Winter Streams: Classical Bounty Close As A Click

Joyce DiDonato master class
Bass Anthony Robin Schneider works on Basilio’s “La callunia” aria with Joyce DiDonato in a master class.
The lessons with four young singers are streamed free from Carnegie Hall via, and available for replay.
By Nancy Malitz

With much of the North American continent knee-deep in snow and an Artic blast on the way, it’s a good time to visit the online calendar for coming classical events. Television broadcasts are of limited interest this month, but online services that offer live webcasts streamed through computers and handheld devices have plentiful offerings. Prices range from free to the equivalent of a movie ticket, with monthly and annual subscriptions that may make sense for heavy users.  Joyce DiDonato’s Carnegie Hall master classes are being broadcast live via on the web through Jan. 10.  Viewing is free after registering. The classes start 4 p.m. (all times are Eastern Standard), and replay-on-demand is almost immediately available.

DiDonato masterclasses are webcast on Medici.tvI’ve been watching DiDonato’s classes for several years now, and they exemplify the transformative power of a good teacher. The brilliant mezzo-soprano works with emerging singers of all voice types, three or four in a session. Although she avoids interfering in issues of specific vocal technique, she delves deeply into the arias at hand. She helps her charges to get inside a character, to use breathing to propel momentum, to practice “trill drills,” and to savor the roll of a vowel in the mouth, or whatever else occurs to her as she listens each young singer. Here’s a classic sample from several years back when she disarmed a mezzo-soprano working on Sesto’s aria “Svegliatevi nel core” from Handel’s Giulio Cesare. The young artist’s interpretation went from almost flighty to downright touching in the space of half an hour.

Live from (Detroit’s) Orchestra Hall: The much-anticipated world premiere of Desert Sorrows, a cello concerto by Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz, will be introduced by Israeli-born cellist Maya Beiser under the direction of Leonard Slatkin on Jan. 16 at 8 p.m.

Live from Detroit's Orchestra HallThe DSO concert is to be streamed live via the orchestra’s website; watching is free with registration. I first encountered cellist Maya Beiser in a Ted Talk presentation in 2011, when she performed an etude along with seven digital copies of herself on a stage lit like a rock concert. In October 2015 she offered variations on the Jewish Kol Nidre prayer by both Fairouz and Michael Gordon at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, citing music’s power to heal and unite in her program notes.

Digital Concert Hall (Berlin): One of the occasionally free concerts at the Berlin Philharmonic’s streaming channel, Digital Concert Hall, is scheduled for Jan. 19 at 2 p.m., when Gustavo Dudamel and his Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra from Venezuela perform at the Berlin Philharmonie in the midst of their extensive European tour. Stravinsky’s Petrouchka and Le sacre du printemps are on the program.

Behind the scenes at Digital Concert Hall. (Berlin Philharmonic)
Behind the scenes at Digital Concert Hall. (Berlin Philharmonic)

New in the concert archive is Peter Sellars’ distinctive recent staging of Debussy’s opera Pelléas et Mélisande with artistic director Simon Rattle, baritone Christian Gerhaher, and mezzo-soprano Magdalena Koženáreviewed by Classical Voice North America here.

The cheapest way to see the concert is to sign up for a week-long Berlin Digital Concert Hall subscription, which costs approximately $10. It’s a bargain when you consider that other offerings in the week include guest conductor Christian Tielemann leading Chausson’s Poème de lʼamour et de la mer with mezzo-soprano Sophie Koch and Debussy’s Danse sacrée et danse profane for harp and string orchestra with the Philharmonic’s principal harpist, Marie-Pierre Langlamet.

The Ring from The Vienna State Opera’s Ring cycle gets underway Jan. 10, with Ádám Fischer leading the Sven-Eric Bechtolf production of Wagner’s epic, first seen complete in 2009 with Franz Welser-Möst conducting.

Vienna State Opera Live At HomeIndividual online tickets run about $15, but the company also offers a pay-by-the-month subscription (cancelable at any time) that costs about $18.50 per month, surely the way to go here, because it would encompass the entire cycle as well as transmissions of Beethoven’s Fidelio, Verdi’s Rigoletto and Richard Strauss’ Arabella. Tomasz Konieczny is Wotan throughout, Jochen Schmeckenbecher is Alberich, Linda Watson is Brünnhilde, Christian Franz is Siegfried, and Herwig Pecoraro is Mime. Click here for Staatsoper’s upcoming broadcast details.

Future broadcast: Tickets are nearly gone for the two remaining Chicago Lyric Opera performances of Bel Canto, the new opera by Jimmy López and Nilo Cruz, which was commissioned by the Lyric and reviewed here. It captured interest not least for its timeliness, so it comes as good news that the production, starring soprano Danielle de Niese, will have an afterlife in the form of a future PBS Great Performances event.

The opera 'Bel Canto' is coming to PBS. (Todd Rosenberg)
The opera ‘Bel Canto’ is coming to PBS. (Todd Rosenberg)

The as yet unscheduled broadcast will mark the first time Lyric has been in the public television spotlight since the Great Performances capture of Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra in 1991. Bel Canto is based on Ann Patchett’s novel about dignitaries, guerrilla fighters, and a world-famous diva who sweat out a hostage crisis inside a South American mansion.

I caught up with general director Anthony Freud by phone as he was about to climb into PBS’ control room on wheels, a large truck parked outside on Wacker Drive, for the Jan. 8 performance.  The nine-camera setup and the crew gave him confidence in the process, he said. “Obviously they are very experienced and knowledgeable about what it takes to do television at highest level.”

Although there are some opera companies smaller than the Met and Vienna that have invested in their own in-house camera infrastructure – Freud mentioned the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona and Madrid’s Teatro Real as examples – most U.S. companies simply do not have the capability yet. With the Lyric’s new Ring cycle in the offing, Freud acknowledged that it’s “frustrating not to have the flexibility to make these recordings routinely, and we are hoping that we can move into that territory before too long, but it is a significant financial investment.”

Nancy Malitz is the publisher of Chicago On the Aisle, the founding music critic at USA Today, and a former cultural columnist for The Detroit News. She has written about the arts for a variety of national publications.