Monday, April 25, 2011

The Opera Whistler




UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Nursing Commencement - 5pm 5/5
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Computer & Engineering - 10am 5/6
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Arts & Sciences - 1pm & 4pm 5/6
  • National Anthem - Bloch School of Business and Public Administration - 7pm 5/6
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Education - 10am 5/7
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Pharmacy - 1pm 5/7
  • National Anthem - Kansas City School of Dentistry - 7pm 5/7
  • National Anthem - DOE Small Business Conference & Expo - Kansas City Convention Center - 5/10
  • Administrative Director of the 33rd Annual Summer Choral Institute - 6/5-11
  • National Anthem - Sporting KC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps - 6/25
  • Sugar Creek Opera Festival (Chicago) - role: chorus/cover, opera: Daughter of the Regiment - 7/20-8/7
  • Kansas City Symphony Chorus Auditions - tba

Monday, April 18, 2011

Worst National Anthems for Opera Singers & BREAKING PULITZER PRIZE NEWS!



The sheer freakiness of number 10 blows my socks off.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but that guy sang two high E flats!!!!!!!!!!  Good luck EVER hearing someone do that again in your lifetime.  I certainly cannot sing that high.

However, I will sing the "normal" version of the National Anthem at the Kansas City Royals game versus the Cleveland Indians tonight at 7.  I am very honored (and excited) but I also am excited for the perks.  Believe it or not, singers don't get many perks in the real world, other than a free glass of water.  One time I even had to pay for water, at a church no less!  But, the Royals have been VERY generous, and seemingly have offered me unlimited tickets and parking passes.  Sorry for anyone out there wanting to go, but I have already requested the number that I needed.  Now as for the Sporting KC soccer game that I'm singing the Star Spangled Banner and O Canada at in June, they are actually trying to guilt me into buying season tickets, which are several hundred dollars.  That is very annoying and frustrating, it feels like perk revenge or like a friend borrowing your screwdriver and then charging you to get it back.

Nevertheless, all this National Anthem stuff has made me remember when I was a little boy.  We had a computer CD that had a map of the world.  When you clicked on a country, it would show a map of that country.  Also, there was button on the screen that I could press and a picture of their flag would wave and rise up a flag pole while their national anthem was played.  I was VERY addicted to this and eventually listened to every national anthem, some so many times that I memorized them!

From what I can remember, there were some pretty strange ones.  I tried to remember some of these, the weirdest ones, and now that I sing operatically, I came up with a list of what I think would be the most awful.  Here is my list of the 5 strangest (or impossible) national anthems for opera singers.  If you have more, please add it on as a comment - and no matter what you have always heard about America's National Anthem, it is not that weird or difficult compared to the rest of the world.

5. Japan

Kimigayo

This is the world's shortest national anthem with only 11 measures and 32 notes.  The lyrics were written 1000 years ago but the melody was written only a little over 100 years ago.  Kimigayo is elegant and simple, just like their flag, but the melody is certainly unique compared to the rest of the world.  It is beautiful, but it's a folk tune and not a traditional western music piece.  An opera singer could sing this, but it's obviously Japanese; let's not ruin it by making it sound Italian.



Below is a link to the Japanese National Anthem when it was played at the Opening Ceremony of the Nagano Olympics in 1998.  I have always remembered it since I saw it live on TV.  I love the instruments in this eastern music tradition.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7YkUmIJW4Q&feature=related

4. Spain

Marcha Real

This is the first adopted National Anthem in the world.  It officially became the National Anthem of Spain in 1770 (yes, there are other countries who have older anthems, but they weren't "official").  It is particularly difficult for opera singers to sing, because it doesn't have any words.  It is really catchy though.  Here is a clip of the anthem from the 1992 Summer Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Barcelona, Spain. (it begins at 1:28)



3. South Africa

National Anthem of South Africa

This is a very interesting anthem because it begins and ends in different keys - the only National Anthem in the world that does that.  Not only that, but every stanza is in a different language (five languages all together).  This could be especially difficult if you have never learned these African tribal languages (I'm assuming most opera singers have not).  Below is a translated version with the names of the languages in parentheses.



2. India

Jana Gana Mana

Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tangore wrote the lyrics and music for India's National Anthem.  It is very unique because it too is a folk tune (and should be sung as such), it has an eastern harmonic structure (in other words - lots of little weird notes) and it is written in a dialect of Sanskrit.  Not only that, but if it isn't sung, it usually is played quite fast.  Here is a slower version:



1. Djibouti

Djibouti

Djibouti evidently gave up on creating awesome names after they invented the word "Djibouti" (sounds like "jih-boo-tee").  Their capital, country, and national anthem are all named Djibouti. Don't give up on creativity! If you made one great name, surely you could do it again! Anyway, this give-up attitude has certainly translated itself into the music of their national anthem.  This has to be the least fun national anthem to sing.  Just follow along, I've tried listening to it four times and still haven't been able to listen to the whole thing - I guess their give-up-ness is contagious!  On second thought, if you value your time, you probably shouldn't listen to this.  It is a ridiculously poor composition, with very little harmonic structure.  In other words - it's boring.  Here is the English Translation:


Arise with strength! For we have raised our flag,
The flag which has cost us dear
With extremes of thirst and pain.
Our flag, whose colours are the everlasting green of the earth,
The blue of the sky, and white, the colour of peace;
And in the centre the red star of blood.
Oh flag of ours, what a glorious sight!



But, what then is the best National Anthem?  Mozart wrote Austria's, Haydn wrote Germany's...hmm.  Well, certainly I will have to be quite biased, but the Star-Spangled Banner gives quite a majestic punch.  Here is one of my favorite renditions, conducted by Lorin Maazel on a trip to North Korea of all places, the undisputed greatest orchestra on earth, The New York Philharmonic treats Kim Jong Il with the Star-Spangled Banner.




On a final note, just minutes ago, a UMKC Conservatory Professor of Composition, Zhou Long, won the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Opera "Madame White Snake".  What an incredible accomplishment for one of our own - and in the genre of opera!!  Here is an article from the Kansas City Star about the announcement: http://www.kansascity.com/2011/04/18/2808992/umkc-visiting-professor-zhou-long.html

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE
  • National Anthem - Kansas City Royals vs. Cleveland Indians - 4/18
  • Conservatory Finale  - Poulenc Gloria (probably on my top 10 favorite pieces ever) featuring the Conservatory Choirs and Orchestra - 4/23
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Nursing Commencement - 5pm 5/5
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Computer & Engineering - 10am 5/6
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Arts & Sciences - 1pm & 4pm 5/6
  • National Anthem - Bloch School of Business and Public Administration - 7pm 5/6
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Education - 10am 5/7
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Pharmacy - 1pm 5/7
  • National Anthem - Kansas City School of Dentistry - 7pm 5/7
  • National Anthem - DOE Small Business Conference & Expo - Kansas City Convention Center - 5/10
  • Administrative Director of the 33rd Annual Summer Choral Institute - 6/5-11
  • National Anthem - Sporting KC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps - 6/25
  • Sugar Creek Opera Festival (Chicago) - role: chorus/cover, opera: Daughter of the Regiment - 7/20-8/7
  • Kansas City Symphony Chorus Auditions - tba

Monday, April 11, 2011

I'll Sing Louder


I saw a production of The Last Five Years in Wamego, KS last week.  First of all, the cast did very well, and I love seeing a small company in Kansas do modern musical theater productions.  In my humble opinion (and experience mind you - for those who want to fight with me in an email), many of the acclaimed new musical theater productions have much more interesting plots than the "golden oldies" of yesteryear.  They are more real and involve real life emotional conflict, much less corny and melodramatic.  Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of awful musicals (Cats) that aren't ancient, but I am just generally speaking.  This musical is no exception, it is incredibly depressing (in a good way).  It tells of a newly married couple who separates after five years.  The perspective of the husband (a writer) is sung starting from year 1 to year 5 and the wife's perspective (a singer) starts at year 5 and ends at year 1.  The entire thing is a bunch of solos, with one duet at the convergence of their time lines.  Above was my favorite part, a lighter moment, when the woman sings a song about what she is thinking when she auditions.  It is completely true in many ways!

In a related comment, I golfed with the male lead of this show on Friday.  He shot the worst 9 holes I have ever seen anyone shoot.  He chipped-in for a 16 on the first hole, shot 108 for only 9 holes!

In opera news this week, congrats to Juan Diego Florez - one of the world's most famous tenors.  He and his wife, had a baby only thirty minutes before he sang the leading role at the Metropolitan Opera's production of Le Comte Ory this past weekend.  The production was broadcast live across the world in movie theaters.  For opera singers, this is the biggest stage in the world - at the Met for the live broadcast - and to do it without three days sleep and just minutes after becoming a father is quite incredible.

Next week will be pretty busy for me, and I will be recording what I will be doing to turn into a video blog in a couple of weeks - and for internet newbies out there, that's called a vlog.  I will be premiering a new piece of music from a composition student for their recital.  New music is one of my "specialties".  Education is REALLY important when it comes to most new music because of how difficult it is (nothing sounds familiar - instead it's kind of random).  Then, I will be singing the National Anthem at a Royal's game and on Easter Eve I will be singing a one measure solo in the Conservatory Finale concert as we perform Poulenc's Gloria.



I finally heard from the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.  They are going to let people know about their casting at the end of April.  Hopefully I will hear something good, but really I try not to think about it.  Just like the first video, it's pretty easy to go crazy if you think too much about things.

This week's new opera review will cover an opera by Michael Ching and will be premiering at Center City Opera in Philadelphia.  It is called Slaying the Dragon.  Based on the book Not by the Sword by Katheryn Watterson, it's a story about repenting, forgiving, and change.  It's based on a true story of how Larry Trapp, the Grand Dragon of the Nebraska Ku Klux Klan in the early 1990s, transformed into a compassionate person, denouncing hate groups, and became a Jewish Rabbi.

The opera chronicles how he was abused as a child, lived in an orphanage, went from the KKK to Judaism, and how he reconciled his past by promoting tolerance before his death from diabetes.  It is set in Lincoln, Nebraska, a place that I have been to many times.  I feel like I understand this part of the country very well.  The midwest is filled with incredibly loving and generous people, but there are small undercurrents of intolerance as well just like anywhere in the world.  Some people who live in this part of the country turn a blind eye to it, but for many it effects how they live, interact, politicize, and worship.

Generally individuals tend to keep their thoughts to themselves out here, which makes the world a simple and polite place.  This can be a problem for people who "break the mold" and are different.  I was protected from these problems growing up until I came to college.  In college, unaware of extreme thinkers, I was recruited by a Christian group that preached extreme prejudices and thought that tolerance was "of the devil".  Their extremism was not like the KKK in any way, but it still scars me today - I feel like I have damaged the world somehow.  I still feel completely ashamed.

When I left the group six years ago, I left many of my "friends" at the time and it was pretty traumatizing (but a relief as well).  Since then, I have learned the importance of living genuinely and thoughtfully. I have learned how fragile my mind is, how easily it can be biased.  It has challenged my thoughts on religion and what actually is virtuous in this world. And equally as important is that I have learned just how essential education is.  (It is incredible that an opera that I have never seen would invoke so much pain and thought in my own life!)

As for the rating - on a scale of Two Pav Hankies to a Susan Boyle, this opera gets:

One Pav Hankie
(The content is awesome, but it will remind me of Nebraska - yuck!)

Last week's performance of Handel's Passion of the Christ went very well.  I had several solos in it and sang with two of the best tenors that I know of in this part of the country.  I will likely never forget it, maybe because of a certain optional high C sharp.  If you give a mouse (tenor) a cookie (high c sharp)...

And on a final and completely unrelated note, I have an odd problem in that I am still getting taller.  I am almost 26 and have an embarrassing problem in that most of my pants are becoming a little too short.  I was 5'10" for quite a while, but now I have passed the 5'11" mark.  

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE
  • World Premiere - "Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day" by Betty Liang - 5pm, Grant Recital Hall, Kansas City, MO - 4/17
  • National Anthem - Kansas City Royals vs. Cleveland Indians - 4/18
  • Conservatory Finale  - Poulenc Gloria (probably on my top 10 favorite pieces ever) featuring the Conservatory Choirs and Orchestra - 4/23
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Nursing Commencement - 5pm 5/5
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Computer & Engineering - 10am 5/6
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Arts & Sciences - 1pm & 4pm 5/6
  • National Anthem - Bloch School of Business and Public Administration - 7pm 5/6
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Education - 10am 5/7
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Pharmacy - 1pm 5/7
  • National Anthem - Kansas City School of Dentistry - 7pm 5/7
  • National Anthem - DOE Small Business Conference & Expo - Kansas City Convention Center - 5/10
  • Administrative Director of the 33rd Annual Summer Choral Institute - 6/5-11
  • National Anthem - Sporting KC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps - 6/25
  • Sugar Creek Opera Festival (Chicago) - role: chorus/cover, opera: Daughter of the Regiment - 7/20-8/7
  • Kansas City Symphony Chorus Auditions - tba

Monday, April 4, 2011

Doppelbock & Poppies

Paulaner monks in Munich began an interesting tradition in the 17th century.  During Lent, the Catholic season of penance before Easter, they would consume only water and a hefty beer called a Doppelbock.  In the Paulaner tradition, the monks would regularly fast during certain times of the year - the longest fast being the 46 days of Lent.  Paulaner monks also believe that liquids help to cleanse the soul and keep the body from gluttony.  So, they brewed their "liquid bread" and drank it in copious amounts.

Evidently, a man in Iowa is doing the same this Lent and has already lost 15 pounds.  When asked if this new diet has ever made him drunk, he said "when you walk in the rain, you're going to get wet".  And as you may have guessed, the Paulaner monks happen to have a long history of "dancing in the rain" or "drowning in the rain".

The pope heard of the public disturbances and decided to take action in the 18th century.  When the monks sent a barrel to Rome, it became overheated and spoiled.  The pope drank it and decided that if they were drinking such a foul and rotten drink for the entire Lenten season, they were truly serving a very harsh penance.  So, the pope allowed it to continue and the tradition continues today.

Beer happens to be an acquired taste for most people.  For those who "learn" about it, there are many flavors and styles of brews.  And if you think about it, to "intimately understand" a beer, you must drink it.  Until you get to that point, all you can do is look at the bottles, the label, find out where it's from or if it has something quirky about it, and blindly chose. Then you can get drunk!...I mean "passionately educate" yourself.

I've been reviewing some new operas recently.  I cannot hear them yet because they are so new that there are few recordings if any, so until I can get drunk, I'll just look at the bottle, the lable, etc.  This week I have found a particularly interesting opera.  It's about nothing.  This reminds me about something...

Seinfeld season 4, episode 3 - The Pitch (the Show about Nothing)



The opera is called "La machine de l'etre" (premiered at the New York City Opera last week) and is written for only a soprano and nothing else.  The name is based on some drawings by Anton Artaud in his last days living in an asylum.

The composer John Zorn describes his opera as "a monodrama because it is scored for only one singer…there is no text, no plot, and no stage directions predetermined whatsoever…the drama is contained in the music and the title…the visual interpretation of it is left up to the imagination and creativity of the director, stage designer, and singer to decide…it is my hope that the stage presentation somehow draws inspiration from the spirit of Artaud, his art, philosophy, and writings...but from there on the possibilities are wide open..."

I spoke to a very experienced opera director about this.  They were very intrigued about the possibilities.  It is a dream come true for a director because they can make it into whatever they want.  It could be a retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears or it can be something as crazy as the drawings the opera is named after.  It is only 10 minutes long - so whatever happens, it has to happen quickly.  And the music is evidently written in a new age style.  I tend to like a lot of new age music and at 10 minutes long, it may be like listening to a couple of Enya songs.

As for the rating - since it is about nothing, and certainly not long enough to be "too much", this opera has so much potential as it is only limited to a director's imagination. So, I will give it my highest score:

Two Pav Hankies
(anything beats no expectation)

Last week I went to the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City and had a great time.  Many people do not know much about the First World War, but the museum is a great interactive tour of the history they are missing.  It is also a great tool on learning from our mistakes.  For some reason, we forget what took the world to war - arrogant national pride and xenophobia (the hatred or fear of foreigners or strangers or of their politics or culture).  We still have fierce fights today involving these things and to my eyes, it is very easy to discern sides.  Education is important so we can learn from the mistakes we've already made.



There is a glass walkway above a field of poppies commemorating the poem "In Flanders Fields".  Each poppy represents 1,000 military deaths (9 million overall).  Over 65 million people died because of World War I - the second deadliest war in world history only behind the 72 million who died in World War II.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.
 - John McCrae, 1919


(By the way, my favorite opera of all time, Die Tote Stadt (the dead city) by Korngold, is a German reaction to the First World War)

Looking to this next week, I will be in Manhattan, KS for a meeting about the 33rd Summer Choral Institute. I am the Administrative Director for the Institute, and if you know of a high school student who loves choir - encourage them to apply at http://www.kstatechoirs.com/summer-choral-institute.html.  It is free for all who are invited to attend.  I will also be part of an Oratorio performance on Sunday singing a couple of arias as "The Believer" in Handel's Passion of the Christ (information below).  Finally, I have yet another email address thanks to the magic of facebook: pinkall@facebook.com.  And sadly, I still have not heard anything from the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.  (my "waiting with bated breath" has been going on for several weeks now - it's definitely "baited breath" - stinky, nasty-old fermented breath - like the beer the Pope drank.  And hopefully, just like that rotten beer, this will have a happy ending as well.)

UPCOMING PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE
  • The Believer in The Passion of the Christ by Handel - 10:45am St. John's United Methodist Church, Kansas City, MO - 4/10
  • World Premiere - "Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day" by Betty Liang - 5pm, Grant Recital Hall, Kansas City, MO - 4/17
  • National Anthem - Kansas City Royals vs. Cleveland Indians - 4/18
  • Conservatory Finale  - Poulenc Gloria (probably on my top 10 favorite pieces ever) featuring the Conservatory Choirs and Orchestra - 4/23
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Nursing Commencement - 5pm 5/5
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Computer & Engineering - 10am 5/6
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Arts & Sciences - 1pm & 4pm 5/6
  • National Anthem - Bloch School of Business and Public Administration - 7pm 5/6
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Education - 10am 5/7
  • National Anthem - UMKC School of Pharmacy - 1pm 5/7
  • National Anthem - Kansas City School of Dentistry - 7pm 5/7
  • National Anthem - DOE Small Business Conference & Expo - Kansas City Convention Center - 5/10
  • Administrative Director of the 33rd Annual Summer Choral Institute - 6/5-11
  • National Anthem - Sporting KC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps - 6/25
  • Sugar Creek Opera Festival (Chicago) - role: chorus/cover, opera: Daughter of the Regiment - 7/20-8/7
  • Kansas City Symphony Chorus Auditions - tba