Saturday, October 15, 2016

Luciano Pavarotti on Opera

The following is an excerpt from the foreword written by the legendary Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti to The La Scala Encyclopedia of the Opera by Giorgio Bagnoli. Translated by Graham Fawcett.

"Opera means passion, excitement and love, but like all great emotional experiences, it calls for a deeper understanding and needs to be constantly cultivated and nurtured. This is why for some years now I have not concentrated exclusively on performing opera but also on making it more widely known as well as strengthening its roots by searching out new singing talent, setting up new music institutions and becoming involved in operatic events aimed to have widespread public appeal."

-Luciano Pavarotti

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Most "Villainy" Operatic Villain Part 2

It's here! Part 2 of my absolutely useless list of operatic villains. Check out Part 1 by pressing the link and stay tuned for Part 3 which will be dedicated to Iago and the antagonists in The Tales of Hoffman. Thanks!

Diana Damrau as The Queen of the Night

The Queen of the Night from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Magic Flute
This one should be on the list of Worst Operatic Moms or something. She literally tries to sell her daughter for power, which as far as I'm concerned she already has a lot of. Right? She didn't exactly cut the mustard when she showed the portrait of Pamino to Tamino because his love for her is basically what saved Pamina from her messed up mom and the weirdo Monostatos. (In truth, Papageno actually physically rescued her and Tamino took all of the credit, leaving Papageno to seem as the oaf of the story. Not cool.)
Bryn Terfel as Scarpia

Vitellio Scarpia from Giocomo Puccini's Tosca
He's really evil, but his leitmotif is the best. I don't think I'm going to write anything else for Scarpia. We all know that he's kind of an a**hole (I'm being as censored as possible), but the music that Puccini loftily set him to is intriguing, especially when the opening chord progression of Tosca is essentially Scarpia's leitmotif, foreshadowing the tremendous impact he will have on the fates of Mario and Floria.

Wurm from Verdi's Luisa Miller
This guy caused a chain reaction of doom with his weird love intrigues. A lot of people do this, even in our time. I won't say that he is directly to blame for Rodolfo and Luisa's deaths, per se; but he is essentially the initial cause of most of their internal and external conflicts. Wurm is similar to Count di Luna in that all of his not noble deeds stemmed from his everlasting love directed towards Luisa. However, he is on this particular list because he caused several unnecessary deaths (alla Scarpia) and got himself killed in the process (alla Scarpia). He also just seems much meaner than di Luna.
Giuseppe di Stefano as the Duke of Mantua

The Duke of Mantua from Verdi's Rigoletto
Best music, evilest character. I personally think that taking advantage of young girls and then shaming them before everyone is worthy of being labelled a villain. The result of this particular story is not solely his fault, but he plays a dramatic role in its outcome. It was his egotism and the overly-protective nature of Rigoletto that led Gilda to take desperate action to achieve something that probably wasn't even worth the trouble. The Duke should not be blamed for Gilda's desire to die for him. It's Rigoletto who decided to keep her cooped up her entire life and then show her how a hired murderer prepares to murder her only love. But the Duke is messed up, much like his morals, and is hereby officially granted the Worst Villain Award. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Most "Villainy" Operatic Villain

After doing some intense research on operatic villains I decided to make my own list of operatic villains and figure out which one of them is the most "villainy". I have decided to extend this list into a few blogposts instead of simply narrowing it down to the worst of the worst.

(Also, Mesphistopheles from Faust is NOT going to be on this list because it's not fair for all the other mortal villains. He lies on a totally different level of Villain and none of the other guys can compete with him. Sorry to all you Mephisto fans.)

This is Part 1 of my Operatic Villain posts, with the least evil characters featured.

Luca Pisaroni as Count Almaviva
Count Almaviva from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro
Just a jealous husband. He literally has nothing better to do than to suspect his wife of infidelities, while he himself runs after any hoop skirt that passes by. I'm sorry if you don't know the plot of The Marriage of Figaro because it's absolutely AWESOME. Unfortunately I'm not motivated enough to summarize it in this blogpost, so google it or something. What's the worst thing he does? I'd say that sending a 13 year-old boy to army camp merely because you're way too jealous of your wife is kind of nasty. He's just a kid who is discovering life and sending him away because you consider him a threat to your marriage is silly. At least Cherubino should feel proud that Count Almaviva considers him a worthy opponent!

Mariusz Kwiecen as Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Don Giovanni
Controversial. Very controversial. I found so many different opinions of Don Giovanni's evilness. (Once again, Mozart's operas are too complicated plot wise for me to go through the trouble of trying to explain them in a comprehensible way. Google is your best friend.)

From one side, Don Giovanni is pretty bad. Despite his seemingly harmless behavior, he basically stripped several noblewomen of  the honor they carried and then added insult to injury if they called him out on it. From the other side, they fell for him themselves. He abused Leporello when he burned the midnight oil and forced his servant to stand guard outside in the cold while he "entertained" himself. Pretty bad. Zerlina's sexual assault is a little shaky because from what I gather it's not a given that he actually tried to do anything violent. Or maybe he did, I don't know. Wasn't there, sorry.

Personally, I wouldn't put Don Giovanni on this list. Compared to the endeavors of the Duke of Mantua, this guy is innocent. He didn't kidnap anyone, and the only man he killed was in a dual initiated by the Commendatore himself. 

Marco Vinco as Don Alfonso
Danielle De Niese as Despina
Don Alfonso and Despina from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Cosi fan tutte 
Nah! One was an old man with nothing better to do than take advantage of other's stupidity while Despina was desperate to have her revenge on her mistresses who got more luxuries than she could even wish for. Not evil at all. The two couples were to blame for everything that happened. 

Count di Luna from Giuseppe Verdi's Il Trovatore
Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Count di Luna
He's not that bad, right? I'm not sure he should even be on this list, but society pressures me into including him so here you are.
He desperately loves Leonora, but she's a weirdo who loves a gypsy troubadour, Manrico, who also happens to be Count di Luna's long lost brother! Manrico's so-called mother, Azucena, accidentally burned her own baby instead of a noble baby when she was avenging her mother's death. What? Count di Luna can't seem to get his useless army of soldiers to catch Manrico and Leonora, who manage to escape from him every single time. The power of true love? And then the count finally captures Manrico when he gets Azucena; and then he wants Leonora to give herself to him in exchange for Manrico's life, but she poisons herself instead. Running to Manrico, she tells him that he is free to go and he accuses her of being unfaithful but when she starts dying realizes that she literally gave her life for him and decides to stay in jail instead of running off. When he is executed, Azucena tells Count di Luna that Manrico was, in fact, his brother, and he believes her! What? Why? And while di Luna laments that now he'll have to live on while his brother and love are dead, Azucena cries out Mother, you are avenged! So where is the count's crime of evilness in this? All he was doing was protecting his family name and trying to get his crush to like him back, right?

Check out Part 2 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Armenian National Philharmonic Orchestra Anniversary Gala Concert

The Armenian National Philharmonic Orchestra rounded off its 90th anniversary celebration with a Gala Concert on June 28, 2016, featuring world-renowned Armenian musicians under the baton of the Armenian National Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Maestro Eduard Topchjan. Solo performers were violinist Sergey Khachatryan, pianist Vag Papian, soprano Hasmik Papian, bass Barseg Tumanyan, and cellist Alexander Chausian.

In between numbers, photographs of past conductors and their performances were featured on an overhead screen, as well as photographs of musicians who had performed in the hall in the past. Also, President Serzh Sargsyan of Armenia was sitting in a box seat!!

Orchestral pieces performed were Festive Overture by Dmitri Shostakovich, a wonderful opening to the evening, Symphony No. 2 by Aram Khachaturyan, and Saber Dance from Aram Khachaturian's ballet Gayane, which was performed as an encore and rounded off the evening with a big oompff!

Pianist Vag Papian performed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21, C-Dur, KV 467, Andante (2nd movement) and Allegro vivace assai (3rd movement). With his genius interpretation of Mozart's Piano Concerto he delved into the meaning of the music and let the listener hear beyond just notes and rhythms.

Soprano Hasmik Papian, my long-time favorite, idol, and hero, performed two arias, one from Giuseppe Verdi's La Forza del Destino and one from Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser, even though in the program Pace, pace mio Dio came first. I adore Hadmik Papian's timbre of voice and her virtuosic use of the crescendo-diminuendo effect. She also created powerful characters in both arias. In Pace, pace mio Dio she set up a peaceful mood even before she started singing, with her glorious stage presence. The heartfelt aria was an unforgettable performance.

Bass Barseg Tumanyan performed Les Toreadors from George Bizet's Carmen and Ella giammai m'amo from Giuseppe Verdi's Don Carlos. Barseg Tumanyan's performance of The Toreador Song was both powerful and entertaining. The festive mood already created by Bizet in the music was wonderfully highlighted by Barseg Tumanyan. Just like Verdi should be performed, with strong emotional presence, Barseg Tumanyan stood onstage in the shoes of King Phillip and went through the same emotional storm as the character.

Violinist Sergey Khachatryan performed Rhapsody for the Violin and Orchestra by Eduard Baghdasaryan and Introduction and Perpetuum mobile for Violin and Orchestra by Eduard Mirzoyan. He also performed an encore piece before Saber Dance , but unfortunately I do not remember what piece it was. Both pieces on the program were performed with a shockingly high level of passion, and Sergey Khachatryan demonstrated his ability to combine virtuosic technique with strong emotional presence. His first piece was dedicated to violinist Anahit Tsitsikian, first renowned Armenian female violinist.

Cellist Alexander Chausian performed Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Alexander Chausian's performance was sensitive, displaying great technique and deep understanding of the music.

All of the pieces were conducted by Eduard Topchjan, who supported the soloists in every way possible. The balance he maintained throughout the entire performance within the orchestra itself and between the soloists and orchestra was superior.

I look forward to hearing all of these awesome musicians again!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Media Nite 2k16

As the school year comes to a grand final, I find myself torn apart between finals and school concerts. This is when I realize that I need a movie night. So where do I go? Obviously the SOTA Media Nite department's movie showcase: Media Nite! 

I actually missed the Media Nite at the beginning of this school year, so this was my first Media Nite for this year and it was a blast!  

One general thing I enjoyed very much about the evening was that all of the movies had contrasting themes and ideas which were seamlessly woven together, producing a very whole effect. This made the evening pass by quickly and enjoyably. 

I will honestly say that I did not take notes during the evening so I have nothing to say about the specific movies, but I will say that they were all very original and intriguing. From silent films to animations to movies filmed abroad, Media Nite was memorable in every aspect of the word.

Special thanks to Salome Milstead and Scott Eberhardt. 

I will follow up with a mini-interview with Salome once I get all the information from her.

Here is a list of the movies featured:

Welcome to media Nite by the Senior Class of 2016 (Batle, Bergensten, Blecker, Foggini, Fryxell, Gandara, Garcia, Ozawa-Burns, Sierra, Slocum, Syed, Vu)

The Last Night of 1983 by Dylan Lalanne-Perkins

Dame For Days by the freshman class (Batres, Bucky, Elleston, Jones, Karliner-Li, Rustia, Simon, Talyamsky, Villavicencio), edited by Cole Simon.

Mes Amours edited by Sarah Jones.

Where I'm From by Linda de la Rosa

Out of the Boz by Shiloh Atkinson

The Sisters by Ethan Bresnick

Outdoor Artist by Kedyn Sierra

Epoch by Reign Lafreniere

Entrance by Nilo Batle 

Out of this World by Phil Elleston

The Nine Billion Names of God by Max Bergensten

Takes Two To Tango by Alisha Syed and Aodhan Ozawa-Burns

The Clay Pigeon by Ben Vu and Charlie Blecker

Two Of A Kind by Charlie Blecker

Home Sweet Home by Gabbi Garcia 

Safe At Home by Ethan Bresnick

Soft Targets by Luca Foggini, Ben Vu, and Charlie Blecker

Reveries of Vomit by Chaia Startz

Samsara by Junior/Sophomore Soundstage project (Atkinson, Bresnick, Brownfield-Magee, Hewett, Novorodsky-Godt, Startz, Askew, de la Rosa, Hansen, Lafreniere, Lalanne-Perkins, Mirfattah-Khan, Puliatti, and Smith) edited by Salome Milstead. 

Sleeper by Aodhan Ozawa-Burns

Nova by Minnie Slocum

Dedicated to Elvia Marta!!! <3 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Life Is A Cabaret!

The Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts presented the premiere of the memorable Cabaret, the music to which was written by John Kander. The production was exquisitely stunning, with great effects and vocals. Starting from the Emcee's beguiling smile to the emotional outbursts of the unreserved Sally Bowles and the naivety of Clifford Bradshaw, the show left the audience in tears.

"Even the orchestra is beautiful..."

Skyler Sims-Dickson performed the role of the Emcee with lithe dance moves, exhibiting powerful body language through willowy motion. The opening of the show was brightened by Skyler's charismatic stage presence.

Fraulein Schneider was performed by the exceptional Hope Nelson. During So What?, is was evident that she is a great actress, and despite her playing a character on the older side of the age spectrum she gave Fraulein Schneider a youthful energy, emphasizing her love to Herr Schultz (Ben Stacy).
Lucy Murphy, performing the role of Sally Bowles, intrigued the audience with her zestful performance of Mein Herr. Being one of my personal favorites, I had very high expectations for this song and all of them
were satisfied. Demonstrating her ability to perform complicated choreography and difficult vocals at the same time, Lucy depicted the sensual Sally Bowles persuading her multiple suitors to forget about her after the "fine affair" was over. 

Two Ladies, performed by Emcee, Lulu, and Bobby (Skyler, Mara Schumann, and Isaac Edejer) was very silly comic relief with little meaning to it other than sheer entertainment. It was much called for comic relief and gave the audience quite the laughs.

Tomorrow Belongs To Me, performed by the remarkable Daniel Mitchell, was a short, yet meaningful musical number. I especially enjoyed the echoey effect produced by the microphone during this musical number, foreshadowing the impeding doom the country was about to face. As the young, aspiring Nazi boy sung the song of his people, the Emcee covered the boy's mouth at the very end of the phrase "tomorrow belongs to me", pronouncing the words "to me" instead of the young boy. At this point, the thematic development of good versus evil became clear. The Emcee looks eerily wicked and the young German boy looks angelic and innocent, but the roles are actually reversed. As the concept of good and evil become commingled, it becomes hard to tell who is good and who is bad. This is done on purpose to demonstrate how the Nazis believed in their goodness. They are winning; therefore, they are good. But in reality, the Emcee represents the common people who would fight against the evil power, and eventually win; and the Emcee covering up the young German boy's mouth and pronouncing the words "to me" instead of him manifests this important theme. 

Maybe This Time, performed by Lucy, was honestly a blast. The unwavering courage evident in Lucy's performance was more than the usual share of teen angst. She embarked us on a journey of Sally Bowles' explosive personality, digging down to the roots of Sally's secret grief and misery. A close friend of Lucy's turned to me after she had finished Maybe This Time and said: "That, just then, was Lucy. That wasn't Sally Bowles; it was Lucy." 
Money is another one of my favorites, and this musical number was to some extend a comic relief as well, but it also made a strong point that women like Sally Bowles loved money so much that it no longer mattered to them how they earned it. Sally was truly surprised when Clifford Bradshaw (Jackson Paddock) refused to accept money from Ernst Ludvig, (Joe-Joe Kelly), for helping him smuggle. This difference in mentality between Sally and Cliff were part of the issue and conflict they eventually began encountering in their relationship. 

During the reprise of Tomorrow Belongs To Me, the intensity build up was spectacular. Following the climax of the fight between Ernst and Cliff over politics, Fraulein Kost decided to keep Ernst from leaving the party thrown by Schultz and Schneider. Mackenzie Rohan, performing the role of Fraulein Kost, surprised the audience by taking an accordion and performing the patriotic song previously sung by Daniel Mitchell. Gradually, all of the different characters onstage began stepping in, and by the end of the first half the audience was sprawling underneath a groundbreaking and heart-pounding wave of dazzling chemistry between the performers. Round of applause to Mackenzie for playing the accordion and singing at the same time. You go, girl!

The Entr'acte was a nice intro to the second half. It didn't arouse as much controversial emotions as some of the vocal number did, permitting the audience to recuperate from the intensity of the explosive first half. The solos within the Entr'acte, celebrating the art of instrumental music, added spice to an already intricately captivating and intimate orchestral part. Round of applause to Maestro Brian Kohn who led the orchestra with vigor and passion. The orchestra played a key role in the plot line, enchanting the audience. 
If You Could See Her Through My Eyes, performed by the Emcee, was a little mockery of the time period's mentality, and although it served as a comic relief to some extent, it once again emphasized the downfall of the situation as Fascism was rising to power.

Hope's performance of What Would You Do was a very heart-felt and exuberant song. Hope demonstrated an older woman's grief with the energy of a young woman. Engrossing with her artistic powers, Hope kept the audience in tension as Fraulein Schneider, desperately in grief, questioned the younger generation as to what they would do if they were presented with the same conflict as she was. 

Cabaret, performed by Lucy Murphy in the most emotional way possible, was an outburst of uncontrollable passion. The way Lucy built up to the climax was spectacular, and the listener could clearly hear the wretched soul of Sally Bowles torn apart from the inside. Sally knew that if she had her baby she would not be able to continue her possible musical career. She sings about how "life is a cabaret", implying that this is all that she wants in life. She loved Cliff, but she loved the stage more, and Cliff was beginning to stand in her way . Lucy perfectly depicted this internal conflict Sally Bowles goes through during this song. As a captivating dramatic effect, Lucy tore down the microphone pole at the very end of the musical number and the lights suddenly went out. The tech crew worked flawlessly. A round of applause to Paul Kwapy and the tech crew!

Finale, mostly led by the Emcee, was an excellently put together conclusion to the entire show. It started out very similar to the beginning of the show, but after the journey that the audience was embarked on by the performers, the similarity between the end and the beginning had an eerie quality to it. The curtain then went up in the same manner as two hours earlier, but now there was no lively music and no girls and boys frolicking about. No lights. No excitement. Only fog, hinting at the historical content of the time period.

Ron S. McCan, the director of this spectacular show, wrote that Cabaret "is a picture of the human experience in one of the darkest moments of our world's history". McCan also wrote that "[i]t was important to us that we create fresh interpretations of these iconic characters and musical numbers. Each member of our ensemble and production crew went on a journey of growth and personal strength during the creation of this production with one goal: to be truthful in our storytelling".

The premiere was a blast, and if you're interested in seeing any of the other shows I recommend that you snatch up your tickets now! There will still be performances on March 12th (tonight!), 18th, and 19th at 8 pm and at 2 pm on March 13th and 20th. Purchase your tickets at

Director: Ron S. McCan
Choreographer: Elizabeth Castenada
Musical Director: Erika Weil
Conductor: Brian Kohn
Technical Director: Paul Kwapy
Producers: Brian Kohn, Colleen Ivie, and The Friends of SOTA
Dialect Coach: Elizabeth Carter
Fight Choreographer: John Bailey
Costumes Department Head: Annette Ribeiro
Hair and Makeup: Jenny King-Turko and Susan Stone
Scenic Painting: Jay Kotcher
Consruction Supervisor: Stephan Gaudreau
Electrician: Brendan Peter Kierans
Visual Arts: Jeff Castleman
Publicity/Art Direction: Julie Glantz
Ambassador: Anne Yanow

Click here for a list of the performers.
Round of applause to the technical crew and orchestra!

Jia Lin Li on piccolo and flute; Georgia Chau, Sameer Elliot, Elijah Goldman, Moses Pippenger, and JP Wong on clarinet; Miles Haimovitch, Kenneth Roberts, and Keevan Tallon on saxophone; Nicole Anderson on oboe; Eli Isaacs and Max Braun on french horn; Ido Baruch, Daniel Goldman, Parker Rowe, Janis Sturmann, and Jamie Valtin on trumpet. Kieran Briden and Roman Kouznetsov on trombone; Redger Parker on percussion; Erika Weil on piano; Faith Lam and Lucy Nelligan on violin; Crystal Gong on viola; Isabel Dobrev and Atticus Simmons on bass; and Ruby Pruett on harp.

P.S. If you happen to attend one of the upcoming Cabaret shows, and I imagine you will, make sure to check out Cole Sisser's bio ;)