The Big Birthday Week

The inescapable Mozart mania will be heartily embraced by some and barely tolerated by others who resent the flood of words and notes that will be unleashed on the birthday boy this week. As happens so frighteningly often, I find myself in the middle. (More on that in a later post.)

Heard Jane Glover speaking on NPR today about her new book on Mozart’s Women. Haven’t read it but plan to. (I have a serious backlog of Mozart books that I’ve promised myself to get through this year.) Wolfgang’s onstage women were strong-willed, hotblooded, and downright smart in a way that all but disappeared in 19th century grand opera. The women in the composer’s life were a vivid presence, and his relationships with them seemed to be significantly less destructive than those with his father and his male employers. (Sorry if I’m pulling the feminist card – I’ve recently been reminded how freakishly male-dominated the arts blogging scene seems to be, and I’m overcompensating.) Anyway, looking forward to reading Jane’s book.

Does his music measure up to the hype? More often than not. I’m repeatedly struck dumb by the last 5 operas in particular – Figaro, Giovanni, Cosi, Flute, Tito – in spite of my own personal overexposure to Mozart’s stage works. (I’ve been involved in 34 productions of 11 different Mozart operas in the last 24 years.) Tim Page got most of it right in today’s Washington Post article, particularly about Figaro – “I marvel anew that one of my fellow human beings actually managed to pull himself far enough out of the mud to create this miracle of order and civility. Yet it’s such a friendly masterpiece — warm, funny, forgiving, even downright silly — and if there is an important universal emotion that is not explored, musically and dramatically, over the course of the opera’s duration, I don’t know what it is.”

I only take serious issue with two of Mr. Page’s corollary points. 1) “…almost any third-year piano student can read through the Mozart sonatas” (I taught piano lessons far too long to buy into this one:), and 2) “Charming composers such as Vivaldi and Telemann offer a good deal of pleasure but usually — usually — not much else.” We’re out to prove this one wrong in just a few months.

Unedited Audition Comments – Chapter Two

Shuffled and slightly edited to preserve anonymity. And I’ve been reminded that there are shop-talk terms in these comments that could stand to be defined. I promise that the next installment will include the beginnings of a glossary.

  • He has assets, but the picture isn’t complete; is learning how to mask his liabilities
  • The line never takes off. There is a really nice voice underneath – but it sounds somehow obstructed. Trapped. Maddening.
  • The Wagner is irrelevant vocally, but he’s singing it musically, and in tune
  • Such a messy sound; even this bright room it sounds like it’s coming from under a blanket
  • Beginning of the refrain demonstrates what’s wrong with this picture; “Ah reponds” is a pure soprano color, and as she descends she dips into full and raw chest for mezzo
  • She should start with this; it’s a better impression; the Puccini showcases the ambiguous nature of the timbre
  • In this Fach we need serious serious charm, although she’s perky, I’m not sure it’s the right kind
  • Getting lost in her own ornaments. Almost wild vibrato at times.
  • Not thrilled about singing the Juliette; looks as if Juliette isn’t really happy to be at the ball…
  • Pulling out all of the acrobatic stops for the repeat; oddly satisfying on an athletic level
  • The physical and dramatic approach is studiously coquettish, but doesn’t really say anything else
  • First Queen of the Night aria: Don’t start with this if you don’t have beauty or substance in the midvoice…
  • She’s savvy; the instrument isn’t absolutely top-flight, but she knows how to use it; has the uncanny knack of completely identifying with this material
  • Seems to be at the point where she’s matching her equipment to the task but not going beyond that
  • I’m finding this room increasingly difficult to listen in
  • She’s charming, yes, but there’s a slight indescribable stiltedness to the visual presentation; she’s beautiful and should be more unreservedly expressive than this
  • He and his own pianist can’t get in the same tempo; what a strange strange thing…
  • The voice becomes something different at forte…the resonance seems to change dramatically with dynamic and tessitura
  • The top is so bright that it’s painful in here, but that’s not his fault; in a normal acoustic it would be exciting
  • Has no control over his body, he just kind of reacts to the phrasing.
  • His eyes are dead a little too often.
  • The mezzo color is really suspicious; the bottom registers as chest, and the top is soprano, but the midvoice hasn’t taken fire
  • Still a little stiff, but more importantly, he just doesn’t stay with it; I feel as if I want to get in his face and yell when he disappears so he knows when he’s doing it
  • He really made big strides dramatically. Maybe he just learned to audition better.
  • A lot of activity in the sound; not enough line, phrasing and focus
  • There’s just something very unstable about the sound; it’s both intonation and timbre
  • Still young, tho, and this instrument is promising; at its best it’s clear and sweet, but it’s under incomplete control, if under any control at all…right now the physicalization is all about trying to hold it together
  • There’s just no traction, no legato; like listening to a typewriter sing
  • She is so unbelievably nervous….Why is she putting herself through this?
  • Every time the sound should increase in excitement, it deadens instead; severe restrictions above the passaggio.
  • She’s done her homework, but the overall effect is one of slightly distracted but intense emotion
  • A luxurious sound, and it gives this aria the emotional content it needs; she’s not demonstrative, but she feels it deeply and is able to communicate that
  • The challenge for her will be how to tie this instrument together. And discover her body as part of the equation.
  • The Bb is a serious money note
  • Many good things about this. She needs a good home while going through the next couple years. We need voices like hers.

And just in case you think the audition panel always knows what it’s doing:

  • This continues to be confusing…she’s accomplished, musical, committed…the top doesn’t do what it has to in order to make this aria work…….there’s a lot of activity in the sound…resume looks good; she’s doing very well for herself…there are some attractive components to the sound, and it’s pretty large… maybe it’s lack of versatility, range of expression… talking myself in circles….



These comments are interesting & insightful; thank you for sharing them.

I see your point about male-dominated blogging, but it stands to reason, given that our industry is male-dominated. For now… =]

I think I’ll pick up the Glover book for my flight home…


Oooh … love reading these comments! I wonder if singers will be reading them and trying to guess which one is them? (Or do you hand out your comments?)

Being on the audition panel side (for instrumentalists only, mind you) I’ve found it fascinating to see how different each panel member can hear.

On a different topic you touch on; Telemann gets far too little recognition. Poor guy.


It seems like a) you don’t know much about singing, b) you have little empthy for singers, c) you’re pretty self-important. You seem like you don’t like singers very much. Are you in the right business?


Reply to “Anonymous”

a) Maybe I don’t know as much about singing as you do.

b) I adore singers, actually.

c) This is the first time I’ve called self-important (at least to my face). You learn a lot by blogging.

I do somehow believe I am in the right business.

a WTOC singer

I’m a WTOC veteran, and can promise you that Kim is the best leader one could ask for.

Are you a singer who wasn’t offered a spot at WT?

Or you’re a really successful singer who has an issue with WTOC. Although, most successful singers are secure enough that they find no need to bash someone.

Or you aren’t a singer. In that case, who are you to say someone knows nothing of singing?

Take a look at the singers to come out of WTOC in the past ten years. Or just go see Flute at the Met and hear them yourselves.

Grow up, find love in music, get a good teacher, or better yet, get a new career.


Canadian Basso

Reply to anonymous:

It’s pretty obvious that Ms. Witman knows what she’s talking about, and loves it as much as she loves the singers. Judge by the singing at Wolftrap, by the status that company has earned, by the fact that she spends so much energy to keep track of every one of us, and by the existence of this blog in the first place.

If you’re going to write flamebait, try not to contradict the demonstrably obvious.

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