Sunday, February 22, 2009

Luciano Pavarotti, opera singer

There is no doubt that Pavarotti was one of the greatest singers in recorded history, and certainly one of the greatest that I have been fortunate enough to see in live performance. Growing up as I did in the NY area, I went to the opera quite a lot with my mother from a very early age (I saw my first opera at the Met when I was 6 years old). I still remember vividly seeing Pavarotti perform the role of Cavaradossi in Tosca. Since Tosca is such a staple of the repertory, I think I must have seen it at least 15 or 20 times since then -- and many times with famous singers cast in the title roles. I have not seen anyone who could hold a candle to Pavarotti's entrance in Act I, singing with his back to the audience, and projecting effortlessly through the huge hall at the Met as if it was nothing at all.

Pavarotti was a vocal phenomenon -- he had an unmistakable, instantly recognisable voice. He was incredibly charismatic on stage. This is NOT to say that he was compelling in his interpretations of roles -- frankly, he didn't bother acting at all, but that didn't matter. What mattered was his incredible, clear tone and seemingly effortless power. (One wonders whether what opera houses today, with their bias towards trendy new productions with costumes designed by big names from the fashion industry, would have done with Pavarotti, who grew fatter and fatter with each passing year and blatantly refused to act out roles.)

That said, Pavarotti was a singer, NOT a musician. This was a man who (if we're honest) could barely read music, and often forgot notes and words of arias he had sung hundreds of times before. This is why, when his voice started to decline, he continued to try to belt out the same old arias and (god help us) Neapolitan songs again and again, if not to his embarrassment, then to the embarrassment on his behalf of those of us who remembered what he had been able to accomplish years before. (Not to mention the lip-synching incidents, one of which led to him being "banned" from the Met roster for a period of time.) This put him in strict contrast with Domingo, a consummate musician who has used his ability, drive and intelligence to reinvent himself more than once over his very long career.

It is unfortunate that most people only know Pavarotti from the ridiculous "Three Tenors" concerts. (Calling them concerts is a stretch - they were more like one big media circus.) These concerts captured him at the end of his career, when he was well on his way to becoming a caricature of himself. Recordings from the 1970s and 1980s, such as the clip above, show him in full voice and serve his memory much better.

I did not know him personally, but in addition to the wonderful clip of him recounting embarrassing moments, I think this clip from a series of televised masterclasses in the 1970s shows him at his best. Here he is instructing a young American mezzo soprano, Suzanne Mentzer, who has gone on to have a wonderful career in her own right. As you will see, she gives an outstanding performance, which he has absolutely no trouble acknowledging. (Those of us who have performed in masterclasses before famous musicians know that the lack of ego this demonstrates is truly unusual!)

Friday, February 20, 2009

there is a god.....

There is a joke about the viola....okay, there are a LOT of jokes about the viola. but here is the one that pertains to this item:

What is the best recording of the Walton Viola Concerto?


When Yuri Bashmet, one of the leading violists of the present day, showed up on stage and this happened, I thought, this is really how all viola recitals should begin. Tune up, instrument explodes. Luckily he did not get injured, however, it must be a sign from the heavens...don't you think?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

NY Baseball report.....the first of many

now that A-Rod has informed the world that he has been using the juice, we now have to deal with the fallout. A-Rod being the little baby that he is, will have problems dealing with the media, with the circus, with Madonna, with living up to his contract.

So I say that the Yankees need to go for broke. They need to bring in Manny Ramirez.

How much is it going to cost them to have Manny in the outfield. If King George were an earlier incarnation, and not the MADNESS of King George, Manny would have a contract for 5 years at 25 million already.

Why do you want Manny in the outfield? Well, here is a guy who can play under pressure. He can flat out hit, carry a team and deal with the media. He doesn't care about much. Note, that this is the total opposite of A-Rod. With Manny in the line up, A-Rod will hit a lot better. Ask Big Papi how much he misses Manny right about now.

You should have him, just to irritate the Red Sox fans, just so that when he goes to Fenway, they can throw stuff at him and he can go and pee on the big green monster.

Let's face it, this year with the new stadium, with all the crazy new characters in the NEW Yankee stadium, A-Roid Central....why don't the yanks go the full nine innings and have TRUE Bronx zoo?

The Mets? That is an entirely different story. No lead will ever be safe in a game until the game is over, no lead will be safe in the division until the season is over. They will look over their shoulders every pitch while the hope K-Rod finishes each game and look up to the heavens.

Which first baseman will show up for the mets? The Carlos Delgado that took the field the first half of the season, or the Carlos Delgado who was the MVP of the second half?

Which old player will the mets try to sign in order to show that they have a soft spot for the elderly and decrepit? They had Julio Franco, El Duque, Tom Glavine, and MOises Alou. don't remind me of the time they signed Frank Tanana in 1993. Signing a man who pitched in the 90's in the 70's but only in the 70's in the 90's.

I heard that Oil Can Boyd wants a try out.....are you listening Omar?

Sunday, February 15, 2009


The masterclass is that event where the student gets out on stage to be torn apart by an established master in front of an audience. One can liken it to christians being fed to the lions in front of the Roman masses.

In this instance Alfredo Kraus helps a poor tenor, however is compelled to demonstrate:

The single worst operatic masterclasses I have seen are the ones given by Elizabeth Schwarzkopf. This of course is the woman who when asked what were here Desert Island Discs, picked ten of her own recordings. She would pick on students regarding their pronounciation and the point where not a single note would go by and nothing was actually gleaned from the coaching, except perhaps a hatred for the older generation.

It takes a certain set of brass balls to get up and sing Casta Diva for Maria Callas. For someone who was supposed to be tempermental she is remarkably nice to these kids.

before there were three

Being opera lovers, people tend to come up to the both of us and profess their love for opera. When pressed for more details, they usually get to the point where they say, they love that Nessun Dorma song.....

Yup, everything you ever thought you wanted to know about opera summed up in a 90 minute concert broadcast on PBS. Is that opera, is that even singing for that matter.

Pavarotti is perhaps the most famous of the three tenors, he of the large size, but of the wonderous voice. Domingo was the more intellectual and more studied artist and performer And I quote Seinfeld when I call Jose Carreras as "the other guy."

there was somthing much more electric about Pavarotti. His voice had a sparkle and a gleam that was far greater than all the other singers of his generation. He had power, grace and elegance in his voice. IT was not for nothing that Karajan picked Pavarotti to perform the Verdi REquiem with him.

It is both a blessing and a pity that he got so famous. He did bring opera to the masses (lot of good that has done) but it took him away from true opera. The stadium concert amounts to little more than an event with some screaming.

We can be sure that he did not take himself that seriously.

but if you simply must listen to him sing NEssun Dorma, please listen to this version when he was still a singer and not just a celebrity:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Zino Francescatti

Amongst the youngsters of today, many violinists of the old days are considered weak and incapable of holding the jockstraps of the present day violinists, when in reality the opposite applies.

I have been told by many a student how great Maxim Vengerov is and that he has perhaps the best technique ever.

In my humble opinion the violinist with the greatest technique is NOT anyone of today. The greatest is up for debate, but there may not be a violinist who ever was able to mix technique with ease.

ZINO FRANCESCATTI. Zino was the product of two violinists. His father was a violinist and his mother was also a violinist. His mother had been his fathers student, so he took lessons from his father and his fathers assistant......his father had a unique pedigree, he had studied with Camille Sivori who had been Paganini's only true student.

Listening to Francescatti play Paganini is indeed a revelation. There is a live recital from the library of congress that is unreal.

This film of Francescatti playing Bazzini's La Ronde des Lutins gives you an idea of the balls on this guy. He plays it with such ease and musicality that you want to punch him, and when he finishs he looks like it is no big deal, and just has to fix the lapel on his tail coat.


and just to prove to you that it is indeed far better than vengerov.....

a note to all of you boys and girls....making faces does not make you play better

Itzhak Perlman on NYC

The violinist I identified with the most as a student was surprisingly Itzhak Perlman. In the 70's and the 80's he was the biggest violinist that there was.

Perlman is a New York guy....everything he says about the city is spot on. Of course he is a Mets fan, his old pianist Samuel Sanders was a Yankee fan.

But when Itzhak Perlman does a promo for the city of New York and makes fun of the Knicks, you know the team is in trouble.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

the show doesn't always need to go on.....

There is an old saying..."the show must go on." It is often recited as being in the best traditions of the stage, but in reality it is not the case.

This singer was on meds and went on ANYWAY. I will give her the benefit of the doubt that they could not find a substitute....however no performance would have been better and would have resulted in fewer views on youtube.

Medication is NEVER a good thing when you have to go on stage. Playing in pain, will at least tell you when to stop......

playing drunk? That is a story for a different day

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Here we have two pianists. Both are famous, both have cult followings, however Lang Lang, or as I prefer to call him BANG BANG, has reached into that stratosphere of musical celebrity reserved for the Beatles and the such.

Why? Honestly, I am not quite certain. Lang Lang as a pianist reminds me of the very worst of Horowitz. The large drops in volume, the excessive portamento, the extreme velocity and the extreme BANGING. Mind you, Horowitz went through this after having his own personal demons and issues. When Horowitz came through this in the mid 1980's he was a completely different pianist as well....satisfied to let his incredible gifts serve the smallest of musical pieces...indeed pieces that a talented amateur could play

One thing Horowitz never did was ape for the public or the camera.

Kissen is another matter....this is a strange man but with a power and ability at the piano that makes one wonder what deal he has made to play so cleanly. I heard him live in New York at Carnegie Hall and was astonished by the musical display. The critics were not happy with the program, thinking that it was too simple but he made up for it in the dynamic power and the demonic encores.

Bang Bang never quite gets to all the notes nor does he quite get to the music in the really hard technical pieces, whereas Kissen plays them so well and effortlessly, that he almost makes you forget how trully difficult these things all are!

These two videos will illustrate the difference:

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Hello, we are Sir Arthur and Mr Spiggott. The aim of this blog is to NOT ONLY talk about classical music, BUT ALSO talk about sports.

As sometimes former musicians, we both enjoy classical music immensely and find that the public, rightly or wrongly...possibly both, has let too many horrid performers become well paid and culturally important.

This blog will be rife with anecdotes about the working musician and his struggle against the world, special guest writers from the world of classical music, news about the arts, and through the use of modern technology, we will endeavor to compare, point out, and rail against what amounts to poor taste in today's classical music scene.

In regards to sports, Sir Arthur is a Mets fan, and Mr Spiggott is a Yankee fan, so our mutual love for baseball is only rivaled by our hatred for each others team. It might surprise you to know that musicians are great sports fans....I suppose it has to do with the fact that they spend all their lives not being allowed to play sports for fear of hurting their hands and because they end up training in the northeast of the United States, where sports is if not the top religion, places second behind reckless driving and senatorial speculation.