Lend Me A Tenor, Please

Today’s Revelation is for all you opera lovers out there- and especially for all you opera-ignorers who have immediately pictured a corpulent Wagnerian soprano shattering glass with Viking-horned high Cs (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Stephen Costello is one of my favorite operatic tenors. A 2007 graduate of the prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts, he made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Arturo in Lucia di Lammermoor that same year.  He is a 2009 winner of the Richard Tucker Award and his star is fast rising on the world opera scene, right along with his wife’s, lustrous soprano Ailyn Pérez.

I’m pretty picky when it comes to voices, altos and tenors especially.  Some just don’t “speak” to me- the color is dark or the vibrato is miles wide.  Others are spot on- supple, soaring and perfectly trained.

Such was the case when I first heard Stephen Costello.  He was in his final year as a resident artist at AVA and was the tenor soloist for my choral group’s performance of Rossini’s Stabat Mater.  During a dress rehearsal, he burst forth with the “Cujus animam” movement and I promptly lost all powers of singing and furthermore decided to lip-synch for the remainder of rehearsal so that I wouldn’t miss anything he sang. (Sincere apologies to my director and assurance that I did in fact actually sing at the concert.)  That’s when I knew he was Going Places.

Speaking of Going Places, those of you in the NYC metro area will have an opportunity to hear him when he takes the SummerStage in Central Park on July 16th as part of the Met’s Summer Recital Series.  Along with some champagne and a picnic blanket, you’re in for a lovely evening.

For the moment, though, I’ll leave you with this (thanks, WQXR!):

Bravo, indeed!

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Mad Men

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

Wait a minute…that sentence sounds awfully familiar. But I digress.

He said “Never judge a book by its cover”.  Ah, that most familiar of platitudes, that wolfish yet wise advice in fleecy sheep’s clothing.

Today I’m going to toy with that advice a bit and reveal why we Revelers shouldn’t judge composers by their lacy cravats, their square-toed, brass-buckled kicks, their prim tailored tweedy suits, their fits of tubercular coughing (okay, maybe not that).

Why? Because they were mad men all.  Here are some fascinating bits to absorb about composers you love.

Beethoven liked each cup of coffee he drank to be made with exactly 60 coffee beans. Today we affectionately call that “obsessive-compulsive disorder”.  Eins, zwei, drei, vier…

Éric Satie wrote three short piano pieces called “Flabby Preludes For A Dog“.  Surely he was being modest with his choice of adjective.

Mozart had a pet starling that could sing the theme of the last movement of his Piano Concerto in G Major, K. 453.  I mean really…are we surprised?  Someone please buy me that bird for my birthday.

Bedrich Smetana spent his last months in the Prague Insane Asylum where he died of a progressive paralysis, possibly caused by complications from syphilis.  And there’s really nothing more to say after that.

When American composer Paul Creston needed an extra boost of energy to stay up late, he would smoke coffee grounds in a pipe.  Clearly, drinking from a mug was just too lowbrow; however, he did compose a concertino for the marimba, which is just amazing (?).

J.S. Bach spent time (one month) in prison .. where he wrote Das Orgelbüchlein.  And what have YOU done, Bernie Madoff?

Berlioz wrote the majority of the Symphonie fantastique while high on opium.  Did he not heed Nancy Reagan’s advice?  I love the timpani and I love Leonard Bernstein, so here’s the fourth movement.

Tchaikovsky wrote the “Pas de deux” from The Nutcracker as a bet. He said he could write a piece whose main theme was a simple descending major scale. He did it and won. Na zdorovye!

Chopin‘s heart is buried in Warsaw…and the rest of him can be found in Paris at Père Lachaise Cemetery.  Now THAT is true allegiance!

Rimsky-Korsakov heard/saw music as a stream of colors.  I can only wonder if Flight of the Bumblebee gave him a gorgeous, staggering migraine.

Richard Wagner liked to wear pink silk underwear.  Consequently, anyone singing the role of Isolde must don the same unmentionables.  Oh, that heartrending Liebestod!!!!!!

And that’s your dose of random fascinating facts for the time being.  You’ve missed me, haven’t you?  Revel on!

Missed It

As you can see, the Sibs have yielded to the indolence of summer and not posted since May 17. Actually, a lot of life events got in the way. “But we’re back, it’s almost spring!” Wait, that’s not true. We are not the birds from A Year With Frog & Toad (unfortunately).

Yesterday morning my alarm clock woke me to the sounds of WETA, the DC-area classical station that is to WQXR what Eddie’s family is to Clark Griswold’s in the original National Lampoon’s Vacation: a hick cousin. Womp womp. I should balance that by saying that WETA has many admirable qualities (thank you, Neil Simon: “I’m very fond of you myself. You have some very nice qualities.”), one of which is an ability to magically play the Kreutzer Sonata in moments of extreme need. The Kreutzer is one of the few reasons I will agree with Sib the Elder that everyone loves Beethoven (because aside from that and a few other pieces, I actually don’t). It is incredible. It’s completely Batman, and I’m glad WETA plays it in its entirety so often. May I assume most readers of this blog will have seen “Immortal Beloved”? “It was that damned sonata…the Kreutzer.”

Swerving back into the correct lane, WETA was playing the overture to something called “The Mute of Portici.” I had never heard it before, much less of it, and in my half-sleeping haze, when the brain more easily makes connections (science), I thought immediately of a Punch Brothers tune called “The Squirrel of Possibility.” Naturally I saw a direct line between the two, “So that’s where they got that title from! How cool that it was from some obscure classical piece.” Well, I predictably awoke to a harsher reality when my cool, deadpan prefrontal cortex went to WETA.org and, upon finding the title, realized it had nothing whatsoever to do with Punch Brothers. Missed it.

It’s actually a jaunty, quasi-foreboding way to start your day (as I guess most operatic overtures might be? Not really a fan. See OldSib.). Parts of it really do seem like an alarm clock that’s been snoozed several times (which is, I suppose, what it was doing on WETA’s morning shift).

Composed by someone named Daniel-François-Esprit Auber. Really? Yes. If I had that name, I would ruthlessly enforce full usage in all social interactions. No “Sprit” for short. I will gallantly admit I’d never heard of him before. Naturally, he’s famous enough in France that a street leading to the Paris Opéra is named for him. What do you want from me? I didn’t know Balzac or Chateaubriand before I studied there, either.

Well, my Ostriches of Incontinence, I will leave you with a bit of the Brothers Punch (can’t find a good, free version of the S of P; I like the Critter/Thile collabo below (starts after the 1:00 mark) and have watched it many times). Their connections to the classical world are so rife and diverse, I can’t believe I’m using this non-existent one. Here’s to “so awake, what waking calls asleep”!