Happy Old Maid’s Day

Nora Bertogg, Soprano, Swedish Opera, The Old Maid and the Thief, Photo by Dersu Huber, 2017.
Nora Bertogg, Soprano, Swedish Opera, The Old Maid and the Thief, Photo by Dersu Huber, 2017.

Old Maid’s Day is a joyous occasion for spinsters around the world to get together and rejoice in one-another’s claim to the merry, carefree lifestyle and the complete independence which come with singlehood. And it should be, because marriage, childbearing and child rearing are enough to gradually rid a woman of all the spare time, money and vitality she may have had in those early years when she was as averse to men’s advances as a fox is to a porcupine sting.

I love the summation above which appears on the Days of the Year website concerning Old Maid’s Day.

I am not quite an Old Maid. I did marry but was widowed very early on and still young. I was not able to have children so it was a miracle I ever married at all. Most men disappeared when they found out I was not a “breeder”. My husband however couldn’t have cared less. He loved me and was determined to marry me.

I took my husband’s death very, very hard and grieved quietly for many years. Losing my husband after such a short time seemed particularly unfair as I had a tragic childhood and thought at long last I was going to have a happy life. Despite it all, I was a jolly child. I evolved into a jolly adult but grief still overtakes me now and again as one might reasonably expect.

Then I woke up one day and for all intents and purposes, the grief, pain, regrets and angst of the past were over. I suddenly wanted to start living life fully again. And live it to the full I have. Sometimes it takes time to resolve certain fears to the degree we feel prepared enough to go out there and take risks again.

I have reinvented myself career wise numerous times, moved countries whenever I felt like it and have basically done whatever I dreamed up I wanted to do. Some call me lucky. I suppose I am.

It is art and music — especially Opera — that has given me the safe and beautiful environments I require where I can feel all sort of emotions which I might otherwise bury. For this I am eternally grateful. I adore the people who make it possible — but not in a starstruck way. They are like family to me. We share something quite intimate, meaningful and unique even if we are never to meet.

My life would certainly not be the same without the animals that have coursed their way through it. I am so grateful to the wonderful horses and cats I have given homes to over the decades. They have given me someone to love who loved me back and never hurt me, and  opportunities to “parent” that I would otherwise not have had. Sidenote: Today also happens to be “Hug Your Cat Day”, but I do that everyday.

They say old maids are cranky. Perhaps some are. However, my guess it has more to do with the old part than the maiden part.

As for me, I am not as cantankerous as my great hero Giuseppe Verdi but I am working on it. It’s definitely something to aspire to. And great fun!

Here is a quote regarding women Verdi wrote in an 1857 letter: “Horses are like women. They have to please the man who owns them”. Many, too many, men are vigorously nodding their heads in agreement right now. See what you escaped Old Maids!

Oh, by the way, I go by Mrs Farrell because that is what businessmen have called me over the years and it kind of stuck and become a part of my day-to-day identify — not because I am married. Sigh!

Love you.

The Old Maid and the Thief is a radio opera in one act by Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti. The work uses an English language libretto by the composer which tells a twisted tale of morals and evil womanly power. Menotti writes in the libretto “The devil couldn’t do what a woman can — make a thief out of an honest man.”  

Jeez Menotti! Tell us how you really feel.

Updated: Correction of 1857 Verdi quote.


Dream bass René Pape

Image from RenePape.com.
Image from RenePape.com.

I love deep melodic voices. Operatic voices. A beefy baritone sends me. A thunderous bass? I am gone.

René Pape is my dream bass. He sings. I dissolve into a puddle. Pape can sing anything, but his repertoire consists mainly of Verdi (my numero uno) with a huge helping of Wagner.

Pape by the way is pronounced Pah-peh. I had to learn that the hard way, per usual. No one can butcher the pronunciation of a name quite like I can and Opera offers me continuous opportunities.

I know a lot of people stay away from Opera because of things like that, all the different languages and seemingly unpronounceable names. They are all pronounceable. You just have to learn how. Like anything else in life.

So forget about that. You will learn as you go. Enjoy the journey. The snobs — I haven’t met that many actually — they had to begin just like anyone else. Who the hell cares anyway? It hasn’t held me back!

Let’s take a look at René Pape in action. Then most importantly of all — listen!


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German operatic bass Rene Pape performs at a concert marking the 90th birth anniversary of famed soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, at the Bolshoi Theatre. Artyom Korotayev/TASS (Photo by Artyom Korotayev\TASS via Getty Images)

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Pape as Filippo performs during the general rehearsal of the opera ‘Don Carlo’ at the State Opera in Vienna on June 12, 2012. The first performance of ‘Don Carlo’ at the State Opera was held on June 16, 2012. AFP PHOTO / DIETER NAGL (Photo credit should read DIETER NAGL/AFP/GettyImages)

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Pape (as ‘King Marke’) performs during the final dress rehearsal prior to the premiere of the Metropolitan Opera/Mariusz Trelinski production of ‘Tristan und Isolde’ (by Richard Wagner) at Lincoln Center’s Metropolitan Opera House, New York, New York, September 22, 2016. The performance was a co-production of the Metropolitan Opera, Teatr Wielki-Polish National Opera, Festival Hall Baden-Baden, and China National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA). (Photo by Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images)

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Pape as Filippo performs during the general rehearsal of the opera ‘Don Carlo’ at the State Opera in Vienna on June 12, 2012. The first performance of ‘Don Carlo’ at the State Opera was held on June 16, 2012. AFP PHOTO / DIETER NAGL (Photo credit should read DIETER NAGL/AFP/GettyImages)

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Pape as Mephistopheles with artists of the company in the Royal Ballet’s production of Charles-Francois Gounod’s ‘Faust’ directed by David McVicar and conducted by Evelino Pido at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London. (Photo by robbie jack/Corbis via Getty Images)


René Pape, Don Carlo, Giuseppe Verdi

Spanish King Philip II (Pape) has fallen in love with his son Don Carlo’s intended bride Elizabeth, the product of a typical politically motivated match, and marries her himself estranging himself forever from his son who had also fallen deeply in love with her. Elizabeth, who fell deeply in love too, is desolate and never forgets her true love.

Fast forward to the last Act. The King is old and lonely, and as he ponders all he has done he realizes that the innocent bride he robbed his son of has never cared for him, has never loved him.

Ella giammai m’amò (she never loved me).

Sorrowfully he seeks the counsel of the Grand Inquisitor (Eric Halfvarson). Yes. You guessed it. The Grand Inquisitor’s response will be a deadly one.

Visit this link for the full cast of characters and synopsis at The Met website.

René Pape = Das beste!

Introduction to Opera voice types

Renée Fleming sings Casta Diva.
Renée Fleming sings Casta Diva.

Let’s have some fun. The following is a delightful introduction to the voice types we hear in Opera.

They all thrill me but I admit I am particularly partial to the mezzo soprano, baritone and bass voices. I recently saw Luisa Miller which has a bass duet. Thrilling!

But first, let’s watch this Royal Opera video on the voice types of Opera.

Once you have listened to Opera for awhile you will be able to distinguish the nuances of each voice type. Like anything in life, learning is by doing. So listen up. It is so exciting that Youtube has seemingly endless Opera to view and listen to, often with subtitles.

Now, how about that bass duet.

I admit I have a crush on Wurm (pronounced verm as in vermine), nasty as he is. Wink!

Now for something extra special. Casta Diva by the peerless soprano and my favourite, Renée  Fleming.

Fleming has a full lyric soprano voice. She has performed coloratura, lyric, and lighter spinto soprano operatic roles in Italian, German, French, Czech, and Russian, aside from her native English.

Conductor Sir Georg Solti said of Fleming, “In my long life, I have met maybe two sopranos with this quality of singing; the other was Renata Tebaldi”.

High praise indeed. Tebaldi was often rated as superior to Maria Callas. You’ve probably heard of Ms Callas, typically considered the greatest of all time!

Opera takes you where no other art form can. Don’t let the different languages and almost impossible pronunciations or anything like that intimidate you. You will learn them along the way. I did. But I still don’t get a some of it right. Who cares? Just relax and submerge yourself in the opulence of this incomparable art form.

My favourite mezzo, Dolora Zajick. My favourite baritone, the late Dmitri Hrovostovsky. My favourite tenor right now, Ramón Vargas. Favourite bass. It’s a tie between René Pape and Dmitry Belosselskiy.

But this is generally speaking. Once you start listening to Opera you will have favourite singers in different roles. It’s so fun.

The Millers (Plácido Domingo and Sonya Yoncheva) have nothing left to share but their sorrow. Chris Lee / Met Opera.
The Millers (Plácido Domingo and Sonya Yoncheva) have nothing left to share but their sorrow. Chris Lee / Met Opera.

What about Plácido Domingo? Domingo can do it all. He was a fabulous tenor and later in his career turned to baritone roles. At 77 Domingo still performs a bit and recently sang Miller in Luisa Miller at the Met (Metropolitan Opera House). It was the 149th new role of his career. They are also preparing to celebrate his 50th anniversary at The Met. 50! But he also conducts, manages… well, you get the idea.

Ta-ra for now.

The passing of legendary baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky

Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Count di Luna and Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora in VerdiÕs ÒIl Trovatore.Ó Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera ÔLive in HDÕ transmission and radio broadcast: Apr. 30
Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Count di Luna and Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora in Verdi’s Il Trovatore.
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

November 22, 2017. The date of the passing of the great Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. It seems light years away now. Perhaps I am still in shock and that is what is distancing me from the heartbreak of his death. He was 55.

I bought a dvd of  Verdi’s Il Trovatore staged at The Met because it included powerhouse mezzo Delora Zajick, of whom I am a devoted follower. Renee Fleming  in her introduction to the blockbuster Opera states the great Caruso remarked that it’s easy to stage Il Trovatore — simply get the four greatest singers in the world. Another of the world’s great singers on stage with Ms Zajick that night was Dmitri Hvorostovsky. I was mesmerized.

Just listen.

And here’s a few more snippets of Hvorostovsky’s greatness.

And with the sublime Ms Fleming.

Until we meet again — Adieu, mon ami.




Opera in America seeks to avoid a swan-song moment

The Metropolitan Opera House’s “Sputnik” chandeliers. Photo: Paula Soler-Moya, Flickr creative commons.
The Metropolitan Opera House’s “Sputnik” chandeliers. Photo: Paula Soler-Moya, Flickr creative commons.

Who knew that opera’s story is, in some ways, a mirror of America?
Its most hallowed hall, the Met in New York, remains an icon of an elite art form.
But to thrive elsewhere, opera might need to find a more common touch. — Mark.

NEW YORK, NY — The Christian Science Monitor published the following in The 30 Sec. Read. Written by Weston William.

New York’s Metropolitan Opera finished its 2016-17 season on a high note: Its May broadcast of “Der Rosenkavalier” was seen by a vast global audience. And that same month the organization celebrated its 50th anniversary in its Lincoln Center home.

But offstage things were less celebratory. Although opera lovers argue that performance standards have never been higher, ticket sales are lagging, as is the enthusiasm of American audiences.

Opera is struggling, says Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, as it transitions “from an aging audience to a new one.” That’s why, across the United States, some opera companies are turning to smaller-scale, more unusual works that address the problems of the modern world, productions like Philip Glass’s “The Perfect American,” based on the life of Walt Disney.

At its best, opera draws on something universal that does not alter with time or trends, says Douglas Clayton, general director of Chicago Opera Theater. “[A]s long as we’re human beings … we will still have this desire to connect with other people, and to be creative about how we do that.”

I am intrigued by the idea of Philip Glass’s “The Perfect American.” Hmmm.

Opera: Lucia Popp singing Queen of the Night and O mio babbino caro.

Lucia Popp. A 1986 recording session. © Clive Barda/ArenaPAL 2014.
Lucia Popp. A 1986 recording session. © Clive Barda/ArenaPAL 2014.

One of my favorite sopranos of all time, Lucia Popp. Here are two of my favorite arias sung by this divine singer.

Queen of the Night. Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) by Mozart.


If anyone sings  “O mio babbino caro” any lovelier than Ms. Popp I don’t know who it is. Gianni Schicchi by Puccini.