Interrupt Your Day – Lighten Up


Sometimes we need to take ourselves out of the world and transcend to a mental place that provides perspective — and perhaps a little joy — to our lives.  Today, the above video did just that . . . and suddenly, out of nowhere, my day got a little better.

Shot at Plaça de Sant Roc in Sabadell, Spain, a little north of Barcelona, the performance was orchestrated by the financially-challenged Spanish bank, Banco Sabadell.  The bank brought together 100 musicians and singers from the Orchestra Simfonica del Valles, Amics de l’Opera de Sabadell, Coral Belles Arts, and Cor Lieder Camera to perform.

The music, of course, is Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from his Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 (sometimes known simply as “the Choral”).  Among critics, it is almost universally considered to be among Beethoven’s greatest works, and perhaps to be the greatest piece of music ever written.

Beethoven finished the symphony when he was nearly deaf.

The Ninth Symphony premiered on May 7, 1824 in Vienna’s Theater am Kärntnertor.  This was the composer’s first on-stage appearance in 12 years; the hall was packed.

Although the performance was officially directed by Michael Umlauf, the theatre’s Kapellmeister, Beethoven shared the stage with him.  Two years earlier, Umlauf had witnessed the composer’s attempt to conduct a dress rehearsal of his opera Fidelio, which ended in disaster.  So this time, he instructed the singers and musicians to ignore the almost totally deaf Beethoven.  At the beginning of every part, Beethoven, who sat by the stage, gave the tempos.  He was turning the pages of his score and beating time for an orchestra he could not hear.

BeethovenWhen the audience applauded, Beethoven was several measures off and still conducting.  Because of that, the contralto Caroline Unger walked over and turned Beethoven around to accept the audience’s cheers and applause.  According to one witness, “the public received the musical hero with the utmost respect and sympathy, listened to his wonderful, gigantic creations with the most absorbed attention and broke out in jubilant applause, often during sections, and repeatedly at the end of them.”  The audience acclaimed him through standing ovations five times; there were handkerchiefs in the air, hats, raised hands, so that Beethoven — who could not hear the applause — could at least see the ovation gestures.

Hearing nothing, but seeing the tumultuous applause of the audience, Beethoven wept. Continue reading “Interrupt Your Day – Lighten Up”

Taos Opera Institute Celebrates its Sixth Year in Taos Ski Valley



The first thing I noticed upon arriving in Taos was the music.  Live music was everywhere.  Good music by talented musicians.  Anything and everything you can imagine:  rock, country, jazz, alternative, reggae, classical, and yes – opera.  And part of the opera scene here is the renowned Taos Opera Institute (TOI).

TOITOI is a highly intensive program for the serious singer, held annually in beautiful Taos Ski Valley.  Singers from around the country audition for the privilege of participating in this program, which is designed to bridge the gap between academia and opera apprenticeships.  Graduates are prepared for careers in regional, national, and international opera companies.

The TOI Festival is a series of free performances of the world’s most beloved opera arias, featuring the Taos Opera Institute Singers and the Cantos de Taos quartet.  Concerts are performed during the month of June at various locations throughout Taos and Santa Fe.  The final performance is a gala fundraising event on June 29th at the Taos Center for the Arts.  The Gala, which is a ticketed event ($25 per person) includes a pre-concert reception, raffle and showcases individual singers and ensembles from the entire Institute.

Taos Ski Valley performances include:

  • Saturday, June 1 – Opening performance in our lovely garden right here at the Edelweiss Lodge & Spa
  • Sunday, June 9 – Resort Center Stage
  • Sunday, June 16 – Resort Center Stage


For a complete schedule, click here.

The Taos Opera Institute was founded and continues to be directed by Mary Jane Johnson and Linda Poetschke.

Linda Poetschke
Linda Poetschke

Professor Poetschke is on the University of Texas at San Antonio faculty as Voice Area Coordinator, Voice.   The soprano has been the featured soloist with the New Mexico Symphony, the Charlotte (NC) Symphony, the Western Michigan Symphony and with the major symphony orchestras in her home state of Texas, including the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas POPS at the Meyerson and numerous appearances with the San Antonio Symphony. She has also performed as soprano soloist with the New York West End Chamber Ensemble in a Carnegie Hall appearance of REQUIEM by W.A. Mozart. Ms. Poetschke’s orchestral repertoire encompasses more than 40 oratorical and concert roles, and she has appeared under the baton of Margaret Hillis, Nicholas McGegan, Christopher Wilkins, Elmer Iseler, Lawrence Leighton Smith, Roger Melone, John Silantien, and Kate Tamarkian.

mary jane johnson
Mary Jane Johnson

Mary Jane Johnson is counted amongst the great dramatic sopranos, and is considered one of opera’s premiere interpreters.  Her career highlights include the role of Emilia Marty in Janacek’s The Makropoulos Case, which she sang at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Lady Macbeth in Verdi’s Macbeth as well as Katarina Ismailova in Shostakovitch’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which she performed at the Opera Bastille of Paris.  She has also performed the Shostakovitch as well as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West, and Strauss’ Salome at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

Ms. Johnson’s career went to the next level when she appeared with Luciano Pavarotti in a televised performance as Musetta in Puccini’s La Boheme with the Opera Company of Philadelphia.  Other important highlights of Ms. Johnson’s television appearances include the nationally televised Pavarotti Plus Gala, Live from Lincoln Center and the CBS “Sunday Morning” with Charles Kuralt.

 LA BOHEME : Luciano Pavarotti – Leyla Guimaraes – Mary Jane Johnson – Franco Sioli – Laslzo Polgar

We’ll be feeding these talented young singers at The Blonde Bear Tavern throughout the month of June, something we look forward to each year.  Their talent is always inspiring.

I can’t recommend these performances enough for any lover of music, especially classic opera.  The setting is magnificent, with the Sangre de Cristo mountains as backdrop for the two Sunday outdoor concerts.

Toi, toi, toi!


Wagner’s “Die Walküre” at La Scala: The Reviews are In

Courtesy Corriere della Sera

From Reuters:   

La Scala’s production of Richard Wagner’s “The Walkyrie” drew a 15-minutes ovation on the opening night of the opera house season on Tuesday, though the climate of austerity sweeping Europe clouded the starry event.   

With tickets costing as much as 2,400 euros ($3,200), the opening night at the 18th century opera house is one of the most popular cultural events on the calendar of the rich and influential.   

German mezzo soprano Waltraud Meier, who played the passionate Sieglinde, won particularly loud applause.   

From the Associated Press:   

La Scala’s exacting audience — filled for the season premiere with leading political, cultural and business figures — showered Barenboim, the singers and director Guy Cassiers with 14 minutes of applause and bouquets of flowers after the performance.   

Cassiers’ use of video, including the opening scene where Siegmund and Sieglinde discover each other, reportedly angered some of the singers who worried the character’s emotions were being overshadowed.   

But Cassiers said after the performance that reports of discord were exaggerated. In fact, mezzo-soprano Waltraud Meier who sang the role of Sieglinde walked over during the curtain calls to bring Cassiers out on stage.   

Cassiers said his goal is to bring all disciplines and technologies together on stage “to create a universe.”   

“The most important thing for me on stage is not the set, is not the light, is not the visuals. It’s the singers. The singers are the guide … to stimulate you, to get you as close as possible to the material Wagner offers,” Cassiers said recently.   

Lighting director Enrico Bagnoli, whose work often gave a sense of motion to the set, said he was surprised by how well the production was received.   

“I always thought it wasn’t a very technological show. We used the media of today to tell a story. I am happy that the public understood. This is a group that didn’t want to create provocations. They wanted to do suggestive images to create a state of mind,” Bagnoli said.   

“Die Walkuere” stars some of the most famous Wagnerian singers, including soprano Nina Stemme as Bruennhilde and mezzo-soprano Meier in the soprano role of Sieglinde — both of whom received shouts of appreciation. New Zealand-born tenor Simon O’Neill appears as Siegmund and Ukrainian bass Vitalij Kowaljow as Wotan, while Ekaterina Gubanova sings the role of Fricka and John Tomlinson is Hunding.   

Opera Chic:   

Before the final curtain call on December 7th — a few minutes after the conclusion of five ginormous hours of Wagner’s Die Walkure that opened La Scala’s new season on Milan’s holiday to celebrate the city’s patron saint, Sant’Ambrogio — the night was engraved as a triumph before the first strains of Wagner’s famous leitmotifs hit the adoring, vaguely taxidermied, Milanese public. Maestro Daniel Barenboim’s victory was sealed when he stepped from the orchestra pit onto the platea floor to inaugurate the evening and spoke out, in Italian, quoting the Italian Constitution (art 9.) to defend the future of culture in Italy, and deafening applause ensued (which was also directed to Palco Reale where Milan’s Mayor, Letizia Moratti kept company with Italy’s President, Giorgio Napolitano).   

As Barenboim entered the orchestra pit at the beginning of Act II and Act III, preemptive cheering for La Scala’s “Maestro Scaligero” guaranteed the final triumph and today’s newspaper headlines, the Italian press creeming themselves in phrases like, “Il trionfo della Valchiria”, “Quattordici minuti di applausi”, “Scala, il trionfo di Barenboim” (massive headlines also addressed the out-of-control student protests which flared-up around Piazza della Scala/Palazzo Marino where the city’s most official post-opera Gala takes place.   

Continue reading “Wagner’s “Die Walküre” at La Scala: The Reviews are In”

La Scala Kicks off its 2010 Opera Season with Wagner’s “Die Walküre”


Richard Wagner’s tale of the struggle for power tangled with familial love and incest will open Milan’s La Scala opera season tonight.   

The opening night at Milan’s famed opera house is one of the world’s most popular events to see and be seen for the global glitterati, who will be treated to a production of Wagner’s Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), which is filled with stars and technological wizardry.  The production is directed by Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim. 

After the “prologue” of Das Rheingold we arrive at the “first day” of The Ring of the Nibelung. 

Die Walküre marks the start of the saga and the fatal weaving of the plot between the world of the gods, Wotan and Valkyrie rebel Brünnhilde, and the more dramatically human world of heroes, the world of Siegmund and Sieglinde. 

Unravelling the plot in this production are director Guy Cassiers, aided by some of the very latest theatrical technology, musical director Daniel Barenboim and a cast that includes the finest Wagnerian voices of today: Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde), Waltraud Meier (Sieglinde), Vitalij Kowaljow (Wotan) and Ekaterina Gubanova (Fricka).  Together with Nina Stemme, Simon O’Neill  (Siegmund) and John Tomlinson (Hunding) make their La Scala debuts. 


Courtesy Associated Press

Continue reading “La Scala Kicks off its 2010 Opera Season with Wagner’s “Die Walküre””

On the Soundtrack: East Village Opera Company


A few years ago, I was summoned to a table to answer a question regarding the music playing on our soundtrack, a request that happened fairly frequently.  I approached the young woman, who was chatting on her cell phone.  She asked me with enthusiasm, “Do you know what’s playing right now?”  I replied, “Of course, it’s the East Village Opera Company.”  She smiled and spoke into her phone, “They’re playing our music at Bellavitae!”  A member of the string section, she delighted in hearing the group’s music to the pleasure of all our guests.

Since then, of course, the group has released two more CDs, and have toured the world with a unique live show, combining a seemingly incongruous classical string section with a powerhouse rock band.  Time Out New York said that the group “electrifies the classics for a new generation.” The Associated Press mused the band was “dramatic” and “mesmerizing” while The Wall Street Journal agreed noting, “The band rocks hard, and deranges the opera stuff with savvy skill.”

In a rare feat not many artists can claim, EVOC headlines around the world in both eclectic rock clubs and some of the most prestigious classical concert halls.  The band’s appeal is evident in both cases – The Chicago Tribune raved, “nobody puts a fresher, friskier contemporary spin on opera’s greatest hits than the East Village Opera Company.”  The band has also performed at events such as the Sundance Film Festival, the Miss USA pageant, and the world-premiere of the Da Vinci Code.  EVOC was also celebrated at the 2006 Emmy’s with an award for their PBS Special “EVOC LIVE”, and they have received commissions to pen new works from both the New York Public Theatre and the New York City Opera, for whom they have also performed at Lincoln Center.

Here are a few selections you can review / purchase:


Album releases:

                 Product Details     Product Details     Product Details

Started as somewhat of a lark in 2004 by Canadians Peter Kiesewalter and Tyley Ross after collaborating on a film project, EVOC turned the heads of New York’s music community with a series of electric genre defying shows at Joe’s Pub, the intimate venue housed by the New York Public Theatre.  Initially meant as a one-off project, they were quickly signed to Decca/Universal records and met with universal praise from both classical and rock critics and fans.  The Washington Post proclaimed – “Opera crossover acts are becoming a veritable cottage industry, but the East Village Opera Co. is markedly different.”

The East Village Opera Company – once again proving that classic opera is timeless.


“Habanera”, from Georges Bizet’s French opéra comique Carmen, which premiered at the Opéra-Comique of Paris on March 3, 1875:


On the Soundtrack: Sergio Cammariere

Every night you would hear Sergio Cammariere on the Bellavitae soundtrack.  A native of Calabria, Sergio has a unique compositional style — one that blended very well with the ambiance of our restaurant.

After a career as a niche musician, distinguished by his collaboration with poet and singer/songwriter Roberto Kunstler, he appeared at the Sanremo Festival in 2003 performing the song Tutto quello che un uomo.  He placed third and won the Critics’ Choice award.

My favorite album, Sul Sentiero, was released a year later, in November 2004.  It features rich string arrangements, fiery jazz influence, and syncopative point – counterpoint.  Two years later, Cammariere released his first self-produced record, Il Pane, Il Vino e la Visione, collaborating with several well-known jazz artists, including Gilberto Gil, Ivan Lins and Bebo Ferra.

Many of his songs are not available in the United States via MP3 releases, but you can click below to sample / purchase some of his music:


Album releases:

Product Details      Product Details      Product Details

Product Details      Product Details


My favorite, “Libero Nell’Aria”:


Sergio Cammariere – Libero Nell’ Aria
Uploaded by EMI_Music. – See the latest featured music videos.


Further reading:


Carmen Consoli recommends Bellavitae

The March/April issue of La Cucina Italiana magazine features an interesting interview with Sicilian singer and songwriter Carmen Consoli (interview only available in the physical magazine or online subscription).  Here’s the last question of the interview:

What do you eat when you are on the road?

“I carry a Michelin Guide around with me everywhere I go, because I really like to eat well.  In New York, I really like Bellavitae near Washington Square Park.  It is an Italian restaurant with good ingredients imported from Italy.”

h/t James Branco