Flicka and me

Mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade is a one of the reasons I’m an opera queen today. She was my second Cherubino: I saw a bootleg recorded telecast of the Met’s 1985 production of Le Nozze di Figaro on Youtube when I was 16, and that was that. The video has since been taken down (copyright more like copy-blight *snort* *a-hyuck*), but the cast stays with me still. Carol Vaness and her “Dove sono“? Lady slays the recitative like nobody’s business—much injured, very nobility, all that.

It was von Stade’s Cerentola in the film directed by Jean-Pierre Ponelle that showed me how opera could be at once fantastic and believable, that fairy tales could look that part. She had the voice of a princess—and she looked like one too, in her final aria “Nacqui all’affanno . . . Non più mesta.” Her instrument decadent yet delicate, with its glimmering top notes and honey-smoked lower register. Most endearing of all was von Stade’s effortless and intuitive ability to narrate and embody character: Her interpretations always felt right, never mannered.

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Fine arrangements, made finer

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Released 1999. Label Hänssler Classic, piano… guess it goes without saying.

It’s not a new release by any means, but I stumbled upon Alexander Paley plays Blünther a few weeks ago and have been meaning to plug it here ever since. Generally speaking, this CD is a collection of arrangements and reinventions of pieces not originally composed for piano, though there are two exceptions in the tracklist: Carl Czerny’s Toccata and Liszt’s 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies. (The album’s Die Lorelay is Liszt’s solo piano arrangement of his own song for soprano and piano.)

Despite the heady, promotional title, this is an exquisitely compiled CD. As a violinist, I especially delighted in Rachmaninoff’s stop-in-your-tracks magnificent arrangement of Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E Major, and MJ and I have been fans of Chopin’s “La ci darem” Variations for some time now. All are played glitteringly by Paley.

Powerful female leads reclaim “Carmen”

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Atala Schöck and Attila B. Kiss make an uneven pair in the Hungarian State Opera’s Carmen. (Photo: Zsófia Pályi)

During a group tour of the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest, our guide led us into a gallery room in the house’s northwest corner. On the walls were towering portraits of famous Hungarian singers, sitting as their most famous roles. It wasn’t hard to spot Carmen among them. Haughty, dignified, and sultry, she commanded as much attention in the room as the stage.

Right on cue, our guide pointed out the portrait to our group. “When Carmen premiered, the aristocracy did not like this story of a gypsy girl who worked in a cigarette factory,” she told us. “So, for it to be shown in our opera house, the storyline had to be changed.”

Something about that seemed oddly symbolic, especially given the events unfolding in Budapest that week. Tellingly, no ripples were felt during my stay—least of all during my night to see the Hungarian State Opera’s production of Bizet’s opera, for which a capacity crowd packed into Budapest’s Erkel Theatre.

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