Tuesday, April 23, 2013


OPERA NEWS AWARDS April 21 2013.

The Opera News Award designed by Gregory Downer.
 It incorporates a classical representation of "The Triumph of Ariadne" and produced by Tiffany& Company New York.

Last night , Gregory Downer the Art Director of the OPERA NEWS magazine, invited me to attend the Opera News Awards at the Plaza Hotel here in New York. The opera singers who were honored were Eric Owens,  David Daniels, Simon Keenlyside, Dawn Upshaw and the Italian  opera diva Mirella Freni.

Thomas Hampson, James Levine and Gregory Downer.

It was a very glamorous evening with the opera glitterati of the city present. It was sponsored by Opera News and the Metropolitan Opera Guild. Mercedes Bass was the glamorous chair  of the event. She is know as being very generous with her time and support of the Metropolitan Opera.

Mercedes Bass

Patricia Racette
The American soprano ,Patricia Racette hosted the event.

At dinner I was seated next to publicist Mary Lou Falcone who worked with Renee Fleming for 14 years and represents The Carnegie Hall ,The Vienna Symphony Orchestra as well as  conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the late Van Cliburn.

Mary Lou Falcone and Renee Fleming
She a delightful person and told me that after 10 years of  being a singer , she decided that being a publicist is more to her liking.She also mentioned that when she lectures young singers at the Julliard School she asks them if the really "need" to be a singer , to be fulfilled. If they are not that obsessed, their chances of being a star in the music world is about nil. Later in the evening Simon Keenlyside thanked the Metropolitan Opera for fulfilling  his "need" to be a singer. This underscored her sentiment once again. Listen to her here:-


Sissy Strauss with Rene Pape and Anna Netrebko in her palatial apartment in New York.
Another woman at our table was Sissy Strauss, the liaison officer at the Metropolitan Opera. She takes care of visiting singers and help them to find apartment, hotel rooms, doctors- whatever they need. Not only does she help them, but invites them to her home for potluck dinner .I heard about her from Johan Botha who always speaks about her kindness and  wonderful dinner parties.  Sissy would invite him and Brenda for dinner where they would meet other singers and have a wonderful evening whenever they had a night off.  Sissy told me about a party she a few weeks ago for about a 100 guests .She was entertaining the  cast of "Die Walkure" production of the Metropolitan Opera as well as some European diplomats that were visiting New York  .She said she cooked Spaghetti Bologna for the 100 guests.
 Read here about her Christmas party in the New York Times.
Eric Owens  Bass-Baritone
Eric Owens born July 11, 1970  who was  raised in Philadelphia, first came to national attention portraying the titular anti hero of Elliot Goldenthal's  2006 opera "Grendel", based on the Beouwulf inspired novella of the same name by Johan Gardner . Julie Taymar produced this opera for the Los Angeles Opera and the Lincoln Center Festival. His debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 2010 as Albrich in the Robert Lepage's production of "Das Rheingold" made his a star. He is a versatile artist who's  repertory includes  Handel's "Hercules",  Bellini's "Capuletie e i Montecchi"  Verdi's " Aida",  Gershwin's  "Porgie and Bess",Berg's  "Wozzeck"  John Adams  "Dr. Atomic" and Richard Wagner's " Ring " July Taymor was on hand to present his Opera News Award to him. He is a gentle giant and a beloved singer .
Here is Eric Owens as Albrich in "Das Rheingold" at the Metropolitan Opera.

David Daniels Contra-Tenor

In 2005 Harry Bicket ,the English  Conductor made his Metropolitan Opera debut in "Rodelinda" with Renee Fleming and David Daniels. He introduced us to the counter tenor born 12 March 1966.
 Prior to David Daniels the male falsetto voice seemed a malnourished, sickly sweet instrument notable for its musical inflexibility as for its dramatic unsuitability in staged opera. Here was an artist that could offer "prima uomo" roles written by Handel , Vivaldi Gluck and Monteverdi performed by a man in a colorful vibrant voice, without transposition. David Daniels became rather emotional when he spoke about his parents that were both voice teachers and how as a tenor he was having difficulty singing, but when he used his "other "voice all these problems disappeared. When he told his voice teacher she asked him to sing in the "other voice" and told him he keep singing that way and become a counter tenor. He influenced many other contra tenors and today almost 30 years later there are several very good contra tenors singing professionally. He mentioned that he sang with  all the other honorees except Mirella Freni. He said his parents had a recording of her and Pavarotti singing "La Boheme" and as a nine year old boy he would slip into the living room and play that recording over and over , and lip sink it to his mirrored image?  He was just very sad that he could not sing the last "Mimi" as by then he was laying on the death bed....Miss Freni love that one!
He wants people to listen to David Daniels as an artist and musician and not as a contra tenor.

Simon  Keenlyside
The English baritone -born 3 August 1959 -read Zoology at Cambridge University before he became a singer.He is married to a Royal Ballet Principle ballerina and they live ,with their two children, on a farm in Wales .He comes from a musical family and is a very sensitive singer and rather shy.
Keenlyside made his first appearance in a major operatic role in 1987 as Lescaut in Manon Lescaut at the Royal Northern College of Music. Opera magazine remarked on it being an "astonishingly mature" performance, and that he "used his warm and clear baritone with notable musicianship".[
 The Richard Tauber prize, which he won in 1986, allowed him to go to Salzburg for further study.  He spoke highly about the Metropolitan Opera and said he appreciated it when Peter Gelb -the Metropolitan Opera director- asked him what roles he would like to sing at the Met.  Isabel Leonard, the young America mezzo soprano and the winner of the Richard Tucker Award this year-introduced Simon Keenlyside to us and handed him the Opera News Award.
Lets listen to this great singer.
Dawn Upshaw
John Adams and Dawn Upshaw

Dawn Upshaw born July 17, 1960 is an American soprano described as "one of the most consequential performers of our time" by the Los Angeles Times. The recipient of several Grammy Awards and Edison Prize-winning discs, Upshaw is at home both in opera and art song, and in repertoire from Baroque to contemporary. Many composers, including Osvaldo Golijov, John Harbison, Esa-Pekka Salonen, John Adams and Kaija Saariaho have written for her, and her artistic achievements are extensive. In 2007 she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship .She was a winner of the Young Concert Artists International Auditions (1984) and the Walter M. Naumburg Competition (1985), and was a member of the Metropolitan Opera Young Artists Development Program. Since her start in 1984, Upshaw has made more than 300 appearances at the Metropolitan Opera.
The composer John Adams introduces her and said she does so much to help composer as they really don't know how to compose for the human voice.
Here is the voice of Dawn Upshaw.

Mirella Freni

Mirella Freni and Rudolph W Giuliani

Mirella Freni  born 27 February 1935, Modena, Italy is an Italian opera soprano whose repertoire includes Verdi, Puccini Mozart and Tchaikovsky .In 1978 she married the Bulgarian bass Nicolai Ghiaurov, one of the leading operatic basses of the post-war period. Together they helped to establish the Centro Universale del Bel Canto in Vignola, where they began giving master classes in 2002. Following Ghiaurov death in 2004, Freni continues their work of preserving the Bel Canto tradition, and currently teaches young singers from around the world. She was awarded the Italian Cavaliere di Gran Croce and the French Légion d'honneur in March 1993. The University of Pisa awarded her an honorary degree in 2002 for her "great contribution to European culture. In 2005, the Metropolitan Opera celebrated the 40th anniversary of her Met debut and her 50th anniversary on the stage with a special gala concert conducted by James Levine.
Mayor Rudolph W Giuliani  of New York who introduced her, told us that Freni and Pavarotti's mothers worked together in a cigar factory and that little Mirella and little  Luciano shared the same nurse maid as babies. Mirella thought she got the best milk, as was so much fatter than Luciano at that stage! Miss Freni's command of the English language was not great so her acceptance speech was very short. She reminded Giuliani of the time when she received  the keys of the city from him and her grandson thought that meant she could unlock every door in the city.
The last time I saw her was when she sang "Feodora" at the Metropolitan Opera with Placido Domingo.
Here is the aria they played last night showing Miss Freni at her prime ;-


It was a wonderful evening and we are in debt to "Opera News" and the Metropolitan Opera Guild for these awards. They are being copied in Europe where Nina Stemme and Jonas Kaufmann were the first two winners of the" Opera" magazine award his weekend.

Scroll down for more photos of the event.

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