Friday, April 20, 2012

Presenting Hildegard von Bingen - IWAH General Meeting 17 April 2012

A couple of years ago I offered to the then Chairwoman of the International Women's Association of Hannover (IWAH) that I could do a presentation on Hildegard von Bingen for one of the monthly General Meetings. A few months ago, 2 Chairwomen later, I was asked to make good on that offer.

It happened yesterday. I've never done a PowerPoint presentation or really any type of public speaking before, although as a professional singer, it's not that far removed from performing in public. When I arrived at the venue, the venue IWAH has been using month in and month out for years and years, apparently a photographer for the kindergarten kids had been installed in the large meeting hall that we always use. And he refused to move. Well, there are a couple of much smaller but none-the-less large rooms upstairs which were offered to us. Luckily, the room we used was just big enough to hold the 30 or so members who came to hear me speak (and sing).

I spoke about Hildegard's life and work, showed some of the illuminations from her books of visions, and other pictures and sang a few excerpts from various songs and one complete song (O quam magnum miraculum est). Luckily, after all the illness I've had and travel I've been doing, my voice held out. I had intended on recording the whole talk with my iPhone, but someone called me in the middle (argh!!!) and I didn't get it started up again properly. So, I've only got about 10 minutes of it.

Although the audience was more knowledgeable about Hildegard than I had expected, I don't think anyone quite realized just what an amazing woman she was and how many kettles she had in the fire. The title of the blurb I wrote for the IWAH Newsletter really is true: Hildegard von Bingen - Nun, Mystic, Healer, Poet, Composer. What I really wanted to accomplish - to bring her to life for them - was accomplished I hope.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review: A night at the Met in Hannover, Germany

Recently, I became aware that one of our local cinemas participates in the live broadcasts of select performances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. The Met has been broadcasting about 10 performances per season for several years now. We were in London when I first heard of it in 2007 or 2008. But I hadn't realized until now that they were doing it in Hannover. The Met broadcasts the live performance via satellite in HD and includes exclusive interviews with the performers in the intermission.

Saturday (14 April 2012) was the last broadcast of the season and we saw La Traviata, one of my favorite operas (and a lot of people's too, I know). The music is stunning and memorable and emotionally laden. I know it quite well because we did the opera when I was the Opera Props scholarship recipient at the UW-Madison. I got to sing the thankless role of Annina, because as a 21 year-old Violetta was naturally way beyond my ability, but it was a great experience none-the-less. Regardless, I was quite excited to see a Met production of it as well as to hear a singer I admire sing Violetta: Natalie Dessay. I'd never heard of the other soloists, but the opera is a vehicle for Violetta anyway, it lives or (and) dies with her.

However, Dessay should not have sung that performance. Apparently, she missed her first performance on Monday last week because of illness but sang the second on Tuesday. I imagine she didn't want to miss out on the Live in HD performance, but she should have bowed out. She was clearly not well vocally and it got worse and worse. From the very beginning you could hear that she was protecting her voice, which in my opinion was probably worse than just singing full out and not worrying too much about weaknesses. Long delicate notes cut out more often than not and the money note at the end of the first act was a real struggle. Unfortunately, we, the audience members of the broadcast got a close-up of the struggle. There was one redeeming thing in the first act and that was tenor Matthew Polenzani who sang Alfredo, Violetta's love interest. Wow! What a fabulous, rich, open and expressive voice! A wonderful actor as well, who brought tears to my eyes in the duet in the first Act. Too bad he doesn't have a more prominent role in this opera. Finally, someone whose Italian (and I imagine any language he sings in) is understandable!  This was unfortunately, not the case with Dessay and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who sang the role of Germont. Although, I'm not sure, had Dessay been well, if she would've darkend the vowels quite so much. Hvorostovsky's performance was additionally marred by the wheezing, gasping breaths he took between each phrase. Was he ill as well? Or is that a hallmark of his singing? Quite distracting in any case.

The chorus and the orchestra were first rate, as is to be expected. All minor singing roles were admirably sung. The set was quite minimalistic and modern in a timeless modern kind of way. Not at all disturbing, but definitely added nothing to the overall production. The staging and direction made it overall an extremely dark version, giving Violetta nothing to work with when things were meant to be going well and she and Alfredo happy.

Despite all the griping above, I did quite enjoy it, although not nearly as much as I would have, had Dessay been singing well. What a shame actually, because it's clear that she is a very good actress and the vocal weakness was distracting to her and ultimately to the audience and made it impossible to be completely immersed in the drama. A real pity. I look forward to attending more such Live at the Met productions in the future. They gave a preview of the next season and there are several I'd really like to see.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Survey follow up

The poll is still open, so if you'd still like to participate, please do:

Poetry Planet Survey

I wanted to say THANK YOU to everyone who participated! I really appreciate all the encouragement, but also the bits of constructive criticism and helpful suggestions that many pollsters made.

In the future, I will…

...Try to keep the length down. I think 20 minutes is a pretty good length and if I have to do a two part theme, well then, I’ll do a two-parter, like on Time Travel.

...Encourage poets to make their own recordings. People seem to want to hear a poet’s own interpretation. Not all poets have the capability to record and transmit it to me, so I’ll still be reading some.

...People seem to want to hear poets’ bios; hear about new publications; and hear some info on the poem including my own take on it. Some people suggested interviews with poets on technique. Of course, it’s hard to keep length down AND include all these goodies. I’ll just have to see what I can do.
...I would really like to encourage some commentary on the poetry on the StarShipSofa forum. The majority of those who responded said they’ve never commented on the poetry there, but it also seems like some aren’t aware of the forum.

...I never intended on abandoning Poetry Planet after only a year and 6 episodes. I merely wanted to find out if there were, in fact, other listeners besides the poets themselves. And it seems there are, which is very encouraging!

...I’m going to leave the poll open so anyone coming late to this, feel free to participate whenever!