Monday, January 21, 2013

Baritones and Battling Sopranos – Can We Talk?

Illustration by Inslee
What a week it has been .....the usual little ups and downs.... but bookended by the absolute sublime. Grab a hot cuppa, Girls, while I fill you in on the highlights.

Last Saturday (the 12th) we saw a pulse-pounding performance of Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore at the Metropolitan Opera.

And the excitement didn’t just come from watching a bunch of muscle-bound hunks swinging huge hammers to the rhythm of the Anvil Chorus ... although, strictly entre nous, a bit of eye candy never hurts.

No, the real excitement was generated by a fabulous cast, led by a wonderful conductor, who kept the musical adrenaline flowing from first to last note.


Alexey Markov as Count di Luna
Il Trovatore is an opera with an improbable, dare I say totally implausible, story line, but, to make up for its literary shortcomings, Verdi set it to some of his most glorious music.

It is, in fact, one long, musical feast for the ears, and Verdi gives everyone (tenor, soprano, mezzo-soprano, baritone and bass) a chance to grab the vocal spotlight and run with it.  

And run with it they did, especially the fabulous young Russian baritone, Alexey Markov, in the role of Count di Luna.

Alexey Markov
While I do love a good tenor, nobody gets my operatic juices going like a great baritone. Baritones are the bad boys of the opera world, and I confess I have a weakness for bad boys. Some baritones are born bad and are just bad to the bone, like Iago in Verdi’s Otello; but most are driven to bad behavior by unrequited love.

The baritone in this opera is passionately in love with the soprano, who has gone gaga over the tenor, a wild and crazy gypsy troubadour, who serenades her nightly with songs of love. Even a handsome hunk of a baritone, like our young Count, has a hard time competing with that.

Of course, just being handsome doesn’t cut it in the opera world. With apologies to Duke Ellington and his lyricist, Irving Miller, “It don’t mean a thing, if you ain’t got that sing.”

Markov’s voice is dark and velvety, but with the power to cut through an orchestra like a knife and knock you back in your seat. Add to that a commanding stage persona (did I mention he’s really hot?), and you’ve got a bad boy baritone that any good girl would be hard pressed to resist …….. unless, of course, she's a silly soprano with a gypsy fetish.

The opera ends with the soprano swallowing poison, the baritone having the tenor beheaded, and the mezzo-soprano, a crazed gypsy, telling the baritone that he’s just lopped off the head of his long-lost brother.

You see? I told you it was a silly story, but it’s just sooooo much fun.


Elza van den Heever (Elizabeth) and Joyce DiDonato (Mary)
The following Saturday (the 19th), we were back in our seats in the Grand Tier of the Met watching a couple of Queens go at it. The Queens in question were Elizabeth I of England and Mary Queen of Scots.

The opera, Maria Stuarda, by Donizzetti, a rarely performed gem, showcased a magnificent ensemble cast; but it was the two ladies at the center of the drama who took top honors dramatically and vocally. Although history clearly tells us that Mary and Elizabeth never met, writers and composers have had a field day imagining what that fateful meeting might have been like had it actually happened.

Donizzetti gives us his version of the most famous meeting that never took place. Unable to bear Elizabeth’s repeated accusations, Mary’s cool submission turns to white-hot fury as she calls Elizabeth the bastard offspring of a whore.

Things quickly go from bad to worse, while the tenor, who once loved Elizabeth and now loves Mary, stands by helplessly. In the end, a furious Elizabeth stalks off stage and Mary is dragged back to prison.

Here you can almost feel the heat of their anger:

Verdi's Maria Stuarda Act i Finale Joyce DiDonato - Met Opera Live in HD from Larry Murray on Vimeo.

Sadly, we know how it all ended for Mary. Elizabeth signs the death warrant sentencing her cousin, Mary, to be beheaded.

In the final, moving scene, wearing the red robes of a Christian martyr, Mary climbs the stairs, blindfolded and alone, to the waiting executioner.

Elizabeth had won. Or had she???

Elizabeth’s reign ended in 1603 without an heir. The Tudor line had come to an end. The throne of England would pass to James I, the first of the Stuart kings, and Mary’s son.

James had a magnificent marble tomb constructed for his Mother’s remains at Westminster Abbey. The remains of the woman who ordered her death, her cousin Elizabeth, lie nearby.

Tomb of Queen Elizabeth I at Westminster Abbey
I like to think that they finally came face to face with each other in a better place and had a nice heart-to-heart over a nice hot cuppa.


  1. A very personal take on Opera; life, love, Queens of England, and the pursuit of happiness. Loved it! Thank you for taking us into a world I am not familiar with... It looks like you and Dan have made the most of this Manhattan pied-à-terre this month! Bisous Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

    1. e do love our Manhattan pied-à-terre and will be making the most of it again next month. We've got some great operas on the schedule for February. I do enjoy bringing you into my operatic world, however briefly, as it's just such fun!!

      BTW, Oscar, the doorman at the Manhattan Club, says "hi."

      Gros bisous, ma chère, M-T

  2. Lucky you. I love the music in Il Ttavatore. Don' t know the second opera but wiill watch out for it. We sometimes go to Donizzetti operas at Holland Park in the summer. Wonderful if the weather is goo and you can have a picnic.

    1. Isn't "Il Trovatore" fun? But, such a silly story. "Maria Stuarda" is rarely performed; in fact, this is the first time the Metropolitan Opera has done it. Can you imagine that?

      Well worth the wait, I'd say. It is part of Donizzetti's trilogy of the Three Queens: "Anna Bolena," which the Met did starring Anna Netrebko, "Maria Stuarda," which stars Joyce DiDonato and the next will be "Roberto Devereaux" sometime in the future. I can't wait.

      I'd love to join you for Donizzetti and a picnic in Holland Park one summer. Great fun!

  3. Thank you for was so nice to have a 'seat' at the Met. Your descriptions and historical additions are wonderful. It almost felt like being there. Many thanks.

    Warmly, Kathleen

    1. Dear Kathleen, I'm delighted you enjoyed your "seat" at the Met. You might enjoy checking out some of my other posts on Met operas I have enjoyed.

      Please drop by again....there will always be a seat waiting for you. I appreciate your taking the time to leave a comment.

      Many thanks, M-T

  4. Wonder if you fall more for operas or for opera singers, ma chère cop... Tu me fais trop rire - comme aiment à dire les ados.
    Big bisous ♪♫♪♫♪

    1. Eh bien, ma chère, where would great opera be without great opera singers? Ils vont de pair....hand in glove, as we say.

      Bzzzzz de ta cop du nord,


    2. I would have fallen for Pavarotti, so I hear you !

    3. Ooh, ma grande, I had the enormous pleasure of meeting Pavarotti in a restaurant in Philadelphia, and he gave me the biggest bear hug I have ever received. To be enveloped in his arms was a moment I will never forget.

      His voice was a gift from God. I truly believe that the day he was born God kissed his vocal chords. How lucky I was to have heard him live so many times over the years.

      I was in the audience at the Academy of Music for his first concert in Philadelphia in the 70s. I will never forget it.

      He was one of the immortals.

  5. Can you believe I've I never been to an opera?! Quite a few musicals, but never an opera. I've never thought I would really enjoy it, but reading this post, I'm thinking maybe I could! :)

    As for British history, you're talking my language (no pun intended.) I've been fascinated with British royalty since I spent two years at a British school when I was a child in Beirut, Lebanon. I recently bought a coffee-table book (when Borders, sadly, went out of business) charting the kings and queens from the very beginning.

    Someday, I pray, my dream of visiting England, Ireland, Scotland and France will come true.

    I love your blog, M-T!

    Cindy at Notes in the Key of Life

    1. So glad you enjoyed this. I was secretly hoping to appeal to a few non-opera-goers. If you do decide to give it a try, let me know what you have selected, and I'll let you know if it's a good one to start with.

      Our first opera is so our first kiss....mine was "La Traviata" and I was 7 years old. It was love at first note.

      Having had a British Grandmum, I share your love of British history/royalty.

      Can't wait to hear all about your first trip to Europe, when you finally get to see what you've been reading and dreaming about. That's another first that cannot be equalled.

      Bonne Année, Cindy.

      xoxo, M_T

  6. Replies
    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Delighted you like my blog.

      Stop by again.

      xx, M-T

  7. Oh my goodness...I have just found your blog because of our shared love of France, and lo and behold, you have wonderful posts about Opera, too! I'm a chorister at the Met, and that clip you have shared is by far one of my most favorite (among many) moments on stage....that shocking moment when Joyce DiDonato (Maria Stuarda) calls Elza VanDeHeever (Elizabeth I) a vile bastard was a hair raising!! Being on stage when it happened and watching Joyce develop and improve that line during each rehearsal and performance...I just couldn't believe what I was seeing or hearing. A moment indeed.

    So glad I found you! Now I am off to read every post of your wonderful blog!

    1. Oh my goodness "ditto!" I'm thrilled you found me, as well. I have literally just returned (late last night) from the "festspiele" in Bayreuth, Germany. We were lucky enough to snag tickets to the "Ring Cycle" after being on a waiting list for years (see my last post). I'm exhausted but just had to respond to your wonderful comment.

      I would be so delighted if you would contact me directly at so that we might have a lovely cyberchat about our shared loves. Would so enjoy getting to know you. We will be back up at the Met in early October for "Norma." Can't wait!

      Cheers, M-T


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