Song of the Day: April 21

San Francisco Opera Singer Headshots | Anna Wu PhotographyThis week, soprano María Valdés curates Song of the Day. She will perform with NYFOS next Tuesday, April 26th, in Compositora: Songs by Latin American Women, alongside baritone Efraín Solís. She is a recent alumna of the Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera where she sang and covered several roles. Her performance with NYFOS will mark her New York recital debut.


Mozart – Et incarnatus est- Barbara Bonney

Mozart’s C Minor Mass was my first professional job. I was very excited (and nervous) to perform this piece at the Bellingham Festival of Music in Washington. Unfortunately, before the gig I came down with a killer case of pneumonia and wasn’t able to sing for a month. With only a couple weeks left until rehearsals began, I slowly attempted to get back into shape. During my first coaching—this is hilarious now but mortifying at the time—I was singing this and half way through collapsed onto the piano. My lungs just couldn’t expand enough to prepare for the long phrases. Luckily for me, I recovered soon after and had a successful performance in the end!

Now, this aria is difficult on its own, but it comes at the very end of a LONG sing. I remembered having a sense of impending doom when the orchestra began. I’m sure many of my singer friends can relate when I say that the maestro inevitably took the slowest possible tempo. I thought to myself, how can I ever do justice to this exquisite composition? How will I make it through? But when the strings swelled before my entrance it was smooth sailing from there. That’s because this piece has a way of making time stand still. It kind of feels like being wrapped in a soft blanket and being placed on top of a cloud. Mmmmm.

Barbara Bonney definitely takes us to that place in her interpretation. There is nothing showy about her delivery, even as she effortlessly glides through the technical challenges this piece presents. Her voice becomes an instrument and the instruments become voices, culminating with a call and response duet between the soprano and oboe.

I hope you all enjoy this idyllic setting of “Et incarnatus est.”

Song of the Day: December 16

LLE headshotThis week our SoTD curator is Laura Lee Everett, the Director of Artistic Services at OPERA America, who’s had a long and varied career in opera—stage managing, mentoring young artists, facilitating the creation of new works, and more—at companies all across the U.S., from Alaska to Virginia.  (She’s also helped NYFOS present our NYFOS Next series at the National Opera Center for the past few years. You can catch it there in February 2016!)  Thank you and welcome, Laura Lee!

Opera vexes me.

I love working on new operas. Collaborating on premieres by Carlisle Floyd, Dominic Argento, Lee Hoiby, Jake Heggie and John Musto is extremely exciting. It is also exhausting.

I love working on “bread and butter” repertoire: Aida, Butterfly, Carmen, Tosca. Blood, sex and violence, tunes you can hum – great pieces, to be sure. But I grow weary of them when I repeatedly work on the same pieces. I did 6 productions of La Traviata in 9 months and it liked to have killed me. But there is one thing I never tire of, that constantly challenges me musically and emotionally and makes it clear why I love this art form.

MThere is nothing with stronger roots to ground me to music than Mozart.

To some, I know that sounds a bit clichéd, but after 25 years of working on everything from Montiverdi to Howard Shore, Mozart cleanses my palette and feeds my soul. When hearing singers in training, Mozart is the place you cannot hide. His arias will show everything you can or cannot yet do with your instrument and your imagination.

Mozart knows how to tell a good story. He picked several of the most controversial of his time to set to music. His skill was in telling stories that exposed all facets of human relationships and the emotions are all written in the music. I have several favorite Mozart operas, but the top of my list is Die ZauberflöteThe Magic Flute. You may poke whatever fun you like about that (opera purists – looking at you) but it is a show that I both performed in and worked on many times and I always take a great emotional journey through the piece. One aria in particular can be the single most devastating and beautiful piece of music – Pamina’s only aria “Ach, ich fühl’s”. Rare for a Mozart ingénue to only have one aria, but it is so powerful and unlike so much else of his writing. It stands as the one moment in the piece where she completely gives in to despair, yet makes a clear decision to end her life, thus driving responses from everyone around her in the story. There are titles on the attached video, but here is the translation:

Ah, I feel it, it has disappeared
Forever gone love’s happiness.
Nevermore will come the hour of bliss
Back to my heart!
See, Tamino, these tears,
Flowing, beloved, for you alone.
If you don’t feel the longing of love
Then there will be peace in death!

Pretty heady stuff for a comic singspiel written for the public theater house. This song always makes me think of Benedict’s mocking line about love songs from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing:

‘Is it not strange that sheep’s guts could hail souls out of men’s bodies?’

In times of woe and sadness, this piece does just that for me.

Here is a somewhat fuzzy video, but with titles in English, of Kathleen Battle performing in the 1991 production from the Metropolitan Opera, James Levine conducting. (Francisco Araiza as Tamino and Manfred Hemm as Papageno).

(The aria starts around 2:00 mins into the clip)