Muslims in America, Italians in Russia

In catching up on some NY Times arts coverage this weekend I found two Bizarro-Twins-appropriate articles I thought I’d merge into one…

Chronologically first, Italian mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli has a new album of baroque operatic arias called St. Petersburg.  Not a city we associate with baroque opera, but as Bartoli’s latest musicological excavation effort points out, as was the case all over Europe, the Russian court was home to several Italian composers patronized by emperors and empresses, alongside other artists from across Europe.  The pieces they composed basically followed Italianate opera conventions, though they were occasionally performed in Russian, but all 11 tracks on the CD are world premiere recordings so it’s certainly a rare set of materials.


Bartoli herself went to the Mariinsky Theater archives to peruse these scores, which were sort of hidden especially during Soviet times to suppress the history of Russia looking to Western Europe, a binary that’s relevant to this day.  I’d certainly like to know a bit more about those archival adventures!  (NYT article)

The other story I wanted to share was a conversation between three Muslim-American artists on how being Muslim, and depicting Muslim characters, influences their work.  The trio included Ayad Akhtar, creator of the Pulitzer-winning play Disgraced, currently on Broadway, Sundance award winning filmmaker Musa Syeed, and of special interest to us, writer G. Willow Wilson, creator of Marvel’s best-selling Ms. Marvel comic, of which the first trade paperback came out earlier this month!  It’s an interesting conversation in its own right, and Wilson talks to how the themes of assimilation and representation pop up in Kamala Khan’s own hero’s journey. (NYT article)

Ms. Marvel by Adrian Alphona, Copyright Marvel Comics

Ms. Marvel by Adrian Alphona, Copyright Marvel Comics

Apparently the new Ms. Marvel, a Pakistani-American teenager from Jersey City whose own comic debuted in February of this year, is now Marvel’s top-selling female character, and that’s with competition from titles like Black Widow, Storm, She-Hulk, Elektra, and even her inspiration, Captain Marvel!  Not bad kid, not bad…

A Week of Free Early Music

Early Music Festival NYC LogoGreat news for early music fans like myself!

Starting tomorrow is the Early Music Festival NYC, with multiple free concerts a day in venues across the city between Friday the 13th and Thursday the 19th.

The schedule and programs are listed on their site for your planning pleasure (though really, how wrong could you go?), and the Festival gets off to a big start tomorrow with cellist Paul Dwyer performing all six of J.S. Bach‘s Cello Suites in five venues across all five of New York’s boroughs!

There are also quite a few vocal concerts in the line up, including…

No shortage of offerings as you can see!  And that’s not counting many other purely instrumental concerts!  So hope you enjoy!

PS: Sorry for my long absence from the blog!  I sorta let it go as I was on the job hunt but realized it might be a good thing to keep going when it was brought up during one of my interviews!  The comic / opera theme seemed to amuse people, haha…


Juilliard Baroque

Original Libretto for Handel's Radamisto

Original Libretto for Handel’s Radamisto at the V&A

Tickets for Juilliard‘s first operatic production of the academic year went on sale this week, and it’s for Handel‘s 1720 Radamisto, his first opera for the Royal Academy of Music in London.  Here’s a famous aria performed by Joyce DiDonato.


The libretto at top is from the collection of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, and it was used at the opera’s premiere performance, making it one of the earliest preserved prompt scripts.  They have a nice page on 18th century opera with more primary sources from their collections.

The other operas to be performed at Juilliard are Tchaikhovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Massenet’s Cendrillon (ie, Cinderella).  Here’s their full listing of operatic and vocal offerings this year, and as long as we’re talking about New York schools, here’s the opera schedule for the Manhattan School of Music too, an intriguing combination of Haydn, Cavalli, and Virgil Thomson…

Smith, meet Blythe

Tomorrow night at 9pm in New York, PBS is airing a concert by Stephanie Blythe focusing on the music made famous by Kate Smith, beloved Depression and WWI-era singer and eventually radio and TV show hostess.  There will be repeat screenings on Sunday too.

Having never really heard of this Smith character, I turned to the Internet Archive to see what they had on her, and they didn’t disappoint; they’ve got lots of songs, from as far back as the 1920s, as well as full audio and video of her variety hour shows, from both radio and TV.  That being said, I can’t figure out how to embed PBS & Internet Archive media here : |

So with that, take my word and visit the Live from Lincoln Center minisite on PBS to see recent episodes featuring Kristen Chenoweth, Josh Groban, the New York Philharmonic, and even the 2012 Richard Tucker Opera Gala concert in their entirety.

And here’s just one example of the Internet Archive‘s unique holdings, a full 1953 episode of the Kate Smith Hour!  Singing, dancing, and more!  The IA is worth getting lost in for a little while, so enjoy!


So my comics-savvy cousin on Facebook pointed out that my hourly comics were included on a list of Hourly Comics up on the Comics Reporter.  How did this happen?  Why am I next to actually talented people?  It’s a mystery, but I’m not complaining.


This duet from Purcell‘s Dido & Aeneas made a cameo during my hourly comics’ shower scene, so thought I could wrangle a combo comics/opera post from this…  Thank you for believing in me America!

Poulenc Anniversary

Today marks the 50th anniversary of French composer Francis Poulenc‘s death, so here is the legendary haunting final scene from his opera, Dialogues des Carmélites about a group of nuns who were guillotined in the wake of the French Revolution.  


The opera gets a rare outing at the Met in May, for three performances only.  Another, slightly more immediate option is his Gloria for chorus and soprano, performed by the Barnard-Columbia and St. Olaf’s Choirs at Alice Tully Hall in March.  I’m looking forward to getting to know his work a bit better myself…

Belated Inauguration with Marian Anderson

Inauguration Day 2013 sorta snuck up on me, so I didn’t get to come up with a topical post…  But in honor of the Martin Luther King Day / Black president double whammy, here’s Marian Anderson singing the anthem at Eisenhower‘s 1957 inauguration.

That same year she began a tour of India as a goodwill ambassador for the US government, which is just totes adorbs.  Don’t get that nowadays, huh.

Mission to Mission


Cecilia Bartoli is a world-renowned mezzo-soprano who’s also a big champion of musical archaeology, digging through and rediscovering forgotten Baroque opera, as evidenced by her 2009 compilation CD Sacrificium, covering music for castrati by a range of more obscure composers.

Her latest release, Mission, covers the music of one composer, Agostino Steffani, and wraps the package up in a deeper investigation of the man behind the music, investigating his roles as an ecclesiastic and diplomat.  In fact, the CD is being released with a book exploring this history and even inspired a mystery novel to be released concurrently!  Bartoli obviously inspires a lot of confidence in the music industry…


(You can see how they’re pushing the history in this trailer for the CD.)

So Much Clemency

Maybe I spoke too soon about being off the hook for finals, but regardless, tonight I’m taking a little break at the Met Opera listening to some Mozart, his 1791 La Clemenza di Tito to be precise.  Luckily, you can listen along thanks to Opera Today, who comes to the rescue with three recordings of live performances of La Clemenza from throughout the ages…

Mezzo Elina Garanča looking great in drag in the Met‘s production as Sesto, a role written for a castrato.

Here’s a 1955 performance from Köln, Germany, with Nicolai Gedda in the title role, followed by a 1976 performance from the Royal Opera House. with Janet Baker as Vitellia.  Lastly, for those who don’t like listening to Italian, you can hear a 2007 performance sung in English, courtesy of the English National Opera.

As You Sleep, You Stir Up Love

A whole slew of “good night” arias to lull you to sleep…  These are all from settings of Metastasio‘s libretto for L’Olimpiade, set by more than 60 composers!

First off, Italian contralto Sara Mingardo sings Vivaldi‘s take, followed by Caldara, for whom the libretto was written in the first place; noted French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky sings here.


Finally, Pergolesi‘s version, sung by German soprano Simone Kermes.  With all these settings of a single text laying around, it was really genius of Naive Records to create a pastiche, uniting arias by different composers to showcase the range of interpretations.  But it’s also interesting to hear different takes on the same aria, no?  Here’s a review of Naive‘s recording, and a behind-the-scenes video too: