of Leah in Il Dibuk by Lodovico Rocca. It was one of her last performances. Raisa died of bone cancer in 1963. It is difficult to judge her voice purely from her recordings: one misses the visuals and the magic of her charisma. Her contemporaries described her stage presence as nothing less than thrilling.
Anyone who wants to know more about her should read ‘Rosa Raisa. A Biography of a Diva’ written by Charles Mintzer.
Below is Rosa Raisa in an interview with her biographer:
Rosa Raisa on Spotify:
Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator
Weinberg’s 21st symphony is not a work you can simply listen to. It presents itself as Weinberg’s autobiography: his escape from the Warsaw Ghetto, his arrival and stay in the Soviet Union and his fight with the authorities and the memories. The structure of the symphony is incredibly complex – irreverently one could say that it is unbalanced, because all kinds of things happen in it. Chopin (‘Ballade in g’, ‘Marche Funèbre’), Mahler’s ‘Mutter, ach Mutter’ from his Des Knaben Wunderhorn, a klezmer tune carried by a solo clarinet that turns into a Requiem.
However, aren’t our memories like that? Disordered, one emotion evoking another? Weinberg dedicated his ‘Kaddish’ (one of the most important prayers in the Jewish liturgy that is pronounced after the death of a parent) – symphony from 1991 to the victims of the Warsaw ghetto. Distressing. Just like the life of Weinberg himself.
But do not forget the second symphony! The Adagio is an eleven-minute sadness that hurts so much that it can only lead to a satirical outburst in part three, the Allegretto. My God, what music. What a composer.
I can be brief on the performance. Brilliant. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla confirms her reputation as one of the best young conductors of today. Under her leadership the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra sounds like I haven’t heard it in years, not since the very young and unknown Simon Rattle first took over the reins there. It is therefore gratifying that she has been awarded an exclusive contract with DG.
That she chose Weinberg’s Kaddish for her first recording on the ‘yellow label’ is significant. Knowing her (and her preferences) we can expect exciting recordings of unknown and lesser known works. Go, Mirga, go!
Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator